Preparing Musicians for Ministry: A Catholic Perspective

By Driscoll, Michael S. | Pastoral Music, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Preparing Musicians for Ministry: A Catholic Perspective


Driscoll, Michael S., Pastoral Music


When I learned that the Bishops' Commit tee on Divine Worship (formerly the BCL) was talking about revising the document Music in Catholic Worship (MCW), I let out an audible groan, fearing that this document that had served the American Catholic Church so well for more than thirty years could be revised out of existence. It had played an important role in the formation of pastoral musicians, and some might argue that is it was the Magna Carta for liturgical music ministry.

But when the new document Sing to the Lord (STL) appeared last year, my fears were allayed. It repeats the general principles of Music in Catholic Worship but also strengthens and develops aspects that were weak or missing from that earlier document. I was particularly concerned that the principle of the threefold judgment be maintained and clarified. Although the idea of a threefold judgment concerns the role of music to serve the needs of the liturgy, it also provides guidance about the formation of pastoral musicians. Whether one is a professional or an amateur pastoral musician, one needs ongoing musical, liturgical, and pastoral formation. The newly revised document wisely does not set these three dimensions in opposition to one another. In fact it overcomes any false dichotomy by noting that there are three judgments but one evaluation. In the same way, those serving the liturgy as pastoral musicians need to avoid any false opposition among these three dimensions and recognize that they need to develop all three aspects of their ministry.

The Pastoral Dimension

Learning about the liturgy and honing musical skills seem obvious tasks in the formation of pastoral musicians. But how is one to develop the pastoral dimension? Here again the American bishops have come to our aid. In 2005 the USCCB approved the statement Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (CVL) that addresses the question of formation. If liturgical music is really to be a ministry, then the question of pastoral formation needs to be addressed head on. I think that over the past four decades those musicians leading their communities in prayer have moved beyond thinking of this role as simply a gig. Liturgical music is really a ministry! Sing to the Lord goes even farther than other documents in identifying the foundations of such ministry, naming liturgical musicians first as disciples and only then as ministers whose ministry flows from baptism. Therefore, "musicians who serve the Church at prayer are not merely employees or volunteers. They are ministers who share the faith, serve the community, and express the love of God and neighbor through music" (STL, 49).

In the past, the word "ministry" was falsely associated with volunteerism. If a person was not receiving payment, then that person must be performing a ministry. We can give thanks that we have moved beyond this idea and now recognize that all pastoral musicians-whether professional or volunteer, full-time or part-time-are involved in genuine liturgical ministry. But when Sing to the Lord uses the language of ministry, it also raises the question of ministerial formation. Co-Workers supplements Sing to the Lord and identifies four areas that need attention: human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation, and pastoral formation. Co-Workers (page 34) explains that pastoral musicians, like all lay ecclesial ministers, need the following formation:

* Human qualities critical to forming wholesome relationships and necessary to be apt instruments of God's love and compassion;

* A spirituality and practice of prayer that root ministers in God's Trinitarian life, grounding and animating all they do in ministry;

* Adequate knowledge in theological and pastoral studies, along with the in tellectual skill to use it among the people and cultures our country; and

* The practical pastoral abilities called for in their particular ministry. …

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