The Privileged Language of Prayer and Catechesis: To "Show Who Jesus Christ Is"

By Haas, David | Pastoral Music, April 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Privileged Language of Prayer and Catechesis: To "Show Who Jesus Christ Is"


Haas, David, Pastoral Music


The Gospel courageously celebrates and boldly proclaims that Jesus Christ is alive. This living presence is more than just a memory for those who follow his teaching: It is Christ himself, alive. This Jesus who walked the earth-the one who taught, performed miracles, and prophetically proclaimed the reign of God-was raised from the dead after a cruel execution and transformed by the power of the Spirit. But the story does not end there. The Spirit of Jesus breathes and dwells among all who would believe and surrender their lives in discipleship, affirming the awesome truth that Jesus lives and moves beyond a single time in history. We are called to be vessels of the Risen One, to become the living presence of Christ to one another and to the world. The truth we proclaim is that this presence can truly transform all of creation.

How is this presence received? We freely choose it. Christ does not manipulate or coerce us, but he does wait for our consent, for our "yes." We who have had an authentic experience of Jesus often find it difficult or impossible to describe because it exists outside the bounds of normal understanding. It is deeply spiritual and often filled with mystery. The presence of Christ is more about being known than actually knowing. It is more about being apprehended than our own apprehending. It cannot be forced, for it is pure gift. The story of this Christ has been and is continually shared through the many voices and perspectives of mystics, saints, philosophers, theologians, poets, composers, sculptors, preachers, painters, musicians, and dancers; through the voices and lives of the educated and uneducated, rich and poor. Sometimes the story is experienced in visions or dreams, sometimes it is found in very dramatic circumstances, and sometimes it is found in stillness and calm, in the most ordinary things of life.

For Christians, the celebration of the liturgy is the central event where we recognize, affirm, and respond to this presence; where we are called to pray, sing, lament, and offer praise to God and to offer our lives and service to God in Jesus Christ. Because the liturgy is sung, liturgical music is a vital language for believers to use in joining the great paschal song of praise of the victory of life over death. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ: This is the praise we sing and the gift that thrusts us forward into a life of discipleship. Through, with, and in faith we sing this song; we reach out in solidarity with other members of the Christian people to deepen our relationship and life of discipleship with the risen Jesus, given for the life of the world.

The Heart of Christianity

While the liturgy is the heartbeat of the life of the Church, and while music helps the blood flow in and through the heart of this ritual event, liturgy and its music are not the actual heart of Christianity itself. Jesus was not primarily concerned with liturgy and certainly not with music. He never said "I have come that you might have liturgy," and the Gospel contains no sermon or parable that addresses the topic of music. Jesus did, however, proclaim the reign of God and call each disciple to serve this mission and cause. As lovers, ministers, and participants in the prayer of liturgical music, our primary charge is to deepen our commitment to the God revealed in Christ and to make that same God in Christ known and proclaimed to the world.

Before it is anything else, the ministry of liturgical music is our communal (and also, at times, personal) language for singing, praying, and celebrating our lives in Christ. The unique language of music can proclaim what mere spoken words and doctrines cannot adequately accomplish: the celebration of and wonder at the profound presence of Christ and the liberation found in the reign of God.

I cannot imagine a better job description or role definition for the ministry of pastoral music - a ministry that includes not only those who are charged with the leadership of sung prayer but all of God's people who sing it, pray it, and search for the grace to live it.

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