By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 3, 2022
WOODSTOCK—On a Sunday evening in late February, about 50 singers from parishes in north and central Georgia arrived at St. Michael the Archangel Church to begin choir rehearsal for the Eucharistic Congress.
Choir members sat according to their ranges—soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Nila Alexander, choir director for the Woodstock parish, prepared the singers for rehearsal with a vocal warm up.
The first song for the evening rehearsal was “Sacred Silence,” which will be presented during the recessional of the Opening Mass at the Eucharistic Congress. The refrain of the song is, “Sacred silence, holy ocean, gentle water, washing over me; help me listen, Holy Spirit. Come and speak to me.”
“A lot of the music that we’re using leans toward a celebration of the life-giving body of Christ,” said Dónal Noonan, the Eucharistic Congress choir coordinator. It will be “music that people can pray through.”
The choir will sing during the 25th Eucharistic Congress, set for June 17-18 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. The theme is, “Come to Me,” inspired by Matthew 11:28.
The choir of 107 members is set to sing on Friday, June 17, at the opening Mass and healing service, and on Saturday, June 18, at the closing Mass.
One of God’s greatest gifts is the gift of song, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on its website.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 112).
Music ministry has “greatly enhanced” the faith of Philip Barreca, the director of music at St. Andrew Church in Roswell for more than eight years. He is assisting Noonan for the Eucharistic Congress choir.
“It gives me another method of praying to God,” said Barreca.
Noonan selected music that many Catholics would be somewhat familiar with and that represents the various cultures of the Atlanta Archdiocese. This included “A Festival Gathering,” arranged by local musician Tony Alonso. The selections include songs popular in various cultural communities.
Noonan has been the music director at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta for 10 years. He is also executive director of the Atlanta Homeward Choir, which brings together people from various beliefs and backgrounds who have battled homelessness.
“We wanted to make sure that we called people who were going to be attending the congress to full, active and conscious participation,” said Noonan.
Heyinn Rho, 26, has found a renewed love for the Eucharist since the coronavirus pandemic. She heard about the Eucharistic Congress Choir at her parish, St. Monica Church in Duluth.
Unable to sing in her parish choir due to work conflicts, she enjoys singing in the Eucharistic Congress choir as an alto.
Everyone in the choir is coming together to make God’s love more pronounced, said Rho.
“I feel like this music celebration will add to the joyful proclamation,” she said.
Kevin Fry, 55, and Mark Valentine, 74, are parishioners and choir members at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Lilburn. They are also members of the Eucharistic Congress choir, singing bass and tenor respectively.
“We both love to sing,” said Fry. “We both love a big choir. And this is an amazing opportunity to join other like-minded Catholics.”
“And singing with a large group is always a pleasure,” said Valentine.
Noonan’s favorite part about leading the Eucharistic Congress choir has been “meeting all of the wonderful people from around the archdiocese.”
“Every church is different, and every church, every community has a different personality,” said Noonan. “I’m really enjoying getting to know the different musicians from each parish, getting to know how varied and wonderful different music ministries are from around the archdiocese.”
Eucharistic Congress choir members represent nearly 30 parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Barreca has also enjoyed meeting choir members from around north and central Georgia.
“I hope that lasting connections will form between the members and I hope that the experience fosters deeper faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us,” he said.