Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 3, 2003
'Singing is our prayer' -- sister
Music must fit the spiritual occasion
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Music is as essential to the liturgy as are words, symbols and gestures, says a religious sister who specializes in Catholic liturgy.
At an Oct. 25 workshop, Sister Zita Maier, a member of the Ursulines of Chatham Union, described music as "one of the languages of the liturgy," saying liturgical music has a message of its own and is itself a ministry.
"Music is an integral part of the liturgy," she said. "Our singing is our prayer. Music imparts a sense of unity for the congregation and sets the appropriate tone for a particular celebration."
Maier, who is coordinator of the liturgy office of the Diocese of Prince Albert, Sask., and an instructor at Newman Theological College's Summer School in Liturgical Studies, led workshops in liturgical music in Vermilion, Edson, Lacombe and Edmonton Oct. 22-25. The archdiocesan Liturgy Commission organized the events.
Nearly 90 music ministers from Edmonton and surrounding communities attended her Oct. 25 workshop at the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
God encounters us
"Liturgical music is part and parcel of the liturgical celebration," Maier said in an interview. "It is one of the ways which we use to encounter God and God to encounter us. Just like we have words and gestures and symbols, we have music. It's one of the essential elements of the liturgy."
And she said it is the role of the music ministers to help make the liturgy come alive, to be a celebration.
"The role of the music leader is to give voice to the sung prayer of the community and the primary voice of the sung prayer is the whole assembly. Everybody has a right to sing."
Not having any singing at Mass was a common experience for several centuries until the Second Vatican Council restored the role of music. Until then, music was only reserved for solemn high Masses.
"Now we are beginning to understand that music is essential to making the liturgy a celebration," Maier said.
Music is also essential for all the sacraments, including Baptisms, funerals and weddings.
"Baptism too calls for music and yet we don't necessarily have music every time Baptism is celebrated."
What would music add to a Baptism? "For one thing, good music gives it an atmosphere of celebration," Maier said. "Secondly, good music supports the liturgy in expressing what Baptism is."
Music ministers should have two skills: music skills and liturgical skills, the liturgist said.
"They should be trained in the liturgy as well so they can make appropriate (musical) choices."
In deciding what music to use, "we need to understand which texts in the liturgy are sung texts," she said. "For example, texts such as acclamations and the Glory to God are sung texts and even though there are still parishes that recite them because they can't sing them, that really should not be happening; they should be sung."
As for hymns, they should be chosen "according to what the Gospel says and according to the season," Maier said. "For example, if we are in Advent, we sing an Advent song."
Parishes have access to hymnals that provide guidelines and suggestions on the appropriate music but music ministers are also allowed to choose their own music in at least four places in the Mass, including the entrance, the Preparation of Gifts and Communion.
"The choice of music needs to be made with the hymnal on one hand and the Scriptures on the other," Maier said.
Asked what her Edmonton audience lacks in terms of liturgical music, the liturgist said, "I think background to understand how to make the choices" on the appropriate opening and Communion hymns. "That's why we are doing workshops like this."
During the workshop Maier, a former conductor of the Saskatoon diocesan choir, gave examples of songs that are appropriate and inappropriate for certain occasions and even led her audience in song while skillfully playing the organ.
"Your choice of music has to fit the occasion," she told her audience. "It does not help the assembly to sing Immaculate Mary on the feast of the Ascension."
And she noted the entrance song is not about greeting the presider but to greet the Lord, who is at the centre of Catholic worship. This song should be a festive and familiar song that intensifies the unity of the assembly and leads their thoughts to the mystery of the season or feast.
Despite music being essential, the role of music ministry by and large is not yet considered essential, lamented Maier. "I think that's because we are living with a thousand years of music not being essential," she said. "And so we have to gradually change our thinking and we have to think that the music ministry is a call to serve the parish. The community needs musicians."
All who participate in the liturgy are expected to sing and that's a big challenge for music ministers.
"The challenge is to keep inviting people to join in the singing and then, of course, making choices of music the people can sing."
Cantors and choirs are there to support the assembly, not to take the assembly's part away. "And so their concern always has to be the song of the people when they make their choices and they arrange the music with their choirs."
When introducing a song, the parish needs to sing it at least four Sundays in a row so the assembly can become familiar with it, recommended Maier. "It takes most people that long to be able to sing it and once they know it they can pray it."
Music minister Sherrie Schumacker, an Edmonton pianist and organist for 23 years, said she appreciated what she heard at the workshop, even though the event did not contain much that she wasn't familiar with.
"Although it is repetitive, it is good for us to hear it again," she said. "I think the main thing I got out of it is the importance of music ministry in the liturgy. If we didn't have music, it would be pretty dead. Fortunately, the churches that I play at place a lot of importance on the music."
Yvonne Murphy of Gibbons said the workshop will help Sacred Heart Parish there improve its liturgies. "Now we will be choosing songs that fit the liturgy," she said, smiling.
"We always do, but now we'll be paying closer attention."