Ministers of Liturgical Music, Directors: SttL 45-47

The last of the music ministries discussed in the US Bishops’ 2007 document Sing to the Lord: the director. This person is defined first as a collaborator:

A professional director of music ministries, or music director … (works) with the bishop or pastor to oversee the planning, coordination, and ministries of the parish or diocesan liturgical music program. (45)

A three-point checklist follows. This describes the expectations:

  • fosters the active participation of the liturgical assembly in singing;
  • coordinates the preparation of music to be sung at various liturgical celebrations;
  • promotes the ministries of choirs, psalmists, cantors, organists, and all who play instruments that serve the Liturgy.

This seems to be a good skeleton for any job description, including that all-important responsibility for the singing of the liturgical assembly.

The bishops offer a curious comment, “(M)any potential directors of music are not of our faith tradition. It is significant as we go forward that directors of music are properly trained to express our faith traditions effectively and with pastoral sensitivity.

I would agree some directors are not Roman Catholic. However, the overall faith tradition is Christian. Different varieties of Christian, be they Eastern, Western, Reformation, Anglican, Roman, Coptic, or whatever, do share a single faith. But I would agree that within the cultural and religious expression of a particular faith community that a broad sensitivity should exist, however one might interpret that.

SttL 46 mentions baptism, discipleship, the USCCB document on lay ecclesial ministry, and the importance that music ministry “finds its place within the communion of the Church and serves the mission of Christ in the Spirit.” (Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord #17) I would think that a serious music director (meaning a long-term or career person) find time to digest the document and be prepared for a personal reflection on how one’s ministry aligns with the greater view expressed there.

SttL 47 reminds us of the importance of working together, clergy and music directors, and that the latter are part of a baptismal priesthood, one that leads to a life of discipleship.

That wraps up ministries of music. Any comments on it?

Posted in Liturgical Music, Sing to the Lord | 3 Comments

Wood or Stone, Clutter or Plain?

PrayTell has been monitoring developments at a Houston parish, in 2015 here and a few days ago here.

The before picture on the 2015 link is illustrative. I noticed a few things in the redecoration: a shift from stone (maybe faux-mineral) to wood (maybe fabricated cellulose). Even the new altar presents as wood. I’m a strong advocate (as the Church is) of permanence of an altar in a main church. The mineral-to-plant switch seems to be a step down from permanent. But there’s no doubt the new furniture seems more warm and inviting. Cancelled out by the altar rail, but ah well.

The new plan appeals to those who prefer symmetry. The asymmetry of the before picture seems a problem more for being too cramped and cluttered: presider chair and tabernacle side-by-side, then ambo and the altar a little to the front.

Other aspects seem a bit fussy to me: the multiple candlesticks and the altar rail are a detraction from what seems to be a warmer presentation. They do continue the tradition of clutter in this parish’s church. I’ll admit that other things being equal, wood does it better for me than stone in most small places. It can speak of a certain intimacy.

All that said, the new paintings are the most delightful part of the redecoration. Here’s a link to the article cited at PrayTell.

Posted in Art, Liturgy | 1 Comment

On Memorial Day

As a culture, we have some missteps when it comes to observances like Memorial Day. To be sure, I don’t think I get it 100% right. I do perceive the difference between today and Veteran’s Day. I’m aware of its development from remembrances following the US Civil War. I can distinguish the importance of honoring individuals who died for a cause they believed in, and opposing the whole notion of war. Naturally, I don’t see a conflict between being a pacifist and remembering and lamenting the human carnage of large-scale violence.

American civil religion today may be in something of a schism along the lines of honor, money, and sport. Television surfing the other day, I noticed camo caps on MLB players. Complaining on a few fronts about dropping 40 bucks a hat, and tweeted encouragement to buy:

Today is about honor and respect. Tip your @neweracap to those who’ve sacrificed to keep us safe #MemorialDay

Buying special headwear doesn’t seem all that different from buying a ticket to see a game on a day off that happens to remember fallen soldiers. Does it matter if one has spent quality time in church, at a local cemetery, attending or even marching in a parade, or in prayer thinking about a deceased loved one or comrade? Is there a problem dressing athlete-entertainers in military shades of green, even if they’ve never served in the military? Does it matter if the item for sale is made in China as one Twitter critic charges? Is it acceptable if some or all proceeds go to charity, as MLB suggests? Would it have to be a financial boon for widows and orphans of war?

