National songwriter, Jaime Cortez, presents workshop in Pee Dee

CONWAY — According to Jaime Cortez, “singing in another language is an honor to another culture. … We sing different songs because we are different people with different gifts.”

Cortez, a songwriter affiliated with Oregon Catholic Press, visited St. James Church Jan. 23-24 to give a bilingual concert of sacred music and present a workshop on music for multicultural celebrations. The workshop was targeted to music ministers, youth ministers, pastoral associates, and religious educators.

Parishioner Gladys LaPietra, originally of Honduras, came because she wanted to “learn the proper way to do things.” She has observed that His-panic parishioners from other countries do things differently. She was eager to see Cortez again; she met him at Encuentro 2000 in Los Angeles and said it was a great experience.

Cortez demonstrated several techniques for incorporating two languages into liturgical music, and stressed several times how important it was to stage the process. The process needs to be slow and gradual, goals need to be set, and the congregation needs to be told why they are learning new songs in two languages.

“It’s all in the approach,” he said.

Songs with simple refrains are best. Cortez demonstrated a technique using one of his own songs, “Water Of Life/ Agua De Vida,” because the refrain can be sung in either English or Spanish. It has six verses, three in English and three in Spanish. The song can be sung completely in either language, or both languages can be mixed.

“O Love of God/Amor De Dios,” a song he co-wrote with three other songwriters, is a little more complicated.

The refrain is one continuous thought expressed in two languages. It has three verses, each one in both English and Spanish.

To prepare for a bilingual Mass, the choir should practice in the members’ native tongue first. The choir needs to feel comfortable with a song before trying to sing it in another language.

Cortez educated participants at his workshop on more than incorporating bilingual music into their repertoires. He also explained some of the new liturgical practices from the “General Instructions on the Roman Missal” that are being phased in all over the United States.

The missal has its roots in the “Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy,” one of the first documents generated by the Second Vatican Council. The thrust of the document is full, active, and conscious participation of the assembly at Mass. Accordingly, Cortez emphasized how important it is to “teach the assembly that they need to participate more in song.”

Because music highlights the consciousness of ritual activity, he said, it is important that the music be appropriate. Music should complement the Scriptures being read, the liturgical season, or a special focus such as building a new church.

Music should relate to what is happening during Mass at the moment. It is very common for the music of the Lord’s prayer to be given more emphasis than the eucharistic prayer. This is incorrect.

According to the Roman Missal, the eucharistic prayer is “the center and summit of the entire celebration.” The Lord’s prayer may be recited rather than sung.

Music selected for Communion must communicate to the assembly that Communion is a collective experience. “That we are united in Christ should be the focus,” he said. The missal specifies that music should begin while the priest is receiving the sacrament and continue until the last person has received, followed by a collective time of silence.

Cortez admitted that selecting appropriate recessional music is difficult. Father Rick LaBreque, pastor of St. James, shared an interesting insight:  a concluding song may be an American custom.

After the concluding rites, the Mass is technically over. Father LaBreque refers to the recessional hymn as the American contribution to liturgical renewal.