Monday, January 13, 2014

The Cathedra, old and new

It's not a typo; I use the word cathedra deliberately... the chair of the bishop, in this case the cathedra of Bishop Robert Lynch, the episcopal leader of the diocese of St. Petersburg. For the last three days of our trip, we spent our time working closely with the people of Tampa and St. Pete.

Bishop Lynch has been a long-time friend, a steadfast supporter of the mission of Notre Dame, and a fabulous advocate of the Alliance for Catholic Education. He's also an outspoken cheerleader for a certain person's setting of the Lord's Prayer, a humbling thing for me to know. My wife and I have been hosted by him at his home, and to say that I think the world of this man would, indeed, be an understatement.

But we weren't making a visit to St. Pete merely to visit the bishop. We were working closely with Chris Berke, the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Jude's Cathedral. A long time before, we had decided upon three different activities: a concert of sacred music on Friday night, a very long and in-depth workshop of liturgical music on Saturday morning, and a chance to sing in the cathedral for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, for their Vigil Mass.

The last time I was in St. Jude's was almost a decade ago, and I remember the unforgiving cruciform pattern of the cathedral – two whole sections of the church could remain unseen by the others. I had been told by my liturgical friends to be prepared for a shock: the cathedral had been completely, massively redone. And they wondered what I thought.

My jaw just about dropped: here was an enormous edifice, built upon the foundations of the first, a House of God that was airy and full of light, an enormous dome seemingly suspended in mid-air, upheld by the gold-encrusted insignia of the four evangelists. The barrel vaulted ceiling made for stunningly live acoustics; sound and color seemed to cascade around the place. This was not the cathedral I visited years ago!

The good rector, Fr. Joe Waters, gladly explained to me many of the stories connected with the reconstruction of this grand place, including blowing out the sides of the old cathedral so that it could be expanded in such a way for the assembly to behold, in plain view, all who had assembled for worship. (And by doing this, they also created one of the largest open-air pavilions for prayer, at least for a short time!)

It was an immense space. I am glad to say that, when our Friday night Concert of Sacred Music began, it was just about full! And I am also humbled to report that I've never heard an assembly sing the "Lord's Prayer" as enthusiastically as I've heard in the Cathedral of St. Jude. It had been rumored that the entire diocese knows this setting by heart – those rumors are true.

And it was an overwhelming experience, hearing that kind of participation. The kind of shaking up of the soul only a composer can begin to comprehend.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Cathedral of Saint Jude, St. Petersburg, Florida

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