Facing Others in Ministry

I was reading an excellent article in the journal Emmanuel by Father Michael L. Gaudoin-Parker. As I was reading “Preaching: Facing the Other: St Peter-Julian Eymard’s Approach” it struck me how apt the notion of facing people serves the deepest pastoral elements of ministry. Especially music at the Mass.

The petition for the dead in Eucharistic Prayer II, in which we petition God to “welcome them into the light of your face,” has also caught my notice since the Missal translation revision.

We use “face” literally, as in the priest facing the people at Mass. We use it lyrically, suggesting God as a source of illumination. It is also an English idiom that implies relationship, even a certain intimacy. Does “facing the other” apply in church music? I think so. Especially in the cultivation of an important ministry relationship in a faith community.

Father Gaudoin-Parker writes about preaching:

Its quality can be assessed and appreciated in how someone … faces others. This “facing” implies a real interfacing between persons–much more delicate and personal than … Facebook. It entails not merely seeing others before us, but of attending, listening to them, being sensitive to their experiences, their joys, sufferings and hopes, sensing their yearning …

What applies to preaching easily applies to any ministry. Do we really care about the person we face? Is there a sense of the delicacy of what we are asked to do?

Preaching is one of the three core ministries of modern liturgy. Along with hospitality, music is the third. My thought is that what the author wrote about preaching and how he cited St Peter-Julian Eymard applies well to music ministry. And by extension is seems quite suitable to any exercise of liturgical service to others.

People come to Mass with a hope of being spiritually nourished, the author presumes. I agree with this. Perhaps every worshiper every Sunday doesn’t have the explicit intent, “I’m going to get fed and filled today at church.” But there is an undercurrent in Catholic Eucharistic spirituality that suggests people will be fed at Mass. At the very least, when we are nourished, it’s not a shocker.

Facing people who want to be fed implies we have a faith to share. In the realm of preaching, consider how effective the apostles were in Acts. They were eye-witnesses to Jesus and his ministry. They heard the Word. They saw where he dwelt among us. They were on fire. As music ministers, are we so touched by our faith experiences that we have something to share? We may not be so enflamed as Peter or Stephen or Philip or Paul. But do we have a hope of being effective and fruitful in some small way? I think we should.

Father Gaudoin-Parker reinforces his premise with ample Scripture citations and witnesses from the saints. But the core of his presentation centers on the founding saint of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. And what that religious order has largely to say to clergy is well-suited for what many of us do most Sundays in sacred music.

cantor at STA MassOne of Father Eymard’s early realizations was the importance of prayer and cultivating a spiritual life–even over and above that of the need for sound intellectual grounding in Scripture and Tradition. Are we prepared to face God as we face people in church? To receive insight from the Lord as we hope to facilitate insight in the liturgy?

Another insight was to accept the Word of God as pertaining to oneself. When we sing of “I think of you upon my bed, I remember you through the watches of the night,” (Psalm 63:7) do we draw on that sleepless night calling to God, as perhaps some jobless or otherwise troubled parishioner has? When we intone and expect people to repeat, “Out of the depths I call to you, Lord,” (Psalm 130:1) have we brought our hitting-bottom experience, not unlike the recovering alcoholic in the back row? When we chant, “One generation praises your deeds to the next,” (Psalm 145:4a) are we in touch with the faith we received from parents and mentors, and are looking kindly to those unruly kids crawling under a pew?

One last bit.

(St Peter-Julian Eymard) summed up the qualities required of a preacher as well as those pertaining to the exercise of “sacred eloquence” as regards its styles that ought to be tailored according to various occasions and listeners. This recalls Newman’s motto: “Heart speaks to heart.”

Does this “sacred eloquence” include vernacular singing in accustomed styles using familiar texts and music? I certainly think so. What are the occasions of today’s Church? Who are those listeners … and singers? What do they expect?

I think effective music ministry is helped by literally facing people. And this is difficult, potentially. Some churches aren’t built for this. Some church musicians are “built” to perform, not serve. And some pewsitters are accustomed to being entertained.

Being able to face people spiritually is vital. We don’t need to know everyone’s problems and triumphs. We just need to know that’s out there in the assembly. It’s part of the offering people bring with them to Mass. It is very real, as real as our own joys and sufferings. We face these within ourselves. We are not afraid to face others. Facing others, cultivating a real ministerial relationship: this is the heart of Christ-centered ministry. Christ came to be face to face with us. And this relationship, this intimacy, is suggested by the Eucharist. We can do no less.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, Ministry, Saints, spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Facing Others in Ministry

  1. Fr. GP’s testimony has some real merit, but for musicians, particularly singers, I don’t grind an axe over the facade of the choir being in the midst of the people in the nave versus in the loft. As an illustration, I’ve always taught “The blind person rule” to all choirs of all ages. That rule is that all things being chorally prepared and performable, singers’ impart the text, subtext, meaning and the due expressiveness so that just an aural perception, by someone blind for instance, is apparent. That’s more proof than a concert choir’s visisble facade reflecting the intent of everything between a Crucifixus and a Cantate Domino. The great warhorse, Thompson’s ALLELUIA, is an example of how deep one has to venture with that inner “face” being present to the listeners. Works just the same for the modern genres I believe.
    The cantor/psalmist circumstances are different to an added degree. The face need not effusively affect the canting, that seems mawkish or maudlin to me more than the touchdown arms or the orans in your pic. When I am the psalmist, I’ve been told that my knowledge and interiorizing of the verses sung (chanted actually) from memory proves very effective for imparting the internalizing of the verses within the congregants, and also helps to propel them to rejoin with the response. So, it’s how one manages to present the face not as a personality, but as the voice of THE Psalmist and of a prophet or evangelist. YMMV

    • Liam says:

      Given a choice between aurals and visuals, when it comes to music, the aural dimension has priority. Significantly so. (That said, I’ve encountered many situations where the loft is not aurally superior.)

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