Two-Minute Training Tips – Idols and Icons
Learn how to make the assembly's song primary on Sunday.
There are liturgical ministers who are like icons, capturing you by the beauty and skill of their craft yet redirecting your gaze not to them but to God. These are transparent ministers who lead the assembly into worship by putting them first. Then there are others whose ministerial efforts place them front and center, often leaving the assembly to be spectators at the liturgy. This often happens in music ministry where performance and entertainment values can take over.
Don't distract the assembly
If you experience any of the following, you may be in “Catholic Idol” territory:
- The cantor overpowers the assembly during a hymn by singing too loudly into the microphone.
- The choir sings or the musicians play their instruments so loudly that the assembly can’t hear their own voices.
- The majority of music sung at Mass is unfamiliar to the assembly.
- The music ministers disengage in the Mass when they are not singing or playing.
- The song leader uses disparaging remarks before Mass or overly zealous gestures during Mass to get the assembly to sing.
- The music ministers disrupt the flow of the Mass by not starting music at the appropriate time, by not allowing for adequate silence, or by not singing the Communion song when they are sharing in Communion.
Make the music ministerial
Most music ministers want to follow what Music in Catholic Worship says: “The function of music is ministerial; it must serve and never dominate” (9). Yet sometimes their very effort becomes the dominating factor. Fred Moleck tells a story about a cantor who, realizing her microphone was not on, rushed to turn it on during the second verse of the gathering hymn and ended up overpowering the assembly which had been doing just fine without the cantor’s amplified leadership. “The cantor in her zeal to lead the congregation forgot the principle that a good liturgical minister does not draw attention to herself. The cantor’s voice cannot dominate the song of the congregation. The music ministers, like all liturgical ministers, are there to serve. It is not a spotlight moment. The minister is to become transparent” (“The Catholic Accent,” Diocese of Greensburg, September 9, 2004).
To help your music ministers become transparent, encourage them be more attentive to their role as assembly members. Liturgical Music Today provides a credo that helps all ministers place their work in context: “The church musician is first a disciple and then a minister. The musician belongs first of all to the assembly; he or she is a worshiper above all” (64). During every moment of the Mass, cantor, choir, musicians, and leaders should do everything that is expected of the assembly in gestures, postures, attention, silent prayer, and spoken responses. Go a step further, and refrain from using song books if the assembly is expected to sing acclamations without the aid of hymnals.
Be clear about roles
Next, help them distinguish their role from that of the assembly by having them do their role and only their role (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 28). For singers, this means letting the assembly take the lead when they are the primary music makers. For example, during hymns, psalm refrains, acclamations, and sung responses, help the assembly get started, then let them go, giving them vocal and visual support only as needed.
Lastly, challenge them to imagine the assembly’s perspective. Assembly members have diverse musical abilities, vocal ranges, and comfort levels with public singing. They have limited opportunities to “rehearse” the music sung at Mass compared to the multiple rehearsals music minister may have during the course of the week. But assemblies generally do want to sing when they feel safe, supported, and respected. When music ministers foster this kind of worship environment, they move from being distracting idols to transparent icons that go beyond themselves, pointing the way to God.