Singing Happy Birthday
  • I had a situation yesterday which has left me discouraged.

    It was Father's birthday - he even mentioned it in his closing announcement - and several parishioners approached me during my prelude at the organ to ask me to sing Happy Birthday. Father is trying hard to restore reverence in the Mass, and I want to help him with this. I spend many hours during the week choosing and preparing music often outside my comfort zone. I am an educated musician with a graduate degree but am also a convert with little experience with Latin and liturgy prior to my conversion about ten years ago, and honestly so far my experience as a Catholic musician has consisted almost entirely of OCP Catholic pop. In the last few months we have made a turn in the road to more traditional Catholic hymnody, which I am loving. I learn the Introit and Offertory every week from the GR and in these days of covid I am the lone musician at Mass, playing organ and piano as well as chanting the ordinaries in Latin at Father's request. I use planning suggestions from this site and Canticanova for inspiration. In other words, I work very hard with minimal reward because I love the Church and desire to give beautiful music to our Lord.

    So back to yesterday's Mass. After the final recessional hymn, I quietly played and sang Happy Birthday at the organ. I didn't ask anyone to join in, but of course they did, as a gesture of appreciation to our priest.

    I take about an hour after Sunday Mass to begin to prepare for the next weekend's Mass. As I was in prayerful consideration, Father came to the music office and very angrily told me to never do anything like that again. He repeated this several times, and I was so shocked all I could do was mumble an apology, and then he turned on his heel and left.

    I might add I'm and older woman, having retired and returned to this work several times out of the need of the parish. Father is a young, dynamic priest, a courageous homilist and well respected in our parish. I was just so mortified by his response, I'm having difficulty this morning even making it through my devotions. This may all seem trite to some, but I'm not sure how to approach this problem.

  • Based on what you have said, I think Father is over the line. It's so incredibly important to be gentle but firm, not fiery, when you think someone else's decision was not good. (It's also a good idea to pause and think before you yell at someone.) I wonder if he might have been a little embarrassed, too; perhaps he didn't want a big deal made out of his birthday. (As someone who experienced a rather big trauma on a birthday and so hasn't really celebrated my birthday in years, I can sympathize with him if that's the case.)

    As a matter of judgment, I wouldn't have played "Happy Birthday," but it sounds like you were put in an awkward spot that you didn't quite know how to deal with, which isn't your fault. So I don't blame you for playing it. Yeah, "Happy Birthday" really isn't appropriate to be played in a church building (even after Mass), but you know what? You're learning, and you're putting in your best effort. This is a bit of a harsher learning experience than you would prefer, but it's a learning experience nonetheless.

    At the end of the day, though, let's make sure no one makes it a bigger deal than it is; this shouldn't be a big deal in the end. In a couple days, have a chat with Father. Explain what happened, hear his side, and then, really, everyone should move on.
  • Heath
    Posts: 903
    Kim, very sorry to hear that.

    I was put in that position once, though I was fortunate enough to get an email well in advance with the request. I'm sure it was so difficult to make a decision with so little notice (especially since, in most cases, the one's making outlandish requests like this are often people with plenty of "sway" in the parish and you'd prefer to not make enemies with them).

    Like Tim, I'd say send an apologetic but explanatory email to Father. Let him know you were put in a trcky spot, you regret that it happened, and that it won't happen again.

    For the rest of you, it might be good to nip this thing in the bud. "Father, just in case I ever get a Happy Birthday request, can you tell me now to politely decline it with a "Father would NOT like that and he told me so, sorry." response?" :)
  • Very ham-handed response from the priest. Someone more pastoral would have approached you with the purpose of asking about it, finding out the reason why it was done, not taking such sharp personal offense at something that could only have been meant as an act of well-wishing. Very thoughtless of him.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,444
    While the priest overreacted, it might be helpful to consider why exactly you gave in to the parishioners on this one.

    They are going to try to make the music more casual, while the priest is trying to make it more formal. He is going to need to know you are backing up his agenda.

