Did you ever wonder what it takes to celebrate Mass on Saturday or Sunday? Well, from the musical perspective it’s pretty amazing. A“normal” Mass has 11 (yes, 11!) pieces of music. From the “Gathering” hymn to the “Sending Forth” there are pages and pages of music that are sung and played.
On one recent Sunday alone I played 31 pages of music. And the cantor deals with the words and music, which can be tricky at times. We also usually rehearse about 30 minutes before Mass.
Once the Mass begins we are always “on.” We really don’t get a chance to let our guard down. We listen for cues. How long is the collection taking? Should we start that third verse or end now? (That’s a spur of the moment decision). How many are left to receive communion?
That’s a “normal” Mass. Baptisms, funerals, weddings have their own protocol.
Liturgical musicians are experts at non-verbal communication. We give a look, a nod of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, a fist to indicate “end,” a glance out of the corner of our eye.
We are always watching and listening. That doesn’t allow for much time to pray in the usual way, so our singing and playing becomes our prayer.
Most cantors are not professional singers. They are members of your parish who give generously of their time so that a congregation can have a smooth celebration of the Eucharist.
They practice at home – in between their jobs, running to the market, picking up their kids. They must literally be prepared for anything from a sudden funeral to microphones that don’t work.
So the next time you are at Mass give thanks for your cantor and musicians. We need all the prayer we can get.
Joanne Crystal is the organist at Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.