Graduation Mass was the last whole-school Mass I will organise at my current school! It got me thinking about the way musical participation in liturgy has developed over the 5 years I have spent there. We now have a growing bank of Mass settings in our collective memory to pull out as required; we have a broad range of newer hymns which we’ve added to our collection of traditional hymns, and learning a new hymn has become a natural part of preparing for a whole-school Mass; we sing the Salve Regina as a whole school; we have developed the skills of the cantors to lead the liturgy. For 800 young men to sing as one is an amazing experience to be a part of. It is a physical embodiment of what we mean when we say we are united in love and faith, we value our family spirit, and everyone in our community belongs.
An important consideration for liturgical music is for the Mass to flow musically. This is not always evident or nameable to those who are not musically trained, or perhaps to those who take the music for granted. The assembly – notably not an audience – are the most important consideration in musical choices. Where will the music take them emotionally, spiritually, physically? What theology are the assembly investing in through their song? Are they able to participate fully in singing this piece? This is something which can be difficult for music teachers to get their heads around. That said, there are occasional moments when it can be appropriate for the congregation to participate without raising their own voices.
In Graduation Mass, we designed one of these moments at thanksgiving, in which I sang a blessing for the Year 12s as they depart for new pastures. I am always wary about ensuring that participation isn’t sacrificed at the altar of performance in music for Mass. However, this moment felt appropriate for such a blessing. The profound silence that followed the performance suggests to me that the blessing was received as a deeply prayerful moment rather than as a performance. Indeed, some parents afterwards told that they found it the most intense and moving moment in Mass. It was, for them, a personal moment in which they recognised their son’s rite of passage from boy to man, school life to new plans. It joined up the dots; it captured the essence of the complexity of their lives in that moment.
I should note that this song is also special for me for other reasons. Whilst I rewrote the lyrics the week before Graduation for Year 12s, I actually wrote the song for a friend.