By Mary Woodward
PEARL – “Sacred music and liturgical chant have the task of giving us a sense of the glory of God, of his beauty, of his holiness which wraps us in a ‘luminous cloud.’”
With this quote from Pope Francis given at an international conference on sacred music in March of this year, Alexis Kutarna, director of music and professor at St. Mary Seminary in Houston, Texas, began a two day retreat-style gathering for parish liturgical music ministers and pastors on June 8-9.
The gathering was designed to bring music ministers together to refresh and strengthen their knowledge of the role of music in the liturgy. Pearl St. Jude Parish graciously hosted the event.
Kutarna based her talks in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Roman Missal and Sing to the Lord, the U.S. Bishops’ document on music in the liturgy. Though the presentations were in English, the substance of the talks applied to the celebration of Mass in any language.
On the first day, Kutarna expounded on the mystery of liturgy and how it is the work of the Blessed Trinity, which draws us into a glimpse of the heavenly banquet and towards our salvation. Quoting the Catechism, Kutarna further explained the liturgy as the work of God, the work of Christ and the work of the Church:
…the Father accomplishes the ‘mystery of his will’ by giving his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit for the salvation of the world and for the glory of his name. Such is the mystery of Christ, revealed and fulfilled in history according to the wisely ordered plan that St. Paul calls the ‘plan of the mystery’ and the patristic tradition will call the ‘economy of the Word incarnate’ or the ‘economy of salvation.’
For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation.
It is this mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to the world… (CCC 1066-1068)
From these foundational statements, Kutarna then took participants on a journey through signs, symbols and sacraments, touching on art, architecture and ultimately music and the role of these in creating and developing our awareness of and participation in the divine liturgy whenever the people of God come together to worship.
She stressed the liturgy is a corporate act of worship by the people of God, where the “eternal event of Christ intersects with chronological time.” Therefore, this should be kept in mind when planning liturgical celebrations.
Art, architecture and music are not intended to be the center of worship but integral parts that lead the community into worship and giving glory to God. The Mass is not a concert or an opportunity to show off voices. Music ministers should seek to enhance the corporate act of worship by striving to connect the worshippers with the choirs of angels and the heavenly hosts.
In the evening, Kutarna took participants through the parts of the Mass offering practical suggestions for various aspects, such as: not to use the Gloria as a “sprinkling” song, when to begin the alleluia, singing a hymn of praise after Communion, and more.
On the second day, Kutarna shared resources and practical information on the role of music ministers and the types of music and instrument choices. While the organ still has pride of place in worship, other instruments may be incorporated as long as they are played in a manner that does not distract or remind worshippers of their other uses, such as electric guitars, which have often been smashed on amplifiers by crazed rock stars. Music and instruments should reflect the dignity of the celebration and the sacredness of the transcendent moment.
Careful attention should be placed on selecting appropriate hymns based in Scripture and theology. Musical texts reinforce Scripture, the teachings of the church and liturgical theology for worshippers. If you constantly use communion songs that refer to bread, then worshippers are going to continue to think of it as bread, Kutarna emphasized.
She suggested musicians look at the options for selecting music provided by the Church in the liturgical books. Entrance and Communion antiphons are the first three of the four options for music. These antiphons are steeped in Scripture and Catholic theology and can easily be used as an opening or communion hymn.
They have been developed over the past 19 centuries and can be sung as chant or in more modern settings. Hymns are certainly an option, but once again musicians need to be careful to select hymns that are consistent with Scripture and Church teachings.
Kutarna also spoke on ways to incorporate the Liturgy of the Hours into parish life. As part of the retreat, participants gathered to sing Vespers or Evening Prayer; Compline or Night Prayer; Lauds or Morning Prayer; and Sext or Midday Prayer.
The Liturgy of the Hours has been prayed in parish communities for more than 18 centuries. For the retreat, Evening Prayer was combined with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Participants were able to learn more about how the hours could be prayed in a parish setting and reflected on those possibilities such as ecumenical gatherings and times when Mass may not be available, especially during the week.
Speaking as the director of the diocesan liturgy office, we wanted to provide an opportunity for liturgical music ministers to come together and refresh their knowledge of the liturgy and music’s role in it. We also wanted to offer some solid foundations and resources on broadening their horizons from just the traditional four hymn Masses.
Kutarna certainly gave us plenty to think about. We thank those who partook and are working on ways to follow up with resources and networking for all parishes.
The retreat was sponsored by the diocesan office of liturgy. Deacon Aaron Williams assisted in planning and was the retreat organ master.