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 January 21, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

What makes people sing at Mass?

Strong music leadership
When I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism 40 years ago, one of the first differences I noticed was the lack of congregational singing. In these past 40 years I have witnessed the many changes which focus on congregational participation in the Mass in general, but the singing is still not at the level that I think it should be.

The reasons stem in part from Catholic traditions and attitudes. People are also shy about singing out — one can get stared at if you do! They sing only hymns they know, of which there are not many, and they are not learning the multitude of contemporary songs that are in the songbooks these days. Not a picture of a positive music experience.

Strong music leadership is mandatory. We need leaders who can motivate and get one excited to sing. The choir’s role is not just to provide special music occasionally, but to lead the congregation in singing. People need to realize this, however, and join in.

Some additional problems involve the speed of finding the hymn in the songbook so one doesn’t get lost from the beginning, being able to read the music, and the ability to actually see the notes and words on the page.

Parishes which rate themselves weak in the singing department might consider offering some music workshops for all to participate in so that this powerful form of worship can be a part of every person’s life.

Helen Pereira

Sing familiar hymns
Catholics will sing if they are familiar with the songs. Often, choir directors select songs because the title or lyrics compliment the feast day being celebrated. Unfortunately, these are often songs rarely used, or songs whose structure or melody indicate it was actually written for an instrument rather than written to be sung.

Though some choirs are reluctant to do this, if a parish selects 8 or 10 high quality songs and sticks with them, repeating them every second or third Sunday, the people will soon learn the songs and join in enthusiastically.

Jim Dempsey
Walnut Creek

We all need to sing
We have very good choirs to lead the singing at all the Masses at St. John the Baptist Church in San Lorenzo. I sit in the front and it is hard to tell how many people in the congregation are singing. I think it is so important to have music at the Mass; it adds so much to the service.

One thing that helps, especially if there are not a lot of people at the Mass, is if the choir chooses hymns the people know well. If they do not know the melody, they hesitate to sing. There are some Sundays when almost all the hymns are new ones. It would be best to just integrate one at a time, until people can learn it.

I do not like to just hear the choir singing. If I wanted a musical show, I would go to a theater. The hymns are prayers, and I feel we should all be allowed to join in singing them. The words are often so meaningful, and really mean a lot to me. To fully participate in the Mass we all need to sing!

Also, it is very important for the cantor to really enunciate the words when singing alone. During the Psalm it is nice to be able to understand the words. With some cantors you cannot make out a single word!

Pat Chiapetto,
San Lorenzo

Simple words and melody
I sing in the 9 a.m. choir at St. Bonaventure Church and I also play guitar and lead singing for weekly Communion services at church, two retirement homes, and the Marsh Creek men’s jail. To get participation, especially from men, songs need to be simple both in words and tune —- sometimes called children’s music.

Choirs and musicians are bored by this music and want to raise the standard. That will not work if we want serious participation. I believe that it should depend on the audience. Some, especially young families, like noisy participation; others prefer to listen to “good” music. Each parish should attempt to provide at least one Mass each weekend that appeals to each type of audience.

Bill Pence

Choose hymns we know

My friend, who has a beautiful singing voice and loves to sing, has one criteria — singing songs she knows. She will sing them with more gusto than a new song.

Once a month we are part of a four-voice choir assisting in a Mass at a nursing home.

I accompany the group on a small electric organ and choose the hymns. A woman who works in the rectory has the hymns for the weekend ready for me on the previous Wednesday.

I prefer to use these hymns for our Mass, but if they are not familiar to the choir, I choose those that are appropriate for the Mass and familiar to the group.

One thing that I found out is whether they sing in church or in the small group, when the melody is musical, simple and familiar, their voices project with an inspirational joy. They are a pleasure to be heard. They are filled with the intention of the composer and interpret its true meaning to the audience.
So, people sing 100 percent when they are familiar with music and it melodious.

Lillian Silver
Walnut Creek

other letters

Two vocations in one
It was so thrilling to read of the ministry of Father Wayne Campbell and our precious deacons in the Jan. 7 Voice. If only the world could hear of the good work done by so many.

As a small girl I felt called to be a priest. I wore my mother’s drapes and said Mass for my cousins. I know I would be a priest today if I were a boy.

I followed my heart and became as close to being a priest as possible. At 77 years of age, I look back and am grateful. I became a lay presider, a spiritual director, a minister to the sick. I have visited juvenile hall and been active in social justice and charismatic renewal.

Joy is what I feel when I minister. I encourage lay people to follow the voice within. I had the best of two vocations — marriage, children, grandchildren and my beloved ministry. As long as I breathe, I will serve my Lord.
Nancy Powers
San Leandro

Stop Chevron expansion
“Here is what democracy looks and sounds like,” chanted 300 of us – Black, Hispanic, Caucasian, and Burmese people of all ages, walking one-and-one-half miles in the rain from Richmond to Chevron the day after the Bay Area oil spill to protest Chevron’s proposed expansion. How timely and exhilarating.

We must stop Chevron’s proposed 22-mile highly explosive hydrogen pipeline from Richmond through Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Martinez, and East Bay Regional Park District’s open space. Chevron proposes using cheaper, more contaminated crude oil in its refinery. Attorney General Jerry Brown’s July 9, 2007 report says “the plant would emit up to 898,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year” and “potential greenhouse gas emissions appear to be up to 1,961,592 metric tons.”

Demand Chevron clean up its current eight polluting sources; waste water pond contaminants, leaking pressure relief devices, toxic flaring, leaking tankers and barges, trucks, unsealed storage tanks, smoke stacks and dysfunctional control valves.

Bhopal, Mexico, Texas and the Chevron fire of January 2007 were caused by mishandled pipes. We assume human error with the Nov. 7 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay that fouled our beaches, air and ocean, killing thousands of wildlife and fish. A United Nations panel of 2,500 scientists says a quarter of earth’s species are in danger unless we eventually end carbon emitting technology. Protect our health, require green alternatives.

Ruth Gilmore

No need for ‘balance’
I would like to express my surprise that The Voice would print such an ill-informed, hate-filled letter as was written by Thomas McCaffrey of Livermore (Forum, Dec. 17, entitled “Iraq story needs balance.”

Let me point out that we invaded them, not the other way around, for their oil. This doesn’t even require debate. The corporate media often tries to provide “balance” where there is no need. Child rape, serial killing - there’s not two sides, there’s only the truth. Just like the occupation of Iraq — we’re the bad guys.

Alan Fenicle

‘My kind of priest’
Recently, The Voice featured a picture and short history of Father Domingos S. Jaques, who was celebrating 60 years of priestly ministry. I first met Father Jaques when he was assigned to Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont. I believe it was his first U.S. assignment in 1964-65.

Father Jaques impressed me with his friendliness and kindness to everyone. Added to this was his endearing smile and sense of humor. Even after leaving Holy Spirit for his other assignments, he never forgot his Holy Spirit friends. Father Jaques and I are close in age. I can honestly say that he was my kind of priest. He has made many, many friends on all his assignments and I pray that he will continue to make still more in the next 20 years.

Also, I was happy to read that Father Terry Tompkins was taking a sabbatical. He also served at Holy Spirit Parish and left a good impression on all those who knew him at Holy Spirit. May all of his future years be happy ones.

Tom Ahern

The opinions expressed in letters to Reader's Forum are the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Voice or the Oakland Diocese.

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