Music is an integral part of the liturgy and liturgy is meant to be sung.
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost reminded parish music ministers of that when he addressed the diocesan chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians on Aug. 29 at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Hinckley.
Herb Dillahunt, director of music at St. Clarence Parish in North Olmsted, organized the session so the music ministers could discuss the challenges of the pandemic, what worked, what didn’t work and some of the best practices they gleaned during the pandemic.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to meet in person since the pandemic,” he said.
About 60 people connected to music ministries in the diocese spent time in discussion before taking a dinner break. Bishop Woost addressed the group after dinner and then presided at evening prayer.
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As he introduced the bishop, Dillahunt described the atmosphere in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Aug. 4 when Bishop Woost was ordained. “The excitement was palpable. He is one of our own. He knows this diocese inside out and will lead it to be better and stronger,” Dillahunt said.
“I know – literally and figuratively – that I’m preaching to the choir,” the bishop quipped.
“I am here because I want to be here, not because I have to be. You are an important part of the diocese,” Bishop Woost told the group. “I wanted to come and listen, not just to talk. I want to hear from all of you because it is important to hear you. Thank you for what you do,” he added.
The bishop updated the musicians on the status of the diocesan Office for Worship, which. Bishop Edward Malesic appointed him to lead as interim director in March -- just two months before his episcopal appointment was announced. The office had been without a director since August 2021. It is closely tied to the musicians and their work, the bishop said.
Bishop Woost and his administrative assistant, Judy Liederbach, are catching up and getting the office back on track, he said. But there is much to be done. In addition to his duties with the worship office, the bishop assists Bishop Malesic with the pastoral needs of the faithful throughout the diocese and he continues to serve in numerous capacities at the Center for Pastoral Leadership, including as a professor at Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology.
He offered some reflections about liturgy, liturgical music and music ministries, beginning with a few stories.
First, as a priest for 38 years, he said he has never been part of a faith community where the Eucharistic liturgies did not include music and congregational singing on a daily basis – except in the height of the pandemic.
Next, he recalled the late Bishop Anthony Pilla’s check-ins with newly ordained priests six months into their priesthood when he asked them what they missed from their seminary experience. The response always included the liturgies. He reminded them there was no reason they couldn’t have that same experience in the parish and asked them what they were going to do about it.
Third, Bishop Woost recalled how important music during the liturgy was to his late mother. He said she always sang. At one parish, congregants stared at her and someone told her they didn’t sing because “That’s the choir’s job.”
And finally, the last story was gleaned from the seminary, where the former music director, Ed Kaczuk reminded him many times, “No one leaves the church humming the homily.”
“I am thoroughly committed to the importance of liturgical music and ministry of liturgical musicians,” the bishop said. “Music is not a nice add-on to the liturgy, either as a ritual filler or as a means of keeping the liturgical assembly entertained or interested. Music is an integral and important part of our liturgical prayer. Music often engages the spirit and soul of individuals and communities in a way that ritual words or actions alone cannot.”
He recommended the musicians watch the documentary “Score” which highlights the significant contributions music makes to engaging the audience at a movie. However, he reminded them that the congregation at a liturgy is not an audience. Rather, they “are active participants so music expresses and draws them into the mystery that is being revealed and celebrated,” he said.
“For us, liturgical music is prayer. It is a means of not only expressing something about our relationship with God and one another, but also of entering more deeply into that living encounter,” he noted.
The bishop said there is something unique and uplifting about a singing community and what that does to us and in us in further forming our relationships -- even if the musicians or congregants can’t fully articulate what the music means in the liturgy or how it affects them. That’s why the lack of music and congregational singing at the height of the pandemic was so painful for many, he noted.
He also suggested a book, “Liturgy and Sacraments in a COVID World – Renewal, not Restoration,” by Msgr. Kevin Irwin, who talks about renewal vs. returning to where we were pre-pandemic. Msgr. Irwin said this is the time to reflect, dialogue and discern what may need to happen for the parish liturgical prayer to continue to improve and to form and inform the communities of faith.
The bishop once again reminded the group that music is an integral part of liturgy and liturgy is meant to be sung. As pastoral musicians, they have done much to contribute to this evolution he said, adding he is confident that they remain committed to celebrating musical liturgy and he is ready and willing to do anything he can to support them in their ministry.
After his presentation, the group moved into the church where Bishop Woost presided at night prayer, most of which was sung.
To learn more about the Office for Worship, click here. Contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-696-6525, Ext. 3630. Click here for more information on the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Email email@example.com to be included on the local group’s mailing list.