Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Greetings from 36,000 Feet

Wednesday greetings to all. This is a first for me. I am currently about 36,000 feet above the US, headed to San Francisco. I am giving talks on the RCIA in the next few days in the dioceses of Fresno and San Jose. It is supposed to be in the low 100's in Fresno today and tomorrow. Decided to purchase an hour of wi-fi, since United Airlines, in its infinite wisdom, decided to put a 737 into service for this four hour plus flight with no inflight audio or video entertainment. Glad I bought two newspapers before take-off.

I don't want this blog to turn into a big complaining session about what's wrong with the liturgy today in some parishes, but it has been amazing to see the responses concerning my recent comments on the communion rite and music for the communion procession. In my previous parish, Saint James, Dr. Steve Janco attended Mass one Sunday before leading a spirituality session for liturgical ministers. Our music director asked Steve if he had any recommendations about the way we celebrated the Mass. Steve said that he thought it would be better, and in line with the General Instruction, if the music ministers began the communion song immediately after the "O Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under . . ." instead of having the music ministers receive communion first. And guess what happened the following week? The music began immediately following the "O Lord" prayer and the music ministers received communion last. After a few weeks, they even eventually kept the music going, with the guitar playing when the pianist went to communion, and vice versa. Just an easy switch made for a strong theological statement; that we (ordained and lay) are one when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no "priest's communion" followed by the "peoples' communion."

I have not yet settled into a new parish in Chicago; just haven't found the place that seems right for me. Perhaps I will continue an occasional "view from the pew" posting here, but will refrain from naming the particular parish (I know we are all trying our best!).

Well, my two-dollar hour of wi-fi is just about up. I hope that wherever you are, your day is a good one.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More on the Communion Procession and How Liturgy Committees Should Spend Their Time

Thanks to all of you who commented here and on my own Facebook page, as well as on the Gotta Sing Gotta Pray Facebook page. If you wouldn't mind, why not click the link and, if you haven't done so already, "like" that page. Thanks.

I was not surprised at how many comments were generated yesterday. One of the parishes that I visit sometimes in another state has also developed a rather odd approach to music and the communion procession. The cantor and organist join the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the sanctuary and receive communion then. And the last time I was there, it took at least two minutes for that to occur. Then the organist plays an introduction and the cantor sings a solo for the first part of the Communion procession. The last time I was there, the cantor sang Panis Angelicus. After the solo, the congregation was invited to sing I Am the Bread of Life and the organist stopped after two verses and improvised for the rest of the time until the eucharistic bread was returned to the tabernacle. I have been told that this is pretty much the weekly practice in this parish. To say that this is odd would be an understatement.

In my experience at my former parish here in Chicago, Saint James, we had an interesting discussion one evening during a liturgy committee meeting (you probably don't want me on your liturgy committee!). The group was trying to decide what the "theme" for Advent would be that year. "Oh, last year our theme was 'Bethlehem, House of Bread,' should we go with that again?"

I simply stated, "Why can't we make this Advent a time when we follow the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, say, for the introductory rite?" The pastor's jaw dropped and everyone else looked very surprised, as if to say that this was not actually the work of a creative liturgy committee. That year, as Advent began, we started the practice of the celebrant singing the sign of the cross and the greeting as Mass began. And after the "let us pray" before the opening prayer, we actually stood there in silence before the server brought the missal to the celebrant. Reverence, holiness, and a sense of Advent longing was palpable.

After working in many parishes, both as the director of liturgy and music and as a volunteer parishioner, I have come to realize that the real work of a liturgy committee is to study and reflect upon the Church's liturgical documents in the hope of bringing the Church's wisdom into creative conversations to help shape the liturgical life of the Catholic parish. Frankly, I think I have wasted lots of time at lots of meetings trying to figure out "what kind of flowers we should use this year to create the ring around the base of the paschal candle!"

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Comical and Disappointing

Monday greetings to all. It is in the 60's here in Chicago; feels much more like a September morning!

