Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Broken and Repaired

December 31 always washes a wave of nostalgia and memories over me. This year is no different.

As I grow older, I have come to realize that each year will inevitably bring more and more loss to my life. This year those losses were way too many and some of those who left this world were simply way too young.

In the Twelfth Chapter of First Corinthians, we hear:

"But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body . . . If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."

As I watched and lived with people who suffered losses this year, as a member of the Body of Christ, I suffered with them. And in those moments of joy this year, I shared those joys as well. For me, this is one of the most challenging and comforting aspects of being a member of Christ's body all at the same time.

A few days ago, I posted a photo of the manger scene at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Remember?

I commented on how lovely I thought the use of the lavender was in the scene. Well, this morning, one of my colleagues here at WLP, a choir member at Ascension, let me in on a little secret. You see, at the very first Christmas Vigil Mass at the parish, a young child always carried the statue of the infant Jesus in the opening procession. Well, at that Mass last week, it so happens that the child dropped the statue in that procession and the figure broke into several pieces. After Mass, parishioners tried to glue the pieces back together before the next Mass, but the glue just wouldn't hold. So, they cleverly used the lavender flowers to wrap the figure, covering the cracks and adding the lavender in the other places so that it all looked intentional. Something similar happened here at our home office last week as well. We have a manger scene in our lobby and the figure of the child Jesus is only placed there once Christmas arrives. And guess what happened when the figure was being brought to the manger scene? You guessed it; it was dropped and broke into about fifteen pieces. One member of our WLP staff used wood glue and managed to make Jesus whole again. The only problem? We never found one of his arms. Here is the result:

Our clever staff member wrapped the figure in Spanish Moss, covering the area of the missing arm.

As members of the Body of Christ, we often do our best to cover the cracks and the missing pieces of that Body. But, when the truth is told, we know that we are broken. We can't escape the fact that Christ's Body, the Church, is broken and repaired time and time again. But we live in the hope that it is never beyond repair. And for those for whom 2013 has been a year of broken hearts, dashed memories, and deep, deep losses, this is the hope that can sustain and nourish as 2014 opens before us.

Dear followers of Gotta Sing Gotta Pray, thank you for following these pages this year. Thank you for traveling another year of my own journey of faith, with its broken-ness and joy.

May 2014 bring you the hope that comes only from Christ.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas at Saint Marcelline and "Lots of Water"

Monday greetings from a frigid Chicago, where it is currently four degrees farenheit.

I wanted to share a few more photos of decorations with you, photos we took last week on our photo tour of some churches here in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Here are a few from the parish that first drew me to the Midwest, Saint Marcelline Church in Schaumburg, Illinois. While I was director of liturgy and music there, we led the parish through a complete building and renovation project. We created a chapel for the reservation of the Eucharist. Here is how it appeared the day after Christmas:

And here is the processional cross that stands in the altar space, which is in the center of the hexagonal building:

The art and environment committee at the parish did something stellar with the center of the ceiling, just above the altar; strings of stars hung from above:

One of my favorite things about the renovation was the addition of a baptismal pool. We used the original font for the bowl and then had it cut so that the water flowed into the pool. Our WLP photographer really liked this font.

She got a great shot of the flowing water:

I will never forget the first adult baptism celebrated in this font. Our parish had invited our regional auxiliary bishop, Bishop Jerry Kicanas (now bishop of Tucson, AZ) to be the celebrant. When he got into the pool with the first person to ever be baptized in this font, he filled the large pitcher with water. The person to be baptized knelt in the water and folded her arms. Bishop Kicanas then tilted the pitcher ever so slightly and a tiny trickle of water touched the head of the person. There was such a sense of disappointment in the church; we had looked forward to lots of water and here we only saw a trickle! As the next person to be baptized stepped into the water, the pastor leaned in and whispered something into Bishop Kicanas's ear. Then the bishop looked out at all of us and said, "Well, I have just been told that here at Saint Marcelline, we use lots of water at baptism." He then filled the pitcher and emptied it completely over the person being baptized, with the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father." Then he filled the pitcher again and poured the entire contents on the person and said, "And of the Son;" then he did the same for the Holy Spirit. The congregation erupted in applause as our voices sang out with the words, "You have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized, alleluia, alleluia!" Truly a moment I will never forget.

Hope you enjoyed these photos of Saint Marcelline in Schaumburg, Illinois. More to come in the next few days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Midnight Mass at Ascension Parish in Oak Park: Wonderful

Happy Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist!

I hope and pray that your Christmas celebrations filled you with joy and peace.

This year, I decided to celebrate Midnight Mass at Ascension Church in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Several of my colleagues here at WLP sing in the choir at Ascension. The parish's music program is under the very capable leadership of David Anderson, who has worked so hard over the decades to build a stellar choral program at Ascension. The music at Mass was, in a word, wonderful. I was so grateful to have made the decision to go to Mass there. My spirit was lifted.

Yesterday, some colleagues from WLP and I traveled around the Archdiocese of Chicago on a picture-taking excursion. We are in need of new Christmas photos for our various publications. We found many churches open but, sadly, many were closed.

Saint Ann in Barrington (open)
Holy Family in Inverness (closed)
Saint Marcelline in Schaumburg (open)
Saint Matthew in Schaumburg (open)
Ascension in Oak Park (open)
Saint Giles in Oak Park (closed)
In Chicago:
Queen of All Saints Basilica (open)
Saint Hyacinth Basilica (open)
Saint John Cantius (closed)
Holy Name Cathedral (open)
Old Saint Patrick's Church (closed)

It was a whirlwind kind of a day for us, but so worthwhile to see the way that the various parishes decorated inside and out for Christmas. Over the Christmas Season, I will be sharing some of those photos with you.

Here is a photo of the manger scene at Ascension Church in Oak Park. The use of the lavender color was pretty spectacular.

Ascension's Advent Wreath is suspended from the ceiling over the main aisle. Instead of removing it for Christmas, it is re-decorated for the Christmas Season. Again, quite spectacular:

One more image for you. This is a short video I captured late on Christmas night. This was the scene in the courtyard of the complex in which I live in Chicago.

Happy Christmas to all.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Warmer Heart: Merry Christmas

Twenty minutes ago a man walked into our corporate offices here at J.S. Paluch and World Library Publications. He told us he was a toll booth operator for the Illinois Tollway and had to work today and tomorrow.

What was he looking for? A copy of our Liturgy of the Word book that contains the readings for Christmas. He wanted to read the Christmas readings while he was working, since he would be missing Mass.

We gave him a free copy and wished him a very Merry Christmas.

Bravo to the customer service and hospitality employees here. I am going home now with a warmer heart.

Merry Christmas.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

The Christmas Goose: Fly Free!

Each year at this time, I have shared a story with you a few days before Christmas and wanted to share it with you again today. This is one of those memories that has stayed with me for years. For those who have heard it before, I hope it brings you joy, as it does for me each time I recall this event. For those who have never heard it, I hope it brings you some insight and wonder. Here goes.

The Christmas Goose

I served as director of liturgy and music at Saint Marcelline Parish in Schaumburg, Illinois from 1992 to 1999. A few days before Christmas, as I was walking to my car from the church, I heard a strange noise. It sounded like someone was coughing. I looked around and saw nothing but a group of pesky geese on the church grounds. A few hours later, walking back to the church, I heard the sound again. This time there was only one goose and as I drew closer, I could tell that the sound was coming from this goose. The goose was obviously in some kind of struggle. It was trying to flap its wings and it was emitting this kind of coughing sound. I found the maintenance man, Gil, and asked him to come with me to take a look. As we cautiously approached the struggling goose, we looked more carefully and saw that the poor creature had become entangled in fishing line. The line was wrapped around its wings, preventing it from flying. The line was also wrapped tightly around the bird's neck, which was probably the reason why it was emitting this coughing sound. Gil and I decided that we needed to do something for the poor goose. He phoned his daughter-in-law, a veterinarian, who gave us instructions on what we could do to save the poor bird.

We went into the maintenance room and found some wire clippers and a towel. Gil and I very quietly and slowly approached the goose—they are very large that close up!—and we placed the towel over the bird's head and then we began our work. Wearing gloves, we both began to examine the areas where the fishing line was wrapped around the goose's body. We carefully began to snip the line, pulling pieces of the line away from the bird, who remained quite docile the entire time. To be honest, my heart was racing at this point. When we finally clipped the line around the bird's neck, we knew we had removed all of the fishing line. We then removed the towel and walked very quickly away from the bird.

The goose just sat there looking at us. It began to cough again and after a few strange noises, it rediscovered its own honk. It just honked and honked away.

Then it began to test its wings, flapping around a bit on the ground. We stood there transfixed by all of this. Then, without a moment's hesitation, the bird began to flap its large wings and lifted itself in the air. Gil and I watched as the bird soared higher and higher and farther and farther away.

Once the goose was out of sight, Gil and I just looked at each other and I noticed a tear in his eye, blurred by the tears in my own eyes.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that very few things in my life remain unexamined. I am always looking for some deeper meaning in events that occur. When I thought about this encounter with the goose, a comparison came to me instantly. What Gil and I managed to do with that coughing goose was akin to what God has done for us through the incarnation of Jesus, our Messiah. Caught up in sin, we are freed by the mercy of God, who loves us so much that he sent his only Son to be our redeemer. And what does this freedom from sin offer us? The potential to fly free, to soar as God's redeemed people, to be lifted up for a life of service to God's people.

May you and those you love have a very Merry Christmas.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, December 23, 2013

O Emmanuel and a Nice Surprise

O Emmanuel!

