This has been a rich excursion by way of experiences: Liturgies on the Feast of the Epiphany, concerts every night, an Interfaith Vespers Service, and, in the span of ten days, three different sacred music workshops, each in different dioceses.
Today was our second one, and it was hosted by San Pedro Catholic Church in North Port, part of the Diocese of Venice. How we came by this church was no accident, because one of our great violinists, Stephany Fournier, claims this as her home parish.
So when I started planning our visit with the Director of Music, Nathan Boock, we threw around ideas about what was most needed and what we could bring to the parish and diocese. And we settled on the idea of a morning workshop in sacred song.
At first, I was a little hesitant about the notion of a workshop on a weekday... seriously, Friday? But it was clear to me that we were in a landscape made up of retirees, or people that were only employed part time here in Florida. My fears were put to rest when more than fifty people showed up from all parts of the diocese, choristers, instrumentalists, and directors alike. And it was a tremendous morning of song, commentary, and insights into the craft of creating sacred music.
We dug in deep, asking our attendees to think about what we've experienced through the vernacular liturgy over the past 50 years. What works? What makes a good mass setting? What can we expect of our assemblies? How are texts and tunes woven together? What motivates young people in their faith? These, and a host of other questions, flowed from our morning together, as we opened up score after score and spoke of what we encountered as we sang each song.
After a thorough consideration of two mass settings – the Mass for Our Lady and the Mass of Charity and Love, we moved into some of the seasonal repertoire of the Folk Choir. And when we got to Easter, we opened up the anthem "Jesus Lives" by my old friend and mentor, Father Chrysogonus Waddell.
Now, granted, I had an unfair advantage – the amazing vocal and instrumental abilities of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. And they pulled out all the stops on this hymn, one of the great favorites of the choir since it was published a few years ago, shortly after Chrysogonus died.
But I don't think I was prepared for the intensity of emotion that followed the final "Alleluia!" of the fourth verse. People attending the session were openly weeping, and after the final chord was sounded, the room remained hushed, speechless. It is the kind of reaction a choir director dreams of – that sacred quiet that no one dares to interrupt. And we all experienced it that morning.
In some ways, this tour has been a tremendous effort for me, a constant chalice of both being poured into and poured out again. The emotions, the stories received, the tears of both appreciation and the quiet apprehensions as we approached each place for the first time, not knowing what we would encounter – all of this has left a mark on me.
But if a mark has been left, it is the Sign of the Cross, and it is dug deep into my heart.
And gladly do I wear it.
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