I want to share a comical moment that occurred yeterday at the 9:00 A.M. Mass at Saint Peter's in the Loop here in Chicago.

When the opening hymn was announced, the elderly woman seated in front of me turned around and, with the hymnal open, said to me, "Isn't this one of those electronic book things?" as she pointed to the title of the hymn:

I chuckled and, as I sang the first stanza of the hymn, the second line struck me as well:

"God, whose purpose is to kindle;
Now ignite us with your fire . . ."

Kindle. Fire.

Made for a humorous beginning of Mass for me, for sure.

Since I have been attending Saint Peter's, one thing has struck me, since it is outside my own liturgical experience. For the most part, at communion time, after a long silence after the priest has consumed the Body and Blood of the Lord, followed by the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion receiving, a strophic hymn is announced; a hymn without any kind of refrain. No one takes the hymnal with them to receive communion so, for the most part, it is the organ and cantor one hears.

Yesterday's communion hymn was "Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether." It is a rather short hymn and was concluded before half of those going to communion had received. At the end of the hymn, there was a brief period of silence, then the organist improvised until the celebrant was seated at the end of communion. This simply could be "the way we have always done it here," but it just seemed so disjointed and uninviting to me; there was no sense that the communion procession was cohesive.

It is often challenging for me to be in the pews Sunday after Sunday. I try so hard not to put my "liturgical reviewer" or "liturgical music critic" hat on. I am there to worship God. Sometimes it's just very tough.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, July 25, 2014

We Celebrate Has Arrived!

Friday greetings to all.

WLP's 2014-2017 editions of the We Celebrate Hymnal are now in our warehouse. I have always wanted to see what this hymnal looked like in a deep red with gold foil. Our team here at WLP decided on those colors for this upcoming hymnal. Well, it is simply beautiful:

The We Celebrate worship resource program pairs a three-year hymnal with our We Celebrate missalette. The hymnal can also be ordered by itself for a three-year subscription. You can find the hymn index here. The hymnal contains the musical settings of the Mass that have risen to the top in popularity in parishes here in the United States: Mass of Wisdom, Mass of Saint Ann, Mass for Our Lady, Mass of Redemption, Missa Simplex, among many others such as Praise and Thanksgiving Mass and the People's Mass. For parishes that are J.S. Paluch bulletin subscribers, there is the possibility of using WLP credits that may be a part of your bulletin agreement toward the price of the subscription. Adding the We Celebrate hymnal to whatever is currently in your pews will bring you the music of Steven Warner, John Angotti, James Marchionda, Paul Tate, and Ed Bolduc, as well as favorite hymns and songs from other publishers such as Hope, GIA, and OCP. Also included are many of Christoph Tietze's Introit Hymns, as well as Charles Thatcher's chants for Communion. This is simply a fine three-year hymnal. Contact WLP Customer Care at 1-800-566-6150 or email us at to order a sample!

Thanks for listening to that commercial. Ever wonder what several hundred thousand We Celebrate hymnals look like in a warehouse being prepared for shipment?

On a completely different note, I don't know about you, but my heart is aching for those wounded and killed in the Middle East and their loved ones as the conflict escalates. I thought this morning: What is it like to live in constant fear? What is it like to wonder if your children are safe from one second to the next? Does this kind of fear lead to a deeper hatred or can it lead to an inner longing for resolution and peace? The more I read about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history, the more I come to the conclusion that it may be years or decades more before a resolution is reached. And all of this in the holiest of places on our planet. Prayers continuing.

I hope that your weekend is one that is filled with grace and that our world will one day know the fulfillment of the promise of peace.

Gotta sing. Gotta Pray.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New WLP Project on the Eucharist

Thursday morning greetings from Chicago, where it is dry and cool and breeze and sunny. My view this morning as I waited for the train:

And last night, around 6:00 P.M., the temperature downtown had dropped into the 60's. I couldn't resist sharing a little video with you. These are my flower boxes on the balcony of my home; my oasis really:

It feels kind of strange this week here at WLP. This is my first full week at the office (and at home) in fourteen weeks. And it actually feels wonderful. I miss my colleagues here when I am on the road. Of course, living in the digital world allows us to be in constant contact, but there is nothing like real life and real time collaboration and communication.

Yesterday afternoon, I made my way to Catholic Theological Union, my alma mater, here in Chicago. WLP is working on a project there with Fr. Ed Foley, Capuchin, who is Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality and Professor of Liturgy and Music at CTU.

It is a ten-session DVD (which will also be available in audio CD format) entitled Encountering the Mystery: An Overview of Eucharistic Theology. I was present for the videotaping of the tenth session on the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. I was captivated by Ed's thirty-minute presentation. This resource is going to be so helpful for so many, from students of sacramental theology to parish adult faith formation groups to those wanting to plumb the depths of Eucharistic theology, including those who minister in Christian initiation. It will take several months of editing to complete the project; look for it on WLP's web site soon.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NPM Convention: A Retrospective and a Question

Monday morning greetings from "back home" here in Chicago.

I wanted to spend some time sharing memories and photos of last week's NPM convention with you.

Sunday evening, at sunset, I walked down to the "Arch" in Saint Louis, just a beautiful spot.

On Monday morning, we began setting up the WLP booth in the exhibit hall. We had some cool new crates that had been constructed by our warehouse team here in Chicago. Here's WLP editor Keith Kalemba next to the new huge crate.

After spending time in the exhibit hall helping our team set up the WLP booth, it was time for me to find a quiet place to prepare for my keynote address. I went into the convention hall and this was my view from the speaker's platform. Probably shouldn't have gone in there before the presentation!

At any rate, the time arrived for the keynote. Here I am, nervously awaiting the introduction. Something happened in the building just before I was to speak; someone opened a dock door somewhere, causing a massive shift in air pressure in the building. I could hear things behind me being knocked down and then the wall behind me began to buckle forward and small pellets of styrofoam began falling from the ceiling; just like it was snowing! Anyway, there I sat, waiting.

Then the time came and I mustered all my energy to deliver the keynote address, certainly one of the most challenging moments of my life: Good News for a Wounded People.

About halfway through the keynote, I said this: "Several years ago, when the topic and description for this keynote presentation was formulated, we were in a very different place as a Church. When I accepted the invitation to speak with you today on this topic, there was one thing in our Catholic life that had note yet come to the surface. And this factor has apparently begun to make a significant difference in our world."

It was at that moment that I flashed an image of Pope Francis up on the jumbo screens. I took my next breath, expecting to go on with the talk when the crowd erupted into applause. And that applause went on, and on, and on. It was a powerful moment.

I focused on the pastoral musician's need to embrace the phrase from Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi: "We exist in order to evangelize." Here was a centerpiece of the keynote:
"Each and every time you open that responsorial psalm as a cantor, take your breath, and begin to sing the sacred words, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis. Each and every time you pick up your flute, your oboe, your guitar, your drumsticks, your violin, your handbells, as you prepare to inspired God’s people with the gift of music, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis.  Each and every time you work for hours on end to shape a choral sound that brings beauty and dignity to the liturgy, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis. When the hymn is announced and you are at the ready with your hands and feet positioned to begin the introduction at the organ or piano, what you are about to do is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis."
My feelings when it was all over? Humble. Relieved. A heavy sense of respnsibility. Grateful to so many for so much powerful feedback.
Tuesday afternoon and it was time for WLP's choral music showcase. A photo of the rehearsal for the showcase, capably and gracefully led by our own Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson.

And of course it is not all serious all the time. Here is a selfie I took with Paul French as we prepared to begin the showcase.

I had kind of dreaded what the weather was supposed to be like in Saint Louis in the middle of July. But the polar vortex had other ideas and the daytime temps were in the 70's, which made walks in the downtown area comfortable and relaxing.