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Just as we prepare to celebrate the Christmas feast, our Spring/Summer WLP catalog arrived in our warehouse today. And here is a sneak peek at the center of the catalog, announcing WLP's new hardbound hymnal, One in Faith:

This has been in the planning stages for a few years now and our staff could not be more excited! A complete song list is available on our web site. So this is like an early Christmas gift (at least the beautiful catalog is!) for us here at WLP.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Root of Jesse and "Secular Expertise"

Thursday greetings.

Reporting in today's National Catholic Reporter, correspondent John Allen commented on today's announcement that two outside firms have been hired by the Vatican to organize communications and finances. Allen's commentary is worth noting:

"Among other things, the moves confirm that the Vatican's traditional reluctance to compromise its independence by allowing outsiders to examine its internal workings has given way under Francis to a new desire to tap secular expertise."

I was struck by Allen's term "secular expertise." I have not often thought that secular expertise is something the Vatican needs for communications; finances yes, but not communications.

I have long thought that it is the U.S. Bishops that could use some "secular expertise" in the communications arena. For instance, last week, on the day that the world was mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, a bishop of a diocese on the East Coast derided Mandela for his stance on abortion. This on the day when the entire world was celebrating a person who is arguably one of the most important figures of reconciliation in the last century. This bishop has every right to denounce the stance of Mandela. The issue, of course, is the proverbial "What were you thinking?" one. Why, in heaven's name, would this bishop issue this statement on the day he chose to do so? This is where some "secular expertise" could come in handy. I wonder if it might be helpful for the conference of Catholic bishops in the United States to have some rules in place to be sure that a particular bishop's statement on an issue such as this (and its awkward timing) is vetted by the conference, with the help of people with "secular expertise" in the communications arena, before being released? Might save an awful lot of embarrassment, bad feelings, and very, very bad press.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Lord

December 18 greetings from the "home office" here in Franklin Park, Illinois.

Lots of Catholic news sweeping our country these days: new bishops for Marquette, Michigan and Portland, Maine; the archbishop of Saint Paul-Minneapolis steps aside while an abuse allegation is investigated; two American cardinals (Burke and Rigali) not re-appointed to an important Vatican congregation, while another American cardinal (Wuerl) is appointed to that same congregation. All of this goes on as Pope Francis celebrates his birthday and invites four homeless men (one with a dog) to Mass and to the party. If someone had told me a year ago that this was what mid-December of 2013 would look like for the Roman Catholic Church, I would have never believed it.

A colleague here at the office yesterday wondered aloud: "It seems that the Holy Spirit is hard at work these days." As I reflect on today's "O Antiphon," "O Adonai," or "O Lord," I join my voice with many others in thanking the Lord for the gift of Pope Francis and for a Church that is experiencing new vigor and a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our "Person of the Year"

Greetings on this day of "Wisdom."

After a few beautifully warm days in California, I am finally back here in Chicago, where winter has taken a firm grip. Here is a photo outside of my office window. Difficult to get the perspective, but that is at least a five foot snow drift!

I was in California for a business meeting then headed out to the desert to play the piano at an annual Christmas party hosted by a good friend, a retired priest. Here is a photo I took from his patio; hard to believe I was there just a few days ago; what a contrast to the photo above, yes?


I wanted to tell you about one thing that happened at this Christmas party, attended by about 40 guests, some who are Roman Catholic, others not. My friend usually does a little speech at the conclusion of the party, thanking people for coming, praying for friends who have died, and then offering a few spiritual nuggets. He began by saying, "Say, what about our new pope, Pope Francis?" The place erupted in cheers and applause. Most people in the room were 70 and older and as I looked out at them, I saw genuine excitement and love for the man who had just been named Time's "person of the year." I think for those people in attendance, Francis is their own "person of the year." And I must admit that that is my sentiment as well. I have not felt this way about a pope since the early years of the pontificate of Bl. Pope John Paul II. With the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has gripped the Church for too many years, accompanied by the cover-ups and misaligned protective policies by some bishops, I felt that our Church had lost its bearings; had lost its moral ground. Too much attention was being paid to issues that facilitated further divide among Catholics; it seems that too much of the pastoral dimension of the Church was being clouded. While it will take decades for trust to be restored, it just seems to at least me that Pope Francis is helping us get our bearings once again.

I know some of you will disagree, but I hope that a renewed sense of peace and reconciliation, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will take a firm hold.

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mother of the Son of God and the Sun of God

Greetings on this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I have been in California, having left Chicago a little earlier than planned to avoid some nasty weather. Yesterday afternoon, decided to visit the coastline and found myself in Oceanside, California just as the sun began to set. A few photos, the first taken just before the sun disappeared over the horizon:

And the next, a few minutes later:

I stood there for quite awhile, thanking God for this splendor and praying for all who are suffering. Today, as we celebrate the feast, my heart turns to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to intercede for the people of the Americas; asking her to be a sign of hope for those entrenched in ideologies that make reconciliation and conversation close to impossible; asking her to bring us closer to her Son in the everyday-ness of our lives.

God is good.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Monday greetings from a cold and snowy Chicago. Many of you know that I am a huge fan of the Chicago Blackhawks. I was privileged to attend last night's game. During the game, a snowstorm came through Chicago, giving us about three inches of light snow. When I returned home, I was struck with the beauty of it all.

I live in a small place and, with visitors scheduled to arrive the day after Christmas, I decided to place the Christmas tree (with a set of weather-resistant ornaments) not in the house, but out on the balcony. When I walked into the house last night after the hockey game, this is the view I had out onto the balcony.

It was just simply beautiful. For all the complaining I will do once March rolls around and I am sick of the cold and snow, I will need to remind myself about how wonderful it is to live in a place that enjoys four fully glorious seasons.

Yesterday, I went to Mass at a local parish. They have a wonderful liturgical environment for the Advent season. From the central dome hangs a large Advent wreath, with ribbons hanging, donning the space with the traditional colors of Advent. There are four very tall candle stands set up along the main aisle beneath the wreath. It is quite stunning. Only yesterday, the candles were not burning at all and no mention was made of the wreath whatsoever. Just seemed rather strange to me. Wondered if anyone else noticed.

Gearing up for one last trip of the year this week. I fly to southern California on Wednesday to speak at a company meeting on Thursday. Rather than spending all day Friday making my way back to Chicago, I will be spending the weekend in Indian Wells, California, in the desert. I have provided piano music for a Christmas party at a retired priest-friend's home there for several years and plan to do the same thing on Saturday night. Looking forward to a little bit of Advent in the desert!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Working Hard for You

Thursday greetings from Chicago, where it is cold and raw.

Whew! That's the most appropriate sentiment for me today. I have been working for several months on a new book written by Mary Birmingham: Purified and Enlightened: RCIA Sessions for Lent. The resource will include a CD-ROM with Powerpoint presentations and reproducible handouts for the participants. We are working feverishly to make this book available for our late winter/spring round of workshops across the United States. I will keep you posted as the production and editorial work continues.

We are also working at finishing up a new book by Fr. Paul Tuner, In These or Similar Words. Sound intriguing? This will be a must-read for priests and liturgical folks. More on this later as well.

So, the wheels are turning here at this publishing house. This is the time of year when many folks use up their remaining vacation time before the end of the year, so it gets to be a challenge to move projects along. Our staff works so hard for you; just thought I would let you know that.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Overflow and Overcrowded Christmas Masses

As I sit here at my desk in early December, I remember well those days when I ministered as director of liturgy and music in parishes in Florida and here in suburban Chicago. Every parish, because of its size and the expected number of visitors at Christmas, needed to add overflow Masses. These would take place in a social hall, basement, or gymnasium. I remember well forgetting year after year that I had to provide some kind of worship aid for these overflow Masses and I was always scrambling to create a new one each year. I always also felt badly for those people, especially at the Vigil Masses and the Midnight Masses, who stood the entire time, sometimes along the side walls of the church and even down the main aisles. When we sang, it was the people in the pews who had the hymnals to which they could refer; those standing had nothing.

Two yeas ago here at WLP, we had a conversation about this pastoral dilemma and decided to do something about it, both for Christmas and for Easter. At the same time, we heard from a pastor in a southern diocese who asked us if we could put together a Christmas worship aid that could be used year after year in his parish. Our editors put their minds together and came up with WLP's Christmas and Easter Mass booklets.

Here is what the Christmas booklet looks like. It has a high gloss, durable cover that is designed to last for years. I just snapped these photos, so please excuse their unprofessional quality.

The booklet contains the Order of Mass. This is especially important for visitors who do not yet have a full grasp of the new translation of The Roman Missal.

We decided to include the readings for all four Christmas Masses: Vigil, Night, Dawn, and Day.

We also chose nineteen traditional Christmas hymns and carols to include in the booklet:

Adeste Fideles/O Come, All Ye Faithful
Angels We Have Heard on High
Away in a Manger
Behold a Virgin Bearing Him
Gloria for Christmastime
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
Joy to the World.
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
O Come, All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fideles
O Come, Little Children
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent Night
The First Nowell
The Snow Lay on the Ground
What Child Is This

We at WLP are always trying to think of ways to help pastoral musicians in their ministry, especially at the times of the year that are most taxing.

Please consider placing an order for these booklets for your overflow Masses; it will save much time and effort and pay for itself in a few years just on the printing costs.

Thanks for listening to my little commercial today.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vatican Overhaul: Worship and Sacraments First

Tuesday greetings. Just read this on the wire service. Looks like the Cardinal-consultors will be looking at worship first.

"This morning, 3 December, Pope Francis met with the Council of Cardinals, the group of eight cardinals assisting in the governance of the universal Church and examining a revision of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus on the Roman Curia. Fr Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, announced this in a briefing with journalists to explain the second session of the Cardinal's meetings which will be taking place at the Vatican until Thursday, 5 December. The cardinals' first session was held from 1 to 3 October. On the day's agenda was “a thorough examination of the Roman Curia, which began with a reflection on the dicasteries”, starting with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Fr Lombardi pointed out that “it will be a matter of readjusting: we want to go in depth. This is not a marginal improvement, but a substantial revision” of Pastor bonus in order to reach a new Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia. After having concelebrated at morning Mass with the Pope in the Chapel of Santa Marta, the small group, along with their secretary Bishop Marcello Semeraro, met in a room near the chapel. The agenda includes morning sessions from 9 am to 12:30 pm and from 4 to 7 pm. Fr Lombardi said that the tasks have been divided among the Cardinals based on personal experience, but the responsibility of making decisions is considered to be common and shared. Since the October session, the eight cardinals have collected extensive documentation and gathered other points of view, participating in meetings of their bishops' conferences."
 - L'Osservatore Romano, 00120 Vatican City.

Not sure there is any particular reason for focusing on this particular dicastery first, but it seems worth noting.

Things seem to move with lightning speed with Pope Francis, don't you think?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cantors: More and More to Become Less and Less

Monday of the First Week of Advent has dawned crisp and clear here in Chicago. I hope that your Thanksgiving was a graced one.

Last week, I accepted an invitation to lead several workshops and a WLP choral reading session for the Archdiocese of Seattle in February. One of the workshops is "Cantor Basics." As someone who sits in the pews these days and who has spent a considerable part of his life at the organ or piano, or directing a choir, or being the cantor at Mass, I find, in general, that cantors need more and more to become less and less. Let me start with these two paragraphs from Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.

38. As a leader of congregational song, the cantor should take part in singing with the entire gathered assembly. In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor’s voice should not be heard above the congregation. As a transitional practice, the voice of the cantor might need to be amplified to stimulate and lead congregational singing when this is still weak. However, as the congregation finds its voice and sings with increasing confidence, the cantor’s voice should correspondingly recede. At times, it may be appropriate to use a modest gesture that invites participation and clearly indicates when the congregation is to begin, but gestures should be used sparingly and only when genuinely needed.

39. Cantors should lead the assembly from a place where they can be seen by all without drawing attention from the liturgical action. When, however, a congregation is singing very familiar responses, acclamations, or songs that do not include verses for the cantor alone, the cantor need not be visible.
About a year ago, while leading a parish mission in a southern diocese, I attended all four weekend liturgies. The cantor was the same for all Masses; I assume she was a "paid cantor." For every single piece of congregational music, she sang into the microphone and overpowered the singing of the assembly. She had a wonderful singing voice and a reverent demeanor.
Yesterday at Mass for the First Sunday of Advent, I experienced the same thing. The cantor had an absolutely lovely voice, but she sang into the microphone for every single piece of congregational music. The parish has just switched music for the Mass parts, so it is understandable that she would help us along with those parts. But singing into the microphone for O Come, O Come, Emmanuel? Frankly, if she had moved away from the microphone, I think we would have seen just how meager the singing is in this parish, or perhaps not?
Several years ago, when I first began my music and liturgy ministry at Saint Marcelline Church in Schaumburg, Illinois, one of my tasks was to introduce music at the parish's so called "quiet Mass," the 7:30 A.M. Sunday Mass. At first, I introduced just the Gospel Acclamation and the Sanctus. Gradually, over several months, the music for that Mass mirrored the music at the other parish Masses. I was the cantor and led the singing from the organ or the piano. I will never forget the first Sunday that I decided to give the assembly the responsibility to do what is their right and duty. I played the introduction to a very familiar responsorial psalm. I sang the refrain, then did not sing on the repeat of the refrain nor after any of the verses. At first, the assembly's singing was quite weak, but after the first verse of the psalm, it grew stronger. Several people came up to me after Mass and said that they were "scared" when I didn't sing with them, but that eventually they became comfortable. Eventually, I did very little singing at all at that Mass. Less of me and more of them: this has become a principle that I have come to embrace in my own music ministry.
Think about your own experience. If you have been in a parish where the cantor sings everything into the microphone, what would happen if the cantor announced a hymn, there was a strong introduction, and the cantor stepped away from the microphone for the entire hymn? Frankly, I think there are many music directors who are afraid that the singing from the assembly would be too weak; the assembly members have simply become too accustomed to having someone else do the singing for them. I have seen this from the "pew side" way too many times. My plea to music directors is to let the assembly do what we are supposed to do, without a cantor's voice amplified and drowning us out.
This, of course, takes time and training for the assembly. I remember at that parish in Schaumburg, on my last Sunday there. I said my tearful farewells after each Mass. I said that, as a musician, my favorite musical sound was not that of a symphony orchestra, or that from a massive pipe organ, or a concert grand piano. My favorite musical sound was the sound of a singing assembly. I thanked them for giving me the gift of my favorite musical sound week after week and encouraged them to continue.
So, what do you think of all of this?
Happy Advent.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Grateful Heart

A grateful heart.

As I look back over this past year, I find the emotion that is heartfelt gratitude welling up inside of me.

It has been a year of what I would describe as too many losses for me. Please indulge me for just a moment as I share my gratitude for some wonderful people who have touched my life profoundly.

Mary Miller. Mary (guitarist and vocalist) and I provided the music for the 9:00 A.M. Mass for years at Saint Marcelline Parish in Schaumburg, Illinois. After we both moved on from the parish, we remained close friends and had two special dinners every year, one at Christmas and one in May, right around our birthdays. I am so grateful for her friendship, her wonderful family, and her infectious smile and bright blue eyes that filled me with appreciation for life. Mary, may you be singing with the choirs of angels.

Joe Marotta. Joe was a friend and colleague in initiation ministry who, just months after being ordained a deacon, drowned while vacationing with his family. He was 39. I am so grateful that this fine man's faith journey intersected with my own. He was thoughtful and caring and engaged his intellect as his theological studies unfolded. He was never afraid to ask questions. Joe, may your service continue at the table of the heavenly banquet.

Charlie Odegard. 14 years ago today, I attended Charlie and Jennifer's wedding. To this day, I will never forget the wonderful reception, held on the top floor of the Civic Opera House here in Chicago. Charlie was simply a good and decent person. I am grateful for having known Charlie Odegard and for the strength and courage he showed and shared with Jennifer and so many. Charlie, be assured that we are taking good care of Jennifer.

Eva Cruz. Eva and I worked together, leading RCIA institutes around the country, for over twenty years. She taught me much about ministry in the Hispanic community and ways to facilitate the inculturation of the rite. She was an activist who worked on behalf of poor and disenfranchised women. I am grateful for the many, many RCIA institutes we shared and for the example of her dedication to family and to the poor. Eva, may you be surrounded by the great women saints, among whom you are now counted.

Rev. Warren McCarthy. Warren was the pastor at Saint Marcelline parish in Schaumburg, Illinois. Back in 1992, Warren wrote me a hand-written letter inviting me to consider joining the pastoral staff as the director of liturgy and music. Warren was a man of great intellect with a profound dedication to the mentally challenged. He and I worked closely together as we led the parish through a building and renovation project for the church. I am grateful for Warren's kindness and for another hand-written note he sent me shortly after my youngest sister died in 2001. His words have stayed with me: "Jerry, I know that your sister is with God." Warren, may you now know the face of God.

As Thanksgiving approaches, my heart is filled with gratitude for these wonderful people and for the too-many gifts that God has given me.

I will remember all of you who visit these pages as I give thanks tomorrow.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium

Have you begun reading Pope Francis' new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium yet?

I just started it myself and am looking forward to reading the rest of it. I just eat this stuff up.

Just one paragraph for your meditation today:

7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

And this, too:

Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound "decentralization".

Wonderful thoughts as Thanksgiving nears.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Pope Welcomed Catechumens and California Welcomed Me with Trees and Flowers

Monday greetings to all. So sorry not to have posted in the past several days. My travels brought me to Northern California, for the Northern California Faith Formation Conference, held in Santa Clara.

While there, speaking about RCIA topics, Pope Francis was in Rome celebrating the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. My friend and colleague, Fr. Paul Turner, e-mailed me, letting me know that he had watched the celebration on EWTN. I was so pleased this morning to find the video of the rite, which you can find above. I am pretty sure that this is the first time since the catechumenate was reawakened by the Second Vatican Council that a pope has celebrated this rite in Rome. I know that Pope John Paul II celebrated the rite here in Chicago when he visited here in the late 1970's. The video is quite touching; please take the time to watch it.

Some other images from my trip out west. Here is the WLP booth at the conference:

And, flower-lover that I am, a photo I took just outside the convention center:

I did have the chance to visit the Muir Woods near San Francisco, home of a forest of California Redwood trees. It was beautiful, peaceful, and majestic; a haven that I needed.

Arrived late last night to a very, very cold city of Chicago. Glad to be back home and anxious to begin preparations for Thursday's feast.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pope Francis and Catechumens

Monday greetings from Chicago.

Today I read about the events at the Holy See that will officially mark the closing of the year of Faith. One of those events will be a gathering of catechumens from around the world. Vatican News Service reports:

"The second event will take place on Saturday 23 November, which will be dedicated to catechumens, with the theme “Ready to cross the theshold of faith”. More than five hundred catechumens will be present, accompanied by their catechists, from 47 different countries from all five continents. The Pope will receive 35 of them at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica and will ask them the traditional questions that form the rite."

I am assuming that this will be a celebration of the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of catechumens. I would give my proverbial eye teeth to be there to see how this rite unfolds.

Today is now Tuesday; yesterday ran away from me after I began this post. I leave tomorrow for northern California for the Northern California Faith Formation Conference, to be held in Santa Clara. I am giving two workshops and two "TED" style presentations of some of WLP's resources. Gotta get to that work now. I will post from California as the days unfold.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Notre Dame Celebration Choir

Friday, November 15, today, marks the 14th anniversary of my employment here at World Library Publications, the music and liturgy division of the J.S. Paluch Company. I have now worked here twice as long as I have worked anywhere else. Seems that the time has simply flown by.

Tomorrow, I will be attending a concert by the University of Notre Dame Celebration Choir to be held at Saint Edward the Confessor parish here in Chicago, beginning at 7:30 P.M.

Should be a wonderful evening of music-making by these singers, instrumentalists, and handbell ringers. Here's a shot of the exterior of Saint Edward's. I will try to get some photos tomorrow night.

When I was in parish ministry, I so enjoyed conducting the parish handbell choirs. A few times, I was asked to substitute for a player who was sick or otherwise could not make it to Mass. And folks, these were some of the most hair raising musical moments of my life. You see, as a keyboard player, I am responsible for all the notes on the page of a particular music score. But, when one plays handbells, one is responsible for only a few notes on the score. And, when playing handbells, the score seems to run by rather quickly. I remember standing at the handbell table on at least one occasion and missing a critical note and getting so flustered that I lost my place and never quite recovered! A true musical embarrassment indeed. At any rate, I am looking foward to watching and listening to a top-notch handbell choir tomorrow night at Saint Edward's.

I hope your weekend is a good one.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray. (Gotta ring!)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pope Francis and the "Papal Tone"

Thursday greetings from the home office of J.S. Paluch and World Library Publications.

As I read the news reports about the election of officers for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over the past few days, I thought about how much it means to an organization when the "face" of that organization changes.

We see this all the time in American politics. What we have seen in the Catholic Church over the past year in this regard has ben quite remarkable. Pope Francis, the new "face" of the 1.1 billion of us around the world, has certainly given the Church a different "face." I have been reading with interest the reports about certain groups of people who are unhappy with the new pope. Others are thrilled. And Francis has made no substantitve doctrinal shifts at all. His has been a shift in what I will call "papal tone." And frankly, for this blogger, it has certainly been a refreshing shift. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the election of Bl. Pope John Paul II, whose presence and papacy really signalled a papal presence on the world stage for really the first time in history. I remember when he walked onto the altar platform on Boston Common in October of 1979; when he turned the corner and walked right over to us, the musicians, I had a feeling of exhilaration that was overwhelming. Suddenly, I felt connected with the papacy and with my brother and sister Catholics all over the world in a way that I had never experienced. And, for the first time in my life, I was among over one million of my brother and sister Boston Catholics gathered on the Common that day.

I must admit that I am feeling something similar with Pope Francis. This is not to deny the influence John Paul exerted in the later years of his papacy nor the influence exerted by Pope Benedict. I just feel a freshness, an excitement about Catholicism in general that I see being experienced by many, many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And this, I believe, is chiefly due to Francis' change in tone. There just seems to be a return to Gospel basics with this new pope; a renewed dedication to help the poor and disenfranchised; of seeing Christ in the suffering. None of this, of course, is new. It's just that we now have a pope who has obviously lived these basic values in his own life and who continues to preach about them, and this preaching is at the core of his papacy and his "papal tone." I, for one, am appreciating the tone and what appears to be a new Catholic renewal.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Come to the Manger

Wednesday morning greetings from the cold and windy Midwest.

I arrived back in Chicago at around midnight last night; first time in a long time that a plane was only about one-third full.

It's always a thrill for me to come back to WLP after a few days away; so much going on here these days. These pre-Advent days are especially busy for us.

I found several new octavos and a new collection in my mailbox when I arrived this morning. One in particular caught my attention and I want to share it with you. Kathleen Basi's Come to the Manger: Christmas Carols for Flute and Piano is a brand new resource. The name says it all. Included are arrangements for Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming; O Come, Little Children; I Saw Three Ships/Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella; Sing We Now of Christmas; What Child Is This?; and Angels from the Realms of Glory/Angels We Have Heard on High.

I know that when I was a music director, I was always looking for collections just like this one. Musicians, this one is a must for your library. I just played through some of the pieces and they are delightfully different and wonderfully crafted.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Garden City, Kansas: A Real Gift

Monday morning greetings from Tampa, Florida.

What a whirlwind these past several days have been.

On Friday morning, I left Chicago, headed to Garden City, Kansas. Back in April in Wichita, I met three members of Saint Dominic's parish from Garden City at an RCIA event sponsored by the various dioceses across Kansas. They asked if I might be willing to come to their parish to speak with the people in a kind of "mini-mission" to conclude the year of faith for the parish. Frankly, I had never heard of Garden City before. They assured me that two commercial flights a day came into their airport. So, I said, "Yes."

I first flew to Dallas, then hopped on a small jet to Garden City. As we approached the small airport, I was stunned by what I was seeing as I looked out the plane's window: farmland, with crop circles as far as the eye could see. I snapped this photo just before we landed.

Now I have done my share of flying in my life and usually am at about 35,000 feet when flying over states like Kansas. But this was amazing to me; no towns that I could see, just thousands and thousands of acres of farmland. When I got off the plane, I was struck by the stiff breeze and the even stiffer odor being carried by that breeze.

I found out later that this is cattle country and tens of thousands of heads of cattle are kept in "feed lots" throughout the area. Folks, to echo and adapt a line from The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I don't think we're in Chicago anymore!"

After retrieving my bag at baggage claim,

I met my host and we drove ten miles to the parish of Saint Dominic. In the gathering area, I was greeted by a large sign announcing the mission.

I gave a presentation on Friday night, focused on reclaiming the power of the sacrament of baptism. Then on Saturday morning I met with approximately 20 musicians from three area parishes. I focused on contextualizing music ministry within the larger ministry of evangelization, talked about pastoral musicians as true artists, then launched into a presentation and discussion about Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. After lunch, it was time for the final presentation, focused on the Eucharist, seeing it through the lenses of sacrifice, nourishment, reconciliation, and mission.

I absolutely loved my time and the people I met in Garden City, Kansas. Folks, I realized that I was in the middle of the country's (and parts of the world's) food source. Corn, milo, sorghum, wheat, and soybean are all planted, cultivated, grown, and harvested here. Feed is produced for cattle here. It gave me a new appreciation for the prayers of the faithful that I have prayed for decades: "For farmers who till the soil . . . For good weather for our crops . . . For an abundant harvest . . ." I met people who have farmed here for generations. As I said, a whole new appreciation and an expansion of my appreciation of how diverse our country is. I felt about as far away from downtown Chicago, where I live, as I could.

And the faith of the people I met ran deep. Praying at Mass with the people of Saint Dominic's was a real treasure for me. The music drew me in. I felt so privileged to bring forth the wine at the preparation of the gifts.

I would describe my short visit to Garden City, Kansas as a real gift.

Here is a photo of the sanctuary of the church.

Very early yesterday morning, I flew back to Dallas, then home to Chicago to do laundry. I went back to O'Hare last night and flew here to Tampa, Florida, for a few days of business meetings. On my walk this morning:

I had to wonder, "Am I in the same country in which I woke up yesterday morning?"

I am feeling so blessed to be able to have seen so much of our country over the past few days, and actually over the past several decades. It dawned on me that I have visited all but one of the fifty United States and all but one of the Canadian Provinces.

Well, that's about it for now. Joining my prayers today for all of our country's veterans, living and deceased.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Better and Gearing Up

Where did today go?

It started at 57 degrees and pouring rain here in Chicago. It's now 42 degrees and the temperature is going nowhere but down.

I am feeling much, much better. I am a person who rarely falls ill, so this has been unusual for me; makes me feel for those who suffer serious illness every day of their lives.

Travel is gearing up soon again for me; some spiritual presentations in Garden City, Kansas late Friday and Saturday and a session on Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship with musicians there on Saturday morning. Then it's back to Chicago early Sunday afternoon; laundry in; laundry out; then it's off to Tampa, FL Sunday evening for a meeting of our J.S. Paluch parish consultants.

Hopefully more tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Tuesday greetings from the Midwest.

Not much to report. I have been home sick in bed for the past three days and decided that today would be the day to return to work; bad idea.

This is kinda how I feel:

Catching up on work here and will probably head home soon. Gotta shake this thing soon!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chili and Saint Gerald

Greetings to all on the All Hallow's Eve.

We had a little party here at the office today, with a chili contest. Here is a shot of "Scary Jerry" in the middle of the judge's table. Not sure why the miter was placed on my head. The seven chili entries were just delicious and a good time was had by all.

Each year at this time, I recall with fondness the very first All Saints Day in my memory. I was in the first grade at Saint Charles School in Woburn, Massachusetts, pictured here:

We all had to dress up as our "name saint." I remember my Mom fretting about this somewhat. I believe she took a white bed sheet and dyed it brown. She then made a monk's habit out of the sheet and had me memorize the following, which I obviously remember to this day:

"Saint Gerald was a monk in Ireland. Many miracles are attributed to him. He lived to be a ripe old age."

I think my first grade sister, Sister James Cecilia, SND, must have thought it cute that a precocious first-grader could actually say "attributed." So, when the "parade" began into every classroom of all of us first-graders in our saints outfits, I was asked to give my little speech in every one of those classrooms. Gosh, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Grateful today for my Mom and for all those who formed me in the Catholic faith. Tomorrow we celebrate them.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.