When I think back to some of my favorite jobs in music ministry, I remember 2005 through 2009 when I served as music minister at the soon-to-be-shuttered Cabrini College (later University) just outside of Philadelphia. It was a relatively small Sunday community gathered for Mass, but a vibrant one. With maybe six to eight in the Sunday choir at any one time, I thought of them immediately when I heard the recent remarks from Pope Francis on singing.
Pope Francis met with members of the International Federation of Pueri Cantores at the Vatican in December of 2023. The organization describes itself as “an international Catholic choral organization that provides opportunities for Catholic School and parish youth choirs from all backgrounds to learn and sing historically balanced repertoire set within the rich tradition of the Catholic Church.” With such a mission, Francis remarked on what characterizes music: joy.
Vatican News covered the event and, here are a few highlights from his remarks:
“Singing and music can touch hearts, give beauty, and restore zest and hope.”
“Singing is joy, especially when it is done in choir.”
“When you put enthusiasm into your singing, you give a great gift to those who hear you. How much we need joy in our world!”
“”Do not try to stand out, seek to sing as one, with the unity that comes from humility; in this way your singing can express true friendship, with God and with one another.”
What great advice for anyone in music ministry.
This reminded me of my time with that small group at Cabrini College because some of the members would not necessarily be those that someone would hire as a soloist to put on a performance. But everyone took turns leading the singing; some would sing a Psalm at different times, or a cantor part of another song. And while they were not professionally-trained singers, they brought to the liturgy a genuine sense of joy.
That was contagious. It was hard for anyone around them to not to pick up on this joy, and take part.
Let us think of the opening of Evangelii Gaudium, the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis:
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
In a smaller music ministry, we do not need four-part harmony all the time. Perhaps we have no chance of it because we do not have the voices available! We do not need fancy choral arrangements. But bringing a humble joy – The Joy of the Gospel – that will fill the hearts of those present – the music ministry can feel assured that they have done their ministry well.