Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Athirst is my soul for God—the LIVING God.
Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images created in Stencil
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Athirst is my soul for God—the LIVING God.
Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images created in Stencil
We’re almost at the end of Holy Week. Today is a Friday that feels like a Sunday (because I’ve been to church) and then tomorrow will feel like a weird day all day long, and then I’ll go to Easter Vigil Mass and wind up feeling like I’m supposed to be somewhere on Sunday, even though I have nowhere to go.
But I’ve learned a few things, this Holy Week. The pared-down version of the Holy Week Masses and services has meant that we carry less; we sing less; we pay attention more; we notice more. Most of the time, the pared-down version has been a good thing.
On Palm Sunday the blessed palms were available at the end of Mass as we left the church. There were no palms to hold during the entrance procession, but since we were using the simple entrance without the Gospel reading about the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we didn’t need palms. This meant that we didn’t have palms to fiddle with, drop, or braid into crosses.
We also didn’t have hymnals (which, in our parish, contain the missal). Those are all locked away in the parish library, except a few in the choir area for the musician and cantor to use. On Palm Sunday when the Passion was read, no one had the readings available to proclaim the crowd parts. The lector read those along with the “any speaker except Jesus” parts. And that turned out to feel really odd. When the Passion is proclaimed at Mass and the assembly participates in a way that’s only done two days per year, saying the words “Crucify Him!” really brings home the message of our own participation in the burden of sin that Jesus died to take away.
It turned out to be a gift that I didn’t sing this year on Holy Thursday. We musicians have to pay attention in a focused sort of way, because we’re listening for cues (and sometimes on the special days the cues are very different from ordinary Sunday cues). But I was sitting with the assembly and I had the chance to just listen and not worry about being ready to start the next acclamation on time, because the musicians would cue me. And in all my years of attending the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I never noticed this:
On the day before he was to suffer(iBreviary; emphasis mine)
for our salvation and the salvation of all,
that is today,
That sacrifice was happening right then and right there. Not only in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Right here in New Jersey on Holy Thursday night in 2021. I’m not expressing this well. I don’t know how to express this well. But I think it means that the sacrifice was made once by Jesus but we are reliving it, and now I will need to go read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1365-1369) and ponder that.
This Holy Thursday, the ritual of the washing of the feet was omitted. Of course, we heard about it in the Gospel, but the actual washing of feet did not happen. For me, that was a good thing because if I’m a musician I’m busy the whole time and if I’m not a musician I’m distracted by either the music (for good or for ill) or by my own thoughts about how I’d never want my feet washed because who would want to look at my awful feet?
In a way, it’s hard to strip much from Good Friday, because it’s already as stripped down as a liturgy can get. By this point in Holy Week I think the simplicity of it all had finally settled in for me. I didn’t spend the silent entrance procession sulking about the missed opportunity for a hymn. I was ready for the silence, and my soul was happy for it.
It seemed like a lot of people thought the same as I did about Palm Sunday, because when the Gospel was proclaimed for Good Friday, out came the smartphones and the missals and Magnificats that people had brought in with them. It wasn’t everybody, but it was enough that when the crowd had something to say, we could hear a good number of voices saying it.
Finally, on Good Friday this year we did not have individual veneration of the cross. Our deacon-in-training carried the cross from the back of church to the altar, proclaiming three times, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.” Then our pastor asked everyone to stand and silently adore from our places. Again, this is a situation where I’m usually busy providing music while everyone in church stands up, lines up, venerates the cross, and returns to seats. It takes longer than Communion and it’s important to end the music the second the last person has been seated, so it’s a little stressful. And the musicians never get to venerate the cross. This time, we all just stood in our places. You could hear a pin drop in that church. It was powerful.
Holy Week 2021 has turned out to be very different from Holy Week 2019, our last normal Holy Week. It’s also turned out to be a million times better than Holy Week 2020.
Tomorrow night is the Easter Vigil, and we will make a joyful noise, in praise of the Resurrection and our return to Mass and seeing Mass attendance numbers creep up, little by little each week. We won’t have an Easter Fire, and that’s sad. But after Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday, I know that, whatever’s missing, there will be a lesson for me in it.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
I have a song stuck in my head. And it’s glorious.
It’s been quite a while since that’s happened. Actually, I think it’s been a year.
The weekend of March 21/22 last year was the first weekend our parish was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a solid three months before public Masses resumed. We still can’t sing in groups here or invite the assembly to sing. The hymnals are still stacked on tables in the parish library, which is still closed to the public.
