Music in the Mass


I am a musician for my parish and struggling with the idea of how to handle this. I am from a small parish, in a small diocese. The nearest Catholic Church (aside from mine) is 40 miles away. The problem I am having is that music is highly debated at my parish. The pastor (otherwise known as the only non-retired priest within 40 miles), wants music at every Sunday Mass, Holy Days, Funerals, and Weddings. The retired priest at our parish doesn’t like music because it makes the Masses longer (we target 45 minutes including music) The congregation believes that music is either sacriligeous (I sing songs that the Bishop recommends, songs that quote the scripture of the weekend, and traditional hymns such as “Ave Maria” for funerals) or something that should only be sung by the choir alone, and will not volunteer for the choir no matter how much we plead. The musicians in our parish are myself (pianist/organist/soprano), my husband (tenor), and two older/elderly ladies who play the organ when they can, but can/will not sing. Because I cannot get anyone else to sing, I feel that either my husband or myself must attend all masses (funeral, wedding, weekend, holy day, etc) at our church and we have not been able to take a vacation over a weekend for three years. This long diatribe leads to my question, is it sinful to go against the wishes of the pastor and go see our family (natural or in-laws) for Christmas which we haven’t done in four years, or is it sinful to help out at Christmas Mass and neglect our family? Again, there will be no music at Christmas Mass (especially Midnight Mass) if we do not go. Also, I am about to have a baby (due Holy Thursday). Is it sinful for me to tell my husband (the only other singer) that I expect him at the hospital when I have the child, regardless of the Triduum which would be silent if neither of us were there?


If you are having a child, by no means should you be required to play piano. In regards to vacation, bring this and all your concerns to the pastor or the bishop.


Sound advice. Whilst you have a duty to the Church, you also have a duty towards your marriage and family life. It will probably do the parish a world of good to be without you both, so that they can all work out what they need and want and what they are willing to do themselves. Our organist simply lets the priest know when he cannot attend and we manage.


God bless you and your husband and all of the work and sacrifice you have given to your parish. I know and understand your situation and I do think it is something not many people realize. I can’t do a lot of things on the weekend (like volunteer help for my daughter’s school) because of that and if I don’t tell them that I work most weekends, people think that I’m always afraid people think I’m just trying to get out of volunteering for the school. I rarely have a weekend off, myself, due to my work as a Church musician.

If this is your first child (congratulations and many blessings), I will tell you that things will change no matter how much you try to not let it change. The children will come first, it will get more difficult to get things ready for Sunday morning and Saturday night mass, you may not have as much time to practice. Something will have to give. After 10+ years of working both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, this year I decided to not work at all on Christmas Day and this will be my last Christmas Eve where I will be working from 2:00 p.m. to Midnight. I have two little ones now and it has taken a toll on me and my family, emotionally. When I had no children it was a lot easier and I didn’t mind working all of those masses and hours. I don’t mind working the regular Sunday masses, but the holiday masses are much more stressful. There are many Sundays when my husband has to wait until I come home from church so that he can go to mass, so we often don’t go to mass together. If my parents attend mass at the parish where I work, he will come down with me and bring the children. They are difficult to handle by himself. In fact, today he was outside for the latter half of the mass because our son was acting up and my parents had decided to attend mass at their parish due to the weather. This year, I have tried to have a weekend off a month or every two months so that I can just be with my family, sit the pews with them during mass and be “normal” for once.

I cannot tell you what is more important, but if you want your husband with you at the hospital for when you give birth, I don’t think that is a sin to request that he be with you. I needed my husband with me for emotional supportwhen I went in for both of our children. I was due around Christmas for our first child and still came in to work on Christmas Day, but had my husband with me in case I went into labor. I ended up a week late.

I understand that where you live doesn’t seem to be a heavily Catholic area, but is there any way to get a substitute even outside of your parish to fill in during the time you are due? I know that the organists at the parishes where I work have to go out of the parish to get subs. They will get non-Catholic organists who understand the liturgy. Or if they can’t find one who doesn’t, I am asked to stay in the organ loft with them to help them with the timing and when to come in and just cantor from there.