On Wednesday evening, WLP sponsored two events. One was held at the Shrine of Saint Joseph, "Music She Wrote," which featured works by WLP's fine women composers. It was a delightful one hour. Here is a shot of the interior of the church.

An hour later, we sponsored a musical event featuring WLP's composer, artist, arranger, and editor Ed Bolduc and musicians from his parish, Saint Ann's in Marietta, Georgia. Again, a delightful one-hour of music making in a contemporary genre. Here's a cool shot I took of Ed at the piano.

I was overwhelmed all week with the pride and gratitude I feel for the many people here on the WLP staff, our composers, workshop presenters, artists, and musicians. It was a wonderful week.
There is only one disappointment about the week; there simply were not enough people in attendance. We work so hard and it has been getting more disappointing each year as the numbers don't seem to grow. We have lots of confidence, however, in Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, the NPM new president, as he begins his leadership position. This is an open forum, so if you are one of those who did not attend, I would love to hear the reasons why. Thanks for any comments you want to share.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray. 

Friday, July 18, 2014


Thursday morning greetings, friends, from beautiful Saint Louis. My apologies for not having posted much this week of the NPM convention here. It has been exhilarating and exhausting and humbling all wrapped together. This is very simply an event filled with moments of inspiration.

I have been so grateful all week for the many of you who have thanked me for my keynote presentation. God is good.

I have been so appreciative to those of you who have let me know that you read this blog faithfully.

My heart is overwhelmed with sense of support and genuine love.

Music touches all of us in places that run so deeply through our hearts and souls, bringing us closer to one another and to God. I am profoundly grateful for the moments when my heart has been touched this week.

Playing just a small part in the ways that music serves the singing and praying Church fills me with joy.

Feeling kind of sappy today? Absolutely!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Deep Breaths and Here We Go: NPM 2014

In a few short minutes I will be heading over to the convention center for NPM's opening event and then I will deliver the plenum address. These moments are always a bit daunting. I am just asking God to help me and to let the Spirit breathe through me.

I hope to be able to blog throughout the convention. I have a workshop to present after the keynote, then a welcome reception then I am part of a Pray Tell panel at 10:00 p.m. And then the late night exhibit expo lasts until midnight. I am excited about this full day and all it holds.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

St. Augustine in South San Francisco and Bound Now for Saint Louis

Saturday greetings from soggy and muggy Chicago. Home for a day of cleaning, laundry, and packing for the trip tomorrow to Saint Louis for the NPM convention.

Yesterday, J.S. Paluch and WLP presented seminars on building a better bulletin and rebuilding the RCIA at Saint Augustine Parish in South San Francisco, CA.

Here is a photo I took of the exterior of the church, which is built on the side of a hill looking out over the San Francisco airport and water beyond.

And here is the view from the front steps of the church:

Talk about looking out at the world to which God calls us to proclaim the Gospel!

Here a few shots of the interior, and the baptism font:

It was great meeting and hearing from so many RCIA ministers from such culturally diverse communities.

I have sent most of today putting the finishing touches on a workshop I am presenting at NPM on Monday afternoon: RCIA Forty Years Later: Where Are We; an Honest Assessment.

After packing tonight and, hopefully, a good night's rest, it is on to Union Station here in Chicago in the morning for the Amtrak train to Saint Louis; "Clang, clang, clang went the trolley!"

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Saint Joan of Arc in San Ramon, California

Had a wonderful day at Saint Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon, California today. 18 RCIA ministers gathered for a morning of sharing and input.

Here are a few shots of the statue of Saint Joan of Arc that stands outside of the church entrance:

There is a large clear glass window, etched with an image of Christ right behind the altar in the sanctuary. I took this photo looking right out the window. When sitting in the pews, all one sees is the mountains:

The font is placed in the very center of the sloping aisle, in the center of the church. This is the view from the sanctuary; you can see the altar cloth in the foreground.

