NCE IN A WHILE, we have experiences that give us reason for encouragement, or even hope, if perhaps just a small glimpse. In life, as with sacred liturgy, we may perceive many reasons for discouragement. But God knows when to build us up so that we may have the strength to forge on with his mission and His will. Then, in times of difficulty or challenge, we must remember to trust in God’s will and be faithful to His will and not simply our own. True faithfulness to God is tested in the difficult times.
However, today, I want to share a recent liturgical experience, and one that opens a window of encouragement. I recently had the opportunity to direct music for three liturgies for the USCCB Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference in Boston. (His Eminence Seán Cardinal O’Malley is the Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.) In addition to supporting a vital cause, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet lay leaders from around the country.
While in the planning stages with the Office of Divine Worship (Fr. Jonathan Gaspar’s presence there is great encouragement for us all) I was instructed to choose music that was specifically varied: traditional hymns, ICEL Chants, and polyphony for one liturgy, contemporary music for another, and for a third on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I was to chant the propers. This was a very thoughtful and pastoral approach, as the people in attendance probably had quite varied experiences in their home parishes.
However, I was not sure how well the polyphony, ICEL chants, and propers would be received by a diverse group of Catholics from around the country. However, what transpired was reason for great encouragement:
• These Diocesan Pro-Life leaders can really sing!
• The ICEL Chants were sung quite robustly by the congregation, to the point of slowing down the schola. I find this most intriguing. While their use was mandatory for a short time in the Archdiocese of Boston and are used for Archdiocesan liturgies, one can only speculate how much use they get in typical parishes around the United States. Perhaps the ICEL Chants have had more staying power than expected? This is highly encouraging.
• We sang the Introit, Offertory and Communion propers including settings by Adam Bartlett from the Lumen Christi Missal. These were included in the worship aids, so after a verse or two, the congregation began to sing, with more and more voices being added as the verses progressed. This was more than encouraging! In fact it was quite joyful to hear the scriptures being sung in this context.
With this kind of singing, that means there is not only a lot of willingness on the part of the congregation, but it points to a lot of great work being done by music directors and pastors all over the country. This work is mostly thankless and unseen, but know that your influence and reach may be much farther than you will ever dream or know.
ALSO HAD THE OPPORTUNITY to meet and speak with Msgr. James Maroney, the new rector of St. John’s Seminary in Boston.
A past chairman of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, he was Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy from 1996-2007. He serves as Executive Secretary to the Vox Clara Committee. As a frequent lecturer on liturgical matters, he spoke to me passionately about his experiences teaching the ICEL chants in workshops around the country, and more importantly, about singing the mass. He spoke about using in his workshops the ICEL Chants training videos videos I was fortunate to assist with.
Certainly, now in his role as rector of the seminary, we have another advocate for teaching priests the treasure that is singing the mass. To put icing on the cake, he spoke of moving forward with fund raising for a new pipe organ for the beautiful seminary chapel.
These are all reasons for encouragement for the sacred liturgy. However, let us be mindful of our constant calling to be faithful to God’s will for us. Most times, there is challenge. That is why we are called.