“Ask a Priest: If the Music at Communion Isn’t Right, May I Go to Another Parish?”

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Q: At my parish we have a professional music director/organist. At Communion time as a rule he chooses songs that are not Eucharistic or pertaining to the Sacrifice. Today they sang “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” at Communion. While it is a very beautiful hymn which I love, it does not pertain directly to the body and blood of Christ and what we are doing at this time. A blind person would have never known it was Communion at a Catholic Church. I’ve spoken with my pastor about this, and he forwarded my e-mail to the music director, who wanted a meeting, which turned out to be of no avail. So now I’m wondering should I change parishes and find a more appropriate music program. To me it’s a matter of reverence to the awesome Sacrifice of Jesus for us sinners. Thanks for reading this. -M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Liturgical music is a topic that has fueled more than a few debates in parishes. The fact that your pastor forwarded your e-mail but did not step in definitively to overrule the liturgist indicates that he didn’t want to press the issue too much.

That is understandable. With all the challenges of parish life today, pastors are prudent about the battles they pick. There is a lot of wisdom in that approach.

So what does that mean in your case? Perhaps there are a few questions you might want to consider.

First, is the choice of Communion hymns a serious enough reason to change parishes? A Catholic with a healthy parish life has probably forged friendships, sunk roots in the community, and participated in various volunteer projects. Does is seem like a good idea to walk away from all that because of someone’s choice of liturgical music?

Second, what impact would a switch in parishes have on those around you? Would you leave a gap in the parish? Would people understand or appreciate your reason for changing parishes? Would they feel let down?

Third, what would you do if you went to a new parish and eventually found something there to your disliking? Parish-hopping isn’t conducive for fostering a sense of stability. Besides, the most important part of the Mass is the Eucharist, not the music.

Fourth, what might it mean that liturgical music can be so distracting at the time of Communion? One can only imagine how many Catholics who don’t even have regular access to the Eucharist for lack of priests would love to have Mass with any kind of music.

Please don’t take these as loaded questions. Ultimately you need to decide what will be the best for your spiritual life.

Externals can help us live the Mass well, no doubt. But our union with Christ depends more on the interior dispositions of our heart. I hope this helps put things in perspective.

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