Every Time I Feel the Spirit-A Pentecostal Predisposition

Our CMAA President, Dr. William Mahrt, never fails to share the following anecdote when the subject of pastor/musician collaboration inevitably rises in conversation, (I paraphrase from memory as best I can recall)-

When the pastoral decision at my parish in Palo Alto was made to supplant the use of Latin for English, our schola prepared for the next Sunday’s Mass as was our custom. The pastor mentioned something to the effect that I would program suitable English repertoire. So, the following Sunday we chanted the propers and the ordinary in Latin. After the Mass the pastor came up to me sometime and asked me if I’d understood the mandate to change to the vernacular, English. I said, “Of course I did. When someone composes some equally suitable music for the Mass in English we’ll sing it. We’re still singing the Mass forty years later in Latin.

As clever yet unassuming that response was at the time, not everyone can be a Professor Mahrt and think in 3D in real time: disarmingly, diplomatically and decidedly! And the times, they have a-chang-ed, insofar as the political realities of parish life and dealing with the personalities and predispositions of modern pastors. I wince every time anyone of any age demographic laments, in effect, that the bulk of opposition to the RotR “movement” resides among Boomer generation pastors, who not only universally are depicted as having had their fill of chant in seminary back in the day and stomp upon its revival like a alb’d Transformer, should chant rear its dreary head in THEIR parish! And, to add salt upon that wound to all prospective chanters in such domains, such men are likely to remain at their pastorates for at least another decade and a half, perhaps two.

I wince at that stereotype because, though I’ve studied with Mahrt, chanted with Mahrt, conversed at length with Mahrt, I am no William Mahrt! But what his anecdote illustrates is that collaboration is a truly inspired enterprise, always. And, yes, I do mean the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cannot be underestimated or undervalued within the discerning mind of a musician whose heart knows that the missio to restore solemnity to our worship is right and just, but relies upon skills of communication learned or unlearned at countless human resource seminars or classes. (continued)

I have been at my current parish assignment for nineteen plus years. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a humorous, positive anecdote of actuosa collaborationis during my tenure. When I came to the parish, it had already 6000 registered families. Now we are merged (for going on three years) with two other parishes and christening a fourth in August. We estimated through polling that there are likely 35,000+ nominally Roman Catholic souls in our 120K populated city. We are staffed with four FT priests and a retired father who does minimal sacramental duties. We have a healthy slew of permanent deacons, and support staff and ministries are burgeoning. 

So, when the imminent opening of the fourth parish demanded a serious review of the Mass schedules among all four churches, the pastor convened with his brother-priests, crafted some proposals, perhaps ran some of those by some pastoral and finance council members, and then presented everyone with a final proposed schedule. We have nineteen weekend Masses among the four parishes, and music is integral at each one of them. I didn’t become involved until the final schedule was essentially ratified and published. And, as per usual, there were “coverage” gaps and less than ideal solutions that would have been necessitated by not tweaking that final schedule.

Just to wrap this up, for a couple of intense and quietly conducted meetings, one on one with the pastor, the senior vicar, with my trusted organist who has an extensive Human Resources background, a few of us went back to the table and carefully mapped out an alternative schedule that would not only maintain a continuum of almost two decades, but actually assist in providing existing personnel easier opportunities to insure the new parish would open fully staffed on day one. 

All that remained was to initiate a sequence of presentations to the pastor, to select other priests, and then to the cabinet (of which I’m the Liturgy/Music member) that showed with just two alterations (minimal out of 19) which maintained two current Mass hours. We used spread sheets to formulate our proposal, colored to show travel times, overlapping time issues and so-forth. And from those we found the solution, and then printed out the two schedules side by side, but with the revised schedule denoted using color classifications. That decision simply was inspired. It was akin to “all the stars and planets simply aligned.” So, before that meeting, the pastor was prepared to listen to alternatives, though predisposed to reject them. But positive, even joyful explanation and enthusiasm combined with assurance that he would have the final say-so would be accepted in like-minded joy and positive hope.

At the meeting, the colorful “stars and planets” became evident to all, the pastor asked all present to provide input, and consensus was actually reached that the two revisions would, indeed, make the rough places straight. And I think I finally enjoyed my first real and deep understanding of that term which doesn’t get much airplay of late: aggiornamento.

We, as servants of the Liturgy cannot, for a moment, forget that a Mass can be heard without the benefit and adornment of music, but it cannot be heard without the participation of the alter Christus. So, even though we have the benefit of constellations of liturgical understanding literally under our fingertips, we should never presume that without earning the trust of the man who assumes, by divine constitution through ordination, the faculties to, in persona Christi, consecrate our offerings at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we cannot exercize our servitude and ministry. 

So, if I had to offer any advice to our younger generations regarding negotiating the rough seas of liturgical change at the parish level, it would probably sound a lot like it came from Ecclesiastes. Never not be truly enthusiastic, or filled with holy zeal. Likewise, never not be inclined towards patience and understanding, even if it demands some measure of unpalatable tolerance. And do consult the counsel of the Holy Spirit when it seems that everyone else is consulting Risk Management.