In twenty-plus years as a parish liturgist, I’ve shepherded young people through any number of special events. Often, a family requests a teen or even a child sing at a wedding or funeral. That’s usually a challenging situation. A friend brought to my attention a recent experience of hers, and gave me permission to share the general details so we could discuss it here.
A ten-year-old girl was volunteered to sing the psalm at her grandfather’s funeral. The young lady worked with her music teacher to prepare a well-known setting, “Shepherd Me O God,” and was heading out of town full of confidence. The parish music director on site, however, was not pleased. The girl was criticized for being flat on the high notes. Musical drilling didn’t change the pitch, and brought the young lady to tears. A child alone would not do, as it was told, so an aunt was engaged to assist. Auntie sang verse one. The girl sang number two. They sang three together.
“You would have handled this better,” my friend said.
I hope I would have. But my solutions may not be palatable to the whole spectrum running from parents to liturgists. I remember shepherding a thirteen-year-old who was volunteered to sing at her cousin’s wedding. Five songs and four rehearsals later, the teen did a competent job on the music. But it was demanding work for both of us. I’m not usually engaged to provide singing lessons and confidence coaching as part of a wedding gig. The cousin was likely not thinking singing at a family wedding would entail so much effort and inner anguish.
Being a psalmist is a serious, serious liturgical role. The psalmist proclaims the Word of God. As such, she or he is part of the kerygmatic ministry of the Church. My sense is that a level of maturity equal to that of the lector, deacon, or priest is required.
That said, there are liturgies in which the bar is lowered. One must learn to be a psalmist somewhere, sometime. Liturgies with Catholic schools and religious education programs would be a scenario in which it is reasonable to assume children will prepare the psalm and proclaim it to their peers. Even so, the young person must be reasonably competent in that particular environment. How many psalmists are there at a parish grade school? About the same number as there are athletic stars, or leads in the school play. It’s likely a single-digit number.
A funeral or wedding, despite protestations that it’s “the bride’s day,” or that it’s a “communal liturgy of the Church” are also family events. Funerals and weddings were family affairs before Christ, and they continue to have that emphasis, more or less, to the present day.
So if a ten-year-old were presented to me with the words, “Todd, I’d like you to meet the cantor for tomorrow’s funeral,” I wouldn’t strike a terrorist pose. At least not right away.
I would need to assess if the person were actually capable. The psalm verses would need to be communicated, possibly by placement in the worship aid, if need be. Diction and intelligibility would rate slightly above pitch. It might not be a liturgical experience of high quality, but I would have to ask: Is this potentially fruitful? If I sensed a child was getting railroaded into something over their head, I would likely take it upon myself to play bad guy and say no way were little kids (plural) capable of rendering the psalm properly. And then I’d suggest the vigil or the rosary would be a better place for this kind of “fluff.”
Any great stories? Any nightmares to share? What about your opinions on the situation, especially if the pastor is backing the family and insisting you make it work?