Non-Catholics In The Catholic Choir

Fr Anthony Ruff addresses a very pertinent issue on PrayTell today. His final questions and a citation from the USCCB’s Sing to the Lord:

The issue is shot through with lots of complication, and application of any principles will require sensitivity. There are reasons why various congregations might come up with different answers to the question, depending on the way in which congregations understand their musical ministry. Is it notoriously difficult to establish boundaries? What should they be? How should they be applied?

49. Liturgical musicians are first of all disciples, and only then are they ministers. Joined to Christ through the Sacraments of Initiation, musicians belong to the assembly of the baptized faithful; they are worshipers above all else. Like other baptized members of the assembly, pastoral musicians need to hear the Gospel, experience conversion, profess faith in Christ, and so proclaim the praise of God. Thus, musicians who serve the Church at prayer are not merely employees or volunteers. They are ministers who share the faith, serve the community, and express the love of God and neighbor through music.

50. All pastoral musicians—professional or volunteer, full-time or part-time, director or choir member, cantor or instrumentalist—exercise a genuine liturgical ministry. [See Sacrosanctum Conciliium, no. 29]

I was pleased to see the bishops making that important distinction with discipleship in SttL. This is spot on.

I think an individual can serve another person, and facilitate divine enlightenment–if the recipient is open to God’s grace. In church, people tend to be more open to grace–though not always. In the church setting, I believe a secular musician recruited to perform a service can certainly touch a believer or a disciple. God can certainly communicate through inanimate things: natural scenery, a book, a work of art. So God could work with a person who was a performing non-believer. And thus the experience of God may be heightened or intensified in a personal way. And if it produces tears, smiles, sorrow, etc., one might even say there’s a tangible effect.

A church ministry is something more than a one-shot deal of hiring a brass player, a section leader, or a soloist. Ministry implies a regular commitment to people or to helping in a certain way. A non-believer musician might certainly touch a worshiping community week after week as part of a larger choir or ensemble. If I were to encounter, say, an atheist at the organ console, I would be a skeptic on describing that person as a minister. At best, an accidental disciple. And God can certainly work with that.

The church roles of custodian and secretary are not usually included in lists of parish ministers. Indeed, many Catholics offer quite a bit of snark when they encounter listings that include donut ministry, dusting ministry, or even clown ministry.

My sense is otherwise. If a disciple serving donuts, dusting the shelves, or even scaring conservatives with greasepaint, wig, and red nose is so seeped in the Holy Spirit and to committed service to others, then I would be inclined to call it as God sees it: ministry in service of the Gospel.

I think there are some people–even lifers on the payroll with a graduate or seminary degree–who were never disciples and never quite made it as ministers. If they were involved in the occasional moment of the divine, it was likely more the receptivity of the people touched.

The key thing about music ministry is not entertainment or only the spiritual edification of the already-saved. In my mind, it’s also about bringing the worshiping assembly along the spectrum from seeker to believer to disciple. Can a non-believer inspire a person and facilitate discipleship? I have my doubts. But they can certainly provide entertainment, even on a very deep level.

As long as the people served are part of the in-crowd, I think non-disciples can “work” in church leadership. But perhaps the reason why the Catholic church has stalled so notably in evangelization is that we have relatively few disciples laboring out front. I might even go so far as to claim that if a community is not evangelizing, it is very likely they do not have disciples.

Clearly, Catholics do not have a monopoly on disciples. Non-Catholic Christians who were disciples and ministers might very well be able to transform a parish’s spirituality if all involved were truly cooperating with God’s grace.

How would I apply this?

First, making disciples would be a priority for the existing music ministry. Second, any newcomer who was already a disciple would be heartily welcomed, even if they weren’t Catholic. Third, choirs and ensembles are formative small groups and should be open to seekers and believers as part of their furthering the Lord’s mandate in Matthew 28/Mark 16. Last, I wouldn’t hire a musician who wasn’t already a disciple.

Your thoughts?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Non-Catholics In The Catholic Choir

  1. Jim McCrea says:

    I guess using non-Catholic organists and choir directors is at least a venial sin?

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