Column: Songs do more than decorate our faith – they express it

Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.
Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.

by Michael Podrebarac

“The whole assembly is actively involved in the music of the liturgy. Some members of the community, however, are recognized for the special gifts they exhibit in leading the musical praise and thanksgiving of Christian assemblies.

“These are the liturgical musicians . . . and their ministry is especially cherished by the Church” (U.S. bishops, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship”).

“These are the liturgical musicians.”

We have them in virtually every parish in our archdiocese. They are cantors, organists and pianists, instrumentalists of many kinds, members of choirs and ensembles, and directors and coordinators of parish music ministries. Some are paid for what they do, because of their particular expertise or responsibilities. Most, however, are volunteers. In either case, though, our bishops remind us, they are in fact “ministers who share the faith, serve the community, and express the love of God and neighbor through music.”

That’s quite a mission: to share faith, to serve community, and to express love of God and neighbor . . . and all through music. Liturgical musicians see it as a genuine call.

Now some might think music doesn’t really matter, that it doesn’t do much more than decorate and prolong the liturgy. But imagine Advent without “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”; Christmas without “Silent Night”; or Easter without “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” These songs do much more than simply decorate. They express faith, and in an unparalleled manner. St. Augustine was moved toward conversion by the beauty of Christian hymns, both the beauty of melody and the beauty of faith expressed.

St. Paul instructed the Colossians to “teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,” because this was the best way they could serve one another at liturgy and grow in knowledge and understanding. And when they went to their martyrdom, the persecuted Christians together sang their psalms and hymns, receiving strength and courage, and amazing even their executioners.

We still sing together. We sing to God and to one another. We sing about the bond of God’s love, from which not even death can separate us. All truly liturgical music is inspired by love. Expressing praise, thanksgiving, sorrow or need, it is rooted in love —God’s love for us, our love for him, and our love for one another.

This year, the feast of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, falls on a Sunday, Nov. 22, and is replaced by the solemnity of Christ the King. Perhaps at Mass we might still prayerfully remember those whose gifts and efforts enable us to praise “The King of Glory” and to “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”

“These are the liturgical musicians.”

For these we give thanks.

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