The first of Argyll & the Isles music weekends for 2012 took place at St. Mary’s Kinnoull on 4-6 May 2012. Over 50 musicians , both familiar faces and new participants, from across the Diocese were joined by the Music Weekend team plus Mgr. James MacNeil, Fr. Roddy Johnstone, Fr. David Connor and Deacon Stanislaw.
As always, the programme was a packed mix of workshops, rehearsals, talks, liturgies, reflection and social events, as well as some therapeutic shopping.
The musicians revised existing repertoire and worked hard to learn new material including:- The Rose-Conlon MacKillop Mass, and their hymn “This is our Faith” which was written to support the introduction of the new Scottish RE programme in the Diocese; the Dufford hymn “Sing to the Mountains”; the 4 part version of the very different Matheson hymn “O Love that wilt not let me go”; Wesley’s “Lead me, Lord”; the Smyth/ Harris version of St Patrick’s Breastplate; and a psalm tone version of the Benedictus for Morning Prayer (which demands close attention to the presentation of the words.
The talks are always one of the highlights of the weekends and, this session, were given by Fr. Roddy and Mgr. James. Fr. Roddy spoke on the Liturgy of the Hours and its place in the church today, particularly for the laity.
The Jewish faith had a tradition of praying as a community, and the Church had continued this tradition, particularly in the monasteries. At the beginning of his talk, Fr. Roddy commented that he had recently been struck by the fact that the Doxology which is used in the Liturgy of the Hours at the end of each psalm is in effect a short profession of our faith, just as in Jewish prayer each they say the “Shema”. In a way too, the Benedictus at the end of Morning Prayer is a link to the Gloria, It reminds us of our faith that God has always reached out to us throughout salvation history.
He had prepared a Morning Prayer for the Dead, to give participants the opportunity on the Saturday morning to pray for deceased members of the Diocesan choir (especially John Bell from Skye who had died in January) and their families.
In the Night Prayer which followed, Mgr. James took up one idea presented by Fr. Roddy in relation to Ps.50 – that the Hebrew word for “sprinkling” or washing from sin has the wider concept of “unsinning” – a thought we should take comfort in.
At Mass on Saturday, Deacon Stanislaw developed his homily around a prayer he had seen engraved in a church in Germany called the Complaint of Christ. He described his sense of shock at the accusations levelled in the prayer by Christ against his followers. Yet the Gospel which had just been read contained a similar complaint directed at the apostle Philip – how would Philip have reacted – how would we? Christ was pointing out Philip’s and our inability to see the human face of God. We all have fixed ideas of how the Father should be, and fail to see God in Jesus and in each other. Our mission is to enter the Way which is Christ and to experience the liberating truth for our lives.
In his reflection later on Saturday, Mgr. James spoke of the place of the Pastoral Music Weekends in the life of the Diocese. For what was a small and geographically scattered Diocese, it was remarkable that a substantial group of church musicians had come together twice a year for 15 years now. The importance of the Weekends and their success lay in their function – serving the liturgy – and their intense focus on what should be happening in parish liturgy.
He was struck by the harmony of the harmony of the talks and the homilies over the weekend so far. This is what happens when we let God take over – when we let God be God. Recalling words of Blessed John Henry Newman, he cautioned against reducing God to our limited human vision or thinking we can understand Him. Reaching the point where we can let God be God is difficult. We seem impelled to make negative judgements, about ourselves as well as about others. He urged us to take these negative judgements, this guilt, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” had the right advice – “Don’t try to teach God what to do – just be – that is our gift to God, and the resulting joy and freedom will enable others to live. One of the new Dismissals for Mass reflects this idea, inviting us to glorify the Lord by our lives. Linking this thought to the work of the musicians in their parishes, he invited us to have confidence that somehow our work can help other to pray better and to come closer to God.
The Mass on the final day with the community of St. Mary’s is always special- experiencing how what has been learned over the weekend works to serve the liturgy. This session, it was made particularly memorable by principal celebrant Fr. Roddy’s practical demonstration (calling on his experience as a forester) in his homily on the Gospel of what it means to be grafted onto Christ, the True Vine.
He opened his homily with the challenge “How are good are you at being fruitful?”, and while the congregation worried about their response, he produced a sapling in a pot and proceed to graft a bud from an ash twig onto it. He made the point that when something is grafted onto a root stock, everything is changed. We are joined by baptism to God and cannot be separated. To be successful, the things grafted must be closely related. Christ therefore is making the point in the Gospel that we are already part of God and our souls rest in him. Taking up Mgr. James’ thought from the previous day, he reminded us that we are to be the glory of God through the way we live – a challenging thought indeed to end the weekend!