Workshop for liturgical musicians examines tensions
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Steve Janco got a big laugh with the first line of his keynote address Feb. 5 at the annual "Skills and Spirituality" workshop.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Steve Janco leads pastoral musicians in song during his keynote Feb. 5 to open the annual "Skills and Spirituality" workshop. The workshop, for pastoral musicians was conducted at Visitation Church in Kansas City.
"Pastoral musicians, indeed anyone involved in parish ministry, live with tension," he said, as scores of parish musicians from both sides of the state line laughed loudly and nervously at his understatement.
Janco, composer, college professor, and director of liturgy and music at St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in suburban Chicago, knew very well the tensions that his audience of parish choir members, directors and musicians function with.
It is, he told the scores assembled at Visitation Parish in Kansas City, the tension between the "Spirituality of the Idea" - where Christians measure themselves against "ideal" standards they can't reach - and the "Spirituality of the Real" - where there is acceptance that God loves everyone as they are.
"God can't love us the way we wish we were," Janco said to kick off the daylong series of workshops, cosponsored by the Offices of Worship in both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and the Kansas City chapter of the National Pastoral Musicians Association.
"God can only love us the way we really are," Janco said. "But where do we go from here?"
Janco said that pastoral musicians walk a tightrope between performing and enabling the worship community to sing, between personal tastes and parish liturgical needs, between old standards that everyone knows and introducing new music to keep a liturgy alive and fresh.
Those tensions, he said, were set up in the Second Vatican Council's first document, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, he said.
That document states that Latin is the normative language, but vernacular languages may be used. It states that Gregorian chant has a special place, but that songs of local cultures can be used in liturgy. It states that a pipe organ also holds a special prominence, but that other, "appropriate" instruments may be used, he said.
"For me, the tension that is in this document leaves a lot of room for creativity in the middle," Janco said.
Unfortunately, parishes in the United States are often broken up into "consumer groups" with the same parish offering different styles of worship every Sunday at times convenient to a particular group - such as early morning "quiet Masses," late morning "choir Masses" and mid-morning "children's Masses."
"We have created liturgies that are marketed to specific consumer groups," Janco said. "What does it mean to be a part of a parish community? Or are you a part of the 7:30 (a.m.) assembly?"
Janco said that American cultures and values, not necessarily Catholic culture and values, influence the way liturgies are celebrated in many parishes.
"In American culture, we idealize the individual. It is all about self-fulfillment, living out the American dream," Janco said.
"It also means that we view life from the standpoint of personal preference. We tend to value things that meet 'my' particular needs" and not necessarily the needs of the community, he said.
"It promotes the mindset of religion as a private matter," he added.
"The question we have to ask is why are we going to church? Is convenience more important than communion?" Janco said.
Janco said that many Catholics approach Mass as a consumer commodity and will not actively participate in singing during the liturgy because that is the choir's or the cantor's job.
"Especially in American culture we've created a gap between people with talent and everybody else," he said. "They (the talented) are the ones who are supposed to sing and tell stories, and everybody else listens.
"People who come to Mass expect to be entertained, and it's up to the musicians to do the work for them," Janco said.
Janco said that at his St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish, the cantors must lead sung responses with the public address system turned off.
"It's the only way the assembly gets the message that it's them doing the liturgy together, or it ain't gonna happen," he said. "It's not us putting on liturgy for them."
Only when the assembly is deeply involved in liturgy and music will the true communion happen that is the celebration of Sunday Eucharist, Janco said.
"We say it's a foretaste of heaven, where we celebrate the saving effect of Christ's passion, death and resurrection," Janco said.
"The liturgy calls us to be one with one another, and to be one with Christ," he said. "When we receive Eucharist, we take the presence of Christ into our own bodies. Our experience of Christ in Holy Communion is far more intimate and far more profound than if Christ himself were standing in our midst, talking to us."
Janco said, "It all boils down to love."
"If God loves you as you really are, you must accept yourself as you really are, with all your strengths and weaknesses," he said.
"If you love yourself as you are, you must love members of your parish community as they are and not criticize them for the way they aren't," Janco said.
"No matter where you want to go, you have to start from where you are and work your way from there," he said.