#WorthRevisit: My Semiannual Spiritual Attack

Shame on me. Once again I’m letting myself fall victim to my pride, and I’m letting that pride get in the way of the holiest 3 days of the Church year.

In short: there’s only one group of musicians at my parish that is invited to participate in the Triduum, and that’s not the group to which I belong. So instead of acting like a grownup, I pick up my toys and go home and don’t come to the Triduum.

Shame on me. The only one I’m hurting is myself.

I said this last year, but I didn’t follow through:

For the past several years I’ve basically boycotted the Triduum, because it hurts to be there. It hurts to be excluded. So I rant in this space (and to my husband) and commiserate with the rest of the folk group–and nurse my wounded pride.

That needs to stop, and I’m the only one who can stop it. This year, I need to make it my business to be at the Triduum.

Honestly, it is pride that gets in my way here. I rail about the entitlement mentality but I let myself get all caught up in it when it comes to music. We’re there every week, yes. But we’re not owed anything because of that.

This journey, like any journey, will begin with a single step. And I’ve decided to make a plan for that step. I’m starting tonight by refusing to rant at folk group practice about the fact that we’re left out. It’s time to stop licking my wounds and just start praying.

Please pray for me, in your kindness, as I try to get over this.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

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#WorthRevisit: Lessons and Carols

It’s time again for the Festival of Lessons and Carols, happening Friday. This is my favorite musical event of the whole year. I’ve participated every year since 2011, though last year I attended all but one rehearsal and missed the performance because I was too sick to play, let alone sing.

filming Lessons and Carols small
From a performance in 2013. I’m not in this photo; the instruments were off to the right.

For today’s #WorthRevisit Wednesday, I’m revisiting December 2011, the first year I participated in Lessons and Carols. None of my kids participate anymore, but I’m still there and, if they’ll have me, I’ll continue to be there in future years. (Hey, I multitask. I play guitar AND sing alto. I’m the only guitar, but one of 6 altos this year–the alto section is nothing short of amazing. Not that I’m biased.)

One of my favorite activities in high school was the choir. We were probably about 60 strong–that’s half the school! I loved the chance to sing in harmony.

We only had 3-part harmony (soprano, second soprano, alto) since my high school was not coed. I was a second soprano, but over the years I’ve migrated to alto. (And I’m not above throwing in a tenor or baritone part now and again, just for the fun of it.) I do not harbor any illusions of having a solo-quality voice, but I do just fine in a group and I can sustain a harmony line without being near anyone else who’s singing that same part.
Right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying a chance to stretch my musical muscles. Over at the school parish, preparations are under way for a Festival of Lessons and Carols, scheduled for the Tuesday before Christmas. It’s a mixed group in many ways. First of all, we’ve got soprano, alto, tenor and bass–and a children’s chorus. WOW! It’s amazing to be part of creating that wonderful sound. We’re coming from at least 4 different parishes and at least as many different choirs/ensembles. There are kids (as young as second grade), teens, college students, young adults, parents with kids of all ages, and empty-nesters.  
Soon, we’re bringing in the musical instruments! And we all come together to make music. Christmas music is wonderful, and there is a huge repertoire of beautiful Christmas music out there. As a musician at church, though, I’m pretty much limited to standard carols. And that’s fine–people attending Mass during the Christmas season expect, and should find, those old familiar carols. It makes things easy when people visit from other parishes, other traditions, or just haven’t been to church in a while. When we play and sing at Mass, we’re there to lead people in prayer through song, not to perform for them.
This Festival of Lessons and Carols is a combination of Scripture readings and beautiful music, most of which is not your standard carol. It’s a performance, but don’t think for a moment that it is not also worship.
Last year Big Brother played bass at this Festival. The rest of us came along to be part of the audience. I loved it and was thrilled to be asked to take part this year (along with Little Brother and Big Brother, who will participate again).
That whole “singing is praying twice” thing? For me, it’s completely true.
I love that we pray before we rehearse, thanking God for the gift of music, for the opportunity to share that gift and to give God honor and glory by using that gift. (That’s the gist of the prayer; the music director does a better job phrasing it than I just did).
And I love being a small part of this large group. Some people in the group are like me, with ordinary musical skills. Others are incredibly gifted. When I sing with them, I am challenged beyond what I think I am capable of doing.
Great joy!

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: First Faith Formation Mass

For the past 7 years, faith formation at my parish was held off-site, at the local Catholic high school situated midway between the two churches that make up the parish. Faith formation took place on Sunday mornings, beginning with Mass in the school auditorium and running for two hours after Mass. There were 14 faith-formation sessions per school year.

Faith formation (or religious education, or CCD, or whatever you call it) has largely been off my radar screen because my children have always attended Catholic schools, where they have daily religion classes. I never paid much attention to how our parish did religious education—until the children disappeared.

For the past 7 years, my children were among the very few children at Mass on faith-formation weekends. All the other kids were in the high-school auditorium. And that’s not a good thing. It means that families were separated out from the rest of the parish. This is not the same as designating a particular Mass as a “family-friendly” Mass, with a homily geared toward children and more upbeat, contemporary music.

The families had left the building—or, more accurately, been removed from it and sent to an auditorium whose primary purpose is school assemblies and performances of the spring musical. Projecting stained-glass windows on the auditorium walls is a poor substitute for the real thing that the children could see, up close and personal, at our two church buildings.

Families missed out. They missed out on the experience of being at Mass among people of all ages. They missed that fellowship and, hopefully, that encouragement at the sign of peace, or after Mass, or when someone in front of them turned around to smile at their babbling babies.

The rest of the parish missed out. They missed out on the witness of families who showed up, despite untied shoes, major bed-head, and arguments about whether Matchbox cars are good church toys. (Trust me, families. The parish needs to see you there. That’s how we know the Church is alive and well and continuing into the future.)

And this morning, at the second of two inaugural Masses for faith formation on our own parish turf, it became evident that the children had missed out as well. Case in point:

  • Lots of people sang the responsorial psalm, an entirely new, but very simple tune. Very few sang the other acclamations until the Lord’s Prayer came along. They sang that (again, not as many as sang the psalm, but they sang it.)
  • I watched one brother-sister pair as they made their way through the Communion line. The brother, age 9 or 10, was demonstrating to his sister how she should receive Communion as they walked toward Father. He had it all down—how to hold up his two hands, how to bless himself afterward. I hoped and prayed that his younger sister was actually old enough to receive, and that if she wasn’t, she hadn’t just made her First Communion today.
  • The kids didn’t seem to know what to do in the pews, which makes sense if their entire Mass experience has taken place in an auditorium with no kneelers.
  • And at the end of Mass, after Father prayed the closing prayer and the deacon said, “Go in peace,” they went. Immediately. Without waiting for Father and the rest of the procession to leave first. The rest of the parish followed their lead, so behind the altar servers we had a senior-citizen couple who crept along at a snail’s pace in the middle of a bunch of families. Father and the deacon couldn’t go anywhere.

I’m really glad that the families are back in church. I hope that as the weeks go on, things get better. It was encouraging that they sang the psalm, so we can expect that participation in music will improve.

It was good to see kids watching the musicians. I never mind if kids turn around and watch us play. That gives me hope that they’ll think, “maybe I can do that someday.” That’s what I did as a kid, and I appreciate the encouragement I received as a beginning musician 35 years ago.

There was a little dancing in the aisle, too, during the closing song, which contributed to the procession’s traffic jam, but to which the parents put a quick end.

We had one mom stop by the musicians’ area and ask us about joining our folk group. That’s terrific! I hope she does, and that she brings a friend or three.

Overall, I think the good of having the families back within the parish church far outweighed the bad and the ugly. This is good for the whole parish, and it’s necessary—and not just because we have only one priest now. It’s necessary for the good of the Church to have the families among us, not in some high-school auditorium.

After 7 years, the families are back in our parish church for faith formation. It’s about time. And now it’s time to welcome them.

Welcome to Sing

I’ve been a musician and singer in church since I was 15. Suffice to say that I’ve been at it for more than 2/3 of my life, even without counting the part where I was a cantor for the responsorial psalm and prayer of the faithful in middle school.

The very first church where I participated as a music minister: St. Bonaventure in Paterson, NJ.
The very first church where I participated as a music minister: St. Bonaventure in Paterson, NJ.

I’ve never been afraid to lift up my voice and sing in church. Now, I’m by no means a solo-quality singer, but I’m happy to blend in with a group (and ecstatic if I get to sing the harmony part.) So even if I’m in the pew instead of in the choir or ensemble, I’m going to sing.

It’s been my pleasure and privilege, for thirty-mumble years, to sing and play in quite a number of folk groups, choirs and ensembles. I’ve seen (and heard) the good, the bad, and the ugly–both while playing and singing and while sitting as part of the assembly.

Jane the Actuary at Patheos Catholic wonders how to get people in the assembly to participate by singing. It’s simple, really. In my experience, people will sing unless they are discouraged from doing so.

How can choirs and musicians show that they don’t want the assembly to sing?

  • Play the song in a key that’s out of reach for all except the deepest bass or highest soprano
  • Don’t announce the number of the song in the hymnal
  • Announce the number of the song, but tell the congregation that they’re invited to sing during the refrain only
  • Choose music that is not in the hymnal
  • Sing the hymn in a language other than what’s in the hymnal or spoken in the community (Latin being the exception here)
  • Use a different arrangement of a familiar hymn
  • Sing familiar hymns whose words have been changed by politically-correct hymnal publishers
  • Sing the hymn in madrigal style so that the assembly can’t find the melody
  • Don’t provide a hymnal or worship aid, or leave all the hymnals stacked on the outer edges of 12-seat pews, so that people who forget to grab one on their way to sit down never get one later
  • Sing with so much technical perfection that you intimidate everyone in the pews

I have seen all of these happen in my long tenure as a musician. And there’s no excuse for any of them.

Finally, this is the story of the Music Director Who Caused a Mutiny. During my junior year in college, the music department hired a graduate student to direct the folk group. The position was usually a volunteer one, held by an undergrad music student in the folk group–but they all graduated. We learned a lot of new music that year, which is always good, but most of it wasn’t in the hymnal, which is usually bad. When we spoke up to the director about the probability that people in the pews would be discouraged from singing, her response was, “You’re performing for God.”

Well, no. We were not performing for God. We weren’t performing for Father, either, nor for the congregation. We were there to lead people in sung prayer, not to put on a show for anyone (even God.)

Our director only showed up at one of the two Masses the folk group played. My friends and I took turns leading the music at the other Mass, and if music that wasn’t in the hymnal was chosen, we’d replace it during the Mass when we were on our own.

When our parish merged with a neighboring one in 2008, we were told that people at the other church didn’t sing. Indeed, many of them expressed surprise at the level of participation in our original parish. But guess what? It’s gotten better! With encouragement, people will sing. Even if they’re Catholic.

Image source: St. Bonaventure Parish Facebook page