“The most joyful service that I have been at in a long time”. This comment by a member of the congregation says it all about the 2010 Mass of our Celtic Roots, a celebration which takes place annually in St. Aloysius, Garnethill at the time of the Celtic Connections Festival. It was a Mass which went far to counter the recent negativity and criticism expressed about our modern liturgy.
In addition to a capacity congregation which included visitors from Nova Scotia, there were singers from the St. Mungo Singers, the choirs of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s, Shettleston, St. Joseph’s, Tollcross, the new Irish Gaelic choir and the visiting choir from St. Mungo’s, Alloa. Instrumentalists included members of Ashling Gheal (John Allan and Clare O’Neill) Carissa Bovill, Eddie Foley, Monica Dyer, Pauline McNicol, Anne Marie Berrie and Marie Claire Kelly, as well as St. Mungo Singers organist Jane McKenna, and piper Andy Latham. The City Council was represented by Bailie Cathie McMaster.
Additional colour was brought to the celebration by the presence of some of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre in their robes. The final touch was added by the beautiful vestments worn by the concelebrants, – principal celebrant Fr. John Campbell, with Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick, Mgr. Chris McElroy, Frs. Peter Griffiths and Tom McGuinness of the host parish, Fr. Michael Savage, and Fr. Armstrong- which were the product of the Sacred Threads Embroidery Group.
In his opening welcome, Fr. Campbell suggested another keynote word – exuberance -when he referred to the readings of the Mass which call us to be prophetic, and invited all present to see the gathering as a prophetic act of witness to the presence of God with us, which we should celebrate with exuberance as well as joy.
The music of the Mass was a tapestry of contrasting colours and textures which wove together the traditional and the modern. The restrained fluid tones of the plainsong Kyrie provided an effective contrast to the joyful praise of the Dunkeld Gloria. Three different hymns based on the St. Patrick’s Breastplate – an Irish Gaelic version to the tune of “Be thou my Vision”, a modern English version with words by Br. Stephen Smyth and music by David Harris, and finally Canon Fennelly’s Celtic Invocation to music by Noel Donnelly – gave the congregation the opportunity to experience quite different but equally inspiring interpretations of an ancient prayer.
Before the Mass started, the combined choirs sang Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze”, a classic choral piece. The psalm for the Mass was a modern Gaelic setting of Psalm 17 by Pauline McDonald, sung unaccompanied by Frances Dunlop. The Celtic theme was continued in the hymn for the Intercessions, Lord of Life by Catherine Walker to the traditional tune “Vermio”, the singing of Sean O’ Riada’s “To Christ the Seed” at the Offertory, and the Recessional hymn “I cannot Tell” to the haunting tune of the “Londonderry Air”.
Further textures were added with the plainsong Credo 3, and the Sanctus and Memorial from the Schubert German Mass, while the Post Communion anthem was the beautiful “Ecce Panis”. More modern music was also represented by the Bellahouston Agnus Dei, the Fitzpatrick settings of the Eucharistic Prayer – strongly led by the fine singing of Fr. Campbell – and Our Father, and Noel Donnelly’s communion hymn “One Body, One Faith”. The spoken words of the Liturgy also added enrichment to the tapestry, with the first Reading in Irish, and with the Intercessions in Irish, Gaelic and English.
Mgr. Chris McElroy gave the homily. He began by referring to the surprise hit CD of the Christmas season “Alma Mater”. It included a speech by Pope Benedict XVI, in which the Pope spoke of faith as love which can be expressed in poetry and music: where faith is alive, great music is not a thing of the past. Mgr. McElroy then spoke of the gathering at this Mass as a celebration of our faith which is linked to our culture and indeed formed it. We don’t just look forward but back to our roots and to our connections.
He pointed out that the themes of roots and connections were clear in the readings of the Mass: Jesus returning to his roots but being rejected by his own people who did not make the connection about Jesus; Paul speaking to people who were making the wrong connections; Jeremiah answering the call of God deep within his being/roots and having the courage to make new connections. Mgr McElroy invited the congregation to recognise and accept Jesus, to be the kind of people St. Paul wanted his church to be, and to have the strength of the Old Testament prophets.
Returning to the CD he had mentioned at the beginning, he commented that it was not coincidental that the CD also contained work by a British agnostic, an Italian Catholic and a Moroccan Muslim. The greatness and beauty of music can inspire us to build a world of solidarity, love and peace, for music is the universal language of beauty.
At the end of the Mass, Bailie McMaster described the City as honoured by the Celtic Connections Festival and the Celtic Roots Mass. Both were a fulfilment of the vibrancy of life being renewed at this time in Glasgow. Returning to the themes of roots and connections, she welcomed Celts from all over the world to the Festival which reminded us all of our roots. She had recently taken part in a meeting to consider the celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the Cluny reforms, and the town of Pisa had expressed a wish to be connected with Glasgow.
In the previous September, she had represented the City in Glasgow’s twinned city, Rostov-on-Don, where she had unveiled a Celtic Cross in their Friendship Park to mark over 22 years of connections between the cities. She felt the Celtic Cross had been a particularly appropriate symbol as, in its interlinking designs, it mirrored the aspirations of all for new life and eternal happiness.
The service ended with thanks by Mgr. Gerry to all who had participated and who had helped to make the Mass so effective. However, as Fr. Campbell pointed out, he had missed out the one person who had done so much over the last 40 years for music in the liturgy in the Archdiocese of Glasgow – himself! As the congregation left the church to share in the hospitality offered by the community of St. Aloysius, there was a palpable sense of having been enriched and inspired by the riches of both past and present.