This past July marked my twentieth year as pastor of this parish. By modern standards that’s a long pastorate, but by an older measurement, it’s about average. In olden times, you see, a pastor was appointed pretty well for life as spiritual and administrative head of a parish. Long tenures had the advantage of stability–a necessity for good and effective operation. After Vatican Council II, bishops of dioceses saw their chance to ‘break the power of pastors’ who had held tight reign of their domains by the protective provisions of Canon Law. The Holy See, accordingly, granted bishops of the USA an indult which allowed them to put terms on the assignment of pastors. This was because the complaint had been made that pastors sometimes were too powerful and too comfortably ensconced in their fixed posts, even to the point that Rome would favor the rights of a pastor over those of his diocesan bishop–if ever a dispute between them developed. According to the newly created loophole, however, bishops had more control and haughty pastor’s were brought to heel. After a few decades of this experiment of limited terms, however, both pastors and parishioners expressed some dissatisfaction with it because priests varied so markedly one from one another, and in so many ways. The constant shifting about of pastors of diverse dispositions and manners tended to upset parish life for the people and it made it difficult for pastors themselves to develop and maintain lasting and fruitful relationships with their flocks–a much needed thing to secure confidence.
All that is a long way of introducing my rationale for writing today about the choir’s need for many more singers. For some reason or other we are now fewer in numbers than ever before in my twenty years here. Since I direct the choir myself, this is a special concern to me. We have been able over these years to establish a rather fine reputation for our music program. I well recall the first year here as pastor when my predecessor, Monsignor Sawher was so completely thrilled with our Christmas midnight Mass singing of a Mozart Mass–that was in 1994. We were off then to an auspicious start and were well received. Since that time, we have done a great deal to enhance the liturgical action with liturgical music composed by many outstanding composers of universal recognition, music that was composed to the glory of God. We have been able to do this because we have had parishioners willing to devote themselves to rehearse some rather difficult choral music. In general, we have not hired singers from outside (except for certain solos that required professionals). Ours has been a true parish choir.
For the first time in twenty years I am concerned that we may not be able to continue on as we have. There are some former members who have left for various reasons and there are too few new voices to replace them. I know that choral singing is not something everyone can do, nor has time to do. That said, however, I suspect there are many others who could do this special form of parish service but are content to remain in the pews. It is indeed a sacrifice of time and effort to rehearse weekly and to sing the Sunday high Mass. It is also, if I may say so, a greatly gratifying experience that few, outside some semi-professional choirs, are able to duplicate elsewhere. The Grotto advantage over them is that, though we are only a parish choir, we have been able to sing music written for the Church in church and not in a concert hall (as is the case of most other choirs that perform music of this caliber).
Surely the time will come (and may not be that far off) when I will retire and will no longer be able to be either pastor or choir director. I would not be happy to have to relinquish my duties before my time due to a poor or indifferent response to the continuance of the choir which has done so notably well all these years.
This is, of course, a pitch for joining the choir so that we can proceed and, instead of retreating, make even greater progress in the fine tradition of choral music that we have become noted for. (Yes, we do have a wide reputation for this–even nationally–and for the liturgy generally, I’m pleased to say, though I do not flaunt the fact.)
This is not an alarmist’s message. We are not ready to fold, but we ought not to be reduced to something less than we have been. Another 12 to 20 people would be about what we need in view of the dwindling in recent years. Choir rehearsals are on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and on Sundays, 9 a.m. through the 9:30 Mass, with a short ‘review’ rehearsal of music learnt the previous Wednesday night. It’s a commitment indeed, but no less a one that’s needed to accomplish anything worthwhile.
One of the Prefaces of the Mass concludes this way: “We, too, (with the angels of heaven) confess Your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven, as we acclaim: Holy, holy holy...” The choir, you see, represents every creature on earth giving its praise to God I’d only want to keep it coming.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Want to sing polyphany or Gregorian chant? Fr. Perrone wants to grow his already nationally-renown choir (call the parish!) - also, some interesting thoughts on the origins of terms on pastoral assignments
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, September 13, 2015):