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St. Monica: Recent Past – A Hopeful Future (Part 3, Liturgy)

In September, Archbishop Chaput turned 75. This is the mandatory retirement age for Bishops/Archbishops according to Church (or “Canon”) Law. Accordingly, the archbishop officially offered his resignation to Pope Francis. There are currently 14 dioceses or archdioceses that have no bishop or have a bishop who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. Philadelphia is one of them. We can expect that these (arch)dioceses will see a change in leadership at some time.

In light of these expected changes, I have asked parishioners to join me – once again – in some planning. We need to ask what Jesus Christ wants the Parish of St. Monica to look like in 5 years. First, I have been outlining what has been happening in the parish over the past several years. Last week we looked at “Encountering Christ Through Serving Others.” This week we examine “Encountering Christ Through Liturgy.”

About a year and a half ago we formed a “Liturgy Committee.” It consisted of a combination of choir members, parishioners, musicians, and the pastor. There were in-depth discussions about the vision of the parish music in general. We discussed how liturgy and music are intertwined. We talked about the direction of the parish and integrating a particular music/liturgy vision into that direction.

Some initiatives came from these discussions. One dealt with adult – and youth religious education. With the help of Bridget Tomasicchio, I inserted a brief liturgical or musical catechetical paragraph at the beginning of my weekly reflections.

A second initiative was an introduction of some kind of “contemporary“ musical sound into the liturgy. Different types of music speak to different people’s hearts. The hope was to provide a broad offering of liturgical music styles – classical, Gregorian chant, congregational, and contemporary, on a regular basis. I was familiar with contemporary groups in the Orlando area who featured high-quality contemporary music. A small team of people flew down to Orlando to listen to these various groups. We talked with the musicians and directors of the liturgy. We asked them to provide guidelines. In the end, we put together a series of proposals for contemporary music at St. Monica.

Soon afterward we invited the services of Stephanie Twohig.  Stephanie was a music major in college. She is currently the Youth Director and Children’s Choir Director of St. Katherine of Siena in Wayne. Stephanie also had experience with leading contemporary music over at that parish. We built upon the experience of our choir members and the Director of Liturgy and Music. We began to offer a more contemporary sounding musical selection once each month. We offered the contemporary music monthly at the 5 o’clock Vigil Mass with an occasional “cameo” appearance at the 9:30 Sunday Mass. We surveyed parishioners for their input, thoughts and suggestions.

With a few exceptions, the feedback from parishioners was positive. In recent months we have expanded the scope of the music that is being played. Young members of the parish have stepped up to take part. Some have brought their instrumental talents. Several young people were already taking music and voice lessons to enhance their skill set. The parish offered to underwrite some of the costs to support these dedicated young people.

Rehearsal times can conflict with the extracurricular activities. This challenges young people’s regular participation. Even so, there has been a steady participation rate. Stephanie has continued to recruit people from St. Monica and from the neighboring area to join the contemporary music ministry.

We looked around the country to find best practices in music and liturgy. We found that three important aspects of the “Sunday Experience” are hymnody, homilies, and hospitality.  Martha McGurk spearheaded a revised and expanded Hospitality Ministry. Hospitality Ministers have been meeting on a regular basis to see how we can improve. Ministers have been trained in our approach to hospitality. We have expanded the ministry to include reaching new parishioners soon after they register. Most recently Bill Bellew has begun to look at our Ushers Ministry as well.  We used the service of a kiosk. This gave us feedback on how well we were doing in those areas of hymnody, homilies, and hospitality. We shared the feedback with the priests who preach on weekends to improve homily quality. We adjusted the sound levels of the microphones, organ, and instruments.

Recently I sat down with Parish Leadership and the Chairman of the Finance Council. The Finance Council wanted to discuss the financial support of liturgy and music at St. Monica at an appropriate level. We wanted to provide clear financial directives for the liturgy and music programs. We also wanted to show our personal support for Deb.

Most recently we advertised and began a children’s choir. We worked out rehearsal schedules. We currently have eight members who have expressed an interest and have begun to rehearse with Deb. We have introduced them to singing on Saturday or Sunday. This provides experience being around and singing with adults. We will feature them solo soon and plan to bring them into the full complement of the masses during Christmas.

What is still needed?

Participation. One issue seems to be a “gender disparity” in various ministries. We have an overabundance of women in the choir and hospitality ministries. We don’t have any women ushers. We have few young people in the Hospitality Ministry and no young ushers. All ushers are men, but there are no male voices in the choir. Having enough liturgical ministers continues to be an on-going issue. This is especially the case during the holidays. We are looking for new Ministers of Communion, Lectors and altar servers. With the recent addition of several fine young people, we have enough people employed as sacristans. The administrative job of “scheduling” these ministers is also a significant challenge. Bridget Tomasicchio has taken up this mantle over the past several months. Nevertheless, she could use others to help carry the load as well.

If you are interested in singing, playing or assisting in the music and liturgy ministry, please contact Deborah Rojas at 610-644-0110, ext. 118 or drojas@saintmonicachurch.org.

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