Motumania: Pecuniary Diversions

You know the picture, right? This is your typical church musician (played ably by Jimmy Stewart) in tough negotiation with the pastor (kudos, Lionel Barrymore) over his salary. It could be Scrooge and Cratchit. Or your last organist and your current pastor, maybe. Take your pick. It’s the same story, pretty much.

Shawn decided to keep our cat and mouse game going, but I did get an early comment in (undeleted as of tonight) on this thread which attempts to tackle the issue of paying organists enough.

There’s a surprising amount of old-fashioned Catholic ignorance and skinflintism surfacing in the motu-waiting room that is NLM. Do you really want to know why I think the mp will be nearly irrelevant to mainstream Catholicism? Listen in (most of this is from the same person, but not all):

I’m not sure I understand why the organist/parish contract should be any different from any other contract in the market economy, that is to say, the employer can always be expected to want to pay nothing and the employee can always be expected to desire a billion plus dollars per hour of work.

… it’s at least worth considering allowing the contributing members of the parish to vote on such matters as staff salaries.

A musician should NOT expect to be paid 40 hours wages if he is not actively busy for 40 hours.

Sorry, but it’s not worth good wages.

… with a high school teacher who can conduct and is willing to teach adults, you can do pretty well. It’s how it was done before V2. I was there and I remember.

Performing isn’t exactly work, you just get up there and do it — anyone could learn that!

Illuminating, to say the least. This kind of stuff shows the attitude of many conservative parishioners–and I’ve known a lot of them in twenty-plus years of ministry. It’s the expectation of getting something for nothing whenever that’s possible:

Let the pope write a three-page letter and that will straighten out those bishops!

Karl Keating will send out his brochure and our pastors and liturgists will immediately leap into compliance!

I will talk to the pastor and make him see reason to do as I ask!

I’ll e-mail Cardinal Arinze in Rome and get him to clean house in my parish!

I’m sorry to bring the bad news here, people, but if you want peace work for justice. Oops, wrong tape. Let’s play it again …


If you want things to change, what makes you think this isn’t a call from God to roll up your sleeves and get to work yourself? Oh, that’s right. The other liberals are doing it that way. And you can’t have that. Plus it might take a really long time. That radical commie Oscar Romero said something about that, right?

Assuming we’re all adults here, Mom and Dad aren’t going to barge in and make it all right. They aren’t going to give you the car keys, pay for college, set you up in business, or even bandaid your knee after you’ve been roughhousing with those mean little progressive bullies in the sacristy.

I will give some of the NLM contributors credit: they are real musicians dealing with real situations in real parishes. They are trying valiantly to implement their vision of Catholic liturgy despite obstacles. I have a lot of respect for that commitment to quality and the sacrifice that is needed for it.

It is harder to respect people who insist on receiving things, having totally overlooked the principles of sacrifice, not to mention the rules of adulthood. In other words, TANSTAAFL.

But if you want to put your faith in a “garage schola” and the kindheartedness of your volunteer chant director who doubles as your teens’ music teacher, go right ahead. I await the day in which another Tridentine parish or two might want to outbid your $5 stipend per service. If it turns out my parish steals away the schola leader, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve engaged a plainsong leader for a parish of mine.

Think about that one for a bit.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Motumania: Pecuniary Diversions

  1. Tony says:

    I have always had a saying: “Treat me like a commodity, I will behave like a commodity (be available to the highest bidder). Treat me like a family member, I’ll behave like a family member.”

    I believe that a parish ought to consider treating their hired employees like family (unless, of course, they want to have an endless stream of employees that they are training to work in other parishes).

  2. Gavin says:

    Tony, I’m lucky to be at a parish where I’m treated as part of the parish, so I agree with you completely.

    … with a high school teacher who can conduct and is willing to teach adults, you can do pretty well. It’s how it was done before V2. I was there and I remember.

    Comments like that, if said to my face, would probably result in someone getting socked. But you can see my point about Vatican 2 plain as day here. The preconciliar musical situation was beyond bad. Catholic music was NOT treasured, recall Day’s quote that it was to be “beautiful, but not so beautiful that anyone would notice it.” Musicians weren’t respected, and still aren’t in many extraordinary parishes. And again, notice how this sounds like the modern situation of bad sentimental music, untrained musicians, and diddly-crap salaries for the untrained musicians. Where Vatican 2 DID change things, it did a good job. But too many people just continue in a preconciliar mindset, and it’s not just the traddies…

    And just so we’re clear, I will NEVER play for the extraordinary form. Well, I shouldn’t say “never”, but I certainly wouldn’t serve the parish as MD. All the Glory & Praise fans in the world aren’t as annoying as the angry old lady who thinks playing Bach at the Mass makes it invalid.

  3. Todd,

    Just a couple of things:

    This post was not meant at all as a diversion from the MP, but rather to bring up a very important issue that is at present time quite seasonal by virtue of contracts being renewed, etc. Contrary to the seeming perception of some, most of us at NLM were not sitting around hitting the “Refresh” button every time the noon Angelus bell rang in Rome to see if the MP had been released;)

    BTW, lumping a paragraph of Jeffrey’s comments in with MichiganCatholic’s isn’t exactly fair, as they were arguing two totally different points. Jeffrey is not opposed to good salaries for church musicians; he just has a different approach, one that is worthy of consideration in my opinion. MichiganCatholic, on the other hand, was plain rude, insulting, etc. On him we are in agreement.

    On the basic points of my post, however, we do seem to agree, as your compliment on NLM would seem to suggest.

  4. Todd says:

    It wasn’t exactly clear to me what Jeffrey was arguing, but it struck me as rather naive to paint both pastors and church musicians as being generally looking out for number one. To the extent that statement shared a bit of ignorance with michigancatholic, I thought they deserved a shared spotlight.

  5. I wouldn’t say that Jeffrey is ignorant on this; he’s an economist.

  6. Todd says:

    And an economist somehow has a window into the aspirations and inner motivations of musicians and pastors? For the record, I referred to Jeffrey as naive, and I thought his statement shared ignorance with mc.

    It is possible for a learned person to stumble and make a statement touching upon ignorance. He’s welcome to defend and clarify his view here if he wishes. I realize he’s far from an ignorant person.

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