We began our Sunday rehearsal as usual this morning, which meant I had a few minutes to run through my prelude and postlude on the organ before we began rehearsing our small adult choir. I flipped on the organ (yes, it’s electronic—no judgement!), and went through my pieces…everything was fine. When everyone was ready, I stepped over to the piano and we started running through Psalm 63. Business as usual, but not for long. Moments later, we hear an overwhelming “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM” ransacking the sound system.
Usually such things don’t perturb our rehearsal, but we stopped for this one. “We’re having problems with the sound system again…it’s probably Father’s mic,” our director explained as he went to turn the sound system off. We all shook our heads, and were about to pick up with verse three, when I—who was sitting closest to the organ—began to smell wafts of acrid burning plastic. “There’s something burning!” I burst out. And, if your next question is, “Did your organ catch on fire?” the answer would be “Yes, yes it did.”
We sprang into action, turned off the organ and pulled the plug. There was some warmth, but (thankfully), no tongues of fire. There may have been smoldering, but no smoke. What did we do next? We took a deep breath and we picked up with verse three.
What do you do when ritual is interrupted? Certainly, things happen all the time during the liturgy which, normally, we would not wish to happen: there’s a medical emergency, an acolyte falls over (locked knees), Mrs. So-and-So forgot to turn her cell phone off AGAIN. Or, in our case, an instrument bites the dust in no small way.
When ritual is interrupted—our first instinct might be to stop and stare, to glare, or perhaps to help (sometimes unhelpfully) to resolve the situation. In any circumstance where the unexpected happens, safety first. For us, we turned the organ off and unplugged it—we checked for smoke and, seeing none, moved on to prepare the music for Mass. Other situations might call for an announcement for assistance, or a congregation member taking charge of that dizzy acolyte and helping him to the sacristy, or helping our friend turn off her cell phone once and for all. With safety concerns addressed, and persons (or objects) cared for and attended to, the ritual can and, I might say, should continue. Clearly, a certain amount of flexibility and agility are needed, but an interrupted ritual will still move on precisely because it is a ritual, not a computer program where one glitch will send the whole thing south. Human participation and creativity keep our liturgies alive, even when our organs are dead.
In the meantime, I’ll look forward to a repair person arriving to care for our instrument…and I’ll be saying a lot of prayers of intercession to St. Cecilia!