I agree with the others’ advice, as well. You should talk to the pastor about trying to find a new way of getting more musicians to help out at mass, or at least have subs. Things are going to change a lot once the little one comes. (ie. My husband used to help out sing or lector every once in a while before we had children. Now, he has to be with the kids, so there is no more singing or lectoring for him.)


P.S. And I know how difficult it is to say “no”. I’ve spent almost all of my adult life hardly ever saying “no” when it came to doing church liturgy. When I have said, “no”, I’d sometimes be given a guilt trip or I’d give myself a guilt trip. This year, I had to do it despite the repercussions it might have because of the emotional health of my family and myself. One of my directors have punished me a bit because of it, which I won’t go into, but I’m tired of the mind games I sometimes I have to deal with. You’re golden when you give everything of yourself at the expense of your personal and family life, but once you decide to put your family first and spend less time doing music liturgy, you’re looked at as almost worthless and like a traitor. It’s not like that for all parishes, I know that (it’s not like that at the other two parishes where I work which have healthy music program and shares the responsibility), but I do know that for some of my colleagues in other parishes, they don’t take vacations because of the problems it can cause.

I will keep you and your husband in my prayers.


If the parish really does not want music, I say give them what they want this Christmas. They may eventually appreciate what they are missing when you return. Go see your family. If the pastor understands the importance of the family, he will not object if you leave.

In the future, you may be interested in asking the organists to take a leadership role in directing the choir. Assuming that the congregation misses having music for the Mass, they should turn up in droves. That way there will still be singing when you need to be absent from the parish.

As a Roman Catholic who attends a Byzantine Catholic community, let me add something from their perspective. The Divine Liturgy is generally always sung. Singing is the way the Church worships at the Holy Altar of our God, not merely an add on, something for gimmicks. This is the way we praise the Lord and offer our petitions.

“O Lord, open Thou our lips: and our mouths shall show forth Thy praise.”

If the congregation understands this, many of them should be willing to come forth.

Go see your family. When the worshippers see what they have missed out on, they will eventually come to appreciate the need for singing, and they will step up to volunteer for the choir-some of them may even be able to lead in your absence.

Another thing to consider so that there is some singing: ask your pastor, if he does not already do so, if he can chant the Mass (“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit…”). There will still be singing to add solemnity to the Mass, even when there are no hymns. (In addition, it also makes the liturgy less disconnected between the hymns, a more unified offering of all the faithful: the priest, the musicians, and the congregation.)


Maybe this is too late. Are you a volunteer? Or do you get paid? If you are a volunteer, by all means, take vacations and visit family. They are lucky to get somebody for zero pay, and they have to understand that you have a family life as well. If you are paid, then it seems slightly different. If you are paid, then you should work out what kind of vacations, holidays, etc you can have off.
Good luck!


Bless your heart. I’ve been a church musician for over 34 years and I know precisely what you’re going through. This past Christmas I was without a job for the first time EVER and actually got to enjoy Christmas like normal people.
Normally I try to time my vacations around the seasons and the days off. This is challenging at best. There are times I simply cannot be there, and I offer to find another musician in my place (one of my music friends). Naturally the parish has to pay but at least they have someone there.
In your situation it is a little tricky. I would certainly inform the priest of future travel plans and offer to find a sub (if you can). But definitely take time out for your family!


Churches PAY musicians??? I thought it was always a volunteer job, unless you count Father taking us to a burger joint/Pizza Hut once every two to three months, in which case, I am a paid musician (but that doesn’t really seem like pay to me so I assume not). I do get paid for three out of four funerals and one out of three weddings on average, but not by the Church. I tried to get Our Lady of Guadalupe off as a trial (especially since it isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation and I really needed that evening in preparation for my family coming to visit before Christmas) and those who like music were upset but unwilling to volunteer, and those who don’t were happy, and wish I’d take a break more often. Father was upset but trying to be generous and the other members of the church (average age 60+) who want music came and lectured me about how in their day people did not put themselves first, but instead chose to devote their time, talent, treasure, and most importantly their lives to God and I should not be so selfish as to desire an evening off, much less a holiday to spend time with my family. Are they correct?