If today is something along the lines of a national lament, what Catholics would consider a violet day, maybe there’s something to say against things like sporting events linked to Memorial Day, or even the whole weekend? Would it have helped Terry Frei avoid, in his own words, a “foul-up”?

I don’t follow auto racing, not even when it’s been scheduled to coincide with an American ember day. Non-Americans come to the US and win our sporting events. Some of us go overseas and win on the road, too. It doesn’t seem a big deal to me.

That said, 72 years is a long time to simmer uncomfortably, and if the United States lasts long enough, I’m sure that every corner in the rest of the world will, at one time or another, be our enemy. I also happen to disagree with what I perceive as a Republican policy of firing a person or getting someone fired to salve a bit of outrage or placate protesters. Aside from one intemperate remark, Mr Frei seems to be competent at his job. He should get to keep it. He can write a decent apology, unlike many Americans. Either way, of course, people will be cancelling their subscriptions to his news organ or his Twitter feed. I guess the shareholders will want to see some action that isn’t a parade. Looks like intolerance in red-white-n-blue mugs for everybody.

I vote we try this again next year and see if we can aspire to something better. Athletes, those who write about them, those who publish said writings, and those who read up on it all.

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Ministers of Liturgical Music, Instrumentalists: SttL 41-44

Early in their document, Sing to the Lord, the US bishops review the various ministerial roles within liturgical music. Writing of any instrumentalists, the bishops remind us of their purpose with regard to the song of the assembly: “lead and sustain … without dominating or overpowering.”

The bishops praise the addition of variety, color, and especially harmony to the singing (42). They write to encourage improvisation (43), especially when prepared music ends before the ritual action, but caution against “mere background sound.” If instrumentalists can’t improvise, then “published literature” is recommended.

Instrumental music may serve “as a prelude before the Mass, an instrumental piece during the Preparation of the Gifts, a recessional if there is no closing song, or a postlude following a closing song.” (44)

There’s not a lot of depth here. Not mentioned is the value of coordinating instrumental music among two or more players. Ensembles of musicians provide an opportunity to model the ideals of Christian community: sharing prepared arrangements, coordinating improvisation, and most of all, practicing the discipline of listening.

Another bit to mention is the importance of attuning one’s musical repertoire to the liturgical season or feast. Otherwise, any comments from the readers?

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Wedding Lectionary: Deuteronomy 6:4-9

It might be that Jewish thread running through my family, or the associations I’ve enjoyed over the years with my elder sisters and brothers in Judaism, but I feel an affinity to the Old Testament that not every Catholic gets.

For example, the fine texts in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) that urge the ancient Israelites (plus Jews and Christians today) to live a virtuous life, rooted in morals, good behavior, and dedication to God.

One such text that isn’t in the official Catholic wedding ceremony, but I think would fit is this passage from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus, and known as the shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!
Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children.
Speak of them at home and abroad,
whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign
and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.
Write them on the doorposts of your houses
and on your gates.

The book of Deuteronomy attributes four lengthy addresses by Moses to the people. This passage, part of his second, follows his (re-)presentation of the Ten Commandments. As you see, it is an elaboration on the first commandment, to love the one God.

What does this have to do with marriage? For a Christian or a  Jew, it might mean quite a lot. A couple choosing this reading on their wedding day signal to their family and friends and guests, and remind themselves that they are rooted in a faith tradition that demands not only a personal belief in God. Faith is more than words on a printed page. Faith is passed on to children. Faith is in mind wherever one travels. Faith is lived during work, play, or leisure.

A wedding band might be a visible reminder of a marriage commitment, but does our faith commitment have a similar visibility? If not on our bodies or our homes, in the actions we take as a married couple to live out our beliefs and practice what we preach?

