Reflections for Liturgy
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Cantors and the Community of Church
The Church is a community of people -- the world of Christians who believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We are the Church. We hear this expression all the time. We also sometimes evaluate our ability to "be" Church. How are we measuring up to the expectations established by Christ? How is the Christian Church doing? More specifically, how is the Catholic Church doing? Even more precisely, how is our particular parish doing? What does all this have to do with cantors?
In a typical parish, there is a variety of little communities contained under the umbrella of "parish." There are groups oriented by categories such as age (seniors, youth), functions (Ladies Guild, Parish School, Music, Religious Education, Liturgy), and many others. Most of the groups blend and merge into the mainstream community and cycle in and out of various stages of integration.
Of course, the Music Ministry is one of these special subsets of the main community. The Music Ministry can develop into a very special group of close friends. We enjoy each other's company. We share each other's joys and pains. We are good friends.
Because we are so close and so intense we can be sometimes seen as an almost separate community. How do you get in if you're on the outside? What if you can't (or won't) sing? You're expected to have some kind of musical ability to be in the music program. That excludes many people who either have no such skills or who think they don't. Now, even though it wasn't planned, you created a class structure: the have’s and the have-not's.
Even within the Music Ministry, there can exist sub-groups: Cantors, Handbells, Instrumentalists and various choral groups.
As cantors, we need to be especially aware of our position in the community structure as well as our responsibility to the whole community we represent. We are a tightly focused group with a conversely wide area of influence.
We all know from our reading about the responsibilities of our job. We supplement and enhance the liturgy by providing an enthusiastic and prayerful experience. But we are part of the community we came from. We are church. We have responsibility to church - the people.
Being a subset of the Music Ministry, our first responsibility is to the average choir member. It is important that cantors are not viewed as an elitist group of specialists. Often times you rely on your most skilled singers to lead the group through a tough piece. Who are your most skilled? Many of them are cantors, so it's natural to call upon them for special needs. We must not forget the skills and feelings of the others. Even though we have these strong skills we must always merge and blend ourselves back into the main group. We can do this by offering assistance to the person who sits next to us. We can make the extra effort to socialize with everyone and show that we care. It's all too convenient to migrate to our "special interest group" and, without meaning to, give others the impression of exclusion.
"Now there are many gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are many services, but the same Lord; and there are many activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7,12)
Our second and most important responsibility is to the main community.
"Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son." (Acts 20:28)
Sometimes we are seen as being a member of "that special music group." We need to take the time and effort to tear down those walls which are innocently and unintentionally built. Remaining after Mass to greet the departing assembly sends a strong message that they are important to you. A smile and a greeting have a wonderful impact. You are stating that you are part of them. Another nice touch is to extend the sign of peace to some of the people sitting in the front pews. Finally, we need to be aware of the community's feelings, be understanding of their opinion, and positively and enthusiastically support them even when we may not agree. We are representatives of the church as cantors and music ministers. We are watched and evaluated. The community makes its judgment based on the outward signs they see. If we are conscious of the signals we send, then the community will receive the proper message, loud and clear, that we are church -- we are part of them.
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:16)
As we focus our energy for the praise and honor of God through music, we will naturally become what God wants us to be.
"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)