ANY OF MY earliest memories are of attending daily mass with my mother at St. William the Abbot parish in Seaford, New York. I’m sure I was quite a handful and disturbed mass frequently. (Some may argue this still occurs.) On days we did not go to mass, it was common that my mother would bring me into church for a “quick visit” in-between running errands. This seemed like normal life for me.
These days, I am at daily mass, but through no virtue of my own. I get paid to play and sing five days a week at St. Mary’s Chapel at Boston College, which includes a mass just for the Jesuit Community of about sixty priests. Mass is attended mostly by students, employees of the college, and some people from the neighborhood. There are also a few regulars who bring their very young children to mass most every day.
Ironically, the busier we are, the more we must make time to pray. When I began playing at St. Mary’s Chapel ten years ago, I thought I might only do this for a few weeks or months because I did not have the time. But quite quickly – if not almost immediately — I became completely hooked on playing daily mass. God has a way of drawing us toward him even when we resist.
ROFESSIONALLY, THE VALUE of playing and singing daily mass cannot be underestimated. Although I had studied organ with BSO organist James David Christie and already had a great deal of experience behind me, it was daily mass that taught me some very important things.
Most importantly, the relationship between the congregation and the organ becomes more intimate with people who sing most every day. It was at daily mass that I realized it is the people in the pews who are the “leader of song.” While the organ is the glue that keeps everyone together, it is ideally a cooperative relationship like chamber music. (Taking their lead, we sing all the verses of the hymns as they refuse to put their hymnals down after two verses.) Playing daily mass made me a much better hymn player – and not simply through repetition. I learned the subtleties of my role as organist which involves as much listening to the congregation as it does playing for them.
An extension of the idea that the congregation is the “leader of song” is that unaccompanied singing comes quite naturally when a congregation is allowed to find its own pace. When St. Mary’s Hall reopened after two years of renovation, the organ was not quite ready yet. So I sang the Psalms and ICEL chants unaccompanied in the beautiful acoustic of marble and wood. The singing was astounding because the people were freed up to sing the chants, yet were still supported by a warm acoustic. The organ would only have gotten in the way.
Perhaps most importantly, there is no replacement for following the continuity of the scripture readings from Sunday to Sunday. Many of us who work hard to prepare music for Sundays are well served by following the scriptures throughout the week. Most obvious are the readings from Isaiah during Advent and Acts during the Easter Season. But through every week there is a thread from one Sunday to the next. The daily life of Christ comes to life for us every day. Though no virtue of my own, I am blessed to experience this.
OST INTERESTINGLY, Boston College was originally named “Boston College of the Immaculate Conception.” Therefore, it was fitting that St. Mary’s reopened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2014. Connected to St. Mary’s Hall on Boston College’s Central Campus, St. Mary’s Chapel opened in 1917. A beautiful wood carved ceiling and marble floors and side altars frame the chapel’s Gothic windows. In the choir loft sits an exquisite one-manual, eight rank D.A. Flentrop organ tuned to the Kellner (Bach) temperament, which is particularly gorgeous in certain keys. Stefan Maier has done extraordinary work in maintaining and preparing this wonderful instrument.
During the academic year, I have the opportunity to hear a few dozen Jesuits preach, and some on a very regular basis. The preaching on any given weekday from the Jesuits is remarkably thoughtful, substantial, well prepared—and brief, which speaks to the high level of preparation. I have been blessed to get to know many of these fine priests including one who has baptized all three of my children. I have also been fortunate to work for three exceedingly thoughtful and supportive rectors in addition to Assistant Rector, Fr. Michael Ford. This is another rare blessing for which I am grateful.
Wherever you are, go to mass during the week. You will be blessed with greater strength to live out what God calls you to do.
If you are at Boston College, mass is offered at seven different locations on campus. You may view the schedules (including St. Mary’s Chapel) here.