Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Ministry of the Congregation

It seems that most Catholics have forgotten about the ministry of the congregation. We have become so obsessed with "doing" something at Mass that just being at Mass is seemingly considered insignificant.

Last night my husband and I had dinner at a very nice little Portuguese restaurant. It is a family owned place where the tables are placed as close as possible to each other in order to fit as many people as possible into the restaurant. Towards the end of our dinner a party of four was seated on the side of us. They entered into a long, and loud conversation about a funeral. Apparently the mother of one of the women had recently died. While I did not try to listen on their conversation, given that she was sitting close enough for me to touch her, it was hard to not overhear. A few of the quotes that caught me attention were, "It was so nice, every grandchild had something to do during the Mass. I didn't want them to just sit there."

But that isn't why I am writing this post. The next quote is, "My grandaughter sang for the Mass. I couldn't believe it when I heard her. I knew she had a nice voice, but I didn't think she could really sing. I was shocked that she was so good. I only asked her because I didn't want her to be the only one without something to do".

Comment #1) Simply having a "nice voice" doesn't make someone qualified to sing at Mass.
Comment #2) If you didn't think she was good, you shouldn't have asked her to sing.
Comment #3) What's wrong with being part of the congregation?
Comment #4) No one is supposed to "just sit there" at Mass. They are supposed to pray and respond.

Yes, it is nice when family members can perform certain functions during the Mass, but I don't understand the obsession families have with getting everyone involved. Especially when they are putting them in roles where they are unprepared and unqualified. Personally, I am tired of funerals where "my sister's friend's daughter's friend's cousin with a really nice voice" comes to sing. Usually the person doesn't have a nice voice and many times they can barely sing on key. In addition, they seldom know the hymns and sometimes ask me to teach it to them. Add to that the "singers" who are close family members such as grandchildren who start crying in the middle of the hymn and it's a recipe for disaster.

My advice to everyone is: leave the funeral music to the professionals.

I am lucky that my parish has a policy on visiting musicians. They MUST be employed as liturgical musicians in a Catholic parish, and I MUST get a bench fee. Oh, and I do check up on them. However, even with that policy, a few still slip by. People claim to be employed in parishes when they are not and I have even had priests lie and tell me that certain people are employed when they are simply substandard choir members or not even attached to the parish in any way.

So, what is the deal with the obsession with "doing something"? I think we have focused so much on the ministry of lector, cantor, EMHC, etc, while we ignored the ministry of the congregation. In essence we have set ourselves up to literally preach to the choir. The congregation does not just sit there. They have an active role in the Mass. They sing the hymns which are appropriate to them, they respond to the prayers of dialogue, the proclaim the acclamations, most importantly they like everyone else in the Mass, they worship the Lord in Word and Sacrament. So much for just sitting there.

To all of you who make up the congregation, you are needed. Don't let anyone think you are just sitting there.


Chris C. said...

Overall I agree with the post, but... What about those who are not employed by a parish but are qualified volunteers? And in either case (employed or not), surely a brief audition would give you a better picture than any conversation, no?

Domini Sumus said...

True, but not always practical.

Funerals, being what they are, tend to be planned rather chaotically and it isn't uncommon to get a phone call the day before the Mass asking if a musician can come. An audition is not usually practical or possible, therefore general guidelines had to be instituted.

I have had some incompetant musicians who were on staff at parishes as well, but pastors tend to raise the quality bar if they are signing a check each month.