We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song.
You didn’t think that you would hear from a pastoral musician without being asked to sing did you? The song of the people in worship is absolutely the most beautiful musical sound.
Several months ago, Fr. Charles Bouchard called and asked if I would accept the Catherine of Siena award for lay ministry I was and am awed and feel greatly honored. In his follow–up letter he wrote that this award had a twofold purpose: first, to stress the importance of lay ministry and show what the church can accomplish when it calls upon the gifts of all people and second, to draw attention to the mission of Aquinas Institute, which prepares lay men and women for careers in service to the church.
Only a bit later did I discover that several of my co-workers (also lay ministers) at St. Monica had proposed me as a recipient. Peggy, I think you led the group — you mentioned something to me the other day which I will always remember — you said that on the occasions when things were frustrating or tense in my work and I would moan and groan or get a bit short, I always came into the office before leaving for the day to apologize if I had been too difficult. Thanks for allowing me a place to moan and groan when needed. Jeanne, you wrote the wonderful letter in support of my nomination, and the third who collaborated in the nomination was disappointed not to be here tonight.
Christina Sanders, a graduate of Aquinas is adopting a 2 1/2 year old Chinese boy and had to attend an obligatory parenting class this evening. Thank you.
But tonight we should all give thanks for all at Aquinas Institute who have developed such a strong program in support of lay ministry. Several years ago, I was fortunate as a member of the team from St. Monica who, with some 20 other area parishes, took part in the two and a half year study group focusing on lay ministry in parish life. That focus is continuing now with the Apollo program. This kind of outreach into the wider church community is of course in addition to the academic mission of Aquinas to prepare men and women to serve the church as lay ministers. Some people are uncomfortable with the term “lay ministry” perhaps feeling that somehow this detracts from “ordained ministry.” But if we look a bit closer, we certainly must know that lay ministry has always been with us even if we didn’t always use that terminology. And it is also obvious that both are essential to the well–being of the Church. Here at Aquinas the preparation for the “ordained ministry” coexists so marvelously with preparation for “lay ministry” — each complimenting and necessary to the other.
Since I have this extraordinary honor tonight, I want to speak for a moment specifically about the “music minister.” The pastoral musician may be the most hidden of the ministries although it may very well have been the first or at least among the first. The early Christians sang hymns, songs and spiritual canticles and surely someone was recruited to start the music — can’t you just hear the presider saying “I can’t sing — so would you (whoever) please start the singing.” And so began a couple of thousand years of work for lay music ministers.
When I say the pastoral musician may be the most hidden ministry, I am frequently struck by descriptions (and, as a member, I have spoken with leaders of the National Association of Lay Ministry) which name as lay ministers :
Parish Administrator, Director of Religious Education, Parish Life Coordinator, Pastoral Associate, Business Manager, Youth Minister, Liturgist etc. but almost never is the Pastoral Musician listed.
Just a few years ago, when I was teaching organ in the SLU music department, there were several students of mine, who did complete a master’s degree in liturgical ministry with an emphasis in music here at Aquinas. They have been working in parishes here in the St. Louis diocese and in other dioceses — to name two — Tom Stephan has been the director of music at Our Lady of the Pillar parish and Jim Wickman was director of music at Incarnate Word parish here before moving closer to Chicago to help care for his Mother who died several years ago. Since then he worked in Milwaukee and eventually became the director of the office of liturgy and music for the Archdiocese. Now he has left Milwaukee and will pursue studies for a doctorate in ministry at Washington Theological Union in Washington D.C.
I mention these things because all too often, the education/preparation for our music ministers is woefully inadequate and not very many people seem to care. We would not think of having a person function as pastoral associate, director of religious education, youth minister etc. or for that matter, teacher in our schools, who was not qualified by education for that position and yet so often, just about anyone who can whistle a tune, or play a few notes on an instrument will do nicely to plan and lead the music for our worship. Nor for that matter, are we generally willing to budget any reasonable amount of money for such an important position. The national Association of Pastoral Musicians founded by Rev. Virgil Funk almost 30 years ago has done more in this country for music in worship than any other organization. They have developed a series of certification programs and have lobbied for better salaries and working conditions for pastoral musicians but there is still a great disparity in recognition of the need for well-trained musicians in comparison to other ministries.
