Dreams or plans?

There’s a song by Shakira that came out in 2005 called Dreams for Plans. 

She sings: 

“Can you tell me how it used to be?
Have we missed our chance?
Have we changed our hopes for fears
And our dreams for plans?”

These lyrics resonated with the way I’d been feeling recently about my professional endeavors.  Ultimately, where do my dreams fit in ministry as pastoral musician?

As I come up on five years, the longest I have ever spent committed to one parish, I’m recognizing new challenges. Continuity and stability were supposed to make things easier!  There is a temptation to take the well-paved Grand Central Parkway of certainty. I could recycle liturgy plans from 2010-2011, which was the last time we were in this phase of the Sunday lectionary cycle.  Furthermore, the sense of optimism that I relied on for motivation is threatened by a growing awareness of economic and pastoral reality.  

on-vacation-01When I think about how I spent my summer vacation last year, it feels like a long, vivid dream.  I took all of my paid vacation time at once, and I spent three consecutive weeks away. I felt like Rip Van Winkle or rather, Rip Van Wyck, in the case of my geography) when I got back to Queens last September.  It was like a deep sleep on a rainy Saturday morning.  I had worked through so much, seen so many beautiful sights and returned to relatively unchanged surroundings with rested eyes. I also returned with a musical outline planned for the next nine months.  This year, its just not possible to take all three weeks at once, but the dream-like feeling I experienced last year lends a new perspective on liturgical preparation. 

A Process in Progress

Over the years I have developed a process that balances long term vision with short term flexibility. This year, as I work through the process, I will be focused on the following questions: 

  • What are my dreams for my parish?
  • What are my dreams for the future of the Church? 
  • How can ministry help realize the dreams I have for my own journey? 


In late August, long after I’ve sorted through the octavo swag that I’ve acquired at the NPM convention, and I’ve debriefed with colleagues, I start visioning for the year. What do we need to improve? Are there any new songs we need to introduce? When is Easter this year? Are we anticipating anything exciting?

My goal is to have a rough draft of a liturgy plan for every Sunday through Corpus Christi– before rehearsals begin during the second week in September. Although the long term outline is prepared, I know that revisions are inevitable throughout the year, so to minimize confusion,  I only share about four weeks of finalized plans at any one time. I recall that when I was new to ministry, I would plan ahead for several months, and as time passed I would forget why I had chosen certain repertoire. Even after several years, it still can be hard to gauge how a less familiar song will be received by the assembly. Case and point: Festival Canticle was planned for some Sundays during the Easter Season, but it was received with far less enthusiasm than the other Easter hymns. The comparison was a reminder of why we hadn’t sung this song in several years. I revised the plans for the remainder of the season and replaced it with other appropriate hymns. Moreover, Sing to the Lord  underscores the need to promote dialogue between the Church and modern world (71) and that music should be chosen with sensitivity to the “cultural and spiritual milieu” of our communities (73.)   Whatever span of time constitutes “modern,” at certain moments, music becomes an exegetical link between the daily scripture passages and current events.

I’m obviously not advocating spur of the moment, off the cuff planning. It was tremendously beneficial to have major components of the year sketched out. Rehearsals were shorter, more efficient and other members of the team could prepare far in advance for liturgical seasons.  Ultimately, the process of advance planning, review and revision enabled a collaborative discussion that arrived at creative solutions for unique liturgical challenges.


My favorite resources for planning speak for themselves. I look at the antiphons from the Roman Missal and Lectionary readings and think about how the passages connect. There is compact edition of the Roman Missal that can be ordered from World Library Publications, but I carry so much in my geekbag to begin with, I’d rather access these resources online.

  • Cantica Nova offers pages like this which offer all of the antiphons and single sentence synopses of the readings in one place. I don’t refer to their music recommendations because most of the suggested songs are unfamiliar to communities like mine. Although the music suggestions are limiting, the “liturgical information” pages are very good.
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers a calendar with links to daily mass readings. You can read the lectionary passages, but there are no antiphons or prayers here. You can also listen to the readings, as they were mean to be proclaimed. For me, this really helps accentuate particular phrases that would otherwise be overlooked.
  • Servicios Koinonia offers a liturgical calendar en Español, in addition to commentary, artwork and other links. I find that the commentaries can be helpful for examining the readings in  the same theological framework that shaped the Church in Latin America. (If you squirm at the words “liberation” and “theology” in the same sentence,  maybe don’t go here.) 

Other methods.

I’ve come to recognize that my decisions could use a second opinion.  When our parish needed to select new music for acclamations in 2011, we held a gathering of music ministers and parishioners who sang and voted on a small ballot of  mass settings.  The input we received was truly beneficial and guided me to select a setting I would have otherwise overlooked. From time to time, I’ve asked members of the choir, cantors and musicians to evaluate the content of resources or listen to demos of new releases from OCP, WLP or GIA. 

This year, I’ve asked some members of the choir, and music ministry supporters to read through the readings for Advent and share their reflections. I specifically did not ask for song suggestions, because I feel that there is more to musical exegesis than simply matching music with scriptural citations.  It will be exciting to hear some responses to these readings and if this experiment is successful, we may do the same for Lenten scriptures. Even if there is a delay in completion of the long-term outline, I think fresh perspectives are really going to improve the way we sing and pray. 

Some parishes have music committees which assist with planning music for the liturgical year.  I’ve never experienced a music committee first hand, though we have a similar committee for our family liturgies. We brainstorm and gain new insights together by meeting in person. 

Publishers also offer planning guides in the form of print magazines and internet resources.  I know that these publications are popular, but I do not like to rely on their hymn suggestions nor would I hope that one would consult the publishers’ suggestions without a preliminary and thorough study of the lectionary readings of the day.  These planning publications do, on the other hand, print accessible reflections from recognized experts in liturgical music and these articles  can be great food for thought.  Ultimately, I would consider planning magazines as useful perspectives, and sometimes they can affirm that we are on the right track but I  limit their role to one of many factors that influence the selection of music for mass. 

Where do we go from here? 

Earlier this summer, I recognized that I had been discouraged by the direction my career was taking.  Instead of “going over to the church,” I would “walk to work.” It was a paradigm shift.  I replaced imagination with realism and enthusiasm with compliance.  I had traded my dreams for plans. 

 After bouncing ideas around with friends and family, I came to recognize that in any position–whether I was a banker, bartender or llama rancher– I would experience the same professional challenges, and that sometimes the biggest challenge is to dream of something better.  

images-3A dream is not procedure oriented but an inspiring dream can become reality with some effort. Dreams need methods for implementation. Dreams need plans. The two are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, in their most ideal cases, they are interdependent. One cannot plan for the future without a vision for the end result.  Ultimately, one could say that the way we celebrate our liturgy on earth, the foretaste of the heavenly liturgy (SC, 8)  is a manifestation of our dream of eternity with God.  Who says dreams and plans can’t coexist?

What are your dreams for the months ahead? What are you dreaming about in your parish and what is your plan for implementation? Please share your comments below, and of course, please share this blog with your friends! 

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