Music ministry: a calling only a pastoral musician could love

As the Church Prays
Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.

by Michael Podrebarac

Imagine arriving at Mass this Christmas, only to find that no musicians were scheduled to assist at any of the parish services — no accompanists, instrumentalists or singers, not even a lone cantor to lead the congregation in a few familiar carols.

Now, imagine if the same were the case the whole year through.

Of course, at one time, most of our worship was largely without music: a Low Mass. While still a valid option, the church nevertheless endeavors to realize the ideal of the sung liturgy.

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface toward what the church envisions: We basically sing hymns and a few acclamations at an otherwise spoken liturgy. But imagine if not even this music was an option for us.

It certainly makes me appreciate my colleagues even more. They are called by various names, but the church in the United States largely calls them pastoral musicians. A few are paid for their particular and specialized contributions.

The bulk are largely volunteer. They serve week after week, month after month, season after season, year after year.

They serve, despite the fact that their work rarely, if ever, pleases everybody at the same time. They serve, despite unending criticism: “too slow,” “too fast,” “not enough new music,” “too much new music” (and all of these lodged simultaneously). They serve as leaders in a field where it seems that everybody is an expert, or at least a critic.

They serve, even though it means their Sundays and their holidays are arranged around their obligation to the Lord’s temple and the needs of his people.

Sometimes they err on the side of caution, sometimes they take risks. Sometimes they forget that it is the Lord’s song they offer (after all, they’re only human), and sometimes they would be the last to seek the praise of their congregations.

They serve, in most cases, because if they didn’t, no one else would. There simply aren’t enough capable and willing musicians to go around. (Just ask the pastors.)

They do a good job, and yet have plenty to improve upon. Many have willingly settled for being underemployed, given their skills and education.

The vast majority serve from the sheer will of a generous heart.

In any case, support them. Pastors, encourage your pastoral musicians. Parents, provide your children with music lessons. Spouses and children, try not to complain about how they have to be “gone” so much on weekends and holidays. Parishioners, stop by after Mass to offer a simple thank you for their dedication and efforts.

They are truly pastoral musicians: shepherds who sing and play for the Lord’s sheep. And, whether or not we’re willing to admit it, we’d be lost and scattered in our common liturgical prayer without them.

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