Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Sincerity or Noise? The 1970s Folk Mass

Catholics (and former Catholics), remember the Folk Mass?  To some it was a sincere effort to involve younger people with music to which they could relate, while to others it was hideous, even offensive.  As an alumnus of 16 years of Catholic education, I certainly attended enough of them, mostly during the early 1970s.  

Perhaps the idea of the Folk Mass arose in an effort to counter the shrinking numbers of Catholic youth who attended church regularly.  Or it could have come out of a larger movement to make the Church more accessible to the laity and in touch with ordinary people.  Most likely a combination of factors were at work, but the result was that Catholic clergy, religious educators and hymn writers began composing folk songs with religious themes and integrating them into worship.  Groups of kids in bell-bottoms with acoustic guitars and tambourines, often led by a nun or teacher, replaced the traditional choir and organ in many churches.  

The folk hymns themselves were typically simplistic, and the musical abilities of the accompanists... well... varied.  Occasionally pop tunes were also played at Masses, including Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence," which for some reason was very popular, despite its lack of a religious message.  But the kids (and some young adults) loved Folk Masses, despite the protests of some parents and stalwarts who thought the whole movement was disrespectful. 

Did the Folk Mass accomplish the goal of keeping more young Catholics coming to church?  I don't know the statistics, but do recall that, for those kids in my parish who did attend Mass, the weekly folk service was very popular.  For the older youth it served a dual purpose: it was a chance to dress in trendy clothes and interact with opposite sex.