Monday, September 1, 2014

Reconsidering Martha: On Musicians at Mass

Mary and Martha. We're all familiar with the story in Mark's gospel. Martha is rushing about, serving guests, while Mary sits at Jesus' feet. Martha says to Jesus, "tell her (Mary) to help me!" Jesus says no, she has "chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her." The end. Right?

The point has been made before that Jesus' rebuke of Martha was not that she was serving their guests, but that she was "anxious about a great many things." It occurs to me that Jesus would not send Mary off to the kitchen to share Martha's hustle-bustle anxiety, but would instead draw Martha into his presence in the midst of her tasks. We as church musicians are faced with the same challenges in our ministry. Our "Martha" is seen in managing sheet music, watching the progression of the liturgy to know when to lead hymns and responses, being attentive to traffic and to the details of the action of the priest as they play out over time....  it's easy to get wrapped up in the details and grow anxious. What page is next? Parts or unison? Diction, pronunciation, how many verses? Are the ushers in place? Is there a second collection this week?  Father A walks fast, Father B walks slower...and on it goes. We forget that we must, first and foremost, be present with Christ at Mass, just as he is present with us. We still have to sing and play. We still have to pay careful attention to what's going on at the altar and in the congregation and adjust to any number of variables. The challenge is to do so while fully and actively participating in the the sacrifice of the Mass and giving ourselves fully to the sacrament itself. It is only too easy to become a door keeper - holding the door open while everyone else is ushered in, but remaining outside ourselves.

And perhaps a final point (or tidbit of advice) is important to consider. We need to take opportunity to be Mary, too.  This is unbelievably difficult for some who are committed to the music ministry in a parish, but I submit that it is absolutely essential to sometimes "choose the better part." Attend Mass with no responsibilities. Sit in a pew. Meditate. Pray. Go to communion and return to your seat and be fully mindful that you have received the living God, body and blood, soul and divinity. Sit at Jesus' feet and remain there. Don't rush off to help because someone is "anxious about a great many things." It will not be taken from you!

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