Music at Mass for the past nine months has basically been walking music: hymns for the entrance procession, preparation of the gifts, Communion, and recessional. And we sing the Gospel acclamation. We have a cantor and accompanist, and we’re singing behind plexiglass shields, far away from each other and anyone else.
We haven’t been singing the Responsorial Psalms. The lector simply reads those.
But starting at this year’s Easter Vigil, we’ll be singing the psalms again.
Psalms are a challenge for the cantor, because they’re a whole new song you basically sing as a solo (so you have to get it right, since there’s no one to cover your mistakes), and sometimes you won’t sing that particular one again for another three years. They’re not like a new hymn you’ll sing several times within a liturgical season and get to know quite well.
For some weird reason known only to the music director, whenever I’m one of the singers at the Easter Vigil, I’m assigned the Exodus 15 psalm: “Let us sing to the Lord; He has covered Himself in glory.” A couple of years ago we got the Spirit & Psalm arrangements for the psalms and learned those; they’re more guitar-friendly than Respond & Acclaim. Since we don’t have enough organists or pianists to cover all the Masses at our parish, that option is a welcome one.
Some psalms are more difficult to learn and sing than others. Sometimes there are a lot of syllables stuffed into a short musical space. That’s what happens in verse 4 of that psalm for the Easter Vigil:
You brought in the people you redeemed
and planted them on the mountain of your inheritance
the place where you made your seat, O LORD,
the sanctuary, LORD, which your hands established.
The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
Five lines, but only four musical phrases. That “mountain of your inheritance” seems pretty insurmountable when you’re tripping over the syllables. And the Easter Vigil is less than two weeks away.
On Saturday I had a rare opportunity to be alone in the house, so I grabbed my copy of the psalm and headed for my little keyboard, where I belted out the refrain and stumbled over the verses a few times, worrying because the Easter Vigil is less than two weeks away and I don’t want to mess this up.
I practiced it so much that, while I still don’t have it right, I do have it stuck in my head.
Sunday morning when I prayed Liturgy of the Hours, as soon as one of the psalms contained a word or phrase that’s also in the Exodus 15 responsorial, my brain immediately switched to Easter Vigil mode.
I had to keep dragging myself back to the right words.
As I prepared and ate my breakfast, Exodus 15 was running through my mind.
But I’m not irritated about it. I’m grateful.
My last Easter Vigil was two years ago. We had many musicians and singers, all there to make a joyful noise. We had a Baptism that year, so we did all the readings and all the psalms. We made so much joyful noise that our voices were tired before the Communion hymn. And most of us showed up the next day to do it all again.
It was good.
Last Easter our parish had livestream issues (the technology was still new and frequently hiccupped) so we didn’t even get to see the whole Mass; we finally were able to view the stream from a neighboring parish.
And here we are, a year later, slowly adding back music to Masses where we can’t invite the assembly to sing with us — because they have no hymnals (who knows when the bishop will let us bring those back?).
People wave at us on their way out as we seize the opportunity to sing more than one verse of something, flashing a thumbs-up since we can’t see them smiling behind their masks. Some have stopped us in the parking lot to thank us for providing even the little bit of music we have, because “it makes things feel normal.”
All that to say: it’s been a long time since I’ve had a psalm stuck in my head because I’m learning it for Sunday.
Easter is coming. Easter music is coming. More music is coming.
And there will be great rejoicing.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Main image created in Stencil Pro.
One recent weekday, the Mass intention was for the repose of the soul of a parishioner who passed away earlier this summer.
The daily Mass crew is pretty consistent (and had been, even before the pandemic), so it wasn’t exactly a surprise that the group of ladies sitting together in a pew that’s normally unoccupied were family members or friends of the deceased. I found that out because, after Mass, I couldn’t get out the door while they were standing around in the vestibule – probably looking for Father.
“Nice Mass,” one of them commented.
Another agreed. “He said the name.”
Maybe it’s not standard procedure to announce the names of those for whom Masses are offered. At our parish, it is done during the general intercessions.
At first, I didn’t see what the big deal was. I remembered back about 10 years when, during Lent and Advent, the pastor at the time required the choirs to chant the general intercessions, and people complained that they couldn’t hear their loved one’s name mentioned. (We tried. Really, we did. But it was extraordinarily difficult to chant those intentions and include the names. Fortunately that practice died in the water pretty quickly.) At the time, I thought it was shallow that people were making a big deal about the mention of a name.
But it is a big deal, to be prayed for by name. It’s a comfort. We want to be seen, and we want our loved ones to be seen – and that mention of a name in prayer is the Church’s way to express that someone has not been forgotten, that we do remember them and pray for them.
It is never shallow to want to have a loved one remembered in prayer. And it’s not shallow to need to hear that it’s happening.
Next time you’re at Mass, listen for the name. Pray for the deceased for whom that Mass is offered – that’s not just the priest’s job. And pray for the family that person left behind.
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Pexels (2017)
In my part of the world, the churches have been open (at very limited capacity) for a little more than two weeks. And as in just about every other place, we’re wearing masks, the hymnals have been removed, there’s no holy water in the stoups, and “holy hand sanitizer” awaits you at the entrance where you check in with the ushers of a Sunday, for low-tech contact tracing.
And there are no bulletins.
Sure, you can read them online — and I do — but when a good number of parishioners are not comfortable with technology (if they even have access to a computer or smartphone at all), those parishioners are cut off from the life of the Church in yet another important way.
Yes. Bulletins are important. If the parish leaders think it’s important enough to create a bulletin (whether or not it’s offered in printed form, and during this pandemic, it’s digital only) then there needs to be a way to get them to the people who, I’d argue, miss them the most.
I wouldn’t even have thought of this, were it not for one of my friends, a fellow Secular Franciscan, who lives alone and does not have access to technology. While she is in good health, praise God, she is the ultimate people person and has definitely suffered during this time of isolation. I haven’t seen her at Mass yet because I have been singing at a different time than normal, but our first Sunday back she saw our music director after Mass and mentioned that she really missed reading the bulletin.
The music director immediately reached out to me after that conversation to see if I had a mailing address for this friend and ask if I’d take care of sending her a bulletin. Since I have a computer and a printer and envelopes and stamps, how could I say no? So I’ve been printing the bulletin and mailing it out on Monday morning, with a little note to say hello.
Yesterday my friend showed up at my front door with a little gift and a thank-you note. It has meant a lot to her to receive those bulletins in the mail. It’s no big deal for me to do this, but it’s a big deal for her to get them. She thanked me several times — for the love. And that’s what it really is, just a small gift of love.
(Boy, that was a tough visit. I could see her holding herself back. She just wanted to give me a hug. Her arms would start to move toward me, and then she’d catch herself. As I said, she’s the ultimate people person and an incurable hugger. It was heartbreaking.)
Here’s my challenge to you: Can you bless someone who’s not a digital native? Can you print a bulletin for someone in your parish who has no access to technology, but would love to read the parish news? If you don’t know someone, ask at the parish office if there is a homebound parishioner who would like to receive a bulletin with a note and a promise of prayer. Who knows: you may foster a friendship that lasts longer than the painter’s tape marking social distance in the church pews.
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I don’t want to read about it.
But I know I have to. (And not just because I work in Catholic media.)
Even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, the sex-abuse scandal in the Church was back on my radar screen. That’s because Cardinal McCarrick served in two New Jersey diocese. He presided at my husband’s Confirmation.
Before the grand jury report was released, my pastor dedicated his bulletin column to this difficult topic. He shared his disgust and how the first sex-abuse scandal had affected his priesthood. He called for our parish to participate in a 54-day Rosary novena, beginning August 15.
I’ve been reading about it, and trying to pray, and trying to figure out what it will mean for a Church that’s largely empty already — largely due to the first round of scandals in 2002.
Since 2006 I have been VIRTUS-certified so that I could volunteer and substitute-teach in a Catholic school. I have had to attend the class (which, having also been through the Boy Scouts’ Youth Protection Training, was less informative than the class the BSA offered). I’ve had to go to the really sketchy places in semi-abandoned industrial parks every 3 years to get my fingerprints done. (How sketchy, you ask? How about so creepy-people-in-the-elevator-sketchy, you think it’ll be safer to take the stairs on the way out — because at least you can run if you’re on the stairs? Yeah, that sketchy.) And to be honest, I haven’t had the best attitude about all of that, because I feel like I was being treated like a criminal because some other people were criminals.
I tried to turn that attitude around by praying for the victims and, yes, even for the criminals (they need prayers too) but I still feel that the rest of us were punished for the actions of a few.
But if that’s as much as this has touched me, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine the torment the victims and their families have experienced.
I feel like something is broken in the Church and it’s not something I have the power to fix.
I’m very unsatisfied by the statement of the New Jersey bishops, as well as the bishop of my own diocese. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that we need more than platitudes and talk of best.
