Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Mystery of Faith, Unleashed in Song

I don't get a chance to see my friend, David Haas, all that often.  Sometimes it's at a National Pastoral Musicians' convention, and I'm running in one direction, and he's running in another.  Sometimes it's at the North American Composer Forum in St. Louis – but there too, we're working on new compositions or are committed to a schedule, and rarely have time to kick back.

But one thing David shared with me, years ago, has left an imprint on my heart.  "The sound of the assembly, singing in full voice," he said, "is the most beautiful sound in the world."

I agree with that statement.  And I'll go David one better: there is the "sound of the assembly," and then there are other versions, or strengths, of assembly sounds.  What I mean is this:  over the past few weeks, I've experienced an intentionality, a dedication, an all-or-nothing seriousness on the part of an assembled group of people.  This sound goes beyond mere acoustics, mere singing.  It is the acoustical embodiment of faith, an audible explosion of commitment.

I've been spoiled with Notre Dame congregations over the years.  Most of them come to the 11:45AM Sunday liturgy ready to sing, and they make themselves known pretty quickly – a wonderful thing to hear and behold.

But then there are the Holy Week, Easter, and Ordination assemblies.  From my own vantage point – especially right now while we're down on the floor of the Basilica – these communal sounds of faith-filled song have been nothing short of spine-tingling.  Even when I'm standing in front of the 60+ men and women of the Folk Choir, the sheer volume of the assemblies defies attempts that might be verbalized.  I hear vestiges of it when we get to the end of pieces – a volley of the "Amen" at the end of the Glory to God; the Alleluia that seemed to shoot skyward like an acoustic arrow; even the Lord's Prayer, with its quieter assertions.  There is a robustness, something coming from the marrow of everyone's lived faith life, that does, indeed, make this the most beautiful sound in the world.

And make no mistake about it: this act of singing comes from nowhere naive.  If the prayers of the Folk Choir, quietly spoken in darkness at the end of Thursday nights are any indication, there are scores of sorrows and anxieties occupying the human heart: cancers and divorces, unemployment and heartbreak, discernment and letting go.  Easter singing embraces every bit of the pain.  But it ratifies the fact that pain will not win the day.

Some of these liturgies, gratefully, are now back on iTunesU.  You can go to to listen at your leisure.  For as much as a small screen and speakers can capture what happens when hundreds and hundreds of people are singing about the deepest truths of human existence, this is a rather profound glimpse of life and liturgy, what I hope is a foretaste of a far greater assembly yet to come.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent post, Steve. I don't sing well, not often anyway, but the closest I get is when I sing with longing for that far greater assembly yet to come. -- John Nagy