I would propose the outrageous statement that after the Pastor of the parish (let us call him the Preacher of the spoken Word) the Pastoral Musician is the next most important minister for the people — (let us call him/her the Preacher of the Word through Music). I hasten to add that this truly is not meant to detract from other ministries. All are needed. But no other minister actually has such a personal, if you will, connection to as many people of all ages in the parish as the pastoral musician who ministers to all at every worship celebration. In many of our parishes that might mean ministering from 2,000
to 5,000 people every week often on a daily basis. The song of the people is the most important element of our ministry…
Eric Routley, great hymnologist, said the Hymnal is the Catechism for the person in the pew. What do people remember in worship — with all due respect to the great preachers of the word — I would venture to guess that everyone in this room remembers more of the hymns, psalms and Mass parts they sang through the years than of the words they hear preached. Perhaps the spoken preached word is most effective at the time of delivery — exhorting us to understand the message in the scripture of the day and making application to how we live the Word as we go out into the world, but over the years it may be the sung word which clings to the marrow of our bones and spirit.
How can we not know and feel Advent when we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” — how attentive the children are when we talk about those words — ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile… and the titles “O Wisdom,” “O Dayspring,” O Desire of Nations,” and how even the little ones love to then sing “Rejoice Rejoice”… The music for the 40 days of Lent followed by the music for the 50 days of Easter — The hymn sung by all Christians of all denominations “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” — probably one of the hymns which has seen more arrangements for assembly, choirs, and all kinds of instruments to sound forth the great celebration of the Resurrection. And in addition to seasonal hymns which speak so strongly to our hearts, there are the sung psalms and acclamations such as the Great Easter Alleluia. Fortunate is the parish community where the Easter Alleluia is sung at the Easter Vigil and then often during the 50 days — A couple of years after arriving at St. Monica, and with the collaboration of the pastor after reminding him that we sang the Great Alleluia throughout the 50 days at Holy Cross with Martin Hellriegel… I started using the Great Alleluia, slipping it in at the end of the preparation of gifts or the end of Communion time, inviting people to join in singing the Great Easter Alleluia and opening up the organ to accompany it on three rising tones. At first, I think people thought we were a little crazy… then having discovered that the Pastor always said when something new was introduced “Let’s give it 5 years or so” — they more or less accepted that it wasn’t going away… and finally I mostly didn’t even have to invite them — I just intoned the first phrase and away we went.
One of the great blessings of Vatican II has been the revised lectionary and for musicians the responsorial psalm among other things has opened the way for new musical composition. And again, the fortunate parish where at times morning and/or evening prayers are sung, allowing for people to experience the psalms more fully. How wonderful it is to work with children and bring them to know the psalms — to hear even little ones sing “I rejoiced when I heard them say let us go to God’s house” or “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” Those are texts which will be with them throughout their lives. Speaking of children, what a joy it is to hear them humming or whistling a tune from Mass as they are leaving church. (Sometimes even an adult does
this) Or the child who said when the hymn was announced “O good this is one of my most favorite songs—Lord you give the great commission heal the sick and preach the word” — inside I say YES! — may she always remember those words. (Do we perhaps too often give children trite words and music which will not last?) Another young girl confided when she was a sophomore in high school that she wanted me to know that when I made the choir learn the Pentecost sequence when she was in the seventh grade, that was hard to do but since then, the Holy Spirit has a very important place in her life. The stories could go on.
“Active participation in the liturgy is the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian Spirit” — and “Music is integral to worship” — so the Church teaches us. If you are fortunate enough to have a pastoral musician who ministers in your parish, treasure that person and thank them now and then. They do an immense amount of work behind the scenes — all of that music that happens doesn’t just fall out of the sky — someone plans and implements every note. I thought in listening to Msgr. Drennan this evening at Vespers that we just had the Gospel this past Sunday about the two great Commandments — 1st love God and 2nd love one another. A great Communion song would have been “Love One Another.” When both preacher and musician work from the same scripture, the message is truly preached. Who knows maybe someone would have gone out humming that tune and might have carried the message through the week.
And now a personal note. I find that I am reluctant at times to encourage young people to seriously consider becoming pastoral musicians because I know that the going can be very rough and the monetary reward generally meager. But as I get older and see the immense need we have of trained pastoral musicians, I have decided to speak out to young people and say what I really believe. I treasure this vocation. I consider it a clear call from the Lord that I should use and develop the talent given me to the best of my ability with every ounce of love I can gather together so that whenever I make music for worship it will be to the glory of God and will help in some small measure to transform the lives of all present.
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As so often happens, after giving this talk on the evening of the presentation of the award, I wished that I had included a mention of the wonderful Pastoral Musician from Aquinas Institute, my longtime good friend, Frank Quinn O.P. He does so much work behind the scenes — evidenced by the planning for and the preparation of the beautiful worship program for Vespers on this occasion. Through his great work in promoting and publishing music for the Liturgy of the Hours and his work with ICEL (International Committee for English in Liturgy) in working on translations, he has made great contributions to the Church’s worship.