Diocese of Lincoln sees strong turnout at first Sacred Music Clinic

Cathy Bender Sacred Music Clinic in the Diocese of Lincoln. | Cathy Bender / Southern Nebraska Register.

The Diocese of Lincoln held its first "Sacred Music Clinic" Aug. 27 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

The event was sponsored by the diocesan liturgical commission at the suggestion of Bishop James Conley.

The turnout of diocesan musicians – cantors, adult or youth choir directors, singers, organists and other instrumentalists – far exceeded organizers' expectations. A total of 230 people attended from 59 parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln and two parishes from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

"We were overjoyed with the turnout," said Father Daniel Rayer, chancellor and chairman of the diocesan liturgical commission. "It far exceeded our expectations. We maxed out the facility so we are thankful to the participants for bearing with cramped spaces."

He said that several members of the diocesan commission who have attended the annual Catholic Music Association of America colloquium – as Bishop Conley did this summer – wanted to start a smaller version for musicians in the diocese. The goal of the commission is to make this clinic an annual event.

"I think the response of the people indicates that there is a hunger for formation in the sacred liturgy," Father Rayer said. "The Church offers us direction for beautiful liturgy in her liturgical documents. Our aim is to offer assistance to our musicians to help them implement the Church's vision for sacred music in the liturgy.  As Bishop Conley reminded us in his homily at Morning Prayer, this implementation will need to take place in 'small steps' and in a way that takes into consideration the talents, abilities, and needs of each parish all while aiming for the beauty called for by the Church.

"We want to strive for excellence in the liturgy since this is where we come to worship God and we should give our best to God," he continued. "This was our first event, so there is much room for us to grow and learn on how we can better help our musicians."

The clinic, which was open to beginning, intermediate and advanced musicians, included presentations by several experienced educators, including organist Matthew Meloche, director of sacred music at Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, and Adam Bartlett, a composer, conductor and teacher of sacred music. Local instructors and directors included Nicholas Lemme, the Latin chant director at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, and Amy Flamminio, who was recently named choir director at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, and Jessica Ligon, music teacher at Cathedral School. Father Michael Zimmer, diocesan master of ceremonies, led a breakout session on Church documents pertaining to music and liturgy.

As Father Rayer reiterated in his homily at the closing Mass, "We're called to sing the Mass, not just to sing at Mass."

"Chant has really been the Church's musical tradition for centuries." Literally practicing what he had preached, Father Rayer chanted the Eucharistic prayer, something he'd been hesitant to do in his priesthood.

"I am not a natural musician," Father Rayer said, "so I had to listen to audio recordings of it and practice it many times. It was worth the commitment to do that and I plan to sing it at Mass on special feasts in the future. Audio recordings of the priest's chants of the Roman Missal are all available on the internet. With a little time and practice, most priests should be able to sing the chants proper to them."

All participants were welcomed to test out the skills they were learning. Breakout sessions focused on different aspects of liturgical music such as chant, organ accompaniment, hymn selection, leading the responsorial psalm at Mass and other pertinent topics. The instructors led music at Mass so that all could participate.

Wayne Ringer attended the conference from St. Mary Parish in Denton, where he is a member of a three-man schola cantorum led by Andrew Vinton. They just started three years ago, but he said attending the conference gave him great hope for the future.

"I could see from the enthusiastic participants in the clinic that a great movement (toward use of chant) is afoot in our diocese. It will still take time to mature, but the seeds have been planted."

He called the clinic "an awesome opportunity for formation in the rich tradition of sacred music that the Church has asked us to implement in our parishes."

"I think that many people do not realize," he explained, "the emphasis that Vatican Council II and the subsequent popes have placed on returning Gregorian chant to 'pride of place' in the Mass." He said he thought the clinic would be a "real force for years to come" toward achieving this goal for the diocese.

"I would encourage anyone in the music ministry to attend next year's music clinic," Ringer said, "to gain a deeper love for the Mass and for sacred music. One of the primary ways to evangelize is through beauty, and I think that everyone who participated in Saturday evening's Mass was overwhelmed by the grace, dignity and solemnity of the liturgy."

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In fact, the night before the clinic began, artist and writer David Clayton delivered a free lecture at the Newman Center on "The Way of Beauty." He explained how beauty can be the most basic form of evangelization, a detail Katie Dubas also took from the conference.

Dubas, who is director of youth ministry for the parishes of the Grant Deanery, also occasionally serves as a cantor. She said she learned a great deal about the different styles of music and how they are best suited for different occasions.

"I never thought about how some music is best for basic evangelization, some for private devotion and then the sacred music that was designed for the liturgy," she said. "Gregorian chant has a rich history in the life of the Church and it was good to learn about the history and role it plays in the Church today."

She got to see firsthand how chant can be brought to the present Church, when she attended a Sunday morning Mass at the Newman Center.

"I was surrounded by college students," she said. "Most of the Mass used chant, and all of the students around me were joining in song, so that showed me that they have been taught about sacred music and are embracing it wholeheartedly," she said.

"I do think young people today are open to learning about sacred music and how it was designed to help us have one united voice in response to Jesus' invitation to be inserted into the mystery of the Trinity."

This article originally appeared in the Southern Nebraska Register. Republished with permission.

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