Nearly 200 singers and musicians gathered on 19 September in St. Thomas’s, Riddrie for a celebration of liturgical music and the role of choirs in the liturgy of the church. The service was hosted by parish priest Canon Peter McBride and the community of St. Thomas’s, and the church was truly beautiful and welcoming.
Among the singers were the St. Mungo Singers, the East End Deanery Choir (both of which have members from many parishes throughout the Archdiocese), and members of the choirs of St. Mary’s Duntocher and Sacred Heart Cumbernauld, with cantors from local parishes. The instrumentalists were Claire O’Neill, Carissa Bovill, John Allan, and Ann Marie Berrie, as well as organists Jane McKenna and Mark O’Neill, and piper Jacqueline Riley.
The celebration began with piper Jacqueline introducing the much loved modern tune “Highland Cathedral”, followed by the massed choirs singing the words which Br. Stephen Smyth set to it – “God our Creator, hear us sing in praise”.
Canon McBride then lit the candles on the altar as the choirs sag James Quinn’s “O Light from Light”. The prayerful atmosphere set by this lovely antiphon was continued by the proclamation of Isaiah 55, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found”, sung by cantor, as the congregation knelt. This introductory part of the service finished with prayers and the singing of “You alone are holy”.
Canon McBride welcomed everyone to the celebration with a reflection on the threefold role of the choir: to encourage the congregation to join in the singing of the music of the liturgy without fear; to enrich the liturgy with harmony; to sing on their own music which is above the capabilities of the average congregation and so to lift the hearts and minds of the listeners to God.
Referring to the words of Pope Francis at the Chrism Mass in Rome about the distinction between function and unction, he offered the view that while the choir’s function was clear, its unction was to apply the healing and soothing oil of gladness. While choir members might never know the effects of their music ministry, they could be sure it was known to God.
The music which followed in the celebration took singers, musicians and congregation alike through both time and geography, as they sang Plainsong, Celtic (with Gaelic input from Frances Dunlop), Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and popular 19th and 20th century hymns, anthems and motets, from Scotland, England, Italy, Germany and Portugal.
The next section of the celebration featured input from singer, songwriter and poet Gerry Coates, who spoke about the Catholic Internet radio station HGUH which had started out as a short term project to coincide with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and was now relaunching. Any material from Scotland would be welcome. Gerry expressed his delight at the singing of the choirs and sang for them two of his own compositions.
Cav. Ronnie Convery, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Glasgow then spoke about the challenges and opportunities of the media today. He apologised if his voice sounded hoarse but he loves music and couldn’t resist the opportunity to join in the singing. He encouraged everyone to make use of local media such as local newspapers and radio stations which were always looking for news stories, and to take advantage of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They offer the capability to reach such a wide audience.
Mr. Convery quoted the example of the Archdiocesan Facebook and Twitter links which reach audiences many times the size of the Archdiocesan website. These gave the Church the means to put over the other side of news stories. In meeting the need to get the Good News out into the world, the web is the shop window and the social media the means to invite people in to look, he said. He welcomed the work of Gerry Coates and HGUH, and noted the plans to launch a pilot event-based internet radio station in November with Morning Prayers, interviews and music.
The last section of the celebration began with the singing of the Salve Regina, before Canon McBride expressed thanks to all those who had taken part in the evening, for what he described as a veritable banquet of spiritual music. He noted that there was much on the horizon, including the celebration of St. Andrew’s Day in November, the referendum on Scottish Independence in a year’s time, the Commonwealth Games in 2014. He had just come from the National Conference of Priests and Permanent Deacons, where participants had expressed how much they owed to the lay faithful. Tonight he had felt healed, strengthened and uplifted by the music, which he described as a ministry of the senses which brings people to God’s love.
A fitting end to the evening was provided by the community of St. Thomas’s with a beautiful buffet in the church hall.