March 27, 2018

The family parish: Selecting songs for a multigenerational congregation

The family church: Music for a multigenerational Catholic parish


“Can the same parish liturgy be an authentic expression for a grade school girl, her college-age brother, their married sister with her young family, their parents and grandparents?” This is the question posed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the 1983 document, "Music in Catholic Worship." The document continues, “Often the problem of diversity can be mitigated by supplementing the parish Sunday celebration with special celebrations for smaller homogenous groups…Nevertheless it would be out of harmony with the Lord’s wish for unity in the Church if believers were to worship only in such homogenous groupings.”

Liturgical music is powerful. If music directors are intentional in the way they select music for Mass, music can serve as a common language across generations. In this blog, Jackie François shares her approach to music selection for multigenerational congregations.

According to Jackie, music directors have a challenge when, in one service, you could have people who grew up singing Latin, singing St. Louis Jesuit songs and people who grew up with contemporary Catholic songs by Steve Angrisano, Tom Booth and Matt Maher. How do you bridge those generations musically and otherwise? Jackie shared some ideas in a 2009 Today’s Liturgy article, “Catholic Generations: Bridging the generations with Mass and music.”

Here are 5 tips from Jackie François for picking multigenerational music for the family church:

  1. Pray before you select music.
    In the busyness of life, work and ministry, we sometimes fail to pray. Then we “throw together” the liturgy by choosing the same songs we used last year on this particular Sunday or songs the assembly knows well, but which have no connection with the readings. By not praying, we fail to connect the Mass with the music and the music with the people. So, pray first for your assembly, that their hearts and minds are open to the living word of God and that they are conformed to Christ as they receive his body and blood. Second, spend time in prayer with the readings of the Mass in the hope of selecting music that supports and illumines God’s word. Third, pray for ourselves, that we lead the music and other musicians humbly and in a way that encourages authentic worship.
  2. Select music that is liturgically, pastorally and musically sound.
    First, read "Sing to the Lord," which defines the three ways of judging the appropriateness of music for the liturgy. “Liturgically sound “ music meets the structural and textural requirements of the Mass. That means, among other things, the song texts are in line with Church teachings and respect the proper flow of the Mass. If music is “pastorally sound,” it leads the entire assembly — not just one particular age group— closer to Christ and his paschal mystery. Lastly, if a song is “musically sound,“ people can sing it without too much difficulty and it’s aesthetically worthy. Every parish is different. Pastorally, you’ll find that certain songs are better than others in meeting these three requirements.
  3. Select music for and from all generations.
    The music selection at Mass is like a diet. It’s good to have balance. Liturgies using one musical style (or from one time period) exclusively run the risk of alienating one ore more age groups. Contemporary songs may be unfamiliar to some; others may not like songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s; young people may not be familiar with traditional hymns and Gregorian chant. A good variety of music can stir souls of all ages.
  4. Don’t be afraid to transpose.
    Nobody enjoys singing beyond their vocal range. Singing within a comfortable rang allows people to focus on God and the song texts (rather than the difficulty of the song). Many music directors get stuck in a rut when it comes to transposing because they don’t know how, they don’t have time, or don’t understand the inability of others to sing high (or low). Transposing is a vital component of music ministry that can help every generation sing their hearts out.
  5. Pray the music, don’t just play it.
    How often do we just “get through” Mass? When you’re leading music for as many as eight Masses every weekend, how often do we treat the liturgy as just another hour of work rather than the miracle that it is? And how often do we focus on getting every note right rather than praying the music? People in the assembly can tell the difference between a music ministry that is performing and one that is praying and leading others to prayer. If our goal is to lead the assembly to full, conscious and active participation (no matter how young or old they may be), we must pray the music when we sing or play it. It’s as simple as believing and paying close attention to the words we’re singing, leading the choir in prayer before Mass, and asking the Holy Spirit to sing and play through you.

Music to honor God is the common ground

Music is a powerful form of communication in the family church. Tom Tomaszek wrote in a 2009 Today’s Liturgy article that, in music, we can expresses ideas and feelings in ways that we wouldn’t always be able to name or describe with mere words. That can be powerful, emotional and universal. Because of this multifaceted means of communicating, music can move fluidly among generations — and does.

“Music plays a vital role in catechizing all generations. Regardless of age, music can shape our way of thinking and expressing beliefs, both individually and in a community. In turn, the community’s songs inspire, confirm, encourage, challenge and celebrate faith.”

Using Spirit & Song with your multigenerational parish

In the video below, we feature Holy Family Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon, which has roughly 400 families on its books. The parish is connected to a school, and with that comes an abundance of activities for younger people, like a vibrant youth group.

The parish’s music director, Chris Brunelle, uses OCP’s Spirit & Song hymnal to serve his multigenerational parish.

Sunday Masses here, particularly the 10:30 a.m. service, include mostly family-friendly contemporary music from Spirit & Song, Third Edition. Chris said he appreciates the diversity of the song selections in the hymnal, going all the way back to the traditional hymns (with updated arrangements, often in lower keys that are easier for the congregation to sing), as well as the classic St. Louis Jesuit songs and other standards from 20-30 years ago, all the way up to brand new contemporary selections.

“I appreciate that the arrangements are interesting and complex when they need to be, while maintaining the integrity of the song and the melody,” he said. “I could easily do services using only Spirit & Song, but we are blessed at Holy Family to be able to have Spirit & Song, as well as the Breaking Bread missal.”


Contact one of our product specialists to more about how to select a resource for your multigenerational parish.

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