Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth; break into song; sing praise.[[In-content Ad]]
With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98)
Singing at Christmas Midnight Mass is the highlight of my year as a church musician.
The triumphant anthems of praise with soaring organ accompaniment make me joyous and fill me with faith. I especially anticipated this year’s Christmas Eve, the day my life odometer flips over to begin my second half-century, and envisioned Ed, our director of music, coaxing glorious sounds from our century-plus-old pipe organ, our choir harmonizing on grand octavos in four-part aural bliss. Our congregation will be awed and inspired by our musical skill, I imagined, and this joyous outpouring of song would make all the months of practice worthwhile.
And then, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, my cellphone rang and my grandiose musical dreams ended abruptly. Ed tentatively asked, “Chris, would you and the choir sing all this weekend’s Masses a cappella? I’m in the hospital, my chest hurts and my arm tingles, and the doctors are sending me for more tests.”
After wishing him well, I quickly adjusted the list of hymns and the next evening set off to church for the first Sunday of Advent’s Masses with a silent pipe organ.
As Ed was undergoing emergency triple bypass surgery, our choir prayed and sang simple songs and the congregation sang along in solidarity. I breathed a sigh of relief. Our director would need time to heal, I knew, and the search for a substitute organist during this busy liturgical season might require numerous phone calls. Maybe we would have to endure one more weekend of Mass sans instruments; perhaps the local music conservatory might have a student available…
Our pastor approached the choir and congratulated our last-minute show of musical solidarity. As I began to outline my plans to find someone to accompany us, Father interrupted me.
“We don’t need anyone until Ed comes back after Christmas. This sounded fine. You can do the Masses on your own,” he said assuredly.
I was speechless (yes, it can happen). “Father, a cappella? Even for Christmas?” I managed to stutter. Advent was one thing, but Christmas?! What about the ambitious anthems and the great sound of the organ as we sang?!
“A cappella is fine,” he repeated and walked back into the sacristy.
I gasped and felt as if God had thrown me into the deep end of the pool without a Styrofoam bubble strapped to my back. Was our priest’s declaration of faith misguided, or could we really pull together to make a joyous noise? (The emphasis was on the joyous; I wasn’t worried about the noise part!) It looked as if we would have to try.
As Advent progressed and we worshipped weekend after weekend with no instrumental accompaniment, the choir pulled together to inspire and uplift the congregation. Though the great organ was silent, they sang with us. The people sang!!
Together we hit most of the right musical notes, but definitely all the right spiritual ones. I remembered once again why I sing in church: to praise the Lord and make a joyful noise. After all, the angels and shepherds sang hymns of praise unaccompanied at Christ’s birth, and not just because no one could find a long enough extension cord for the keyboard. Their love for the Lord shined through, and so will ours.
This Christmas Eve, our choir united in praise, regardless of a few wrong notes. The Mass was glorious, the people were enriched, and the choir resounded in praise. It looks like my 50th Christmas was joyful after all.