Transcript of Canon Peter McBride’s short reflection on the role of liturgical choirs.
Given at the Glasgow Liturgical Choir Concert at St Thomas’s, Riddrie on Thursday 18th September 2013

To hear the audio please click on the file below:

One definition of a choir is an ensemble of singers, an organized gathering of singers. And its role, the purpose of choirs, is threefold in the worship of the Church.

In the very first place their task is to lead the congregation in praising the Lord. They do so by offering a strong united voice which encourages others to join them without fear. The second purpose of a choir is to enhance the musical life of our liturgy. This is done by harmonies and descants that truly enrich the signing of many parts of the Mass as well as familiar hymns. And the third and final role of the choir, of course, is on their own as an organized group of singers to sing music that’s a bit above any average congregation –motets and anthems that truly lifts up the minds and hearts of all who hear them as well as those who sing them. This allows us to dig into the deep treasure of our musical heritage and tradition. So the role, the function of a choir is clear.

Pope Francis, speaking to the Priests of Rome at the Chrism Mass this year 2013 spoke of the distinction in our Priestly lives between function and unction. We know what function is. We have a role to play, a task to perform. This is function. And I would say we have clearly understood already the function of church choirs. But perhaps dipping into the richness of Pope Francis’ words, we could tonight also see ourselves as people who offer unction – healing, soothing oil of gladness and comfort. So often the work of choirs is understated. So often we will never understand how we have touched and soothed individual’s lives by raising our voices in prayer and praise. And I suggest, using this image of function and unction of Pope Francis, we might apply it to ourselves. Our function is clear cut. The unction – the healing, the soothing, the comforting and the lifting up, is so often invisible – unknown to us but certainly known to God.