I think that the fact that you are asking if it is sinful to simply go out of town, or have your husband at the birth of your child, says that you have seriously lost perspective.

The fact that your pastor wants music at every Mass does NOT mean you have to provide it.

When you meet to plan Easter, Christmas, or whatever liturgy, you simply let the pastor know in advance what your availability is. You tell him that if he wants music as XYZ liturgy that you will not be attending, then he needs to hire a substitute organist or otherwise secure agreement from parishioners.

That is the end of your responsibility.

We too are a small parish. We have one person who can play organ in our whole parish, and she does not even read music she learned to play by ear from her grandmother when she was a young girl. SHe volunteers and plays almost every weekend. We do not have a choir, we have some high school girls that will typically go up and sing when they are at Mass.

If our organist is out of town, or otherwise unable to attend a Mass, then we sing a capella with our pastor simply announcing the song number and starting us out. If in your parish, no one sings, well so be it.

NO ONE has ever died from the organist being out of town.

You are putting WAY too much pressure on yourself. I promise you, the world will not end if you are not there. Stop heaping all this on yourself.


Some do, particularly large parishes. That is an individual decision at the parish level, based on many factors.

We too are a small parish and everything is volunteer from bookkeeping to church cleaning and everything in between.

Father and the biddies can lump it. Father can lead the music, he is the head liturgist at every Mass and if there is no organist, and he wants music, he will figure it out.

No. And I urge you to step away from this ministry for a while if this is the type of BS that people are giving you.


It depends on the parish. For the parishes where I am a regular, I am paid and receive a 1099 form every year for the income that I make as a cantor on Sunday masses and holidays. Funerals and weddings I am paid by the individuals who hire me, so I do something separate tax-wise.

Some parishes can afford to pay their instrumentalists. Depending on the area, the organists/pianists are almost always paid. Where I live, most of the organists/pianists are paid. Sometimes cantors and/or choir section leaders receive a stipend, such as myself, although at most parishes, the singers are usually volunteers who have some or no musical/vocal training.

The criticism you received for wanting to put your children first was very unfair, but not surprising either. Like I said in my previous post, so many church musicians that I know, including myself, had/have a difficult time saying “No” and burning themselves into the ground because of the guilt trips they receive from pastors, music directors and congregations… as well as from themselves. We are often trained to believe that we are not very good Catholic musicians if we put our family life first over mass, even if it means hardly ever being with family on the weekends. I have colleagues who are gone almost all day Saturday with funerals, weddings and Vigil Mass and most of Sunday.

Some parishes love single people as musicians because it allows them to think that because they are single they can completely devote their time to the parish on the weekends since they “have no family”, not thinking about parents, siblings and such. Most of my colleagues who have those kinds of lives are single and some are afraid of taking off because they might be let go. Some have great pastors who are understanding. I actually told one of the priests at the parish where I decided not to do Christmas Eve because I’d get home at 2:00 a.m. after working since 2:00 p.m., and he was so understanding. He told me that my children are this age for such a short period of time and that they needed me and they came first. It made me feel so much better about my decision having support from this kind and understand priest.

You are not selfish for wanting an evening off and don’t let others make you think otherwise.


So, as I understand it, the pastor/congregation has about four months to find a solution to “their” problem. You go ahead and have your baby and may God Bless you. The priest should be able to figure things out. :slight_smile:


Hi Secant,
If I were you, I would take the opportunity to tell Father that since Baby is arriving, you need to cut back on your time commitment. Maybe you could offer to still play one weekend at Mass, or something. If they want music, they will figure something out. But you might feel funny if they end up paying someone else (plenty of Catholic churches pay non-Catholic musicians), and then they still expect you to volunteer.
I know a lady who has been the volunteer organist for 40 years at a small rural church, and she has no problem telling Father when she will be out of town.
Good luck to you, just remember that you are the only Mom that your Baby will have, and that there are actually plenty of musicians in the world. It may not seem that way to you,but trust me, there are. And they often work cheap - - or even for no money at all. : )


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