Thursday, December 25, 2014

What Speaks to Me

As a Catholic for nearly 45 years now, I have been to a lot of masses.  Yesterday, as with every Christmas or Christmas Eve during my lifetime, I went to mass to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Nothing unusual there.  The twist this year was that my 15 year old was invited to sing at the Church of the Resurrection (and Episcopalian church in Lutherville) at 4 before my family attended the Catholic mass at St Pius X at 6.  So, I attended two closely related celebrations one right after the other and had a chance to compare, among other things, music.  And what I am going to say is not a comment about the quality of the music and is not meant to imply how others should view the world.  It is simply a statement of what I find works (or doesn't work) for me in my own worship experience.

Let me set the context.  I grew up attending 8 AM mass at St Laurence's in Upper Darby with no music.  So, when I got to Penn State and found guitar players and flute players and singers at many masses, I was ecstatic.  (And on the third Sunday of Advent for at least one year they even had drums.)  The music ministry at St. Mary's in Ann Arbor also spoke to me, and I was a part of the music ministry at St. Pius X where we have now gone for over 18 years for more than 5 years.  I a not now as there are only so many hours in the day and I still love my running (which I had a chance to do this morning in shorts on Christmas Day in Baltimore!) and my writing and my work and my family most of all.  And the music ministry at St. Pius X has included guitars and pianos and electric keyboards and flutes and drums and electric basses.  All good.  But when I was part of the ministry, I didn't sing much.  (It was all I could do to play bass properly.)  And I really do love singing--even if I'm not all that good.  And I love the parts of the Nine Lessons and Carols that Maryland State Boychoir does where the congregation sings.  My father is a cantor at his church.  Clearly, singing is in the blood.

So, the service at Church of the Ressurection included two boys (my son being one of them) singing Once in Royal David's City, my son soloing O Holy Night, and multiple songs sungs by the congregation including four during Communion.  Three Carols and one modern song called "Here I Am to Worship".  The final carol was Silent Night--sung by flicker-light.  They tried candles last year but realized that was dangerous at a family mass.  During Silent Night the last verse was acapella.  And everyone in the small church (it seated maybe 150) sang.  And it was beaitful.  I was touched emotionally.  I got a little choked up.  And I nearly shed a tear.  This was worship.  This was ministry.  This was people who clearly cared singing about something in which they all believed.

I contrast that with the music at St. Pius X.  The musicians did a wonderful job.  They used modern interprations of some carols and the response between readings was an easy to follow and easy to sing song.  The modern interpretations are interesting to listen to but sometimes challenging to sing when all that is provided are lyrics and not music.  And O Holy Night was sung as a meditation after communion with no opportunity to sing along.  So people listened.  I listened.  It was a very good performance.

But the key is the difference between the two descriptions of what I experienced back to back.  Worship or performance?  Can there be performance that facilitates worship?  Can there be worship without participation?  Is active listening a form of participation?

These are the questions I ponder about my appreciation of music ministry.  St. Pius X now has a "tagline" of invite, transform, act.  So, rather than complaining about the music, I am just making an observation.  And I am challenging myself.  If I like how other church's music ministries feel because they involve more singing by the congregation, whom do I have to invite to make this happen at St Pius X?  (It is not my job only of course.)  Do I have to invite other parishioners to sing out?  Do I have to invite the music ministers to think about the many different ways people are reached?  Do I have to invite myself to being more open to thinking abou how music affects me?

What needs to be transformed?  The music ministry?  My appreciation?  The culture of the parish?  If participation is the key there are many different ways to get there.  And I have to remember that in the same way that running means different things to many different people I know, maybe participation does too.  I am not the only person with a stake in this.  I am not the most knowledgable.  I am not even an authority.  I am just one voice.  And a voice who would like to be heard--singing in worship.

And finally, to act.  I'm not sure what action needs to be taken other than that I will continue to sing at every opportunity I get and encourage others who share my faith and who share my worship experience to do the same.

May all be inspired to sing with joy on this day. 

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