Argyll & the Isles church musicians gathered again at Kinnoull on 10 May to work, pray and enjoy each other’s company. Almost 50 musicians from across the Diocese joined Fr. Michael Hutson to refresh and expand their repertoire, and to prepare for the celebration on 9th June of the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St. Columba on Iona and the ordination on 3 July of Deacon Tony Woods to the priesthood.
The music this weekend included the Columba- themed pieces “Sail the Soul” (by Liam Lawton) and “From Erin’s Shore” (The Iona Community), Paul Inwood’s Psalm 128(127), Gerry Fitzpatrick’s new setting of the Baptismal Creed, and Gerald Carr’s “The Lord’s my Shepherd”, as well as a new Gaelic setting of Psalm 15 by Pauline McDonald.
As well as music rehearsals, the musicians put what they had sung into practice at the celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer and Mass each day, experiencing how music enhances the liturgy. In addition to the rehearsals and liturgies, the participants also enjoyed reflections from Fr. Roddy Johnston and Mgr. James MacNeill.
Fr. Roddy continued his series of reflections on the Psalms. His subject this time was Psalm 22, which tied in with one of the new pieces the group had been learning. This psalm is one on which so much could be said. It was about the relationship between God and each of us. It is closely linked with King David. It has reminders for us of each of the sacraments. When taken with the psalms on either side of it in the Psalter – psalms 21 and 23- it presents us with a process of coming to God. We need the cry of despair to God in Psalm 21 in order to give space for God, to move to hope and trust, reflected in the subsequent psalms.
Mgr. Jamie’s first reflection was on the first reading of the Mass of Saturday – on the meaning of “experiencing the baptism of John”. John’s baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. The baptism of the Trinity also includes this but is much more – it means dying and rising to new life. We are worn out by our sins and discouraged by our inadequacies and so we seek the baptism of John but our self-centredness holds onto our failures. The baptism of the Trinity involves total giving to God and others in the name of Jesus; we and our sins become unimportant and we are able to let go of self.
His second reflection was on the liturgy in this Year of Faith. His starting point was the beautiful description of a non-Catholic of her experience of Mass as an interested “outsider”. She was struck by the sense of active participation by the congregation in the liturgy, and the feeling that there was “something happening” in the proclamation of the Word and in the celebration of the Eucharist. What was this something?
Referring back to the Eucharistic Prayer used at Mass that day and its reference to “your Son present in our midst”, he invited us to recognise the real presence of Christ at Mass in three instances – in the congregation gathered there, in the proclamation of the Word and in the Eucharist itself. His challenge to us was – do we take this seriously? If we do, it will have an effect on us and on our community. If we celebrate the liturgy well, it will lead to living the Mass. If we are more conscious and aware, then there will be something more than human in our Mass celebration. We all have the indwelling Spirit in us as a result of Baptism– it was time for us to start digging and let the Spirit work.
The weekend ended with the celebration of Mass with the parish community at St. Mary’s, when all that had been learned was put in context as well as practice. The parish Mass is always a most fulfilling end to the Music weekend- and it was enhanced by the homily given by Fr. Roddy.
In it he asked “Why do we come here? Because our hearts are seeking God. We need to be able to grasp Him. For this reason, Easter needs the Ascension because by it something is in a sense changed in the Trinity. God is made visible for us.”
Turning to the Gospel reading and its prayer for unity, he pointed out the wonderful part of it – for God to be in us as part of this unity. Taking this thought further, he reflected on an experience of a garden in the North West of Scotland where apple trees have been planted among Western Red Cedars. The apple trees grow very tall as if trying to emulate the cedars but in doing so, they are unable to bear fruit. They are not being what God planned them to be. And so for us, perhaps the most beautiful part of our faith is that God’s plan of salvation needs us to be us – to be what God asks us to be.
After this fitting end to an enjoyable and uplifting experience, there was time for tea and nibbles before the musicians were off to catch trains and boats and planes – until the next time.