Liturgical composer tells ministers to invite marginalized into community

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During his Sept. 6 workshop at Holy Family Catholic Church, Woodruff, liturgical composer Marty Haugen encouraged cantors and choir members to live out their ministry by following Jesus’ example. He characterized his job as “writing jingles for Jesus.” (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Ministry, according to liturgical composer Marty Haugen, is a way of life for all Christians.

“It’s a universal calling through baptism,” he said.

Raised Lutheran, the Eagan, Minnesota-based composer now attends the United Church of Christ, but he’s spent many years making music in Catholic parishes, and his songs are familiar to Christians of all denominations.

Some of his best-known works include “Eye Has Not Seen,” “We Are Many Parts,” “Gather Us In,” “We Remember,” and “Shepherd Me, O God.” In all, Haugen has more than 400 published compositions.

“What I’d like to talk about today is our call … the call to each one of us,” he told about 50 people at a Sept. 6 workshop at Holy Family Parish, Woodruff.

All who worship – laity, ministers and pastors – share that call, he added. For choir members, cantors and instrumentalists, music is their ministry.

‘You can only invite them to sing’

Years ago, whenever Haugen taught workshops to Catholics musicians, the question was, “How do you get them to sing?”

His answer is, “You can’t. You can only invite them. I don’t coerce you into singing. I don’t trick you into singing.”

The performer operates from a position of power, he explained, but the audience is on the receiving end.

“Think about how vulnerable that is, to sing to one another,” Haugen said.

Using an example of a oxygen mask on an airplane – a passenger cannot help his fellow passenger until his own mask is in place – Haugen explained why ministry must be a way of life.

“We can’t help others until we have done our own work,” he said. “It is a practice, and it is important. Not that we are perfect, but that we are practicing our whole life.”

Using examples from his book, “To Serve as Jesus Did,” Haugen characterized Jesus as a man who was present, open to ongoing conversion, guided by Scripture, sustained by prayer, driven by genuine invitation, focused on marginalized people and faithful to, while challenging, tradition.

Haugen sees those practices as key to Christian ministry.

“What does this have to do with the Eucharist?” he asked. “It’s about gathering the many into one.”

“The conversion comes when we invite people in,” he added. “Conversion is all about the willingness to be vulnerable.”

Songs of praise and lament

Liturgical music can be divided into categories according to its purpose, Haugen said. There are songs of praise and thanksgiving, songs of lament, royal songs that celebrate Christ the King, wisdom songs that teach lessons, songs of ascent for pilgrims on journeys and liturgical songs about “what we are doing.”

“There’s a big industry now in the Catholic Church to create new music,” Haugen noted, which he thinks is “good for the composers, not so good for the people in the pews.”

Many songs are based on psalms; others promote social justice, peace or other Christian ideals.

As a composer, he added, “What you are doing is writing jingles for Jesus. I just made that up, and I wish I hadn’t.”

Songs have changed over time, he said. Haugen and a friend can’t find an example of an “I” or “me” in a liturgical song published before 1963.

“That’s totally a post-Vatican II phenomenon,” he said, and it reflects a culture that has become more individualistic than collective.
Haugen started working full-time in parish music when he was in his mid-20s, and he knows people who, 50 years later, are still serving in those positions.

“It’s not the kind of thing you do for money, and it’s not the kind of thing you do for acclaim,” he told his audience of music directors and choir members.

Still, it’s an essential part of liturgy, he said.

“People don’t remember sermons,” he added. “They remember songs.”

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