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10 modern Catholic songs that sound sacred

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

If you’re reading this, you may, like me, care about restoring sacred music to the liturgy at your parish. Catholicism has an incredibly rich and beautiful musical history that is ever ancient and ever new. The Church also teaches that anything new, liturgically speaking, should spring organically from this tradition. So I take seriously these words of Pope Pius X: "the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple."

In light of this, here are 10 popular, new (post Vatican II) songs that are found in modern American hymnals that, in my estimation, contain at least a hint of the “inspiration and savor” of the Gregorian form. Of course, there are many old hymns that are better, and there are current composers writing plenty of new sacred music in traditional styles. This list, however, is specifically of songs written in a folk/pop/praise & worship style. If you are a music director and find yourself in a situation where your assembly or pastor expect you to sing “contemporary” Catholic music, use these songs. At least to some degree they emulate chant, blossom from the tree of tradition, and demonstrate the “beauty, universality, and goodness of form” that the Mass demands. They are also mostly scriptural and, as far as I can tell, free from theologically problematic lyrics.

1. Shelter Me, O God - Text from Psalm 16, 61, Luke 13:34; Bob Hurd © OCP. You can almost see the neumes on the refrain. Play this on the organ. 2. Magnificat – James Chepponis © GIA. Decent translation of the scripture, fun descant, and nice oboe part. Has broad appeal. 3. Eye has not seen - avoid the strangeness of verse 4 and it’s rather nice, especially for funerals. I actually use a psalm tone for the verses set to a psalm instead of the lyrics as written. The refrain is the best part. 1 Corinthians 2:9 Marty Haugen © GIA. 4. My Soul in Stillness Waits – a chant-like setting of the Advent O antiphons. © GIA Marty Haugen

5. O God You Search Me - Good adaptation of the Psalm 139. One of the better through-composed modern psalm settings. Bernadette Farrell © OCP. 6. Blessed One – Praise and Worship style, but the melody is mostly stepwise and, if you sing it horizontally and not with a driving beat, it is even chantlike. Though not directly scriptural, it works for any Marian feast, and contains at least one word of Latin: Ave. Aaron Thompson © WLP 7. Only In God - John Michael Talbot, © birdwing music, based on Psalm 69. God focused and scripture-based. Rather beautiful and good for funerals too. 8. Holy is his Name – John Michael Talbot, © birdwing music, beautiful refrain and scriptural (another Magnificat).
9. Amen El Cuerpo de Christo - Solid melody and Eucharistic lyrics. Bi-lingual. John Schiavone © OCP 10. O Holy Mary - Owen Alstott © OCP. This one, admittedly, is written in a traditional style. But it deserves a mention anyway.
Honorable mentions: How Lovely is your Dwelling Place (Joncas), There is a Longing (Quigley), Cry of the Poor (Foley), These Alone are Enough (Schutte), Draw Near (Janco)

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Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
Sep 29, 2022

I have noticed that O.C.P. is starting to include more hymns in this style, and, more importantly, including chants in English and Latin. One modern hymn that I like is "Christ, Circle 'Round Us" by Dan Schutte. This year's communion antiphon for the second Sunday of Advent fits as a verse. Thank you for your insights!

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