Bishop Onah celebrates 33rd priestly anniversary with Nsukka Diocesan

choir directors/ choir masters


By Victor Ishiwu

It was cheers and smiles for the choirmasters and music directors of Nsukka Diocese on 29th July, 2017 as the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, Most Reverend Professor Godfrey Igbwebuike Onah, vested in the same chasuble he wore on the day of his priestly ordination on 28th July 1984 at Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu, officiated the holy mass that officially opened the ceremony of his 33rd priestly anniversary at St. Theresa's Catholic Cathedral Nsukka.

Commencing the Holy Mass that marked the beginning of the celebration, Father Bishop thanked God for his blessings upon him and the people he has blessed through him within this duration of his labour in His vineyard; going further he extended his heart felt gratitude to the choirmasters and music directors of Catholic Diocese of Nsukka for their efforts and dedication to their ministry in the church in spite of various life challenges in our present society.

Bishop Onah in the course of his homily noted that love is the epicentre of our Christian life, for it is through love that both Martha and Mary discharged their duty; Mary manifested her love to Jesus by listening attentively to His teachings while Martha expressed her own love through service. So it is not whether it is better to listen or to serve, the most important thing is to love. If you have no love, you are not of God he said.

Father Bishop emphasised that the type of love he meant is quite different from the conditional love that floats in our society today; it is the unconditional love which Christ our model showed to us when he suffered and died for us on the cross. We too should learn to love and sacrifice our time and resources for others without expecting something in return.

Within the course of the celebration, the chief shepherd handed out instructions which will serve as guideline to all choirmasters and choristers of Nsukka Diocese. The guide is in line with the teachings of the church as contained in the various documents of the church.

Hence the following were the major hits of his discussions with the Choirmasters and Choristers of Nsukka Diocese. From her beginnings, the Church has always recognized the power and beauty of music in the praise and worship of God (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The music used in worship is called sacred music and its purpose is 'the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful' (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112).

1. Choristers should therefore know that while singing during the Liturgy, they are performing a sacred function, similar to those of the other lay ministers in the Church.
2. In performing this sacred function, the choir assists the rest of the Liturgical assembly in a communal prayer presided over by the Priest. The singing in the Church by the choir is, therefore, not for entertainment, or for show, or even simply to make the Liturgy more beautiful. At mass, the choristers are exercising a ministerial function in the most solemn and most sacred act of worship by the Church.

3. Although sometimes the choir may sing some special hymns alone, it is always better when it sings with the entire worshipping community or congregation. And when singing with congregation, the conductor should ensure that both the choir and the congregation are singing together. The practice of some conductors who force the choir to break while the congregation sings on is against the spirit of the liturgy (eg. "Father, to you we offer, oh my Jesus to you we offer this gift we bring, Holt Ghost** accept this offering, which we offer up to you).

4. Sacred music has a specific character and is very different from other forms of music. In the tradition of the Church, the Gregorian chant has a pride of place. Nevertheless, other compositions are not only allowed but also encouraged, provided they have the dignity and solemnity suitable to the liturgy and provided the texts are in conformity with Catholic doctrine. Profane songs should not be used in place of sacred music.

5. Before compositions can be used for Liturgical purposes, they must be approved by the competent Church authority. In the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, the Diocesan Music Commission (working in conjunction with the Diocesan Liturgical Commission) has been vested with this authority. Choirmasters and composers should not use their Parish or station choirs for 'showcasing' their unapproved composition.

6. The Diocesan Hymn Book was published as a treasury of approved Liturgical hymns and to promote congregational singing. All Parish Choirs are directed to make ample and regular use of the Hymn Book.

7. In order not to lose the rich tradition of the Church's sacred music handed down through the Gregorian chant, Parish Choirs should endeavour to sing at least the common of the mass in Latin on the first Sunday of every month, as has been the practice in our Diocese. We should not discard such a cherished tradition without a just cause.

8. Similarly, we should all treasure the older hymns which are often very simple, beautiful and with profound meanings. Tradition grows. But it is not growth if we constantly seek what is new without sufficient appreciation of the good things that we already posses. It would be wrong to think that the newest things are always the best.

9. The choice of songs on Sundays should, as much as possible, be related to the readings of the Sunday's liturgy. As such, choristers should make their selection. If possible, in consultation with the Parish Priest, using the Sunday bulletin before the particular Sunday.

10. The Responsorial Psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Word. It is good if the response is sung. But for the verses to be sung or chanted, care has to be taken so that the meaning of the Psalm is not lost. The singing must be clear and distinct enough for all to understand the meaning of what is sung. It should also be simple enough for the entire congregation to learn the tune at once. The time for the proclamation of the Word of God during Mass is not the right time to teach the congregation new tunes. When the Psalms have tunes already known by the people, it is preferable to use them rather than always having to improvise new ones (eg. Ps 23 'The Lord is my shepherd' – 'Dinwenu bu onye nchem'; Ps 'O blessed are those who fear the Lord' – 'Ngozi ga-adiri ndi na-aturu Chukwu egwu; Ps 27 'So out ihe').

11. The Gospel acclamation is not part of the Responsorial Psalm and therefore the two should never be rendered in the same melody. The Gospel acclamation, except during the season of Lent, is an exclamation of joy and the singing should always reflect this.

12. Care has to be taken in the selection of hymns for funeral Masses to reflect the mood of the celebration. Even when we think we should be giving thanks to God for the long life of a person, a funeral Mass should never be made to look like a wedding or jubilee Mass by the choice of hymns.

13. The most important instrument in liturgical music is the human voice. Every musical instrument, from the pipe organ to the simplest instrument is meant to serve as an accompaniment and not a replacement of the human voice. The instrument should never drown the voices of the faithful. The choirmaster should also conduct the organist and the others playing the instruments. When the keyboard is used to introduce a piece, it should be brief, except when it is otherwise indicated in the composition.

14. We live in an age when the show business is a very lucrative business and some religious groups even invite comedians to their places of worship to entertain the people. This "show" mentality is also seen in some Choirs and choristers and must be rooted out immediately and completely. Not only should liturgical hymns maintain their specific character but also choirmasters and choristers are to maintain a certain dignity and composure during liturgical celebrations. Excessive gesticulations or exaggerated body movements by choirmasters cause serious distractions not only to the Choir but also to the worshipping community and must be avoided.

15. Choristers in general and the choirmasters in particular should remember that they too are supposed to participate fully in the celebration of the Eucharist. They should avoid all forms of distraction among themselves and for others. Noisemaking in the choir stand should never be tolerated. For those who are communicants, the devout reception of communion at Mass is more important than the singing of a special hymn.

16. Open-air liturgical celebrations present a special challenge to Choirs because of the poor state of our public address systems. It is therefore important to pay special attention to the position and volume of the Choir during such celebrations. It is not enough that the celebrants hear the Choir. It is also important that the Choir leads the entire congregation in singing its praises to God.

17. Some specific examples: Nee nnukwu ukochukwu (Ezenduka and Egbo); Ekwuputam gwa Chineke ji ike niile; Nso nso nso… Chineke nke igwe ndi agha.

18. Remember: "He who sings well prays twice" (St. Augustine)

19. May God keep you in his love.

The Diocesan Music director, Rev Fr. Emma Asogwa on behalf of his colleagues thanked Father Bishop for his choice of celebrating his 33rd priestly anniversary with the choristers and prays for more blessings, grace, strength, wisdom, protection and good health of mind and body on him as he labours in God's vineyard. The celebration was coloured with different performances by the choristers and fatherly blessings by Father Bishop.

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