Sunday New Normal

For the second week in a row, I met my parents at church for 8:30 Mass. It’s great to have them back out and about after working through all the health stuff of the summer.  I’m hoping that I will be able to meet them for church most weeks through the fall, until the cold and snow make it too difficult for them to get out that early in the morning.

Today was the first time this season that Genesis Choir sang. This was the choir with which my daughter sang during her last two years at home.  Last June, I wrote about the impending end of her singing and ringing handbells at church near home; today was the first time I heard the choir without her in the front row.

The sound is different. The vast majority of the choir is 30+ years older than my daughter and her younger voice helped to smooth out some of the vibrato of the older soprano voices.  Besides her voice, I know they miss her energy, caring, and helpfulness.

For prelude, the choir sang “Servant Song” by Richard Gillard. This hymn is inextricably tied in my mind to the last weekend my daughters and I particiated in liturgies at the parish we lost in 2005.  That June Saturday, we provided music for the diocesan ordination at the cathedral in Syracuse. My older daughter cantored, my younger daughter rang handbells, and I helped with the conducting duties.  On Sunday, the choirs combined to sing for the first Mass of one of the newly ordained priests, who was from our parish.  “Servant Song” was one of the requested pieces that weekend and holds a lot of personal meaning for me.

The circumstances that led to our leaving our parish home were very painful, so difficult that it still hurts nine years later. For the first several years in our new parish, I would cry every time I heard “Servant Song.”  I couldn’t sing it at all. Eventually, I got to the point where I could make it through singing it part way, although the line, “I will weep when you are weeping” would always make me choke up.  In the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to get through the whole hymn dry-eyed.

This morning, with an empty seat in the front row of sopranos where my daughter used to sit, I admit that I did brush away a few tears.

Rest in peace, Millie

It’s past bedtime, but I have just been sending out some emails about the death of a friend’s mom.

The friendship goes back over thirty years and is rooted in the parish I belonged to from 1983-2005. My friend was the music and liturgy director and I volunteered extensively in those ministries. She is godmother to my younger daughter.

Her mom has been struggling for years with Alzheimer’s, a disease that is unfortunately all too familiar. My grandfather, two aunts, and an uncle all had Alzheimer’s, so I know some of the possibilities and complications of the disease, although one of the features of it is its unpredictability. Still, my friend and her family knew that her mom’s death was imminent and were able to gather for these last few days to be with her and each other, which I’m sure gave them strength and comfort.

The funeral will be at the church where my friend currently serves and where my daughter has been singing in the choir. My friend will be playing the organ and directing the music for the funeral. My daughter will be singing with the combined choirs and I will be writing the prayer petitions that end the liturgy of the word.

When someone has been suffering for so long, it is hard to say that you are sorry to hear of their death. While I am sorry for the family to lose a wife, mother, grandmother, and aunt, in truth, they have been losing her little by little for years. What is comforting is that, in our tradition, we believe that she is in now experiencing eternal peace and joy in heaven, freed from all suffering and illness.

Millie, as the choir will sing at the funeral, “may the angels lead you into paradise.”

Corpus Christi

This morning, we observed the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still often called by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Because for many years we ministered at a church dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament who also observed it as its feast day, we are especially attached to its observance. I even composed a Corpus Christi anthem for the Blessed Sacrament choir to sing, based on part of the reading from the gospel of John (Jn 6:51-58) that we heard proclaimed today. It has also traditionally been the last Mass at which the adult choir sings before taking a break for the summer, so it was the last opportunity for Trinity to sing with Genesis Choir at our current parish, as I alluded to in this post.

Trinity was able to sing, although not without complications. For the last week and a half, she has been battling what seems to be a systemic allergic reaction. We can’t figure out what is causing it. So far, there have been a visit to the walk-in clinic at our family practice, overlapping doses of three different antihistamines, oatmeal baths, special lotions, blood tests, and a visit to the allergist, but no real relief or answers yet. Despite not getting much sleep last night and not feeling well, Trinity made it to church to sing and say good-bye to her choir friends, many of whom are a generation or two older than she.

I sat near the choir area and kept an eye on Trinity, in case she became so uncomfortable that she needed me to bring her home. By the grace of God, she made it through and is now changed into more comfortable clothes and resting. There will be a follow-up appointment with the allergist later in the week; we are hoping for answers and a plan to bring lasting relief.

End of an era

This June marks the end of an era for me. Since my older daughter began singing in the youth choir at church when she was in third grade, one or both of my daughters have been singing in choir, cantoring, and/or ringing handbells nearly all the years that they were living at home. With my younger daughter scheduled to move away to begin graduate school in August and no likelihood of her or her sister living in our hometown again, after this month, I will not hear them singing or ringing on a regular basis.

Of course, I have heard them sing in other places: elementary, middle, and high schools; Gettysburg College; Cornell University; even Carnegie Hall in NYC. I’ve heard my older daughter sing at her now home parish in Honolulu. My younger daughter is hoping to find a chorus in which to sing while she is in grad school, which is only about a 90 minute drive, definitely close enough for concert attendance.

I’ve actually extended the era of hearing them sing in our church longer than anticipated, with my younger daughter living at home for two years while doing volunteer work and preparing for grad school, affording her the opportunity to sing for the first time with an adult, rather than youth or teen, church choir, and to join the new handbell choir at our current parish. She and her sister had both rung in the parish where they were baptized, which is now closed; she had missed ringing, so the new bell choir was a tremendous blessing for her personally, as well as for the parish.

While I don’t foresee a circumstance where our daughters would live here, it is possible that at some future point – after we are retired, perhaps – we might live near one or both of them and again get to hear their voices raised in song at church on a regular basis. I don’t know what the future holds, but I will try to cherish these last few times, hearing my daughter ring and sing, helping us all to lift our hearts and minds to God in prayer.

 

The rest of the Triduum

In the Catholic liturgical year, there is no starker contrast than the juxtaposition of the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday night.

Good Friday is the only day all year when Mass is not celebrated. The commemoration service is traditionally held mid-afternoon and begins with the clergy processing in and lying prostrate before the altar. It continues with readings, including the reading of the passion narrative from the gospel of John and then moves on to the veneration of the cross, in which all present process to a plain wooden cross and venerate it in some way, according to local tradition. At Holy Family, we bowed before the cross; other parishes genuflect or touch or kiss the cross. Then, after praying the Lord’s Prayer, communion is distributed from hosts that were consecrated on Holy Thursday night. The church is unadorned – no flowers, only the simplest altar cloth, which is removed after the service concludes, and the empty tabernacle with its door left open.

When we arrive at Holy Family for Easter Vigil, although the church is only dimly lighted, it is bursting with color – long bolts of cloth, each a different hue, radiate from a central point high in the sanctuary out over the congregation – flowers banked in several locations, not only the traditional white Easter lilies but also red and blue hydrangeas, orange lilies, pink azaleas, and light green mums – the altar draped in white, which is the color of Easter. The tabernacle, still empty with its door open, is the only visual reminder of the first two days of the Triduum.

We begin with the service of light, where a new fire is kindled and used to light a new Easter candle, whose light is spread to the candles that the congregation holds. After the Easter Proclamation is sung, we extinguish our candles and proceed with an extended liturgy of the word, including the singing of the Gloria and Alleluia, which are not used in Lent. Speaking to my daughter’s and my heart, the homilist chose to concentrate on Mary Magdelene’s place as the first witness of the resurrection, in a time and culture when women were not allowed to testify in court, chosen by God to go and tell, which is the apostolic mission.  In place of the creed, after new holy water is blessed, we renew our baptismal promises and are blessed with the new water. We continue on with the liturgy of the Eucharist and, after communion, the tabernacle is finally filled and the door closed.

One of the most powerful elements in these liturgies is the music, which is not only enhanced by the participation of our choir, cantors, and instrumentalists but also by the participation of the people. Because none of the liturgies of the Triduum are obligatory, the people who choose to participate are those who are steadfast in their commitment to celebrating as a community. On Good Friday, I was especially moved by people joining in with the choir singing the spiritual “Were You There?” and the Taize prayer “Jesus, Remember Me” during the long procession for veneration of the cross.  The Easter Vigil brings some music that is only used at that Mass. I was especially moved by the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) and a sung form of the Exodus reading about the horses and chariots of Egypt being cast into the sea to protect the fleeing Israelites, by Rory Cooney. The elements of light and water re-appear in the much of the music, with more songs about the Resurrection appearing after the Easter gospel is read. The music was extra festive because a trumpeter joined the choir, organ, and congregation for many of the songs.

I wish a blessed Easter to all Christians, continued blessings of Passover to all Jewish people, and peace, love, and light to all people!

Palm Sunday

This morning at Palm Sunday Mass, my daughter was singing in the adult choir which was serving along with the children’s choir in the music ministry, while I was sitting in the congregation, positioned so that I could look up and see her and the choirs.

Because the parish had purchased the music library from the now-merged parish that my daughters and I had attended when they were growing up, many of the pieces were familiar. In our old parish, my daughters had come up through the choirs from third grade on and had also rung handbells. I spent many hours serving on liturgy committee and assisting in the music ministry. I had accompanied my daughters’ choirs and, after orthopedic problems with my elbow interfered with my ability to play, sometimes conducted while the music director accompanied.

One of the pieces that was part of today’s prelude was a wonderful arrangement of “Jacob’s Ladder” which had become part of our original parish’s Palm Sunday tradition. I had played it for a number of years and then moved on to conducting it, so it was poignant to hear my now-adult daughter joining with the children’s choir to sing the arrangement she had first learned when she was eight. The piano accompaniment is quite challenging and I had to remind myself that I used to be able to play it.

I don’t often allow myself to miss what I used to be able to do as a musician. I also can usually keep at bay the longing for the parish that my daughters and I had called home for so many years, but that fell apart even before the last flood made the worship space itself too costly to repair and maintain.

Today was not a day that I could keep those losses walled off. It may be a difficult Holy Week.

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