The Bellahouston Papal Mass was, from the comments of all involved, a wonderful spiritual and liturgical experience – and that was the result of a lot of hard work by a huge number of people throughout the dioceses of Scotland!
The Preparations :Work began on the music of the Liturgy in early May 2010, when the National Music Advisory Board met in Perth with the joint Directors of Music for the Bellahouston Mass (Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick and Fr. Michael Hutson) to discuss the Mass and make suggestions for music to be included. The Bishops’ Conferences of Scotland, and England & Wales had already commissioned James MacMillan to write a new Mass (the Blessed John Newman Mass), and Mgr. Gerry to compose a psalm and Gospel Acclamation.
Timescales for finalisation of the music were tight, as formal approval for the liturgies of the Papal Visit would require to be given by the Vatican. While this was awaited, work went ahead on identifying and agreeing musical resources – singers, organists and instrumentalists. Here, too, numbers etc. could not be concluded until it was known what the physical arrangements would be at Bellahouston. However, with the holiday season looming and most choirs finishing rehearsals for the summer break, a provisional list of music for the Mass was drawn up and an invitation circulated round dioceses asking for indications of numbers of singers wishing to take part.
When the clearance for the proposals came through, the only requested change was for the responses at the Preface and the Our Father to be sung in Latin, reflecting the fact that the Eucharistic Prayer would also be in Latin. A schedule of rehearsals at choir, deanery and diocesan levels was already being set up in each diocese, taking into account its own resources and needs. Rehearsals then went ahead the length and breadth of the country, on the mainland and the islands. Singers came from Diocesan and parish choirs in every Diocese. We even had some singers joining us from Hexham & Newcastle Diocese.
Because of the number of singers involved (around 700!), only one full rehearsal of the massed choir was held before the day, in Motherwell Cathedral on the Saturday before the Mass. On the day, it was quite humbling for those of us coming from just a few miles away, to see cars and buses full of singers who had travelled for hours for the rehearsal, and to appreciate the commitment involved. The Hexham & Newcastle contingent got a special cheer of welcome!
Motherwell Diocese did us proud, ensuring that we had clear access to the Cathedral, with the co-operation of the District Council, and providing a mountain of sandwiches, cakes, tea and coffee (as someone joked “Blessed are the piece-makers!”).
We had experienced a certain amount of trepidation before the rehearsal, understandably, as we had all been working away in our own patches, with our own organists. Now we were hearing for the first time how the Music Directors wanted the music done and we were singing with the brass bands for some pieces and instrumentalists for others, but the rehearsal went wonderfully well. The Cathedral has a great acoustic, and the disparate choirs melded beautifully together. Our only concern now was, perhaps, that the rehearsal had been too good!
The Music:In addition to the Newman Mass and the Psalm and Gospel Acclamation, there were a further 25 major pieces of music chosen for the Mass, including music for the procession of priests to the altar, the procession of the Pope around Bellahouston and the Entrance and Final processions. The intention was to ensure as much participation by the congregation as possible while giving a distinctively Scottish/Celtic flavour to the liturgy and making full use of the musical resources available.
In addition to the 700 singers, we had three organists: John Pitcathley from Motherwell Diocese, Roger Williams from Aberdeen Diocese, and John Bell from Argyll & Isles Diocese; Croy brass and Shotts silver bands conducted by Des McLean from Motherwell Diocese; a group of instrumentalists conducted by Fr. Simon Hughes from St. Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese, and a group of young Gaelic singers from Barra under their conductor Pauline MacDonald. The cantor was Laura Bohan from Galloway Diocese. The conductors were Mgr. Gerry, Dr. Noel Donnelly and Dr. Elaine Moohan from Glasgow Archdiocese, and David Harris from Dunkeld Diocese.
The Mass was to be that of the Feast of St. Ninian, and appropriately one of the gathering hymns was “Ninian of Galloway” with music by Mgr. Frank Duffy. The Celtic theme was reflected in “The Prayer of Columba” (set by Catherine Walker) and “To Christ the Seed” by Sean O’Riada, the Magnificat to the tune of Amazing Grace, “Be Thou my Vision” and Noel Donnelly’s Celtic Invocation. Two pieces from the Iona Community’s repertoire were also included: the response to the Intercessions “God our Father, hear our prayer” and the beautiful blessing “God to enfold you”.
There were the well-known hymns “How Lovely on the mountains”, “Hail Redeemer”, “When Christ our Lord to Andrew cried” (in honour of Scotland’s patron saint), “City of God”, “All People that on Earth”, “Soul of my Saviour” and James Quinn’s “Where True Love is Dwelling” to the tune “Adoro Te Devote”. In recognition of the forthcoming canonisation of Mother Mary MacKillop, there was a hymn written by Peter Rose and Anne Conlon “Lord, I give my life to you”.
Harmonies and descants for the choirs added depth and colour to the hymns and in addition there were included a number of classic choral motets which would be familiar to the majority of singers: Locus Iste, Ave Verum, Ecce Panis.
We felt that the power of prayer indeed worked when Thursday 16th September dawned dry and even quite sunny, in view of the weather in the days leading up to it. Choir members and instrumentalists had to be in place and ready to sing by 11.30 am. It was yet another indication of the commitment of the singers that most were there long before the stated time. The furthest travelled had either stayed overnight in Glasgow or had left home in the early hours of the morning to ensure they were there in plenty of time. Everyone was wearing some tartan for the occasion.
On the Day:
As the singers and musicians settled into place in the marquee allocated to them and the sound checks were carried out, Bellahouston Park began to fill up with pilgrims with flags, scarves, t-shirts, picnics and seats. After initial warm-up rehearsals, the singers and musicians had a break to get something to eat and find the “facilities”.
Then the rehearsals with the congregation began, interspersed with videos and musical contributions from a wide variety of groups and individuals, including the Syro-Malabar choir, the children from Our Lady of the Missions Primary (who seemed not the least bit fazed to be singing in front of such a huge crowd), Michelle McManus and Susan Boyle and the young Gaelic singers from Barra.
The atmosphere by now was truly festive and it was stunning to look out from the choir marquee and see the crowds of people clearly enjoying being present. Yet from the moment that the Procession of the clergy to the Sanctuary for the Mass began, led by the pipe bands, there was a sense of focus as people prepared to welcome His Holiness and take part in the Liturgy.
The hymns for the procession were chosen to assist this focussing and drawing together. As the Popemobile was due to proceed round the congregational area, the sense of celebration was heightened by the use of the Amazing Grace Magnificat, introduced on the pipes, and the glorious Vaughan Williams setting of All People that on Earth Do Dwell. Finally the Entrance Procession itself was accompanied by the singing of Grace to You and Peace which led immediately into the much-loved “Be Thou My Vision”.
After Archbishop Conti welcomed the Pope, the liturgy began with the plainchant Kyrie from the Missa De Angelis before the choir began the first part of the Newman Mass, the Gloria – the first public performance of the Mass and it sounded beautiful!
At the Gospel Acclamation, the opening lines of the verses were sung in Gaelic by the young Barra choir. They later sang another beautiful Gaelic hymn, Do Lamh a Chriosda, at Communion , giving a distinctive additional tone and colour to the Liturgy.
The singing of the Gospel by Deacon David Connor of Argyll & the Isles Diocese deserves special mention. The weather, though dry, was decidedly breezy and, as David moved to the Lectern, the pages of the Lectionary were blow about by the wind and it took some time to find the place again. However David dealt with the challenge calmly and sang the Gospel clearly and well.
The Mass continued smoothly through the Preparation of the Gifts to the sung Eucharistic Prayer. The choir led the singing of the new Sanctus, Acclamation and Lamb of God. At the Communion, there was a mix of new and more familiar music. Despite the large numbers, the logistics of distributing communion were well handled. All too soon (it seemed), it was the end of the Mass and Pope Benedict was giving the final blessing. As he left, the choir and congregation joined joyfully in singing the Christopher Idle version of the Te Deum “God, We Praise you”. Strathclyde Police Pipe Band then played as the Mass concluded and the clergy processed from the altar.
That wasn’t quite the end for those present. It would take some time to get everyone out to their buses or trains and the sense of celebration was maintained by the musicians and singers. John Pitcathley brought back memories of Bellahouston 1982, playing many of the songs that we had sung then for Pope John Paul II as he left, including “Will ye no’ come back again”.
Though it took quite some time for most people to be able to leave the park, there was no sense of frustration. Instead people laughed and sang and took photographs of their big day. As the Parks officials later commented, the park itself was left in immaculate condition – a tribute to all who had participated in the Papal Visit.