SoCS: contrasts

I attended vigil Mass this afternoon at a church in the town across the river. Everything seemed to be arranged to afford the most contrast. The pews finished in a blond or clear stain over a cream floor contrasted with a dark-stained wood ceiling with multicolored stenciling. The white marble, ornately carved altarpiece surrounding the tabernacle and the white walls contrasted with the deep blues and reds of the stained glass windows.

The silence after the end of the prelude contrasted with the loud organ and miked songleader and the congregation singing the opening hymn. (I’ll spare you the treatise on the techniques of leading congregational singing as an organist and the  – let’s call it – discrepancies from the ideal that I experienced.) Even the contrast of the ancient instrument playing music written within my lifetime that was composed to be played by guitars and other instruments.

The biggest aural contrast was between the voice of the pastor who was presiding at the liturgy and the answering voice of the congregation.  The priest is from Nigeria and speaks with a very distinct accent. I think that his first language was a tribal one and that he later learned English in school. The answering voices were speaking in American-accented English. Although the parish was founded by Polish immigrants – the inscriptions on the Stations of the Cross and the stained glass windows are all in Polish – the current congregation is largely generations removed from “the old country.” A recent parish merger brought in descendants of immigrants from other Eastern European countries and the entire congregation today was European-American. I find that listening to Father Charles praying and preaching makes me focus in a new way, exactly because I need to be extra-attentive because of his unfamiliar pronunciations and cadence.

There was one other thing that being at Mass today brought to me, not as a contrast, but as a gift. The Stations of the Cross, which are often paintings or bas relief, in this church are actually wall-mounted sculptures. From my seat in the pew along the wall, the sculpture of one of the men helping Jesus from the first fall was looking directly at me. It was comforting to see an expression of concern and compassion watching over me as I prayed with the rest of the assembly. An extra gift and grace for today.

This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. The prompt this week was most/least. Come join us! Find out how here:
socs-badgeBadge by: Doobster @ Mindful Digressions

And might as well add Linda’s Just Jot It January link: You can join that, too!


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.


We just returned from Holy Thursday Mass. Fittingly, the focus of the homily was remembrance. The 4,000+ years of remembrance of the Passover, the almost 2,000 years remembrance of the celebration of the Eucharist, and the remembrance of our call to serve one another, symbolized by the washing of the feet. The twelve whose feet were washed were a cross-section of the community, diverse in race, ethnicity, and gender, with an age range of at least six decades.

There were other personal remembrances for me, especially of my former parish, which was the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. This made the Holy Thursday liturgy especially significant for us and it was always my favorite liturgy of the year. I was remembering our music ministry at Blessed Sacrament, which was brought to mind by the fact that some of the musicians this evening, including my daughter, were music ministers at Blessed Sacrament back in the day.

I was remembering the sculpture of Jesus, seated as though at a table, holding the bread and the cup, which dominated the wall behind the altar. It was such a welcoming presence; during times in my life when I felt unwelcomed by some in the Church, it was a comfort to meditate on it.

At communion, I was remembering that on Holy Thursday, instead of the usual hosts, we consecrated tiny individual unleavened breads that had been baked by one of our long-time parishioners.

The Holy Thursday liturgy ends with the Blessed Sacrament being placed on an altar of reposition, instead of in the main tabernacle of the church. Tonight, the church had placed a glass tabernacle in a simply but beautifully decorated space along the side wall of the church. I was holding in remembrance my favorite tabernacle, which was the one we used at Blessed Sacrament after our major renovation. A liturgical artist made a natural linen-colored square-based tent for us, decorated with piping that matched the red, blue, and green color accents painted in the tower of the church. On Holy Thursday, we carried the tabernacle in procession before the Blessed Sacrament and set it on the altar of repose. The Blessed Sacrament was placed inside, incensed, and then the tent flap was closed. I loved the symbolism, because the word tabernacle comes from the word tent and reminds us of the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed before the Temple was built in Jerusalem. Like the Passover remembrance, the tent-tabernacle reminds me of the profoundly Jewish roots of Christians and the love and respect to which we are all called.

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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