By Mike Killebrew
Catechetical Sunday Reflection
As I look back at over 40 years of music ministry, many things have changed. Styles of music have changed, from the music used in our Liturgical Services, to the instruments used, to the people who lead our assemblies in song. Pastors and Associate Pastors come and go. Cantors, choirs and other groups that lead the assembly also come and go. The same is true with the people in the pews. Death, job transfers, church closings or parishes being linked together all create changes of one type or another, to name a few. But the one thing that remains constant is that the music we sing and play leads our people to a stronger faith. Or at least it should.
The one thing that I constantly remind our music ministers is that our first job is to pray and share our faith. We are simply a part of the assembly with different roles. This begins in the third grade with our youth choir and continues through to the adults. Leading the people with our gifts of song is secondary. “Sing to the Lord, Music in Divine Worship” makes this very clear. “Choir members, like all liturgical ministers, should exercise their ministry with evident faith and should participate in the entire liturgical celebration, recognizing that they are servants of the Liturgy and members of the gathered assembly” (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship #31).
Our youth choir consists of students in grades three to five; and before we sing the first note, we talk about faith. It can be hard for them to understand faith, but that can be true for anyone. However, they do understand when we talk about being ministers and not “performing” for the assembly. As the year goes on, it becomes more and more evident that they get it. We pray that this attitude continues through the years and that they strive to make it a positive habit that becomes a way of life and worship. Some drop out of music ministry by the time they graduate grade school, but many do come back and want to help as often as possible. They contact me well in advance and, of course, they are always welcome!
Whether we lead with our voices or an instrument, we have to constantly remember that we must go beyond our musical gifts and minister to the spiritual life of our assemblies. That means we have to constantly work at building community and trust, not just with our fellow music ministers or our pastors, but with the entire parish family. With our words and our music, our passion for our faith should shine through us into the people we meet every day. We may not be able to change hearts, but we can plant the seeds and let God take care of the rest. And we may not be successful every Sunday, but we are called to be faith-filled servants, knowing that God is working through us to create heaven here on earth.
One final note: At St. John the Baptist Parish we refer to our liturgical ministers, not as volunteers, but as disciples. “Liturgical musicians are first of all disciples, and only then are they ministers. Joined to Christ through the Sacraments of Initiation, musicians belong to the assembly of the baptized faithful; they are worshipers above all else” (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship #49).
Mike Killebrew is Director of Liturgy and Music Ministry at St. John the Baptist Parish in Newburgh.