    Just food for thought! Keep up the important work you are doing!
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen hilluminar
  • Byzantines would have sung "many years", and that would have been appropriate, because it is usually intoned after liturgy for the living. Kind of a pity that us Latins have nothing similar, but it can't be helped, as far as the liturgy goes. Now in the social hall after Mass, that is another matter.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,155
    [Off at a tangent]
    There is a Latin "many years" and priests use it.
    One of our Archbishops managed to combine - his birthday, and the Cathedrals Patronal feast. Assembled Canons, and the choir, sang Ad multos annos that seemed to be acceptable. Also see
  • I'm sorry you experienced that. Remember whom you work for and who signs your paycheck. I don't know your location, but you and the pastor might reconsider the prudence of any congregational singing during the current pandemic.
  • They are going to try to make the music more casual, while the priest is trying to make it more formal. He is going to need to know you are backing up his agenda.

    This was outside the Mass: they have every right for the music to be more informal then.

    If Fr Whipper-Snapper didn't want a fuss, then he shouldn't have mentioned it. By mentioning it, he was pretty much guaranteeing that you would be put in the position you were.

    And as stated, we're in the middle of a respiratory-disease pandemic. Cop on.
  • Just to clarify, we do not "allow" congregational singing, and I did not encourage anyone to join in. One of the parishioners who approached me during my prelude whispered in my ear that she was going to lead it herself from the pew, which is the main reason I decided to sing it myself.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • So the recessional hymn you mentioned was a cantor solo, or choir only?
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 624
    It might be that most people sing happy birthday without singing the blessing. In my family we always added a blessing or a second verse that went like this:

    May the Dear Lord Bless you,
    May the Dear Lord Bless you,
    May the Dear Lord Bless (insert name)
    May the Dear Lord Bless you.

    The best thing was to humbly apologize as you did.
  • Madorganist, it's just me by myself, singing and playing organ. Alleluia, Sing To Jesus, actually.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • This was a preposterously outlandish request and complying with it was a serious lapse of judgement. Profound reverence for the Triune God is always the appropriate attitude in his house. Father was justified at being outraged at such a tasteless and non-sacred song being tacked onto the mass or even being sung in the sacred space of the church at any time. You no doubt meant well (and wouldn't have done it but at the suggestion of some ill-taught person who thought it would be cute) but this was out of place totally - so now you know. God be with you in your service to him. And be thankful that you have a priest who guards zealously the sanctity of the Lord's house.
    Thanked by 2TCJ hilluminar
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,444
    On a side note, there's a priest in a very prominent church who ends his homily every year on the Nativity of Our Lady by leading Happy Birthday to her.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 861
    Something similar happened to me at a church I worked for. The choir requested singing for the pastor's birthday. I told them 'no', but after Mass they did it anyway. I walked out on it and down to the sacristy. Father wasn't pleased about it either. I understand that there's pressure to do things of the sort (I wasn't popular over there nor was Father and conceding to the request probably would have scored points with many in the congregation). As I mentioned to them when they requested it, singing Happy Birthday would be perfectly appropriate during a reception for him in the parish hall.

    Learn from the mistake, move on, don't do it again. Better to lose respect among men than do something you shouldn't.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar

  • This was outside the Mass: they have every right for the music to be more informal then.

    The church is still a sacred space and thus profane music should not be performed or played. Furthermore, if one is playing a pipe organ, it was likely blessed and set aside for sacred use only. I know there’s an elaborate blessing of pipe organs in the Roman Ritual.

    Was this is the choir loft? If so, I’d lock the choir loft doors.
  • There seem to be some who are of the persuasion that the church is only holy during mass. This is rather like some (though not by any means all) Lutherans who believe that our Lord is only present in the sacrament during the service. The Lord's house is at all times a sanctuary for the sacred - it is always, at all times and moments the sacrosanct abode of the All Holy. The notion put forth from time to time by some here that it doesn't matter what one does or plays 'after mass' or 'when the mass is over' shows an astonishing lack of understanding that the church is always, at every moment in time, a profoundly sacred precinct - whether it is a cathedral or a tiny church out in the country, or anything in between.

