When I was worship resources editor here at World Library Publications, I did a lot of writing. I wrote weekly scripture reflections that appeared in many of our worship resources. I edited and did lots of writing in Pastoral Patterns Magazine and had a regular column in AIM Magazine.
The only thing I am asked to write now on a regular basis is the material for the inside covers of our resources Seasonal Missalette, We Celebrate, Rejoice, and Celebremos/Let Us Celebrate; I really enjoy writing these "liturgical reflections on the season."
I want to share with you today the reflection I wrote this morning for many of our Autumn editions of these resources. So appreciative of all the work that you parish musicians do for those of us in the pews!
Liturgical Reflection on the Season
When I was in the fifth grade, after having taken piano lessons for two years, I was asked to play the grand pipe organ in my parish church for my Catholic school’s Thanksgiving Mass. It was an old pipe organ and it took quite a bit of pressure to press down on the keys to get the organ to play. The memory of the sound that filled that church and the voices of over five hundred children singing the hymn We Gather Together stays with me to this day. It was the first Mass at which I had ever been the minister of music.
“Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands:
Break into song; sing praise.”
This is a verse from Psalm 98, which we sing on the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time this year. My life as a liturgical musician has been filled with glorious musical moments, like the one described above. It has also been filled with some less-than-glorious moments. The biggest source of woe for any church musician is a congregation whose musical sound is tepid at best. It has always struck me that 35,000 fans at a Chicago Cubs baseball game can lift their voices (and their cups of beer) and join in the singing of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, but those same folks won’t even open a hymnal or missalette at Mass on Sundays to sing hymns and songs that have the capacity to reach deeply into the hearts of believers. I remember a friend once asking me what my favorite musical instrument was. I responded, “Well, my favorite musical instrument is the singing assembly at Sunday Mass.”
It is good to remind ourselves that our parish musicians—pianists, organists, guitarists, cantors, psalmists, and instrumentalists—are not here to put on a show or delight us with their musical talents. They put their talents at the service of those of us in the pews. And the greatest way we can respond to their ministry is by raising our voices in song with those around us. I am a “pew Catholic” these days; I no longer am a minister of music at Mass. And I sing. It strikes me how many times children seated around me will simply stare at me as I sing at Mass. They look at me as if what I am doing is odd or out of place. Nine times out of ten, the parents of these children are not singing at all.
Music is an art form that can bring us to realms that the spoken word cannot. Many years ago, I played and sang a song at Sunday Mass whose theme was about not being afraid. After Mass, a woman approached me and told me that her husband had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that very week. She said, “I came to Mass today without my husband, who is hospitalized, for the first time in decades. And I just said to God, ‘I need to hear something from you today.’ And then, Jerry, you sang the words ‘do not be afraid.’ It was beautiful and it was God speaking to my heart. Thank you for your music.”
If you are someone who hesitates to sing at Mass, why not start singing today? It may surprise the people around you, maybe even members of your own family. Who knows? Maybe you will be the spark that gets the musical fire going! “Break into song; sing praise.”
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.