Because I Get to Sing the Gloria Right Here Every Sunday

One of the four or five happiest moments of my life came at Easter Vigil 2008. My dad was there, the only time he would ever be present at my new church, a proud “Episcopal observer” from his home in Connecticut. Of course Katie was there, along with my brother David and Cesareo, who had inspired me to go Catholic in the first place.

But it wasn’t being with loved ones, particularly, or even the whole night that was the moment I’m talking about. The moment was when—after the salvation history had been read really well by Ferde, his wife Heidi, and four others, and after the lights in the church came up with sudden amazement—the whole congregation, backed by our fabulous choir, with Fred McArthur on the organ and someone banging away on the tympani, sang the Gloria.

I had learned the “Heritage Gloria” pretty well in my six months as a Catholic-in-Training, but I had come to expect it after the Kyrie, not after 45 minutes of reading in the dark and a sudden blaze of light. I was shocked to my core, and boy, did I belt it out!

A year and a half later, I have an opportunity to sing that traditional Gloria with the choir every Sunday, from where the above picture was taken, in the top left corner of our old-timey choir loft. I met Nancy, an alto, this past summer; I got talking about how I love to sing; and Nancy invited me. I’ve been singing with the choir since then.

Fred McArthur, as I understand it, is a former Brown University music director who has made St. Mary’s his permanent retirement gig—weddings, funerals, you name it, Fred’s there. He’s a superb director—a lion in rehearsal, a lamb in performance. No matter how we really sounded, he usually looks up at us after a piece, nods, and forms the word beautiful with his lips. We have some very strong voices, too, especially a soprano section that soars into descant on the Gloria. I sit in the upper corner with the basses, flanked by Richard, who, God be praised, sight-sings better than I. He’s doing Evelyn Wood, while I, like a blind beginner, fumble along in Braille. As I wrote in a previous post about singing the Protestant hymnal alongside my dad many years ago, I still have trouble splitting my attention between the bass line and the relatively unknown verses 2 and 3, on which we usually harmonize. But Richard is my great buttress, and when I am uncertain, I settle into the line and lean on him.

Steve, Cal, Cedric, Charles, and Bob round out the bass section, and they’re all strong, so most Sundays I just ride their wave of sound, filling in where I can. Father Barnes often thanks the choir at the end of 10:30 Mass, but it is I who should do the thanking. Singing the Gloria with this choir—as well as half a dozen other pieces and the usual “Holys” and “Amens” every Sunday—is an opportunity I don’t take lightly—and another reason why I am Catholic.

(I like this picture, by the way, taken with my iPhone. The perspective is just skewed enough, and the lights and people just blurred enough, to suggest the altered state that choir singing sometimes brings on.)

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  • Ferde

    The "Gloria" at the Easter Vigil Mass is the tippy-top moment of the Liturgical Calendar for me. I get so worked up I can hardly sing along. Not that I can sing, but you know what I mean.

  • Webster Bull

    Believe me, Ferde means it when he says he cannot sing! One of my funniest Ferde moments, serving with him as a lector one Sunday. During the first verse of the closing hymn, Ferde turns to me and whispers, "Who chooses these stupid tunes anyway?" Like Ferde can even hear a tune . . .

  • cathyf

    Talking of the Vigil reminds me of one of my favorite little pieces of Cathlicity — the instructions for the readings for the Vigil. They run more or less something like this: It is absolutely prohibited to cut any of the readings. If you cut one reading, have it be this one, two readings, these two…

  • EPG

    Well, as an Episcopalian, there are often times when it is the singing that does it for me . . . more than the readings, more than the sermon . . . On the Sunday before Veterans' Day, we sang the old "Navy Hymn," and I happily sung the bass line. Or how about "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," as set by HolstOr (since Christmas is not too far off) "Silent Night" (in harmony, a capella, in a church lit mostly by candlelight)Or John Rutter's arrangement of "All things birght and beautiful," which we often sang at ThanksgivingOr Rutter's setting of the 23rd psalm, from his "Requiem"I am probably very petty, but the local Catholic parishes content themselves with the "Gather Hymnal," in which most pieces appear to have been written between 1972 and 1982, and there is never a bit with harmony for the congregation to tackle — St. Mary's in Beverly may be an exception. But the state of music in most Catholic parishes I have come across is one reason YIM (not yet) a CatholicAs I said, I may be petty . . .