    Let all mortal flesh keep silence
    And in fear and trembling stand...
  • KARU27
    Posts: 184
    Oh dear. That's very sad that it turned out this way. It sounds like you've been trying really hard to work closely with your pastor.
    In the future, you could always say, "oh, sorry, no way could I play that. Maybe you can sing it in the parking lot."
    The hard thing about being a Catholic musician, it seems to me, is that so often you are alone, with no frame of reference. I'm sure that in other parishes this would have been no big deal, if that's any consolation. It's not like you played something really awful just for your own amusement.
    I think Kathy's food for thought is a good one. The parishioners might try to push back if the music is not going in a direction that they like.
  • It's not like you played something really awful just for your own amusement.
    Exactly. Although I don't consider "Happy Birthday" appropriate for the church, it's only a tiny step away from the Polychronion, to be quite honest. I hardly think you profaned a holy place, and it sounds like the priest overreacted in an unprofessional way. But as I said, remember who signs your paycheck. It's ok to take musical requests when they're in accordance with propriety and good taste - both yours and the pastor's - but nobody else has a right to tell you how to do your job. "Where did you get your music degree?" and "Where did you go to seminary and which bishop ordained you?" can be useful rhetorical questions when people get too pushy!
    Thanked by 1Chrism
  • francis
    Posts: 10,144
    Tell them you will write a fugue on the theme, and play it on a synthesizer in the church hall after Mass... they will be elated and you will be off the hook with God, pastor and hopefully the pips. Here is the score...

    Thanked by 1Chrism
  • LarsLars
    Posts: 85
    I hope you patch things up with your priest, I envy you though, it's rare to have a priest who genuinely cares about music(in my personal experience). I've heard all sorts of horrors being played in town churches and big city cathedrals here in Europe. Happy birthday would be pretty mild, especially outside the Mass. God bless.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    You've asked for advice, so here it is. There are better things to program for a priest's birthday than Happy Birthday, especially a traditionally-minded priest's birthday, but an anger issue probably won't go away.

    It's possible that he is dealing with temporary, heady stuff that you can't know about, but it's also possible that he's just a young man, not very experienced in managing or even working with people, and has a case of fervent righteousness about liturgical things. In this I would recognize a younger me, minus the priesthood. Plus with the priesthood comes a permanent level of heady stuff that you can't know about, like for example my sins.

    If you've gotten "angered" at once, you'll probably get angered at again. The priest needs help to work through his anger management issue, and as a subordinate it will be hard for you to be the one to help him. It's not like you can complain to the priest's boss without it ruining your relationship with the priest. (Frankly, it is hard enough for musicians to complain about their bosses here: too often it is too obvious who they are, and who they are speaking about.)

    Additionally, your liturgical instincts were way off from his. This isn't something you can change overnight even if you wanted to. As much as you love what you are doing now, you are not motivated by the same things quite as he is. (For example, perhaps you are drawn to the beauty of the music, which he is promoting primarily for theological reasons.) I mention this because it will cause further conflicts in the future, if you are put in a position of making decisions without consulting him.

    All of which is to say, you need to either run everything by the priest in advance, letting him be the music director and you the musician (which seems to be the setup anyway?), or accept the probability of his wrath when he disagrees with you again. Some people don't mind wrath as much as others, but your post indicates that you are in fact bothered by it and so you should try to avoid it in the future.

    Quitting is another possibility, but if you get joy from the singing and playing, you should not let the priest ruin your fun. On the other hand, if you get more joy from setting the music, well, this doesn't sound like the job for you.
  • There are better things to program for a priest's birthday than Happy Birthday,
    I'm pretty sure program isn't the right verb to describe what was spoken of in the original post.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    I'm pretty sure program isn't the right verb to describe what was spoken of in the original post.

    Yes, but it is the right verb for the sentence.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,689
    I think dialing back the analysis would be more fruitful. It was a single incident.

    *Strongly* resist making it symbolic of Bigger Issues or something that invites peering into minds/souls or sucks more mental/spiritual energy than it merits by searching for Subtext to gnaw on.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    I was just so mortified by his response, I'm having difficulty this morning even making it through my devotions.

