If one were to read about the Church Music Association of America’s annual Colloquium, recently completed in Indianapolis, one might be tempted to believe that it’s “just” another music conference, made up of singers, organists, and music wannabes. That impression would be about as wrong about something as one could be -- about anything.
This writer recently completed his third Colloquium as Master of Ceremonies. I can tell you it is not “just” about music. That point was hammered home by Dr. William Mahrt, President of the CMAA on the first night. Music and the Liturgy -- the formal worship of the Church -- are two sides of the same coin as far as the organization is concerned. Perhaps Dr. Mahrt said it correctly when he said (as has been quoted in places elsewhere) the point is not “singing at Mass, but singing the Mass.”
Toward that end, breakout sessions, classes and seminars are planned so that church musicians can learn about the component parts of the Mass, the propers and common, their melodies and component parts, and the great patrimony of liturgical music that has been collected by the Church over its history. But all that would mean nothing if it weren’t for the daily celebration of Mass, not only for Colloquium attendees, but for the entire community. For example, many people from Indianapolis, and from St. John’s Church, in particular, came to one or several Masses. They came away astounded at the beauty, reverence and attention to detail musically and liturgically.
Faculty member Charles Cole worked daily to present the celebrations of the liturgy, giving readers of this blog a taste of what occurred. But it was only a taste, and a small one at that. While he captured some of the pageantry and spectacle the liturgy, properly celebrated, can evoke, one had to be there to appreciate it fully.
The CMAA Colloquium is for many a retreat in all the senses of the word one can list. It is a religious experience of the first order. Many who come for the first time are taken by the decorum of the musicians, the prayerful atmosphere in the church, or at daily Lauds and Compline -- some of which were done in a room in the hotel. The operative word in CMAA is “Church” and specifically the “Catholic Church.” These are men and women who live their faith and get a spiritual recharge attending this event.
One cannot but be impressed at the clergy and seminarians who attend each year. This year, however, was for me a proof positive that the tide is shifting and younger clergy and seminarians understand the objective role beauty plays in translating the Sacred Mysteries to the faithful.
In the nightly treks to the local restaurants and watering holes (we are Catholic after all), conversation was around the need for showing the “other-worldliness” of the Mass to the faithful in order to get them to appreciate the great gift they have.This meant giving the Mass with its trappings: great vestments, dignified ceremonies and proper decorum. Drip-dry chasu-albs were not part of the discussion. If you think this meant giving the Mass only in externals with no inner faith, there were private masses on the high altar or side altars on any given day. These clergy -- and the seminarians that served their masses -- showed a depth of faith that was nothing if not inspiring.
The CMAA celebrated its 24th Colloquium and, once again, offered to participants and passers-by a chance to experience the wealth and depth of music and liturgy in a prayerful and dignified way. It was great to be a Catholic July 1-6. I can’t wait until next year.