Ten Worst Catholic Hymns of all Time

by Steve Ray on February 2, 2018

  1. I haven’t heard them all, but the ones I recognize — I agree. I’ve told Janet if I hear some of them again I’ll walk out.

Ten Worst Catholic Hymns of all Time

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil July 26, 2011 at 9:02 AM

What’s wrong with City of God???? That’s one of my favorites :(

STEVE RAY: I didn’t make the list, just reporting. There are a few of the songs on the list I agree with but I’m not privy to City of God.

ER July 26, 2011 at 11:12 PM

Bro. Steve, can you enumerate those songs? And why it is worst? What is/are the reason/s.

STEVE RAY HERE: I am not the commentor, only the messenger though I do find contemporary music in many parishes quite dismal.

Ferdinand July 26, 2011 at 11:19 PM

“Pescador de los Hombres” (Lord, When You Stood by the Seashore)

Well, may be in English may not sound that nice, but, in Spanish is beatiful. And, the author is right, was one of Blessed Lolek (JP II) Favorites. There is Youtube video of him singing it (in Sapnish).

ER July 26, 2011 at 11:19 PM

P.S – Because I’ve been in the Music Ministry of our Parish since 2005 as a choir member. Are there standards? so that we can categorized? and if there’s? where can we found it? thank you! We also need some basis for us to know. And we will suggest it to our co-parishioners.

Maria July 27, 2011 at 12:55 PM

I disagreed. Period. Maybe Sons of God earned a place on the list, but that’s about it. I’ve also noticed a lot of snobbery among the critics of Catholic hymns. (I know you didn’t make the list, Steve).

Pete July 30, 2011 at 7:38 AM

All of these are worthy entries but my top number one hideous, self serving, gross top ten is “Sing a New Church”. Yikes, it’s enough to gag a buzzard off a gut wagon.

Barbara July 30, 2011 at 5:01 PM

How about “The Ten BEST Catholic hymns?” Maybe we could focus on the positive. Yes, “there seems to be a lot of snobbery among the critics of Catholic hymns.” And personally I can’t remotely imagine walking out of Mass because I didn’t like a song.

Tom Govern July 30, 2011 at 11:06 PM

I don’t see anything wrong with Eagle’s Wings, expecially as a funeral song. What is missing from the worst listing is “Lord of the Dance” which I do refuse to sing (but would never walk out of Mass because).

lisa July 31, 2011 at 7:47 PM

I was a music major and loved singing sacred music, we are hard pressed to find that in our town. they do their best. i do like most of the 10 that was listed on the linked blog. I composed a piece on the psalms of david and had it perfomed twice. no time now raising a family.

Chris October 27, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Earlier this year, my church’s former music director was fired following a disagreement with our pastor. He had wonderful taste in music and picked wonderful songs for us in the choir to sing – a lot of the old-time classic standards you find in the red Worship hymnal, steering clear of anything that was theologically unsound. He even wrote his own arrangements of those songs for us to sing if he felt the ones in the hymnals were lacking. Very rarely did he pick something for us that I didn’t enjoy singing. Our current music director – bless her heart because she is a talented lady and very nice – has us going back to the Middle of the Road 1970s/80s Muzak tripe found in the Gather hymnal, and in the past couple of weeks she’s picked some of my all-time least favorite items from the Gather hymnal for us to sing. They are the same steaming piles of trash that I was forced to sing back in the all-boys’ Catholic high school I attended, when our choir and band director (who also happened to be Mormon) treated the chorus like stepchildren and always chose the most hideous things for us to sing at our school Masses and for our concerts. I’m not sure if I could call these the worst of all time, but these are my bottom ten, in no particular order:

“All That We Have”
“Center Of My Life”
“Walk in the Reign” (generally anything Rory Cooney does gives me the willies – our current musical director hasn’t picked this one for us yet, but given her track record I’m sure it’ll pop up soon)
“Anthem” (I actually saw this on a preliminary list of songs for a recent Mass in which our Bishop came to dedicate a new wing of the church to be used as classrooms and offices; thank goodness it didn’t make the final cut)
“Ashes” (this was one of the pieces my old music director had us sing for Ash Wednesdays, one of the few pieces he chose for us that I found insufferable)
“They’ll Know We Are Christians”
“Jerusalem, My Destiny”
“Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” (a rip-off of the jazz classic “Take Five” – I would sue if I were Dave Brubeck)
“Whatseover You Do”
“Change Our Hearts” (I have to sing this abomination this weekend… dreading it)

Among psalm settings in the Gather Book, the worst in my opinion is “The Lord hears the cry of the poor, blessed be the Lord.” Great text, but such a gloomy, dreary, depressing arrangement. Blessed be the Lord? Well, don’t sound so happy about it!

Among non-hymnal pieces I’ve had to sing, the absolute worst is “On That Holy Mountain.” Imagine Jerry Lewis/PTL/700 Club-type telethon music at its worst, and that’s “On That Holy Mountain.” So sickeningly sweet, just one taste could cause diabetes.

Chris October 29, 2011 at 11:28 PM

Actually, strike “Jerusalem, My Destiny” from my personal bottom 10 list and replace it with “Voices That Challenge.” “Jerusalem…” can actually be okay in small doses, but I had to sing “Voices That Challenge” in college chorus and it was insufferable. Same with “Walk in the Reign.” My college campus ministry choir director was the one who REALLY had a taste for that middle-of-the-road folky-sweet stuff… my current choir director has been doing it in smaller doses, but still more than I would like. Hopefully we get to sing more stuff from the Worship hymnal. She is new so I suppose I should give her a chance. I lived through “Change Our Hearts” – still dislike it though.

I’m also not crazy about “Sow the Word.” Again, sounds like a bad folk song with “I’d like to teach the world to sing” saccharine lyrics and a really bad double entendre (in the refrain). Call it a “Dishonorable Mention.” Hoping my choir director has the sense to stay clear of that one too. The text of the first verse actually references a Scripture that is one of my favorite passages but there are definitely better melodies/lyrical settings that make use of that text… one I sang in college chorus (not campus ministry) was called “As the Rain,” and it was very, very pretty.

I should also qualify what I said earlier about Rory Cooney… there is one song of his that I like, and it was one we also sang this weekend: “Canticle of the Turning.” With the harmony it actually sounds pretty cool, IMHO.

On the other hand, what are some of your favorite Catholic hymns? I like just about anything from the Worship hymnal but am partial to “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and “Praise To The Lord, The Almighty.” The harmony on the latter, especially the descant, is REALLY pretty. I also like African-American spirituals so any time we get to sing one of those is a treat, though the only one we do on a regular basis is “Were You There?” around Easter season. I also noticed that the civil-rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” is in the Gather hymnal, though I’ve never sung it in a Mass setting. To me, I like the song but it doesn’t feel right singing it in church… I much prefer to hear the recordings of it from the civil rights era.

ER December 13, 2011 at 12:43 AM

Maybe the author of this article made the list, but we will also consider the fact that those songs were very familiar in our church. And they like singing those songs. How can we help solve this? In the liturgists perpective, it tehy also see it differently. In the catholic defenders, also different. How about a very nice songs, composed by other denominations and very fitting to our Eucharistic Celebration? Can we sing these?

Chris January 11, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Thought I would take this opportunity also to give a shout out to some of my best favorite worship songs from the hymnals:

“People, Look East” (fun, chirpy, upbeat French song, always fun to sing during Advent)
“The Servant Song” (treacly lyrics but with the harmony, it’s beautiful)
“I Have Loved You With an Everlasting Love” (again, the harmony lifts this one up, and I love the verses)
“How Can I Keep From Singing?”
“The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
“You Are Near” (Yahweh, I know…)
“We Remember”
“We Walk By Faith”
“Song Over the Waters”
“Come to the Water”

And you really can’t go wrong with most of what’s in the old Worship hymnal, which is where most of the really good stuff is (especially for Christmas and Easter).

I also have absolutely no problem with “On Eagle’s Wings.” Seems to me a lot of the negativity people have toward that song comes from it being overplayed. But I think it’s still a beautiful song.

In my church we have also dumped Gather and Worship and begun using a “revised”/”expanded” Gather book that incorporates some of the best of both the old Gather and Worship. I noted with glee that “Sow the Word,” “All That We Have,” “Whatsoever You Do,” “Voices That Challenge” and “Walk in the Reign” are all gone from this new book. Is it perfect? No, because “Center of My Life,” the heretical (as many have pointed out elsewhere) “Ashes,” “Change Our Hearts,” and “They’ll Know We Are Christians” are still there, and there is also a slew of new compositions in the ’70s/’80s MOR Muzak style – some good (“There Is a Longing”), some awful (“Open My Eyes,” which seems lyrics-wise like it could be one of those sing-songy Praise & Worship CCM choruses; another one our church sang not long ago sounded like it was plagiarized from the “Jesus Christ Superstar” song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – I forget the title now.)

