OUTH BOSTON, KNOWN around here as “Southie” is a section of Boston most familiar to many around the country from the films “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed.” It is also infamous for the convicted murderer and gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, who inspired the latter of the two films. Yes. Glorious Gregorian Propers, polyphony, and hymnody at a Nuptial Mass in “Southie.”
South Boston (nowhere near the “South End” where the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is located…Boston geography is complicated…) is a colorful neighborhood, but forget what you know from TV and film. Historically a neighborhood of Irish immigrants, it is a deeply proud and Catholic neighborhood and a world unto itself. Once you go over the bridge into “Southie,” be certain you have entered a different realm.
This unique realm is where the wedding of Nori Elisabeth Pifer and Stephen David Fahrig enters, celebrated at the beautiful and historic Gate of Heaven Church, established in 1863. (Church musicians’ weddings are often extraordinary and unusual. We all might have our own wonderful stories. Please share them in the combox!)
O WHEN A GREAT PROPONENT OF GREGORIAN CHANT marries a Professor of Sacred Scripture at both St. John Seminary and Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, one is treated to a liturgical delight of joy, reverence, and catechesis. Not only was the Word of God sung in the propers, but the level of congregational singing was astounding, evident in the singing of the dialogues, the responsorial psalm and the glorious hymns.
Perhaps a model wedding in the Ordinary Form, it was also a model of catechesis. In the beginning of the wedding program, the couple offered no less than four pages of beautiful and fully accessible commentary on the Nuptial Mass. You can download the entire program (sans copyrighted material) here. Some excerpts:
“As our wedding ceremony begins, some of you might be asking yourselves, “Where are the bridesmaids? Where are the groomsmen? Why are the bride and groom walking down the aisle together instead of meeting at the altar?” Others might be wondering, “What’s with all the rituals? Incense, candles, Latin chant—I’ve never seen any of this at a wedding, and I’ve been to plenty of weddings!
“These are all excellent questions. While it is entirely permissible for Catholic couples to incorporate such traditions as bridesmaids and flower girls into their ceremony, these customs are actually rooted in royal and secular traditions that have little to do with the Catholic nuptial Mass. In fact, the rubrics (ritual instructions) of the present-day Catholic Rite of Marriage call for the nuptial Mass to begin with a procession of altar servers and clergy followed by the bride and groom, who walk down the aisle together…”
Take note that the procession included the hymn “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” followed by the Introit, Deus Israel during the incensing of the altar. Listen to the recording and you can almost smell the incense!
The couple writes further:
“Because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, it is deeply fitting that our wedding vows should be celebrated within the context of the Mass…How appropriate it is then, that we begin our married life together by being united with one another and with our Lord in the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
Notable too was the large number of clergy and seminarians present:
”The elaborate ritual gestures – precessions, incense, involvement of many deacons and priests – is not for the sake of pomp or show, but to give glory to God. In a particular way, we hope to glorify God through the beauty of the sacred music that we have selected for our nuptial Mass….”
HE CHANT AND HYMNS were exquisitely directed by composer, tenor, and founder of the Blackstone Valley Catholic Youth Choir, Michael Olbash. The greatly acclaimed virtuoso organist Mark Husey and rising star Ryan Lynch played the hymns with soaring dignity and transcendence. A beautiful Responsorial Psalm by Brian Michael Page was cantored by Sarah Rogevich. The incomparable Emily Lau cantored the the Gregorian Alleluia. Such remarkable voices graced the choir: Amanda White, Camilia Paris, Clare MacNamara, Erin Seaver Blazek, Patricia Almond, Sarah Mitchell, Matthew Stansfield, and longtime CMAA friend, Richard Chonak.
While I had the privilege of conducting two works by Victoria, these singers were so wonderful, I could have waved my arms like a chicken (I most assuredly did at times) and they still would have sounded beautiful.
UESTS AT A WEDDING USUALLY bring gifts for the bride and groom. But I felt as though the couple had given us a gift with such a profoundly prayerful experience. This experience uplifts and fortifies the soul, strength that we can take with us for a long time to come. Mark Husey put it best when he said of his experience, “I was so blessed to be a part of this. Such a rich harvest of grace was gleaned from this extraordinarily spirited celebration…we couldn’t help but be moved to greater love and joy.”
Congratulations, Nori and Stephen! Thank you for the gift!