Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Cecilia Schola in Birmingham, Alabama

The St. Cecilia Schola attached to St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, was privileged to be invited to sing the Benediction and final Mass at the Highest Call conference this yesterday, held at the St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We sang all the propers of the Mass in a variety of different forms: choral introit, plainsong Psalm and acclamation, English chant for offertory, and Gregorian chant for communion. In addition, we sang motets before Mass and ended with the recessional as the Marian antiphon for Lent, Ave Regina Caelorum, which the crowd sang with great gusto. Our big number following the offertory chant was Tallis’s Sancte Deus – a larger and longer piece than I think was expected but it was a smashing success.

Here is the Benediction program.

Here is the Mass program.

Many people involved at all levels commented on how the music was integrated into the Mass in a way that was unusually notable. Of course the reason was the presence of sung propers an the absence of hymns in critical places of the Mass: entrance, offertory and communion, and also the absence of a sing-songy Psalm and its replacement with plainsong. There are other features. We sang the 9-fold Kyrie, which is particularly appropriate in Lent, and the Memorial Acclamation and Amen were simple and beautiful.

The acoustic was incredible (it seemed the carpets had been removed from every square inch). The altar was set up in a Benedictine style, which was so very beautiful.

The sadness of the past was also visible. This amazing building had a glorious high altar, paid for by Birmingham Catholics at the turn of the 20th century at great sacrifice. Marble experts from Ireland came and worked for many months to make an amazing structure, from what people tell me (I can't find any pictures online). The children of the people who paid for it had to watch as the devil wreckovated the place in the late sixties and early seventies. Now they are doing their best to look forward and working their way back to a holy space -- like the Jesuits during the Counter-Reformation. It is very inspiring to see what is happening there, and even more so to have made a small contribution to it.

I’ll have more pictures, but here is one of the cathedral and one of some schola members arriving to sing.