In the end though, to get through singing the tripe, I have to keep in mind that even those songs I personally hate have their place if they help bring people closer to God and enhance their worship experience.

Neil Caswell September 17, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Go Make a Difference is missing from the list… hahaha Have you heard them use that in the Catholic Church yet? It’s been used in my diocese… ugh lol

Bob Segurson October 16, 2012 at 1:29 PM

As a music minister in parishes since about 1976, it is my opinion the list contains some of the best of modern music. However as liturgists we acknowledge that different people have different spiritual needs – and music will feed or in the case of most of the previous posts not feed the spiritual life. A prominent US theologian once said that “if the liturgies you are attending are not life giving then you have an obligation to seek life giving liturgy elsewhere” Fr. Eugene Smith. Music is a matter of personal taste which is why most large parishes will provide liturgy with a selection of traditional (1800’s), “modern (1950’s to 1970’s)”, and current music (Spirit and Song selections) which give life to a variety of age groups within our Church. One will note that most song books contain the approval of Catholic Bishops. So what are we “defending”?
But some specific comments to some of the above:
– On Eagles Wings was part of Fr. Joncas’ Doctoral thesis while at the Vatican. If the Vatican approves, then why shouldn’t it be appropriate?
– You Are Near – We have been obligated by the US Bishops to change the reference to God from the original text as the use of the name of God is disrespectful to our Jewish brethren.
– Sons of God – was removed from songbooks as there was a major copyright issue, with the song stolen from the authors and no royalties ever paid – This was stealing, and could not be tolerated.

Perhaps if one actually read the lyrics and compared with the scripture they use then one would find that we are singing God’s word. Then it becomes an issue of one’s musical taste, which is not a doctrinal issue at all.

larry February 26, 2014 at 9:26 PM

I dodge churches who use the Oregon Catholic Press hymnal. That stuff is dreck, amateurish and unsingable. “TASTE AND SEE” is like garlic to a vampire to me. Same with “ONE BREAD ONE BODY” (or what runs through my mind “One bread one sandwich the letter B”

Lisa Dixon March 19, 2014 at 8:02 PM

I love all of the songs on your list.

Judy August 26, 2014 at 1:20 PM

I love most of these songs.

Leslie September 15, 2016 at 12:03 AM

Here’s an analysis of why those songs are horrible, musically and theologically, in two parts:

And here is a great video on the difference between sacred and secular music:

CCB February 21, 2018 at 8:45 PM

My least favorite hymn is one that my music director unfortunately chooses quite often, because it’s “contemporary” sounding: “What You Have Done for Me.” It’s badly (and tritely) written with a melody that meanders everywhere and goes nowhere, and (especially on the third verse) a melody line and lyrics that are an outright ripoff of “Les Miserables.” It’s trite, syrupy and unsingable garbeldy-gook. As not-fond of “Whatsoever You Do” as I am, I’d kill to be able to sing that one now instead of “What You Have Done for Me.”

As far as contemporary songs and CCM crossovers go, I admit to liking “Prayer of Augustine” by Ed Conklin and “Your Grace Is Enough” by Matt Maher. However, we’re doing one called “Death in His Grave” for Easter Vigil, which is probably the worst of all in terms of incomprehensibility and unsingability. If we in the choir (a number of whom are trained musicians) can’t get the hang of the rhythm, how do we expect anyone in the congregation to get the hang of it??? The lyrics are incomprehensible drivel, and what kind of English is the phrase “When the day he rolled anew”? Rolled WHAT anew? There’s even an “oh-oh-oh” bridge. Is this Mass or a Colbie Caillat concert? I cringe every time I have to sing this.

Timothy W Hallett August 31, 2018 at 2:10 PM

How I yearn for no hymns at all, just chant the propers…I don’t care if you chant them in English or any other language….just sing the Mass…leave the private devotional music out (yes, even include “sacred polyphony”)

Carrie D August 15, 2019 at 10:20 PM

I am a cantor in my home parish, I also sing with several groups, I sing for funerals and weddings and as a trained musician and cantor assist our Music Director in the training of new cantors and group members. What we must all remember is that music, liturgically correct music, is a prayer. In fact, it is a prayer twice over; the lyrics of the song are themselves a pray, and very act of singing the song is a prayer of action.

