The Role of Comfort in Parish Music Repertoire

Jimmy Mac brings up an important point many music directors struggle to address. Should parish music repertoire reflect the comfort level of the people? Or should it urge the pew folk forward where they would not go were they not elbowed ahead? My sense is that a pastoral musician must be sensitive to both aspects.

There are times when upheaval has come to our faith life, and if music (and liturgy) is to be the source of our strengthn in the spiritual life, then perhaps comfort is the proper presumption. I choose not to press during the immediate planning of funerals because I know there are other aspects to which the grief-stricken are attending.

On the other hand, faith communities: parishes, religious communities, monasteries, schools, universities, and even the curia, can become hidebound and stale in their faith. Such times require a certain shaking up. And there are times when the music in such a community has grown stale. Those would be the times when people might need to have presumptions challenged.

That requires a leadership that can be trusted, a leadership in which such decisions are not all about them and their wishes or discernments.

One element I think we need at my parish is a chant Mass setting. I’m a bit grateful I have a few years to discern this with my music committee and choir directors–until the Ordo Missae is determined. Already, though, I have otherwise liberal parishioners saying, “We really need to look at this, don’t we?” Once I get the whole committee on board, the decision isn’t about me, our pastor, or our bishop, but it’s about good worship and the parish community.

When I read and hear stories about drastic new directions in parish music–and I’ve heard a lot of them over the years–most often such turns are not about God or about adherence to rubrics or directives. It’s about the leadership. Power because power can be exercised.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to The Role of Comfort in Parish Music Repertoire

  1. Gavin says:

    Part of it is a matter of, as Good Pope John is quoted, “throwing wide the windows and letting in the sunlight.” Many Catholic parishes have been doing the same things since the 70’s. If they don’t come up with something timeless, they WILL die! It’s partly because of this that I don’t outright condemn contemporary music programs. However, I think the best route is to introduce something to the congregation that everyone can treasure, whether they were raised in the 60s or the 90s. Your church does that well with good music, mine is attempting that with chant and hymnody. The point being that what people are “comfortable” with is often not best, and they need a little unsettling to get them open to more of the Catholic faith than what they got for the last 40 years.

  2. KiwiNomad06 says:

    When my mother died I was the eldest of four children (at 15) and I was asked if I had a favourite hymn that I wanted used in her funeral. I wasn’t actually asked much, so I was glad to have at least this input. Trouble was, after that, the hymn had such associations for me with Mum’s funeral, that I could never actually manage to sing it again!

  3. Cantor says:


    I am curious, how would/do you react, then, to the idea of a Mass proper – chants that are (more or less) specific to funerals?

  4. KiwiNomad06 says:

    I am not really a ‘proper’ Catholic, so my answer is probably irrelevant, but I am not sure I like the idea. I actually prefer going to “protestant” funerals in many ways, as I feel there is more “about the person” in them.

  5. Liam says:

    Of course, the Jubilate Deo settings of the Latin ordinary parts don’t need to wait for translation changes…hint, hint. This may be a good time to consider that basic repertoire.

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