Especially right now.
On Thursday, when I went to Adoration and took my rosary out of the little pouch, it was broken. That nearly undid me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but that broken rosary (which was all in one piece the week before when I’d prayed it at Adoration) was a symbol, for me, of the brokenness we are experiencing now. So I sat there using my fingernails to try to repair the links, since I don’t generally bring pliers to the Adoration Chapel. I had to make it whole before I could begin to pray.
I will not stop going to Mass. I think we need to pray harder than ever right now. We need all the grace we can get. The criminals are not the Church. The bishops are not the Church. The Pope is not the Church. They are all part of it, but they are not all of it, and there is too much that is good in it to toss out the whole thing because of the bad stuff.
(to be updated)
The National Catholic Register ran an interview with seminary professor Janet Smith this week. It’s worth the read, especially if you are wondering what you, one lay person in a broken Church, can do right now.
What can the laity do right now?
We should certainly pray and fast and try to keep our faith strong and that of others.
We also need to help other Catholics see how seriously bad the presence of homosexual networks in the Church is. We should write letters to our bishop. We should 1) commend our bishop for the good works he has done 2) demand a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. Carefully give evidence if we have some prefaced by “I have heard; I don’t know if it is true but I have heard it enough to think queries if not an investigation should be made.” Demand that if there are credible accusations against priests and more evidence is needed, that private investigators need to be hired 3) tell him that if cleaning up the homosexual network means that there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions 4) that a lay board be set up to which priests and others can make charges of sexual harassment by the bishop himself and priests and the particularly priests can report any mistreatment from the bishop without fear of reprisals; 5) send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage; 6) promise to pray and fast for him 7) send copies of your letter to DiNardo and the nuncio; 8) get signatures of others who may not be inclined to write; 9) ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don’t get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the public newspaper.
Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and one of my employers) offered a short prayer for the innocent victims.
Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
On the weekend of our no-longer-new parish’s tenth anniversary, which would be commemorated by a parish picnic on Sunday afternoon, the Saturday-evening Mass was celebrated by a beloved former pastor of one of the churches.
He’s retired, and will be helping out occasionally on the weekend (we’re a one-priest parish with two buildings and four Masses each weekend) and holding down the fort in a few weeks when our pastor is scheduled for surgery.
I’m going to say right here and now that this is going to set the creation of our parish culture back, in a big way.
Father F (F stands for Former Pastor) celebrated his first Mass as a weekend assistant at the church he used to lead, decades ago. He was mobbed before and after Mass by people happy to see him again — and that’s fine.
Not so fine, the applause at the beginning AND end of the homily.
Father C (C stands for Current Pastor) has mentioned more than once that there is a definite difference in the cultures at the two churches in our parish. I agree. As a musician, I’m bounced around among Mass times and locations. There’s only one Mass out of four that the folk group doesn’t play, and that’s 8 AM on Sundays.
It feels like we’ve still got competing parish histories, warring allegiances, and there’s still (after ten years) reluctance on the part of many people to cross the highway to attend Mass at the other church.
After ten years, people still identify themselves by the church they used to attend — the one that’s now part of our merged parish, which has a new name. The churches within the parish kept their original names, which makes things complicated but you have to identify places somehow.
After ten years, we have not yet begun to create a new parish culture. We have two separate cultures duking it out in the background of every little thing, from the location of daily Mass to whether parish musicians are volunteers.
I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the announcement that Father F would be around to help out every now and then until I started hearing people talk about how wonderful it is that he’ll be back.
He’s not here to be in charge; he’ll probably be celebrating one Mass per weekend except when Father C is sick or away. I’m not sure people get that, though. It seemed to me that people were ready to dig his old office chair out of the basement and put his nameplate back on the door.
There was lots of nostalgia, which is nice, but nostalgia is the last thing we need right now.
We’re ten years in. It’s time to invest our hearts in the culture of our new parish. The first ten years have been largely focused on administration — how things would get done, by whom, when, and where. That’s all figured out. And that’s fine for the first year or two — not the first ten (it hasn’t helped that by year 7 we were on our third pastor). I think it’s come at the expense of the spiritual and community life of the parish, which is important too. Without it, there’s going to be nothing to administrate.
It’s nice that we will have a weekend assistant, but I wish the bishop had assigned someone else to the task, someone who doesn’t have a connection to only half the parish. There’s too much emotional baggage involved, and I don’t think this will be a good thing.
We need to find a way to get rid of the idea that we should still be traveling in separate lanes.
Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
“How was church?” I asked my daughter yesterday after she returned from the 8:00 Mass.
Maybe I’d asked the wrong question. Maybe I should have inquired if she’d seen anyone she knows there, or how the music was, or who had preached the homily.
I don’t know what answer I’d hoped to hear. But the answer I did hear leads me to believe that I’ve failed.
When I was her age I suffered through the summers because I had to sit in the pews instead of with the musicians. I didn’t have a place to sing at home in the summertime. I’d go to Mass with my parents sometimes (and once I begged sheet music for original hymns from the songwriter who was playing them at Mass.) Other times, I’d walk to the church a mile away from our house. A lot depended on my work schedule.
I didn’t consider it boring, but then again, I didn’t go to Mass expecting entertainment. My biggest obstacle in the summer was that I wasn’t serving.
And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I haven’t taught my kids that Mass isn’t about entertainment. Maybe I haven’t stressed enough that we’re not there to get, but to give (and I’m not referring to what we’re putting into the collection baskets).
I can make my kids go (as long as they’re living in my house) and I can even insist that they don’t wear shorts to Mass. But I can’t make them want to.
Is my example enough? Is bringing them week after week after week, sending them to Catholic school, enough? Should I have done, said, been something more?
Have I failed my Domestic Church?
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Disclaimer: The following is my own opinion based on my own observations over many years of being a parent, a musician, and a parishioner. I am not a member of the clergy, a catechist, or the holder of a degree in theology.
This past weekend, it was my privilege to be one of the musicians at our parish’s First Holy Communion celebration. This is the first time in several years that First Holy Communion was held on a Saturday.
I’m not a fan.
I can think of only four reasons to schedule First Holy Communion as a separate event for only the children in the Communion class and their families:
None of these are good reasons. All of these (except reason 4) pander to people who are either more concerned about the externals of the celebration than the sacrament itself or likely to complain because Mass is a little longer than usual. We need to challenge the assembly, including the families of children receiving sacraments, to be better than this.
I can think of one compelling reason to (as my parish has done for the past few years) designate a Sunday (or two) as First Communion Sunday and invite families to sign up for the Mass they usually attend and receive First Communion:
Reception of the Eucharist is not a private event.
The celebration of First Holy Communion should not be divorced from the rest of the parish.
I used to love when First Communion Sundays rolled around. There would be several families arriving in the vestibule as I got there. The other musicians and I would make sure to congratulate the children. The First Communicants and their families would sit in the first few rows of pews, and there would be special mention of First Communion during the homily and the Prayer of the Faithful. The rest of the people at Mass were the people who are also usually at that Mass, and seeing children receive First Communion at Sunday Mass strengthens that community bond within the parish.
Three years ago, when my friends’ sons received First Holy Communion, I wrote:
I love that at this parish, First Communion is celebrated during Sunday Masses, so that the whole community gets to be there to celebrate along with the children who have been waiting in the pews for seven or eight years to join the rest of the assembly in the sacrament.
Those boys are altar servers now. There’s a commitment to the Church that is affirmed when a family faithfully attends Mass together.
And then there are the other reasons that Sunday is the proper day for First Communion:
There should be nothing in the religious education program at a parish that sends the message (intentionally or not) that sacraments of initiation are private events, to be enjoyed only by those receiving those sacraments and their families and friends.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
I’m thinking back to a time when I was in grade school, and my dad would take us into an empty church on a Saturday afternoon. In those days, churches were open during the day, and anyone could just go in and pray for a few minutes. If you have the opportunity to bring your children to a church or Adoration chapel–not just for Mass, but for a visit–definitely do so. It will leave an impression.
When I was around 10 or so, my dad would take us kids to a church in a neighboring town while Mom was at some meeting or other. Dad would have some time to kill, and we’d walk around the neighborhood, visit a park, and at some point wind up in the church.
One of us would ask him, “Are we here for church?”
“No, let’s just say hi to God.”
That was an amazing idea. You can go into a church, and just visit. You can just let God know you’re there, say a prayer, light a candle. Dad would let us walk around a little, look at the statues, kneel down for a moment by the tabernacle.
The church would be quiet. Most of the lights would be out, but it wasn’t a spooky darkness. It was kind of comfortable, actually, kind of the way you feel at night when it’s dark, and you’re nice and warm and sleepy, and you know you’re safe. After all, even if the church is nearly dark, and nearly empty, it is still full–because God is there, just waiting for you to come in and say hi.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS