By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 15, 2020
ROSWELL—A hymn written with the 13th century words of St. Francis of Assisi opened the pallium Mass, reflecting the simplicity and values of the saint.
In the pews at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, was the composer of “Pax et Bonum,” Vincent Ambrosetti. He listened as a smaller-than-usual group of musicians led the congregation and prayed with his longtime friend and Franciscan, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
“It was just very moving to hear the choir do such a beautiful job with it, and to be standing at the edge of the pew, and to be able to engage with Archbishop Hartmayer, as he was, of course, singing the refrain each time it came up very gently,” he said, speaking from his office in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Mass, celebrating the unique ritual of conferring a pallium on an archbishop, was organized by a committee of Archdiocese of Atlanta leaders experienced in pulling together large church events. The group began planning over the summer for the Oct. 7 Mass, balancing safety and seating, among other issues.
In a first, the liturgical vestment was placed on the shoulders of an archbishop in front of the Atlanta community in a local parish. Atlanta archbishops in the past traveled to the Vatican to receive the blessed white woolen garment from the pope.
The pallium is a symbol of both authority and unity. First, it represents a metropolitan archbishop’s authority over an ecclesiastical province and second, his unity with the pope. The ecclesiastical province of Atlanta includes Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The planning meetings were conducted over video calls, except for a trip to the parish to measure seating.
The event is nothing like the ordination of a bishop or installation of the archbishop, making it fairly simple, said Deacon Dennis Dorner, the archdiocesan chancellor and committee leader.
Nothing was cut from the ceremony, other than the number of invitations, he said. The event program asked the congregation not to sing, leaving it to the cantor and the choir. Public health guidelines state that singing can spread the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 7,000 people in Georgia.
The gift of song
Jane Jackson, the music director at St. Peter Chanel Church, said the musical selections highlighted with “a splash of color how the Catholic Church is universal.” The choir sang hymns in English and Spanish and chanted prayers. She collaborated with Father Paul Berny, a senior archdiocesan priest, in selecting the songs.
A similar Mass several months ago would draw more than 60 singers with a full accompaniment of musicians, said Jackson. Less than 10 singers with six musicians sat in the choir loft for Mass, taking off their masks when they sang.
In the parish’s choir room, a sign reading “Pray the words” hangs. That is what Jackson hoped the musicians and the congregation did.
“It’s all about service and the prayer experience. This is our gift to the archbishop. We hope this is something he enjoys,” she said.
Ambrosetti’s piece was one of two original pieces written for the archbishop. Paul Tate wrote the responsorial Psalm, “The Almighty has Done Great Things and Holy is His Name.”
Ambrosetti and the archbishop have known each other since the early 1970s at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore. Ambrosetti graduated in 1974 and was a young musician starting out and the archbishop, then a school counselor, brought him back to campus to perform. Moved by his values lived by his Franciscan teachers, Ambrosetti remains a secular Franciscan, the third branch of the religious order.
The song “Pax et Bonum”(Peace and All Good) is 25 verses of St. Francis’ writings, with the chorus built on a melody of plainchant. Ambrosetti wrote it to be performed with a harp, French horn, a wooden flute, giving a sense of antiquity. It was first performed in 2011 when Archbishop Hartmayer was ordained the bishop of Savannah.
Ushers presented CDs of the song, complete with detailed composer notes, to guests at the Mass along with the liturgy programs.
About his friend, Ambrosetti said his effectiveness as a minister is because he never aspired to be anything more than a pastor.
“He has never asked for this. He has never looked for it. He is not someone who wanted to ascend the hierarchical ladder and, in fact, would have been happy to continue to be a humble Franciscan, which actually makes him even more effective,” he said.
Ambrosetti said he wrote the music inspired by the charism of St. Francis of Assisi, especially his love of simplicity and “all of God’s creation gives glory to God.”