Christ Our Light: The Journey Through Advent

November 6 marked another major milestone for the House of Brigid: our first major workshop for liturgical musicians of the Diocese of Ferns. The event was weeks in the making: we mailed press kits introducing the community and advertising the event to every Parish Priest in the Diocese, out into the wonderful vagueness that is the Irish postal system, with the certitude that, somehow, our letters intended for such specific destinations as “Fr. So-and-So, Parochial House, Bunclody, County Wexford,” would find their way to the addressee. Not a single letter was returned unopened; our faith in the Irish postal system with its Harry Potter-esque addresses was entirely justified. In fact, a few weeks later, enquiries and reservations began to surface; the letters had been forwarded on to the choir directors and musicians. Word was getting out.
Our expectation for the number of attendees was guardedly optimistic; we t
hought we were being overly cautious by requesting more octavo packets than we would need from World Library Publications and GIA, who had graciously agreed to provide repertoire for our event. In the end, both publishers responded with generosity and unbelievable speed, and we had 50 complete packets of 9 titles ready for distribution. We ended up needing almost twice that many.
One week out, our workshop had around 70 confirmed reservations from all over the Diocese, with the promise from our parish supervisors that more would turn up without having contacted us, and turn up they did. A 2:30pm start time meant that most people showed up to register around 2:45 (in Ireland, all times end with “ish”), bu soon we had everyone sorted, and Fr. Denis began his introductions of the community shortly before 3:00.

Considering I was leading my first diocesan workshop, and considering this was the first official diocesan event sponsored by our fledgling community, I was nervous, wondering how the Irish would respond to us, and to the information and music we would present. In the end, all we could do was stand in front of them, and share with them the knowledge and experiences that have nurtured in each of us a real passion for liturgy done well, especially when enhanced by beautiful music. I needn’t have been nervous. The groups was incredibly receptive, not only to the music itself, but also to my comments on liturgical music planning, Martha’s comments on cantoring, and Chris’s comments on the origins of certain Advent texts. I explained that, when you come down to it, our job as music ministers is to help the congregation pray well, in a way that brings beauty to the liturgy and honor to God. We can accomplish this by choosing music that reflects the liturgical action and season, music that is beautiful and worthy of a place in the Mass, music that inspires the congregation to participate with full heart and voice.
Following the workshop, the wonderful ladies of the Clonard Parish
community served a meal to the participants, and after that, we adjourned to prepare for our own Vigil Mass, where we were astonished to see that nearly 30 people had stayed to join us in song. It was overwhelming to see such enthusiasm, to meet and converse with so many people who want so badly to improve their liturgical music. There is a real hunger in this country for rejuvenation and renewal.
Most of the participants wrote encouraging compliments on the evaluations we asked them to complete. Nearly all of them found the information useful and the music accessible. A few stated that implementing our suggestions would be very difficult, given the small size of most parish choirs, the lack of people confident enough to cantor, and most of all, the fact that many people in music ministry here in Ireland don’t actually read music. While these are difficult obstacles that we ourselves continue to encounter in trying to help others improve their liturgical music, I don’t see them as insurmountable. Rather, I found many reasons to be hopeful in coming away from our first diocesan workshop: there are many people in this area who want to learn, who want to grow as musicians, and who want to be inspired in their ministry so that they, in turn, can inspire others to learn and grow in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, I believe that it is their desire for inspiration that continues to inspire us in our own ministry as we strive to bring a renewed sense of joy to all whom we encounter here in Ireland.