Music ministers should grow to love the sound of a singing assembly above all else, said top Australian music liturgist Michael Mangan.
Mr Mangan, who is a Brisbane-based composer, teacher, performer and liturgist, was one of the speakers at Lift up their Voices, a formation day put together by the Auckland Liturgy Centre and held on February 15 at the Our Lady of the Assumption parish hall in Onehunga.
Mr Mangan said the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document to come out of Vatican II, states that, “in the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else”.
“The one little phrase . . . that we’re going with is ‘before all else’. This is what it’s all about,” he said.
Mr Mangan said in Mass, Jesus is present in the presider (priest), the ministers, the consecrated bread and wine, the Word, and in the participating assembly.
“We want to create in people . . . the conscious acknowledgement that Christ is present here in this participation. [We want to give] that idea that we together, here this morning [or] here this evening, are the body of Christ in this community and for the world,” he said.
Mr Mangan peppered his presentation with songs that illustrated how to guide the assembly to participate actively through singing.
A third point, he said, is “singing is a primary way of assembly participation”.
“Making this presence of Christ conscious in the assembly is the prime ministry of the music ministry. We are the people who are trying to get this sense of unity, this sense of participation, this sense that we are in this together and together, we are the body of Christ,” he said.
Mr Mangan said the music ministers should be “assembly-focused” and should figure out what the congregation’s needs are and how to help them come alive during Mass.
He gave several tips to help music ministers perform their ministry.
He said the entrance song should be a gathering song that “fosters unity and introduces the assembly to the (liturgical) season”.
“It’s got to be singable. It’s got to be suitable for the occasion and it has to be corporate in its language. It’s no good singing about ‘I’ and ‘me’ when it’s ‘us’ that we are bringing to the celebration.”
He said the repertoire should be a balance of what is liturgically appropriate and what works for the community.
“Some songs, no matter how much you float them, the community is not going to take to that song for some reason. So, you would just have to let it slide,” Mr Mangan said.
“Sometimes, we might get a song that the community loves to death but it might — musically — [be] a little bit dodgy . . . For pastoral reasons, we might let that slide. We’ve got to balance all these things up.”
He said music ministers should consider the range of the song, as well as the tempo. If the range is too high, the assembly might give up singing. If sung too fast or too slow, it might kill the song, he explained.
Mr Mangan said sometimes the community will sing the song their own way, not according to the rhythm set by the composer.
“Composers recognise that. My parish needs this song this way, so we changed it up,” he said. “We are all about getting ourselves a confident assembly.”
To give the assembly confidence, the music needs to be consistent. The assembly needs to know the introductions to the song and when they can start singing.
He suggested dropping long introductions to acclamation songs.
Mr Mangan also reminded music ministers to “lead, not dominate” and “embellish, not demolish”.
“No matter how good your choir is, Mass is not the time for your choir to show off,” he said.
Communion songs should start “while the priest is receiving the sacrament”, according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Mr Mangan said.
Mr Mangan suggested not bringing in harmonies too soon.
“Make sure your melody is clear so that people still have stuff to follow clearly and well. You can’t find anything more joyful than the whole congregation expressing their faith through song.”