There are of course, songs that I hate to sing, but will happily sing with reverence and grace. No one in the congregation evers knows that I loathe the song. Because, as I am singing, I am contemplating the words as a prayer, and ensuring that my act of singing is done prayerfully.

Perhaps remembering that the songs we dislike are still a prayer will help those that so despise a song they won’t sing it or will even walk out of Mass altogether.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my favorites:
“Guardian Angel From Heaven So Bright” I found this last published in a hymnal in 1952.
“Loving and Forgiving”
“10,000 Reasons”
“All is Well With My Soul”
“Miracle of Grace (Bread of Life)”
“Panis Angelicus”
“Be Though My Vision”
“O Lord, I Am Not Worthy”
“Dona Nobis Pacem”
“Song of the Body of Christ” (the guitarist I do this w/ and I really accentuate the Hawaiian element.)
“Restless” (Audrey Assad) – you can find on YouTube and is published in OCP’s Spirit and Song.
The first time I heard it was in a parish while on vacation. It was a Mass attended largely by more experienced members of our faith family and they sang it with as much enthusiasm as the younger members of the congregation. You could feel the Holy Spirit at work in that church that evening.

There are so many beautifully written songs from all eras, some still inprint, some not. Let us all rejoice in the gifts that God has given to those lyricists and composers that create the beautiful music with which our liturgies can be enhanced.

John O'Brien August 19, 2019 at 5:58 PM

There are WAY to many hymns and songs that I absolutely abhor, but I will list my top ten horrific pieces of garbage:

Be Not Afraid
On Beagles Wings
Amazing Grace
How Great Thou Art
Let There Be Peace On Earth (ESPECIALLY for funerals!! UGH!!)
All Is Well With My Soul
Like a Shepherd
I Am The Bread Of Life
Song Over The Waters
Come to The Water

Now please excuse me while I get physically ill while remembering these horrid sounds!

JAPS February 3, 2020 at 10:12 PM

I am enjoying reading these comments, especially the more dramatic and adamant ones. Everything is a matter of taste. De gustibus non est disputandum.

Some love the organ and hate the guitar. Some hate the guitar and love the organ. Some hate chant, some love it. So, taste can’t be the measure for deciding. In one parish I belonged to we got a new pastor who was an accomplished organist. When he finished his first recital of classical sacred music, a high school choir member said it sounded to her like Dracula music.

If there is a measure for discerning the better from the worse, I would say first it must be theological.

I don’t think it is legitimate to eliminate all instruments or some instruments. Any instrument listed in Ps 150 seems legitimate to me. Ironically, keyboard instruments are the only type not listed.

We are 50 years into the liturgical reforms, it may take another 50 years to sort it all out. But, one thing is certain, the viciousness of some toward others is not of the Lord. If it isn’t about growing in holiness and in the knowledge, love, and service of the Lord first, then let’s forget the whole thing and just be the Pagans we are behaving like.

Patricia M Saviet February 6, 2020 at 11:39 AM

I am church musician and organist for over 25 years. I appreciate all the comments and insights.
I have a new pastor who is Very Conservative. Moving forward, I am busy reading up to date music guidelines. We have OCP Breaking Bread hymnals in the pews and our church loves to sing the standard and some of your suggested bad hymns. Now after my first meeting we will sing the Psalm in hymnal (not the Common Psalm) and stop playing the songs he calls “inappropriate”. I now will be very careful of David Haas, Marty Haugen, and a few more composers that he objects to. I hope the congregation gets on board with more bells, moving the side tabernacle, and a change in music selections.

Michael Bazikos June 22, 2020 at 5:45 PM

I have sung choral music for years. One motet that has actually been sung at my boyhood parish and my present parish home is ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ by deVictoria. The entire mass was sung for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, which was a High Mass. An extremely fond memory heard rarely in Catholic Churches.

Joe Ross February 27, 2021 at 6:57 AM

On Eagles’ Wings is unsingable by 98% of the population and, therefore, is the worst selection possible for a funeral. The lyric & sentiment are beautiful, but the melody is atrocious. If wanted for a funeral, hire a professional singer or group & demand to hear their rendition, first.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: