The Words I Sing

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.

Beyond the Reach of Virtual Mass and Virtual Bulletins

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.

view from pew 06092020
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

 


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz