I am writing this article after having just finished celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons through my work as Director of Music for a cluster of Catholic churches, which we call an Area Faith Community, located in west central Minnesota. Mid-March of 2021, all ensemble music in the three churches that I coordinate music for worship came to a sudden halt. In the beginning it was hopefully only going to be for a short time. But that short time turned into a 17 month hiatus of any ensemble music in our three parishes. The joy that came from celebrating Advent and Christmas …
During those 17 months without ensemble music, we did provide music, but only with an accompanist, possibly an accessory instrumentalist and a Cantor (song leader). Those choosing to attend our Masses in person abided by the request that they not sing and simply allow themselves to be drawn into worship through listening to the text as it was sung. It wasn’t until September of 2021 that we returned to full singing with our ensembles becoming part of the worship experience once again.
Following the first Mass that one of the ensembles led music for worship, I realized the impact of how we had worshiped over the past 17 months was greatly impacted by the loss of singing from those assembled and from those in our ensembles. People were coming to worship because they desired to feed their spiritual well-being in the form of corporate and public worship, and they were afforded that opportunity once our churches reopened and once they were comfortable being at church again. The atmosphere of our worship space changed during that Mass. The joy that emitted from the room – through the energy and volume of the singing, in the facial expressions of those present and in the movement of the bodies spoke volumes of the importance singing plays in the spiritual well-being of the people gathered. Spiritual wellness is only an aspect of our whole wellness, and so when those individuals left the worship site that day, I can only surmise that the other dimensions of their wellness were enhanced that day.
According to an article published at Pfizer.com, wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain better physical and mental health outcomes, so that instead of just surviving, we’re thriving. I believe for 17 months our worship community was in the mode of surviving in the best ways they knew how. Our wellness is more than physical health, exercise and nutrition. The School of Health Sciences and Wellness from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, wellness is multidimensional including: Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Career, Intellectual, Environmental, Social (SPECIES). Wellness is a full integration and the pursuit of continued growth and balance in these seven dimensions of wellness.
As our assemblies and musicians began to return to singing, could it be possible that they experienced a boost in their spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual and social wellness? After each of my ensemble’s “first” experience of leading our assembly in worship after 17 months, it was evident to be true. We discussed what the experience was like for them individually. One comment that resonated with many of the ensemble members was, “that felt so good!” Another feeling discovered was how much the absence of singing in the choir was missed. As the director, I realized as I watched the Handbell Choir play at practices that simply ringing their bells again, brought them abundant joy, evident on their faces and in their energetic ringing. A former member of my Children’s Choir came to me after Mass and said he was so glad to be singing again at church. It was “too hard” to not be able to sing.
As I began to plan Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses, I asked my ensembles, given certain parameters of Mass schedules and individuals available, what the music should “look” like this year. Without hesitation, the majority responded with, “keep it simple.” Suggestions were given that we only prepare songs we know, focusing on making them beautiful, along with it being songs that allow the assembly to participate. As ministers of music, I believe they realized the importance music plays in one’s worship and celebration of their faith, as well as the importance it plays in our whole well-being. Singing as individuals is fulfilling, and singing as an assembly is motivating.
I believe we accomplished our goal. The ensembles and instrumentalists involved in these beautiful celebrations of Christmas appreciated the number of people that have approached them regarding how wonderful it was to sing and listen to singing. We know singing has many intrinsic benefits for the listener, as well for the performer. The wellness of our worship community is improving. It’s the simple things in life that bring the greatest joy. May you find joy in the simple things in this year of 2022.
Central District Chair
Director of Music for the Catholic Area Faith Community of Jesus Our Living Water
Church of St. Mary, Willmar
Church of Our Lady of the Lakes, Spicer
Church of St. Clara, Clara City