British band Delirious? Photo from http://d-life.bravepages.com.
Over the last few years, together with fellow musicians, I have been developing the use of modern Christian rock/pop music in masses in school (full rock band) and in St. Austin's Parish, Grassendale (smaller scale band), the latter as part of a Life Teen youth group up until last September (see http://www.lifeteen.com). This music generally seems to go down well with the teenagers and with many of the adults too. Many of the songs I arrange for us to use are by artists and bands (many of whom are - or started out as - active worship leaders in Christian church communities) that have had a great deal of commercial success, especially in the States. For example, dc Talk's last album went to No.4 in the US Billboard chart; Delirious?, a UK rock band have had at least 6 UK Top 40 singles and a few Top 20 albums without ever being played on the main radio stations in the UK, or on Top Of The Pops, probably just because they are overtly Christian (see http://www.delirious.co.uk). Though even here in the UK, black artists known in the States as being practicing Christians and reflecting this in their lyrics (if not always overtly - e.g. Destiny's Child + last year's No.1 "Where Is The Love?" by Black Eyed Peas) seem to be able to get away with talking about their faith. But when UK artists do so, there always seems to be a stigma attached. People think of the "Kum Ba Ya" brigade with their sandals and candles. Bands like Delirious? (whose last album sold far more in the states than that of Robbie Williams) with their punk-ish dress sense, mixture of U2-style stadium guitar sound and deep spirituality are changing this image for the better.
Music can be such a wonderful tool to help reach out to young people and give them a reason to stay attached to the Church during adolescence, but in the Catholic Church we've been slow to pick up on this, afraid to turn our liturgy into something more resembling a rock concert. This type of modern Christian music has given me so much; in my own prayer life + in terms of plain enjoyment (many of the bands are first-rate with very individual sounds). It has helped me to see how I am to use my musical training in the service of young people as a Brother. I have also seen how it can (and continues to) help young (and older) people find meaning and enjoyment in the celebration of the Mass... surely not a bad thing. I do understand the reservations of those who feel that we are in danger of turning the Mass into a rock concert. My answer would be to think about what happens when you hear a great cathedral choir singing music from the Renaissance (or from any period, Mozart, for example) in Mass... ok the congregation don?t always join in, but surely the "performance" of good music in a liturgical context can help people open their hearts to God. I'm obviously not saying our music is as good as Mozart or Palestrina (!).... but the congregation at St. Austin?s does most definitely sing our songs, and sing much louder than in many other Masses, I'm sure. In school, however, the boys tend to join in only for choruses that go "Yee ha!!" or "Whoah-oh!!". But the respectful, prayerful, positive atmosphere that we now have in a hall full of 220 boys at a time, is testimony to the fact that they do get something out of coming to these Masses, as do their reactions afterwards and the requests they make for certain songs.