This article first appeared in the summer 2020 issue of GIA Quarterly magazine.
ONE OF THE ASPECTS OF FORMATION OF MUSIC MINISTERS, and particularly cantors and directors of music, is the their preparation for ministry. This preparation can be seen two ways: remote preparation and proximate preparation. The remote preparation is that which happens months, weeks, and even days before the assigned ministry day, which can be a frequent assignment on the schedule or not. The proximate preparation is that which happens the day before and the day of ministry.
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship states: “Our participation in the Liturgy is challenging. Sometimes, our voices do not correspond to the convictions of our hearts. At other times, we are distracted or preoccupied by the cares of the world. Christ always invites us, however, to enter into song, to rise above our own preoccupations, and to give our entire selves to the hymn of his Paschal Sacrifice for the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity” (no. 14).
Music directors understand well the relationship of the music selected for each liturgy and its close relationship to the Gospel message for that liturgy. This is key in planning music for upcoming months. In some parishes, cantors are responsible for selecting the music for the liturgy at which they will minister and thus would do well to adopt reading and praying with the Gospels as part of their own preparation for ministry. By engaging in prayerful preparation, the minister overcomes some of the challenges of distraction and preoccupation that Sing to the Lord speaks about.
Practicing lectio divina with songs and hymns
One manner of studying and praying with the sacred Scriptures is the practice of lectio divina. In this discipline, the reader reads aloud, slowly, to allow the words of Scripture to ring in their own ears and, more importantly, to stay in their mind and heart.
Have you ever thought about using lectio divina with the texts of the songs and hymns chosen for liturgy? This could prove to be an interesting, and perhaps fruitful, form of preparation. We need to “sit with” the texts that we sing and can ask ourselves the question: Do the texts we select as music ministers, which we intend to put on the lips of the members of the assembly, lead them to deepen their understanding of the message of the Scriptures of the day?
Following here are two selected Sundays as examples of how lectio divina can be used to prepare one for ministry. These are all taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, Cycle A. The hymns are from the Oramos Cantando/We Pray in Song hymnal.
2. The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: One key phrase in today’s Gospel is “Whoever receives you, receives me.” How closely are we connected with the Master? Who do people see when they see us? Any kindness performed for a disciple is as if it were performed for the Master himself. Consider the hymn “Cuando el Pobre Nada Tiene / When the Hungry Who Have Nothing” (no. 653). Each of the verses of this hymn can be turned into a question for reflection. For example, verse 4 might prompt us to ask ourselves: Is there goodness in my home and in my heart, among my family members and neighbors? Is my home a hallowed shelter for all who enter? Do I consider strangers to be my brothers and sisters, and treat them as such? Finally, do I walk with God in the pathways of my life?
The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches with the parable of the sower and the seed, mentioning the types of soil the seed fell on, and what became of the seed in each of these scenarios. Consider the hymn “Unless a Grain of Wheat / Si el Grano de Trigo” (no. 632). We might ask ourselves: How have I died with Christ since my baptism? How have I served the Lord in concrete ways? Do I seek to be the Lord’s servant in all I do, in who I am? Have I made room in my heart to create a home for the Lord? What kind of fruit have I borne? Does the word of Christ truly live in me? Do I feel the presence of the Lord—Father, Son, and Spirit—in my life? In what area of my life have I experienced, or do I need, the peace that only Christ can give?
Fully embodying what we sing
Let us not be singing empty words, devoid of action. If we embody the words that we sing, and that we have prayed with and prepared with, we may be more credible witnesses to the message of the Gospel. Having engaged in prayerful preparation in the days before our service, we enter that final preparation before liturgy, those precious 30 minutes, by quieting ourselves, putting aside our often distracting and disjointed conversations. Having called to mind what we prayed for in our remote preparation, we now call upon the Holy Spirit to use us as instruments of truth and witness, and to transform us into true disciples.
A prayerful preparation can lead us to a fruitful celebration of the liturgy. As Sing to the Lordstates, “Charity, justice, and evangelization are thus the normal consequences of liturgical celebration. Particularly inspired by sung participation, the body of the Word Incarnate goes forth to spread the Gospel with full force and compassion. In this way, the Church leads men and women ‘to the faith, freedom and peace of Christ by the example of its life and teaching, by the sacraments, and other means of grace. Its aim is to open up for all men a free and sure path to full participation in the mystery of Christ’” (no. 9).
May our prayerful preparation for our ministry, may the words we sing, become a means of grace that brings us to that full participation in the mystery of Christ.
Dolores Martinez is a consultant and formator in liturgy and music, and she also serves parishes as a music minister. She is an adjunct professor at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas.