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For Cantors: Cantor Responsibility

Reflections for Liturgy

Copyright © 1995, 2003 by

Rick Swenton
106 Melinda Lane
Bristol, CT 06010-7199
All Rights Reserved

Permission is granted for use of this work in parish liturgy or music programs in a non-commercial setting provided that no fee is charged and that this copyright notice remains on all copies.

Cantors - Our Responsibility to the People of God

Liturgical Ministers (Priest, Deacon, Cantor, Reader, Eucharistic Minister, Usher, Altar Server) function as a service to the people of God (the assembly). This is called ministry. We are called by God, because of our individual gifts and talents, to come forth from the assembly to assume a humble leadership role to assist the assembly in worship and prayer.

Often when you think of leadership you think of people like presidents or chairpersons of corporations. These leadership positions are usually prestigious ones which are associated with titles, honor, respect, power and money. All of these attributes attack the very heart of liturgical leadership.

God blesses each of us differently with many gifts and talents. Sometimes we feel urged to offer our talents back to God as an expression of gratitude and praise.

While is certainly is an honor to be a liturgical minister, the position must not be viewed by the assembly as one of prestige. We are commissioned to serve. We are called from the assembly to serve because of our gifts. When we are called, we do not cease being part of the assembly and they do not cease being a part of us. Every person unites in the common celebration of the Word and the Eucharist. Everything we do, what we say, how we act, must be carefully executed so that we never give the appearance that we are anything but part of the whole assembly.

Being humble (as Fr. Jim said in a homily) doesn’t mean that you should be a wimp. In fact, if you are a good leader, you can’t be a wimp.

Think of this simple analogy: What kind of leader do you prefer? One who pushes you or one who pulls you? The "pusher" is one who is bossy and gives orders. The "puller" is already heading in the right direction and wants to be sure you follow along. The "puller" may already be "pulling more than their own weight" to make sure you don’t fall behind.

How can we be effective "pullers?" Liturgical ministry must be rooted in prayer. We must base our every action in prayer. We must first be believers before other will follow. Our lives must reflect our orientation to prayer. The assembly must see us as prayerful people - believers. Leadership by example is the most effective form of leadership. The "greatest" of us needs to serve the "least" of us. If you think you are sticking your nose in the assembly’s business then you are doing a great job! You are the assembly. Be a part of them.

On the Feast of the Assumption and the Feast of All Saints I happened to be cantor. Both times while I was standing near the baptismal font waiting for Mass to start, I was approached by mothers with babies who asked about the cry room. (The mothers asked, not the babies.) I could have politely pointed to the glass room and sent them in. (At the time, both babies were quiet and cute.)

Instead I told them that the babies and the mothers belonged with the assembly. The mother could make a command decision if the baby became unruly. But why exclude a quiet baby and mother by locking them in a glass house?

There was nobody else around for these mothers to talk to. If I didn’t encourage them to stay with the assembly, they probably would have gone in the cry room. Both times, all the babies were just fine during Mass.

Is this a cantor’s job? Sure. We are in service to the assembly - not just musical service. We are diplomats and tour guides. We should know how to use the elevator (or at least find someone who can) and assist people in finding the rest rooms. Your only other option is to throw your arms up in frustration and say "That’s not my job." Whose job is it?

The following is a comment I paraphrased by Pastor Jan J. H. Hofland, Reformed Church "De Hoeksteen" (The Cornerstone), Hillegom, The Netherlands. (via the internet)

Sometimes we limit the concept "liturgy" to the rites that take place in church. A few times I tried to suggest that there is also such a thing as the "liturgy of life", pertaining to our relation and service to others and society.

The word liturgy is derived from the New Testament Greek word leitourgia. Leitourgia refers to "service" (as does the non-biblical Greek usage: "the service which one who is placed above you requires of you").

The real beauty of church ritual becomes only "so-called beauty" if we do not let it inspire our "liturgy of life."

The word liturgy is also derived from two Greek words: laos (which means "people") and ergon (which means "work"). That’s why you will often hear that "Liturgy is the work of the people."

Our challenge as liturgical leaders is to help bridge the liturgical rites with the liturgy of life. When we do liturgy right, it becomes our life - our life becomes our liturgy. When we implement liturgical leadership right, we help others achieve a liturgy of life:

  • We become servants to each other.

  • We learn to love God and each other.

  • We come together as one people to build the Kingdom of God.

  • We become aware of God’s presence, actions and influence in our daily lives.

Our work becomes God’s work. God’s work becomes our work.

Copyright © 1997 - 2007 - Rick Swenton. All rights reserved.

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