About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
— His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI (7 July 2007)

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As church musicians, what sustains us?
published 10 July 2015 by Richard J. Clark

ERSE ONE of the African American Spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead says, “Sometimes I feel discouraged And think my work’s in vain, But then the Holy Spirit Revives my Soul again.”

This plea is answered even more directly in John 7—which we sing in the Communion antiphon for the Pentecost Vigil Mass, Ultimo:

“…Jesus said: “He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were about to receive…”

As musicians, what sustains us? Certainly, good music is a requirement. Not just good music, but beauty itself.

UT AS MUSICIANS OF THE CHURCH, we are sustained but the wedding of this music to Truth itself—to the Divine. In the Exsultet we sing, “O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.”

We seek music that is heaven wedded to earth, and divine wedded to humanity. We find this in the Eucharist. In music we may find such beauty in William Byrd’s Ego sum panis vivus John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

But not all music is beautiful, and frequently, music and the divine are quite far apart. As in our lives, we meet struggle, suffering and adversity. Ultimately, these curses are a gift for any number of reasons. They are at times even necessary to prune us and refine our souls to be put to better service of God.

O I PROPOSE A FEW IDEAS: One, that the experience of the divine in music and in life is not always a constant experience, i.e., everything is not always great all the time. (Mother Theresa suffered through crises of faith for years.) Suffering is necessary to achieve this understanding of the divine. One glimpse of the divine may be all we can ask, as in the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis):

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen the salvation You have prepared in the sight of every people, A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

Two, I propose a sense of gratitude. I may complain of having to play something far less than beautiful or appropriate for mass, but I am grateful to be doing music and that I am in the House of the Lord. This is not to acquiesce to mediocrity, but when there is no choice, I am grateful for the life I live, the air I breath, and that my fingers touch a keyboard. I have nothing to complain about. I also do not presume to know at every moment what God’s plans are for me and how I must serve Him.

Our music must be in the service of the Body of Christ, in service of God, in service of the Mass, the greatest prayer, for it is a sung prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria