Ora et labora

 Once there were two novices working in the field, and they heard the bells ring for the Angelus. While one of them began to pray immediately, the other quickly lit a cigarette first. "Hey!" cried the first novice indignantly. "I asked the prior if I could smoke while I prayed and he said no!"

"That's where you went wrong," replied the second, puffing away. "I asked prior if I could pray while I smoked, and he said yes."

Jokes aside, sometimes it's hard to remember to pray the Masses we work for, especially if we are tucked away in a loft or a corner. Responsibilities will tug the corners of our mind, changes might need to be made and communicated, or just plain performance nerves get in the way. I have sat in the choir loft of many a restless choir director, as well as tried to manage my own ADHD while balancing presence for the job at hand with presence for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The struggle is real, whether you are a choir member, organist, cantor, or director.

At first, when I was new to the job and really needed all of my focus to be on waiting for cues and not messing up, I would attend the Vigil Mass each week for my "Mass attendance" Mass, then on Sunday morning for my "on-the-job" Mass. At that time, the organ and cantor were situated right in the front of the church, off to one side of the sanctuary. It was very nerve-wracking for an inexperienced organist, though it certainly put a damper on my urge to fidget with papers and adjust my stops. 

After a few months, I fell into the rhythm of Play-Time/Pray-Time, and was able to feel as though I had attended Mass after working one - and then soon after, all the Masses on the schedule fell to me, so I didn't have an "off-Mass" even if I wanted one, unless I found one at another parish at an odd time, so it was just as well. Here are some of the strategies I have developed over the years to make every Working Mass prayerful, for yourself and also anyone you may be working with:

1) Be prepared. Knowing the music will allow you to keep your mind on the Mass, but there's more to it than that. Organize your music ahead of time. Put your pages in order on your music stand, including the ordinaries. Tape-flag the corner of your psalm page. Set out every object you will need during the Mass - water, pitch-pipe, pencil. Anything that will reduce the amount of time you have to spend in Mass shuffling papers or finding what you need.

2) Write out a list of readiness cues. It's one thing to know when you need to start singing the Sanctus, another to know when you need to start getting out the right book for the next song. If you aren't reaching for your music until the hymn is being announced, you will be distracted and flustered when it is time to begin. Here's my list, to give you an idea of what I mean.

3) Respect the primacy of the Gospel. Don't put your psalm book away, or give instructions to the organist, or double-check the number board, during the Gospel reading. Give all of the readings your full attention, but especially the Gospel. For myself, I find it easier to focus on the readings fully if I don't follow along in a book - the missal is just one more thing I have to juggle.

4) If you must communicate something, use writing. This will limit distraction, and also keep you to only what distractions are necessary.

5) If you are the choir director, only face the choir when it is time to direct the choir. Otherwise, keep the same posture and orientation as the congregation. Turn around at the last minute.

6) Let the Psalms into your heart. It shouldn't take you much time to memorize all the psalms in the Lectionary, between rehearsing, singing at Mass (sometimes more than once per weekend), and the level of repetition in the liturgical cycle. Use them in your private prayer. Think and talk about their meanings with your choir. Pick a favourite. Quote them in conversation. Make them part of your language idiom.

7) Pray before and afterwards. Don't let yourself rush in or rush out.

Do these things, and music ministry will never be a chore, or just a series of boxes to check. Instead it will be a rich offering of love and service. Truly I think that for some, liturgical music is a "lower-case v" vocation, and as such, will draw you deeper into the Mass, and into the Body of Christ. If you treat it like any other job, to be performed and clocked-out, it will become a tiresome burden. What a loss!


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