It is possible to wear a wedding band and be unfaithful. Likewise to wear a cross, hang a picture of Jesus on a wall, and slink away when being a believer is inconvenient. But our commitments–those to God or to a spouse–help form us and mold us into the best possible version of ourselves. This passage presumes that love is a choice, a free choice, and a committed one. Why not take the moment of a wedding day to announce that we love God, we love a special life partner, and we will live out that commitment for the betterment of anyone who happens to witness our marriage?

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Wedding Lectionary: Psalm 121

Every so often, I get the itch to suggest an addition to the Roman Lectionary. If I had been asked to consult on the new Order for Celebrating Matrimony, I would have offerred we make room for what is admittedly one of my favorite psalms, the 121st.

The obvious antiphon is verse 2:

Our help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.

And the eight verses of the text are arranged into these stanzas:

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
or your guardian to sleep.
Behold, the guardian of Israel
never slumbers nor sleeps.

The LORD is your guardian;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your soul.
The LORD will guard your coming and going
both now and forever.

Bible experts know this is the second of fifteen psalms (120-134) used for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Today, we think of pilgrimages as safe vacations. We travel by plane or bus. We are herded to gawk at religious sites. We enrich the local economy. We make spiritual connections with other pilgrims and with our God. But in the time of the psalmist, the journey to Jerusalem was one of potential danger: robbers lurking in highland passages, the possibility of illness or injury far from home. The psalmist also doesn’t mince words about the presence of evil.

In a way, a wedding is a commencement for a couple beginning a great pilgrimage. There will be hazards and dangers–we should not kid ourselves nor our newlyweds. Honeymoons on beaches and in gardens or on cruise ships sound nice. But the long haul of a marriage is nothing to take for granted. For times of trouble, or even for the steady maintenance on a relationship, who will we call upon for help? Why not the Lord God, maker of the universe? Could we ask for more assurance than protection from serious error, ready assistance night and day, and a guard wherever we may travel?

Perhaps you readers are thinking about a musical setting. This parish’s music ministry does a creditable job on the Joncas setting, which goes back to the late 70s. I recall it from many celebrations of the cathedral office around my home diocese of Rochester. I was surprised to see the whole setting of Evening Praise still in print here. It was included in the 90s edition of Gather Comprehensive.

If I were setting this psalm, I might make verse 1 a preliminary proclamation, probably a cappella. Following this, the psalmist would intone the antiphon and the people repeat. Then, just three stanzas as given above, settings verses 3 through 8.

Some Lectionary readings suggest Christ’s relationship with the Church as one image of marriage. Another appropriate metaphorical connection is marriage and pilgrimage. What better way to send a couple off into life and sacrament together than recall the blessing of God’s protective care, and that our troubles need never overwhelm us?

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Scarlet Letter

Jimmy Mac sent me a link to this RNS piece on a student being barred from Christian school graduation ceremonies “because she was immoral.” The young woman in question is also pregnant. It’s a new twist on an old story: that women, who are the obvious offenders in extra-marital sex that results in conception, are subjected to public discipline. As in Hawthorne’s masterful story, she declines to name the father. But he’s not a fellow student escaping discipline by sneaking into the diploma line, she says.

So, what to make of this? Pro-life groups are supporting Ms Runkles. Public commentary from them runs along the lines of developing an atmosphere encouraging mothers not to have an abortion. As other Christian women have admitted from their perspective as elders or observers on this affair.

Ms Runkles’s dad suggests that a more just discipline:

Typically, when somebody breaks a rule, you punish them at the time they break the rule. That way, the punishment is behind them and they’re moving forward with a clean slate.

So, a disciplinary action four months after a straight-A, otherwise straight-arrow student commits a school code violation. Good point, sir. I suppose if some students were involved in drinking, sex, or setting up Ponzi schemes the might before graduation, then barring them from the public ceremony would make some amount of sense. Removing Ms Runkles from her position as student president: that seems to make sense to me. The graduation, less so.

What do you think? Is the pro-life effort shot in the foot? Is this all about a baby bump? Ms Runkles is heading to Bob Jones University in the fall–there’s that.




Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment