This year the Feast of St Cecilia fell on the Feast of Christ the King, but in some ways Cecilia’s art got more notice than usual in Glasgow because that Sunday was marked by a Festal Mass in St Michael’s, to which members of the Arts Community in Glasgow were invited. There was a very healthy attendance of local people as well as musicians and embroiderers, artists and actors, film-makers and photographers, costume-makers and stage managers!

The vestments worn at the Mass were the work of the famed ‘Sacred Threads,’ designed by Netta Ewing. The Mass itself took place against the fitting backdrop of visual artwork on display at St Michael’s Church. The exhibition “Motillism: the Word on the Wall” by digital artist, Kenny McMillan, included the world’s largest and thinnest Bible: a giant digital print of Michelangelo’s fresco of the Creation of Adam made up from the entire text of the King James Bible and measuring 3m x 4.5m. This was especially pertinent as, at the same time, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI was meeting with artists at the Sistine Chapel in Rome, under the original fresco.

The work was accompanied by various smaller pieces and also a display of children’s artwork relating to the “Portrait of a Priest” art challenge which was offered to primary schools by AGAP to celebrate the Year for Priests 2009-10; exhibits by St Joseph’s, Milngavie and St Brigid’s, Toryglen, were on display. A further display of artwork by members of the beginners’ art class “Art for the Terrified” (run by volunteer Margaret Connelly for AGAP) was featured in the hall after Mass.

Carissa Bovill and Claire O'Neil leading the instrumentalists

Carissa Bovill and Claire O'Neill leading the instrumentalists

Through the Archdiocesan Music Committee about 150 singers participated: from the St Mungo Singers, St Maria Goretti’s, St Andrew’s Cathedral, St Joseph’s, Tollcross and St Paul’s and there were a number of parish cantors and musicians from parishes which included St Joachim’s, St Anne’s, Holy Cross, and St Simon’s – to mention just a few! The singers arrived about 2.15 so that they could have a short rehearsal and get the feel of the church’s acoustics. When the rehearsal was over, Scott Glasgow, the Piper, welcomed the congregation as they gathered. Clare O’Neill and Carissa Bovil played Harp and Violin duets before Mass. Before the Entry Song the choirs sang ‘For the beauty of the earth’ in the delightful arrangement by Robert Shaw.

Mass began with ‘Be thou my vision’ which enabled everyone to participate and yet gave the choirs both a descant in two verses and full harmony in others. In an age enriched by so much hymnody, ‘Be thou my vision’ – which began to be widely used from about 1970 – has a favoured place in our repertoires. Translated from an 8th century text, in the style of a druidic incantation, and with a splendid traditional tune it seemed thematically so appropriate for the feast with its focus on Christ, the ‘High King of Heaven’.

The plainsong Kyrie which followed – from the Missa de Angelis – contrasted most effectively with the Fitzpatrick Gloria from the Dunkeld Mass which was given full voice by choirs and congregation. The readings and intercessions were read by AGAP volunteers who had taken part in past AGAP productions. Paul Mellon, an actor, read the first reading and drama student, Maryfrances Jennow, read the second.

Psalm 23 was to a setting prepared for Fr Andrew McKenzie’s ordination some years ago and was designed with optional 2 parts in the verses and 4 parts in the response, so on this occasion we dispensed with the ministry of the Psalmist and the choirs sang it together: ‘He is the King of glory! Let him enter in!’

some of the congregation at the Arts Mass

some of the congregation at the Arts Mass

Archbishop’s Mario Conti’s homily brought out the reverence for the arts in the Church’s life and tradition, and their importance in helping us to experience and express a sense of ‘the holy.’ As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the arts can help communicate that ‘sense of the sacred’ which many, in what is thought to be a secular age, struggle to find.

Plainsong Credo 1 is musically thought to be better music, but Credo 3 is much better know and was sung well. Those old enough to have the Gregorian tradition as part of their liturgical repertoire might have taken particular pleasure in ‘et unam, sancta, catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam’ as the Credo neared its conclusion.

The intercessions were read by people from across the length and breadth of the Archdiocese: by freelance filmmaker and photographer, Michael Dawson; stage manager, Patrick Brown; musician, Mary Campbell; teacher and actress, Brenda Scott; and Catholic environmentalist, David Doherty. The music for the Response to the intercessions was from the Iona Community repertoire.

At the preparation of the gifts, Clare and Carissa on Violin and Harp played a Celtic Air and then introduced the Celtic Invocation – another translation from the Irish to music by Noel Donnelly. Verse 1 was sung in Scots Gaelic by Frances Dunlop and then the choirs took up the 4 verses with sensitivity and prayerfulness. The gifts of bread and wine were carried up by Ian and Ginelia McLean, who have taken part in numerous AGAP productions with Ginelia making costumes for various plays. Unfortunately there was a slight hiccup when the Offering should have been taken up and it was mistakenly omitted – but people gave on the way out anyway.

The Plainsong Preface Dialogue and Preface led us into the liturgical adaptation of Schubert’s Sanctus – led by the choirs with sustained sonority! The choice of this setting gave us the benefit of Schubert’s music but also enabled the congregation to participate as was appropriate.

The Communion Rite began musically with the Bellahouston Agnus Dei, continued with the Taize ‘Eat this bread’ and concluded – for the congregation – with the Lourdes Benedictus with Noel’s verses. The choirs enjoyed singing ‘Ecce Panis Angelorum’ as a thanksgiving. The theme of the celebration of Christ the King was re-iterated with the recessional: ‘Hail redeemer, King Divine.’

After the Mass, Joe Reilly and Betty McGuckin, (Chair and Vice-Chair of St Michael’s Pastoral Council) who had assisted with the distribution of Communion as Eucharistic Ministers, now provided hospitality in the parish hall after Mass, on behalf of the Parish community. This gave the various participants the chance to meet and chat, and brought the celebration to a happy conclusion.