The Sanctuary at St Mary’s
My name is Gordon Thomson and I am the organist at St Mary’s of the Assumption Proto-Cathedral. This is a
personal reflection on the Marian Vespers service which took place on the 15th August 2011, on putting it
together and looking back at it.
In planning our first Marian Vespers, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, my aim was to show some of
Mary’s role in the life of Christ and the Church using a combination of readings and music.
As St Mary’s has no choir at this time and part of what I wanted to achieve was in music I needed assistance.
During the practice sessions for the Papal Mass last year, I had a number of conversations with people who had
enjoyed that experience and hoped that other events would occur that they could take part in. As part of the
planning for this I sent out notices, emails and adverts for anyone wishing to take part. This resulted in a
combined choir consisting of singers from St Andrew’s, Christ the King and others.
The service was used to bring the Forty Hours adoration to a close. As it was not a mass there was no
communion, however the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar during the service.
As a prelude, the Schubert Ave Maria was sung by Maria Madden
during which time representatives of the Legion of Mary placed their
statue of Mary on the low altar. The opening prayers were said by the celebrant Monsignor Peter
Smith, who was assisted by Deacon Michael O’Donnell.
Mary’s story begins at Advent and the Marian Antiphon is Alma
Redemptoris Mater. The version used was by Samuel Webbe which
was sung in parts accompanied on the organ. I found this version
under the organ at St Mary’s. Its condition suggested it had been
there for many years and I immediately felt that I wanted to give it
a new lease of life at St Mary’s. When I play it I cannot help but wonder
about which of my predecessors last played it and how it would have sounded then.
The first reading was Luke 1:26-45 read by Sister Gina Cardosi.
This was the beginning of Mary’s story as the angel Gabriel told her of the role she had
been chosen to play. Mary then went to visit her sister, Elizabeth, who used words now,
even when paraphrased, very familiar: “Of all women you are the most blessed, and
blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
The choir then sang, in parts, those words in the Hail Mary as written by Noel Donnelly.
Initially accompanied on the piano, the last verse was sung unaccompanied. During this
hymn the candles were lit at the Legion of Mary statue.
The second reading, Luke 1:45-56, is an immediate continuation from the first and was read by May Moffat, the
deputy president of the St Mary’s Legion of Mary. The Magnificat (a name which comes from the first word of
the Latin version of the text) is Mary’s veneration of God and shows her to be a woman of great faith. These are
beautiful words and always worth singing. The version chosen to be sung was by James Chepponis and was
sung as a duet by myself and Maria Quinn with me playing the piano and Stephanie Dorning playing the flute.
Written in a responsorial style the choir and
congregation joined in the refrain “Proclaim the greatness of God; rejoice in God, my saviour”, the first two
lines of the prayer.
The third reading, read by Marian Gillen, was Luke 2:1-7; the birth of Jesus, as foretold to Mary by the angel
Gabriel in the first reading. To accompany this reading I sung a solo version of Away in a Manger which had been
arranged to a traditional Celtic tune by Edwin T. Childs.
The fourth reading was Luke 2:21-40. Read by Rosemary Young this covered the naming of Jesus and the
presentation in the temple. As before, Mary was fulfilling the role asked of her in naming her son Jesus as told
to her by the angel Gabriel in the first reading. The next hymn was Hail Queen of Heaven with the choir
accompanied by the piano and flute. (John Lingard / H.F. Hemy)
The fifth reading was John 19:25-27, read by Deacon Michael Donnelly. In the second verse of Hail Queen of
Heaven we sing “… remind thy Son that he has paid the price of our iniquity…” and this reading shows the
stark reality of this. The choir then sang the Easter antiphon Regina Caeli, in parts, accompanied on the piano
by Robbie Cakebread as arranged by Samuel Webbe. This takes Mary’s story forward another step as it says “…
For He whom you did merit to bear… has risen as He said…”.
Harriet Keating read the sixth reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1:12-14. This shows that Mary was
continuing to play a role in their lives. Margaret Mary Galbraith led the psalm of the day, number 44,
written by Noel Donnelly, accompanied on the piano by Robbie.
Monsignor Peter Smith opened his homily in an unusual way by singing the first few lines of it; I would have
loved to have heard the entire homily that way but he didn’t agree! He reflected on Mary’s role in the life of
Christ and the strength of her faith in dealing with the events she lived through.
The seventh, and last, reading was Revelation 12:1-18. Read by Jane Marley this is the last reference to Mary in
the Bible. With its strong imagery it does leave you with something to think about. To accompany this reading
the traditional plainsong Salve Regina was sung unaccompanied, to great effect.
To conclude the service Michael Donnelly read the intercessions with the congregation singing the response
“God our Father, hear our prayer: your kingdom come.” in parts, with the last prayer of the service appropriately
being the Our Father. I chose not to sing the Our Father as I felt that the occasion needed it to be said rather than
sung. After closing prayers from Monsignor Smith the congregation joined in a joyous rendition of Immaculate Mary
accompanied on the organ.
After the service there was a barbecue which was an enjoyable social event, a chance to socialise and relax with
good food, music and company.
When planning this service I wanted to demonstrate that a good effect could be achieved using a small number
of resources. We had the organ, piano and flute; we sang in Latin and English, parts and unison, accompanied
and unaccompanied. Feedback, on the night and since, has been very positive and respondents felt the service
to be a great success both in terms of liturgy and music. I think we achieved our objective.
The response was so good we are planning another event next year. As I stated at the start, this is a personal reflection
and I would like to extend my thanks to the people who made it actually happen; the readers, the choir and Monsignor Smith.
I would especially like to thank Maria Madden and Robbie Cakebread for their ongoing support.
Organist, St Mary’s of the Assumption