    In the American workforce, in 2020, this sort of thing is a big deal. If it repeats, it will become an even bigger deal.
  • I echo Liam that it's entirely possible this was a one-off instance. I'm leery to generalize here. It's also entirely possible he's going to apologize this week.

    As for having difficulty getting through devotions, well, we've all had bad experiences that stick with us for a little while and upset our equilibrium. "This, too, shall pass."

    I also echo Chrism in that there could have been something else going on and this was just the straw that broke the camel's back. I daresay we have all snapped at someone more than once, typically out of turn. It doesn't make us evil or beyond redemption.

    Rather than spending even more time on this thread, I suggest we all offer up a Hail Mary or two and make a little reparation for that moment and ask Our Lady to heal both hearts.
    Thanked by 2Liam bhcordova
  • TCJ
    Posts: 861
    I think it's rather peculiar that someone here referred to the priest as having an anger management issue because of one incident cited here on the forum. Unless one has inside information about said priest and recurring occasions of bursts of anger, it's grossly unfair to characterize him has having such a problem. The OP never mentioned any previous issues (indeed, she seemed to indicate that things were going well) with the priest (or that he has issues with others in general) so let's not send for the psychologists yet.

    As an aside, there are many different interpretations to "very angrily told". What does it mean? Yelling and screaming? Slow, deep, threatening voice? Harsh tone, but spoken? Banging on the table? Calm, even tone, but angry look? I'm not asking the OP to actually describe it, but just pointing out that we have very, very, very little to go on to be making rash assumptions about the priest.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,683
    It seems like the original poster has been working for this priest for 7-10 years... she should probably know by now whether or not it’s an anger management issue better than commenters on a forum who don’t know him at all.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    I was happy to let this thread die, but I'm not sure where anyone would think this was a 7-10 year working relationship with a young priest.

    Priests read this page, and they need to know that outbursts of anger like the one mentioned are considered completely unacceptable by today's society. There is zero tolerance for them, and in the secular world, even a single allegation of an angry outburst can lead to disciplinary action. If the outburst occurred in public, or on camera, the individual's employment could very well be cancelled.

    Yes, the Church is an ancient organization which operates by different laws, laws that might even be more fair in some respects, but we can all see where an attitude of impunity in the face of shifting societal norms has gotten us. Priests need to work on their soft skills just like everyone else in America. If priests don't take the initiative to self-learn, self-improve, solicit and listen to feedback to identify blind spots, etc., (yes, working with their spiritual directors too), then they are settling for mediocrity instead of what really and truly could have been a virtue. And the mediocre are not (as) capable of leading their flocks to virtue.
  • It's really sad. disappointing, and gross, the opprobrium that some here are casting on this priest, AS IF he had done something wrong, or was so young and inexperienced, lacking in self control, or as if he had emotional management problems bordering on the clinical. This priest was justified totally in his reaction to the cheap and disrespectful ditty that was sung in God's very sanctuary.The person who put the organist up to it was daft, untutored, and showed no respect at all for the sanctity of the church. The organist who obliged her was lacking in judgement at that moment. She, no doubt, will think better of herself and the sacred precincts from now on. As for the priest? BRAVO! Priests, especially in 'today's society' need to know that 'zeal for the Lord's house', and guardianship of it, stern when necessary, is not mean, wicked, sick, or deserving of the presumptuous disrespect and judgment shown him (and, by extension, God' house) by some here. (Would it be said of Jesus that he had emotional management problems or was young and inexperienced, or that he was unloving and had 'lost it' when he cleansed the temple? I think not.)
    Thanked by 2TCJ hilluminar
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    It takes 10-15 minutes for a perfect man to fashion a whip of cords. Which is plenty of time for an imperfect man to fetch a cup of coffee, put on a smile, and come up with the words "um, Kim, can we chat a bit about the Happy Birthday thing" before heading over to her office. Better result (she actually understands him), same zeal for the Lord's house, no posts on CMAA, no wounded employee.
    Thanked by 2a_f_hawkins CHGiffen
  • I must admit that if I were a priest I likely would have been the one that Chrism imagines just above here. Such is my nature. Still, I do not in the least judge the priest under question at all negatively. His reaction was just.

    And, anyone who may have followed other posts of mine on this subject will know that I am certainly no lock-step devotee of clericalism and its many abuses, nor of the feudal caste system on which it is built and thrives. Still, that doesn't mean that priests are wicked when they may seem to be nasty old unloving monsters, but simply don't solve a given problem the way I would. Sometimes, most especially in today's society, which is largely untutored in reverence and awe of the sacred (or much of anything else!), firmness and a stern manner are very often necessary in getting through to many people.

    Parents are quite often thought to be loveless and mean by their children when a necessary harsh discipline is called for. These same children, when they have matured, will very often be thankful for the lessons that they learnt and that their parents were firm, even strict and sometimes not very nice, and realise that they were, after all, deeply loving and caring.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,689
    Well, we don't know enough to judge that either in this particular instance. And this is just about this particular instance, which won't be helped by turning into grist for other purposes.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 842
    Equating this "older woman" (her words, not mine) employee to a child needing "harsh discipline" (your words) is precisely what I suspect this priest did, and if it's true he absolutely would need to go to anger management.

    I would add for the audience that anger management is not only an issue for priests, it can also be an issue for choir directors. Long gone are the days when a director can throw a two-pound hymnal at a tenor's head and get away with it. But at least the director's need for correction is time-sensitive, there is not much time for passions to cool. In this case, there was plenty of time, a full year before the occasion would happen again.

    We need to all admit that as the workplace has changed, so too must the religious workplace change. Of course, it would be better for us all if we admitted it quietly, dealt with our own issues quietly, embraced the change quietly and didn't go down fighting the wrong, losing battle, which will only attract scrutiny and put all of us, regardless of liturgical or denominational persuasion, at risk for receiving the sort of perfect justice that no human being, in the end, can withstand.

    Let your anger be without sin, we are told. How is making someone feel "mortified" justifiable? We should mortify ourselves, not others. And correct gently, so that the one receiving the correction feels ennobled, not belittled. We are Christians. Is playing HBD out of sincere well-wish to celebrate the birth of a priest really the same sort of "profanation" as profiteering? Blessed be the womb that bore you, we read in the Gospel. How did He respond?
    Thanked by 2Liam PaxMelodious
  • PLTT
    Posts: 133
    Thanked by 1Schönbergian
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,155
    Can anyone point us to the score for the Latin setting traditionally used at the Pontifical North American College here?
  • Even with aberrations and abuses as grievous as this, if no malice is in play (and it clearly was not here), a different approach is called for than what was displayed by this priest. Such a practice as this might be commonplace in less liturgically...knowledgeable parishes, and lashing out turns it into a personal judgement of taste rather than an affirmation and renewal of timeless liturgical practice and decorum.

    Yes, it was wrong to play the song in church, and the priest was right to disapprove. Suggesting that the manner in which he handled the situation was wrong does not diminish that in any way. Furthermore, we should be very cautious about supporting flawed or fallacious individuals or concepts merely because they are on the "correct side" - it does us no good whatsoever.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,683
    I'm not sure where anyone would think this was a 7-10 year working relationship with a young priest.

    You need to look at the original poster’s history of posts.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,756
    I think expectations can matter. We had a priest for 38 years who was pleased when the congregation sang happy birthday to him during announcements. You know, announcements that duplicate what is in the bulletin and no one really listens to in the first place. It was my predecessor who did the song before my time in music there. The next pastor objected and believed the song was inappropriate for use in a sacred space. I think he was correct.
    Thanked by 1marymezzo
  • davido
    Posts: 694
    I’ve been reading this thread and thinking. It really comes down to “community” vs “religion”: what is the purpose of this building and this gathering? To build community, or to offer the sacrifice due to a god in a temple built to the Living God, which is his house, and the gate of heaven?