By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
The emergence of the Eucharistic Congress as the place where all ages and all cultures in the archdiocese can worship together has also called upon the breadth of talent among local musicians to rise to the occasion.
Creating a spirit of worship when thousands pack into a cavernous hall on folding chairs relies ultimately on the Holy Spirit, but the musicians’ preparation is considerable and their hearts as well as their talents are involved.
“The ability to reach beyond one’s cognitive brain and into the heart is one of the great powers of music,” said Kevin Culver, Cathedral of Christ the King choirmaster.
“I really do believe in the power of music to quicken the faith. … The sights and sounds help carry people to a different level in what is going on in the celebration.”
Music is one place, for example, where different languages and cultures can intersect and can even be transcended.
It’s exciting to Culver that the congress, beyond all of its other dimensions, has become something of a Catholic family reunion in North Georgia.
“It is about the only time for all of us to gather together. … This large family of the archdiocese coming together for the feast of Corpus Christi is a wonderful gesture.”
Coincidentally, over the last few years, some parish music directors, including Culver, launched their dream of inviting singers from many parishes to sing as a combined choir once or twice a year at special concerts. The group, known as the Archdiocesan Festival Choir, is now a few years old. The steering committee is Wayne Baughman, Linda Morgan, John Brandt, Quentin Van Meter, Sue Haggerty and Culver.
Some of the exquisite music for the closing Mass of the Eucharistic Congress, which was sung by the Archdiocesan Festival Choir, came from works performed at their May concert, beginning with a haunting Marian chant, “Totus Tuus,” composed for Pope John Paul II by Henryk Gorecki.
Strengthened by a brass quartet and the playing of Cathedral organist Dr. Timothy Wissler, about 65 members of the Festival Choir joined their voices in the Eucharistic Congress Mass responses and music, including the “Ave Verum Corpus” of Mozart, “Ride On King Jesus” arranged by Robert Shaw and Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas.”
The music texts were chosen in light of the Eucharist and also their sing-ability and familiarity, Culver said, with the brass helping to add a festival spark and a robust sound in such a large space. They also drew on works the Festival Choir had spent five months rehearsing for its concert.
“In all instances of this music you try to find things that are simple and sing-able enough or that the congregation and assembly knows so they can have a part as much as they can,” Culver said.
He believes in strengthening the common music repertoire of the rapidly growing, diverse archdiocese, drawing from the treasury of Catholic music, the traditional hymns that well up in many hearts, and the hymns that are deeply meaningful to one group, but can speak to all.
The “longtime Catholic hymn ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name’ … is an important thing for all Catholics to know because when they come together, everyone can sing (it),” he said. “‘Pescador de Hombres’ (titled ‘Lord, You Have Come’ in English) is sort of an equivalent piece in the Hispanic culture. … I think it has a very important place in a liturgy like this. Another good example is the chanted Salve Regina. It is in a lot of people’s deep consciousness. Chant has the ability to span centuries and cultures. We need to hold onto those sorts of things as well as learn new things.”
The choir members, who represent over 35 parishes, “are creating a living musical body that has a personality,” which, like the Eucharistic Congress, is based “on this archdiocesan communication and dialogue,” Culver observed.
Musician Mary Welch Rogers coordinated the music for the June 16 Healing Mass at the congress and for the opening procession and eucharistic exposition and Benediction service the morning of June 17.
Rogers, who has been involved in the Eucharistic Renewal in the archdiocese since the 1990s, said it has deeply affected her. She composed the song “He Is Truly Present,” which has become an anthem for the renewal.
“When Archbishop (John F.) Donoghue announced our first Eucharistic Congress, the implementation of 24-hour eucharistic adoration at Christ the King Cathedral, and the parish Eucharistic Renewal program, my life did change,” she said. “When I became aware that even some Catholics do not believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I knew how vital the Eucharistic Congress and the Eucharistic Renewal are to our entire church. I have become more and more aware of the incredible gift we have in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. I have witnessed God at work.”
In preparing the music this year, Rogers said she tried to select music that will “bring people to an awareness of the Spirit’s presence. This involves prayer and working at the piano to be sure each song flows from one to another.” She sought the help of Cathedral adult faith coordinator Keri Allen and archdiocesan musician Elyse O’Kane.
The musicians and singers who formed this year’s group included some who have taken part before and some who were new this year, she said. “Many hours of thought, prayer and rehearsal go into the preparation. It is a spiritual journey for me, and I am so blessed to work with a wonderful group of singers and musicians. I can feel the Lord at work when we lead the music and when we are preparing together.”
She and the other musicians are gratified when that preparation and prayer help the thousands of people who come to the Eucharistic Congress to enter into a place of worship and lose their worldly concerns for a time in common focus upon God.
“When I look out over that vast sea of faces singing and praising God together, it is pure joy,” Rogers said. “When the music leads people to really worship, I can feel the Spirit moving and that is such a gift.”