On a recent visit to St. Eugene’s Cathedral, a music teacher was taking a group of young people for a quick lesson before the Sunday Liturgy. Normally, such practices are straightforward and uneventful, but upon a closer glance there was something peculiar about this particular rehearsal. There were no words, there was sound, but the notes were not the same. There were gestures, coupled with intense focus and concentration.
Following a few words with the music teacher, I was told that learning to sing involves so much that is often unheard. It requires breathing exercises, learning to focus not only on your own voice but to listen attentively to the voice beside you. There’s a fixed idea of what the end result should sound like and little by little, you tease the sound from the gut. Through laborious and challenging hours of practice, eventually you will hear it. The sound will appear, it will capture you and something truly beautiful will emerge. Those who started with such little sounds, eventually become a choir, a harmony that can be breathtaking. When we hear it, we know it’s something divine!
The Former Superior of the Carmelite Retreat Centre at Termonbacca, Fr Gerry Fitzpatrick once said that there were two important days in your life. The first was the day you were born, the second was the day you discovered what you are born for! Put it another way, we were born to sing praise to God! We were born to have that unity between us, God’s creation and the Blessed Trinity. It is God therefore, who like the music teacher, knows what the perfect song of praise sounds like and slowly, but with determination, gently leads the choir in singing a most beautiful harmony.
The image of the choir, the angels singing is something we are not too unfamiliar with as Catholics. In the book of Revelation, the angels are described by Saint John as singing a perfect chant of Holy, Holy, Holy, but we shouldn’t simply reduce this act of perfect praise to singing alone, it is so much more. It is the day we are born for! The day is now, the moment that we come to praise God, not only in sincerity and love, but in complete trust of his eternal word of love, revealed in Christ and offered up on the cross. That act of praise is the most beautiful hymn we will ever hear.
It may at at times be strained, sound awkward or even impossible to fully reach, but the music teacher, in this case the Holy Spirit, knows what perfect praise is and will often throughout the joys and sorrows of life lead, albeit very gently, in allowing us to sing and praise in all wonder and beauty.
Fr Patrick Lagan is a Curate at Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry