Yesterday morning I fielded a phone call as I was pulling into the parking lot of my wife’s ear surgeon. This pre-planned and “simple,” small funeral that had baffled many of us on staff and on the bereavement team threw yet another curve ball. The pianist had broken her foot, it seemed. Was I available to accompany?

We had just arrived at 9:53 at the ear clinic for a 10am appointment. My wife had been complaining of pain the past few days. She was concerned the surgery didn’t “take,” and she would need a do-over.

No, I explained to my staff colleague on the other side of the phone call. My involvement would be next to impossible. I was a fifty-minute drive away and my wife had an important medical matter.

And the 11AM liturgy unfolded just fine with a competent and capable musician leading a cappella singing.

But it struck me how many presumptions we have about the liturgy.

A funeral Mass must have keyboard accompaniment.

  • Guitar accompaniment would have worked fine in the more intimate setting of sixty seats. And unaccompanied singing turned out well, from what I was told later.

A Mass in the chapel needs a portable keyboard.

  • The pianist was hauling her 100-lb clavinova when it slipped and landed on her foot. But it would have been easier to roll the church piano into the aisle leading to the chapel.

Church musicians are always available when we need them.

  • As a matter of fact, our parish has many competent accompanists. One is a college prof on vacation with his wife. One retired person teaches a class Friday mornings. Another retired person would have been available to play a 10:30 funeral, but had a lunch commitment that day. Another has a day job. Two students are gone for the summer. A third student pianist also has a day job. People have lives. Church musicians are not servants available whenever the need is great. One would think that being eight-pianists deep would be enough–but clearly that was not the situation.

Staff people always have answers, if not solutions.

  • I appreciate being needed and valued. But some dilemmas have no obvious fix.

My wife, by the way, got a big thumbs-up from the surgeon who did her stapedectony two weeks ago. Everything healed up nicely. There was some fluid build-up behind her repaired eardrum. But nothing to merit a do-over.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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