One sure way to assess the priest’s attitude about singing the Mass versus singing at the Mass is to uncover his approach if liturgy runs a little longer than usual. Or is expected to do so.
Long before reform2 musicians made it their rallying cry, good music directors learned the difference between singing the Mass and singing at the Mass. They knew where their art and craft stood in the pantheon of sacred virtues. Let one of our readers tell it:
One of my pet peeves as a choir director is the very common practice of Priest rushing through the liturgy (except for their homilies?). It is very common for my priest for example to say, “no sung Gloria”, or “no sung Kyrie” because we have a special speaker (or some other reason). I occasionally get that “why are you wasting my precious time?” look from my priest if the gathering song goes too long or if he has to wait for the choir after the presentation of gifts. It is my understanding as a choir director, that a song should normally be sung from start to finish…meaning, if the gathering song has five versus, they should all be sung. The rationale being that a song is a prayer that shouldn’t be done only part way.
I’ve been fortunate to work for priests who were very supportive of music. I haven’t encounter this too often since 1991 or so. In fact, at my current parish, I have the opposite problem: musicians who worry and cut hymns short after two verses or even one. No amount of reminder that the boss likes singing and wants to sing more will break ingrained habits and expectations. I’ve no doubt it has contributed to his assessment that music at our parish needs a serious upgrade.
If a special speaker or another reason will lengthen the liturgy, it is the responsibility of the priest or liturgist to communicate that to the music director before the choir rehearsal at the absolute latest. Last minute decisions reflect the poor planning of the priest.
With hymn-singing, I look to the integrity of the text. If the writer has an idea with four-verse integrity, I sing all four verses. If I’m in a parish where that’s frowned upon, I never program such hymns in the first place. Psalm-based songs I feel I can play with a bit.
Singing the Kyrie and Gloria should be seasonal decisions, unless there’s a standard practice for doing them all the time. Dropping the music whenever there’s a second speaker or something sends the message right from the chute that music at the Mass is not a priority. For the priest to regularly send that message a few minutes before Mass is unprofessional and in my book, would qualify as a serious liturgical abuse.
As for preparation of the gifts, I never plan anything that will leave the priest waiting. It’s just not as important as the other sung parts of the Mass. My personal preference is to improvise instrumentally during this time. It’s the mark of the priest’s own professional attitude if a once or twice-a-year transgression for a limited number of seconds gets the “look.”
Have you run across this issue? I’d be interested to hear what you and your readers think. Am I being too sensitive or am I holding the music we sing during the liturgy in too high of a place?
I don’t think this is rashly sensitive. Music is that important. We all know some priests who have a problem being team players. Music and liturgy are important enough that this gets talked out as a policy way ahead of time, and particular needs are taken care of days before Sunday Mass.
That said, it’s also a music director’s responsibility–even volunteers– to acquaint themselves with not only the liturgical calendar, but also the parish’s particular calendar for things like speakers, visiting clergy, Scout Sundays, and other non-liturgical items that potentially impact the liturgy.
I still get surprised by strange requests, but they’re rarely real surprises because I make it a point to know what’s coming up.