By Caroline Smith
Music and song play a key role in the Catholic celebration of liturgy and can help us deepen our faith and become closer to Jesus, Perth Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton told attendees at a recent conference for pastoral musicians.
Speaking at the Mass on the second day of the Australian Pastoral Musicians Network 2017 Conference, titled Sing With Joy! United in Diversity, held from 5 to 7 October, Bishop Sproxton described two encounters which had shown him the power of music in the liturgy, beginning with a trip to Paris in 1989, when he stayed with a Redemptorist community.
Bishop Sproxton was joined at the Mass by concelebrants Fr Wayne Bendotti from the Diocese of Bunbury, the Very Rev Fr Robert Borg, Dean of Hornsby Cathedral Parish, from the Diocese of Broken Bay and Deacon Gary Stokes from the Diocese of Port Pirie.
“The Chapel of the community was on a lower floor of the building and it was open to the people of the neighbourhood, and 20 or so would come to the Mass each morning,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“To my surprise, as the priest entered the Chapel to begin Mass, the congregation began singing a psalm.
Bishop Sproxton went on to explain that for him what was remarkable about this experience was that the congregation were singing without books or the aid of any technology.
“They knew the psalms and the setting of the music so well that someone only had to start and everyone took up the song. I thought to myself: this is what liturgy is meant to be. It was so natural. It seemed to be spontaneous. Everyone was caught up in the praise and worship of God.”
He added that this appreciation for the role of music came to shape his work as a Parish Priest in Australia, encouraging people to sing psalms and other songs during daily and weekly Mass.
“The beauty of learning those songs that are based on the psalms is that we sometimes find ourselves carrying the tune in our mind, or something has just happened and the words of the psalm pop into our mind,” Bishop Sproxton said.
By singing the psalms, we learn their wisdom and receive the encouragement of God through the words. We can keep the Lord close in all we are doing in our day.”
Bishop Sproxton said both experiences had shown him how singing during the Mass could remind people of the message of the liturgy, becoming – in the words of St Paul – ‘captured by Christ’.
“Paul went from persecutor of the Church to apostle and witness of the faith in Christ. The encounter he had with the Risen Jesus, knocked him to the ground. It was shattering. It turned his life upside down. So he wrote that he had been captured for Christ, and thanks be to God for this,” he said.
“The Word of God, Jesus himself, can capture us and we can become captivated by him. It is possible that the Word can make his home in us.
“Music and song are mighty means by which we can be catechised. What we celebrate in various liturgies, the Sacraments, services of the Word and prayer are not only adorned by song but their meaning for us is brought out more fully and captured in our consciousness.”
The APMN conference was held at Rendezvous Hotel in Scarborough, and brought together approximately 300 people – mainly pastoral singers and musicians – from around Australia, as well as New Zealand and the United States.