Another Trip to America/Thoughts on Music in Ministry

Greetings Dear brothers and sisters!

Today I give you our second consecutive blog-post to come from Notre Dame, IN. I however, am here not so much on Teach Bhríde business, but for matters of my own. I am in the midst of a series of interviews which constitute my final step in the application process for the Holy Cross Postulant program at Moreau Seminary. I am blessed to have so many people in America and in Ireland praying for me during this significant moment in my life, but you can never get too much intercession. So I’ll take a brief moment to exploit this media outlet and request your prayers for God to grant wisdom in discernment, not only for myself, but also for my gentle interrogators and the many other Holy Cross religious who will contribute to the decision that I’ll be receiving in the next two months or so. Thank you.

Though my chief reason for being here is unrelated to Teach Bhríde, I have gotten the chance to think and talk to others quite a lot about the work I’ve been doing, how it’s helped me develop as a servant of Christ, and how it’s impacted the Clonard community. A lot of these reflections have been prompted by interviews themselves, but in addition to that, I got the chance to drop in on two rehearsals with the beloved Notre Dame folk choir, and talk to them a little bit about our work and lifestyle. 

I’d like to share with you all now just one of the thoughts that I shared with them last evening as I tried to select a couple of stories for them to paint a picture of what House of Brigid is about. It’s about my growing appreciation of just how integral music is to nearly everything we do.

It’s especially struck me recently with respect to our work with children. Almost all of our activities in working with youth involve music, whether it’s helping out as accompanists or directors for the school Christmas concerts, singing with the teens in our youth choir, preparing First Communion students for the teaching masses that they attend with their families, or putting together a liturgy for a special daily mass at which the children from a particular classroom will do all the ‘jobs’ or ministries within the liturgy. I guess I have often tended to view these music teaching sessions as a ministry distinct from and inferior to teaching kids about the faith and about the Catholic mass—the real meaty stuff. Because there are always songs to be included in liturgies with children, we will always spend a portion of time with the kids teaching them songs, but that’s just something that’s got to be done. And don’t get me wrong, I have loved teaching kids music and am glad that we can devote time to it, but ultimately, my attitude has been that the first priority has to be placed on what we can do to foster children’s relationship with God.

But actually, the more I reflect on my observations of how the kids will respond to these teaching sessions, the more I realize that the music itself is serving as a natural vehicle for teaching the kids about faith and opening their eyes to ways that they can grow in their relationship with the God of Love. The repetition of song lyrics that talk about how much God cares for us, or that convey a tone of penitence for our faults, or joy in the promise of heaven really does invite kids to dwell more on their meaning. And the transitions from song rehearsal mode back into religious lesson mode seems so natural, because we can use the lyrics to springboard into a discussion, encouraging kids to ask questions about what the words mean. In addition, the music is a practical tool for keeping children’s attention, so that when Joy and I go in to talk to the fourth classes of Kennedy Park about the mass (as we’ve been doing lately), we can actually communicate a lot more to them without the lesson becoming tedious and disengaging them. So in terms of the youth catechesis side of our ministry, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it wouldn’t be nearly as effective if we music weren’t integrated with our education.

Since the new year began, we’ve even added song to one of our ministries of catechesis that at first, I didn’t imagine would involve music at all—that is, the Sunday School lessons that Mary and I offer to children who wish to receive sacraments of initiation but who don’t attend either of the parish’s Catholic schools.

Because our first communion class of seven merges together with the much larger group from Kennedy park anytime there is a teaching mass, we start to put a priority on teaching them the songs that get sung at the teaching masses, so that they are able to participate more fully in the prayer. However, this integration felt awkward at first because we already have so little time in the half hour before mass begins to teach a lot about the foundations of our Faith. This is why I was delighted when one of the parents suggested to me that we move these music lessons to ten minutes before our normal start time, so that we still had time to run robust lessons. We decided to try this out, making the song-learning an optional affair, since we didn’t want to ask parents to commit to more time than they had already signed up for at the beginning of the year. My Sunday mornings now start ten minutes earlier at the parish, which usually means going in between 8 and 8:30 to prepare, but it’s so worth it, and I’ve been very happy to see that most of our students come for that early music lesson, or at least partway through it.

As I continue to walk along what I believe is a path towards priestly life, it is reassuring to see how well the gift of music, which my soul will always cherish so deeply, can compliment and greatly enhance the evangelical mission of the Church.

Peace and blessings,

Cameron Cortens