And a close-up of the font:

Just a great day here in northern California.

Tomorrow it is off to South San Francisco for a repeat of today's workshop. Finished my handouts for the NPM workshop on "Music and Holy Week" this afternoon.

Until tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta Pray.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gearing Up for an NPM Plenum

Can't believe it has been over a week since I have posted here. After returning from the Liturgical Music Institute on Long Island, I spent a few days of relaxation on the coast of Lake Michigan in the beautiful state of Michigan.

Here is a photo I took while laying in the grass on a small park in the town of Saugutuck, awaiting the July 4th parade.

For the past many months, I have been working on the plenum keynote presentation that I will be delivering on Monday at the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, which will be held this year in Saint Louis. The way I approach these larger presentations is to let the theme ruminate within my own experience, jot down notes here and there, then begin to flesh out an outline, until finally reaching a point of writing the complete text. I use a prepared text and stick to it; keeps me on time and helps those running the PowerPoint presentation know where I am and which slide to show next.

Here is the title and the description given to me by NPM:
Good News for a Wounded PeopleWhere is the Good News for those who feel disillusioned or disaffected, alienated from institutional structures they no longer trust or value? How do we help those who are losing heart to renew their hope? And how do we remain faithful ministers of the Gospel in our own discouragement while reaching out to those who feel they have no place at the Table of the Lord? Explore how we can not only live with our current experience but even find Good News in it.
Frankly, this has been a challenging presentation for which to prepare; certainly not an easy topic. I hope that my words will resonate, challenge, and inspire those in attendance. Looks like the good folks over at PrayTell will be live streaming the plenum presentations. Mine is part of the opening event, which begins Monday at 1:30 CDT. I imagine I would start at around 2:30 or 2:45.
Right now I am sitting in a hotel room in Concord California, just east of San Francisco. I am presenting RCIA workshops in the Diocese of Oakland tomorrow and in the Archdiocese of San Francisco on Friday, all part of the seminar series being sponsored throughout the country by the J.S. Paluch Company and World Library Publications.
More about the NPM convention tomorrow, as well as other happenings!
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Liturgical Music Institute: O What Wonder of Wonders!

Tuesday greetings from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception here in Huntington, New York.

First of all, let me share with you that this has been an extraordinary experience. There are close to thirty musicians here for this Liturgical Music Institute. And fully a third of them are in their twenties; some fresh out of music school, others still in school, and others in their first years as parish pastoral musicians. How refreshing and wonderful to have a group so diverse in age and experience. You can learn more about the institute here. And here is a list of the faculty. If you are looking for an intensive week of learning, making music, honing musical skills, being formed spiritually, and spending time with an amazing group of people, you should really consider attending the institute next year.

This is a beautiful place.

On Sunday evening, we celebrated Night Prayer in the bishops' chapel. Just a snippet of the Salve Regina:

WLP helps sponsor the institute, which is under the leadership of director Christopher Ferraro and assistant director Susan Hugelmeyer. These two are true leaders and ministers of hospitality. Their organizational skills and dedication to ministry have resulted in a wonderful few days thus far. I have been privileged to be a kind of "spiritual director" for the participants. I have lead spirituality sessions focused on sacramental theology and liturgical spirituality. Today I presented a plenum session on "Music and the RCIA."

We gather to sing morning and evening prayer and celebrate Mass in the beautiful main chapel each day. We have been using the St. Meinrad tones for chanting the psalms and it has been glorious. Frankly these few days have been, as they say, "just what the doctor ordered" for me.

Today at Mass, we sang the musical setting of the Mass by WLP's own Kathleen Demny; her Mass of Joy. It was accompanied with pipe organ and a truly gifted organist from Australia brought it to spectacular new heights. I recorded the Holy Holy Holy as it was sung at Mass today:


I am so glad I said "yes" to being part of this spiritual and musical institute. Please, please consider spending a week here next summer. I will share the details about the Liturgical Music Institute 2015 as they become available.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.