Liturgical Music 101

One of the greatest things about being here as a friar is finding my love of music again. When people find out I play guitar I'm often asked to "play something" at a mass or prayer service. It feels good using a skill that I love for the benefit of worship. And it's a skill I continue to work at.

When we got here to Milwaukee in August, we were told that we could go to whatever parish we wanted for Sunday Liturgy. They preferred that we go to a Capuchin parish, but it was not required. The focus was for us to get out and establish relationships within the city. After going to a few different masses at the start, I attended the 10:30 mass at St. Francis...a Spanish mass.

I've mentioned before that even though I'm Mexican, my Spanish is horrible. So I thought it was just a fluke that I would happen to go to a Spanish mass. However when the mass started, I saw one person playing guitar, leading the choir, singing, cantoring, and planning the music. I remember my parish back in Grand Rapids and how wonderful it was to have so many talented people participating.

At the end , I introduced myself and asked if he needed any help. Since then, I've been playing guitar for that mass. About a month later, one of the other postulants joined with his guitar.

A few times the director has been sick or had commitments that keep him from getting to that mass. In those times he's asked us to take over his job: pick out the songs, make sure they choir knows them, get the equipment set up, and play for the mass.

Liturgical Music is not just about playing songs that people know...something I learned the hard way. There are many nuances and thoughts behind the music that is chosen, the words that are used, and the tempo and feeling of the piece. Each must tie into the season, the readings, any special events or feast days, etc. And the important part isn't about sounding good. In fact, I'd say when it comes to liturgical music planning, "sounding good" comes in a distant third. The relevance to the mass is probably the second most important focus. The first: getting the church to participate in the singing of the songs during mass.

There are far more things to learn about Liturgical Music in the Catholic Church, but I know that my understanding as well as my musical abilities have both grown in these past months. While I still plan on being a priest, part of me wants to spend time working in the field of music. It's so hard to find and keep musicians in parishes these days, I feel that it would be improper for me to just waste my talent.

I bring up this topic because I was at St. Francis late this evening. We have a new person who helps out at the Spanish mass, and he's eager to learn the songs we use. The director won't be at mass Sunday, so I got together with the new guy and picked out songs for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

In that process he stated how impressed he was with my knowledge of music and that it was very helpful to have me walk through the songs, pick out ones that were commonly used in this church, and to coordinate different aspects of the music during the liturgy. I felt rather proud of the compliment, and I realized how comfortable I'd become with not just playing in front of a crowd, but of taking control and directing what needed to be done in a respectful and encouraging manner.

So the next time you go to mass, and you enjoy the music, tell the music director you appreciate it. And if you can play any instrument, ask if you can help out in some way. Both of those things will not only brighten their day, but it will remind them that it's not just "playing music," but it is a way that serves the community during the mass.

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