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For the past 75 years, the Church Musicians’ Guild of Buffalo has advocated for the preservation and protection of dignity of liturgical music, as part of what is considered a most essential element of Catholic worship.

At a special celebration Mass held Friday, Sept. 30 at Fourteen Holy Helpers Church in West Seneca, they had a strong ally in the priest who delivered that Mass’s sermon.

Musicians and priests alike gather for a special Mass honoring 75 plus years of the diocesan Church Musicians Guild. The Mass, which was led by Bishop Michael W. Fisher, was held Sept. 30 at Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca. (Photo by Michael Mroziak)

 “Once many years ago, a bishop – not of this diocese, thank God – said to me, ‘Music is a luxury the Church can no longer afford,’” said Father Jacob Ledwon, pastor of St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo. “He was wrong. Music is an essential the Church can never be without.”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher presided over the Mass, and he too honored the role of music as part of worship. He remarked that while he was thinking of the Fourteen Holy Helpers for whom the parish is named, he was convinced there was a 15th helper present that night.

 “I’m sure St. Cecelia (the patron saint of music and musicians) joined us, too,” the bishop said. “We congratulate everybody on the 75th anniversary of this important ministry and guild. The guild, it’s been said, is the oldest continually existing organization for our Catholic Church musicians in the country.”

The bishop went on to recall a homily he once heard from a pastor who suggested that music is the only form of art that is known for sure to be found in heaven.

As Father Ledwon put it in his homily, music gives an opportunity to share in God’s creation.

“Before the 20th century, you could not have music unless you had musicians. It had to be performed. Now our world is saturated with music. It’s almost inescapable. But you see, these notes on a page are just a blueprint. They have to be actualized,” he said. “They have to come alive. It’s like words on a printed page. The words in the Bible are just a blueprint, like musical notes. They have to be lived to become real.”

The guild originated as the Catholic Choirmasters Guild, formed by Cecilia Roy Kenney, who followed in her father’s footsteps as a church organist, along with Msgr. Paul Eberz, Msgr. Henry Kawalec and Sister Mary Grace Ryan. Kenney and Msgr. Kawalec would publish a diocesan hymnal in 1952, “Cantate Omnus,” which earned nationwide respect.

In 1960, a Junior Catholic Choirmasters Guild was formed. Then, as Vatican II brought forth changes to the Church, the guild was ready to evolve.

 “When the Second Vatican Council challenged the Church to move into the modern age, the Catholic Choirmasters Guild answered the call, changing its name to the Church Musicians’ Guild and joining the national organization of that same name,” Father Ledwon said. “This change came with a broadening of focus, moving beyond just the traditional for choir and organ, and extending an invitation to liturgical musicians of all genres to become members, a recognition that quality, rather than musical style, should be the criterion for music used at worship.”

Sister Judith Kubicki, CSSF, is a former president of the Buffalo guild. She has been involved with the organization for more than five decades, beginning simply as the one who drove her fellow Felician Sisters from Villa Maria College to meetings. She is well educated in music, in performance and instruction. She was scheduled to travel to New Orleans to attend the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions annual meeting, and speak about liturgical music.

The Anniversary Mass Choir perform as part of the Church Musicians Guild’s 75th anniversary Mass held Sept. 30 at Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca. (Photo by Michael Mroziak)

She also intended to deliver a message to the FDLC, as well as the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, to increase support of church musicians.

“The understanding of too many people is that music is a nice extra. It is not a nice extra,” she said. “It is integral. It is irreplaceable because nothing else can do what music does in the liturgy.”

The solution, as Sister Judith sees it? More mentorship, more education and, yes, more financial support.

 “We need to support young musicians in educating them so that they become excellent musicians. But nobody’s going to want to work at this if they know they can’t get a job in the Church that they can live on. Part of it is financial. We have to put our money where our mouth is,” she said. “We need to support them. We need to mentor them. We need to show them that they are important to the life of the church, and that some prayer is meant to transform an assembly into the Body of Christ. What is more important than that?”

Click here to listen to WNY Catholic Audio’s coverage of this story

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