RECENTLY BEGAN a new life—an extension of the old, but a new life, unmistakably. I struggle some days missing dear friends, but they have clearly not left me, nor I them. Then I experience several unexpected joys of my new life (challenges and all) and there is hope. Hope because I’m called to serve differently than before. Hope because of new blessings. Hope because I am privileged to witness what no one else on the outside seems to see.
I’m not referring to any privilege, but rather quite the opposite.
I have had more than one conversation with those, who although wished me well in my new position, made a point that they would never visit the Cathedral as a point of protest. Perhaps seen from afar as a symbol of all that is wrong with the Church, who might blame them?
(I previously brought attention to what John Allen described on both NPR and in the New York Times Opinion Page what he called the “Papal Conversion” of Cardinal Ratzinger that lead to proactive reforms as Pope. “…after 2001, when he actually had to sit down and read all the case files for every Catholic priest, everyone in the world who had credibly been accused of sexual abuse, he began to talk much more openly about what he described as filth in the Catholic Church…”)
EANWHILE, THE MOTHER CHURCH of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, has a particularly overlooked side: it is very much a parish community with its own identity and gifts. Each parish (and each cathedral) may have its own unique mission and charism. As such, the Cathedral parish serves rather particular needs of the community—local and wider—while serving as a welcoming home to many beyond its immediate boundaries.
Observed from within, I see much of what is right about the Church. Of course, I am often mindful of the old story of the blind men and the elephant—each with a different perspective and experience—each coming up with their own understanding or interpretation of their interaction—and none with a complete and accurate picture. Having been here only a few months, I don’t discount my incomplete perspective. On the other hand, it sometimes takes fresh eyes to identify and appreciate what others may have taken for granted or overlooked.
Many are content to take a general view of the Cathedral as the seat of the Archbishop. But leadership establishes the tone of any organization, community, and environment. Examine Cardinal O’Malley’s early history in Washington D.C., for example, where his specific appointments were to minister to—and concretely assist—minority and immigrant populations. One gets a sense of how this influences the Cathedral Parish and its responsibility as “Mother Church.” And of course, there are many beautiful people who implement this responsibility and mission:
HILE MUCH OF THE CURRENT FOCUS on the Cathedral is on its ongoing renovation, few are aware that the level of its social justice ministries is massive. In addition to outlining the physical changes, deep within this website about the renovation is a formidable list of social justice ministries at the Cathedral:
• A food pantry run by Catholic Charities that serves 250 families weekly.
• Free health services through its Cathedral Cares Clinic, which is staffed by a registered nurse, and semi-annual health fairs offered in collaboration with Boston Health Care for the Homeless.
• Help to homeless families transitioning from shelters to permanent housing.
• Saint Helena House, housing for low-income seniors administered by HUD.
• An off-site shelter for victims of human trafficking in collaboration with the City of Boston.
• Weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
• Homeless outreach, where young members of the Order of Malta bring prepared water, clothing, and human interaction to the streets.
This alone is a partial list.
I see the lines of families entering the food pantry as I walk into my warm office. I pass by St. Helena House every day. These are run by people with deep concern for a neighborhood that is increasingly unaffordable to average working people.
N ADDITION TO THIS LIST, my daily working environment is usually disturbed by round the clock activity. I joke that I am usually disturbing others with our choir rehearsals, and others disturb us and me in my work. However, I have found that this environment rather suits me.
Staying late after a rehearsal Thursday, I could hear the energetic music and chanting from yet another Mass with the Neocatechumenal Way community.
Working out a of small room next to my office/choir room are lay missionaries with the Missionary Sister Servants of the Word joined the Cathedral’s evangelization efforts led by Mother Petra Leon Torres, MSW. Their work is staggering, humbling for a musician to witness, and too vast to list here.
At random times, I have at times found myself surrounded with children of the various Cathedral communities—one time in particular showing about a dozen children the organ in one of the chapels. They had little to no experience with such an instrument and they wanted to try out and know everything about it. I had to apologize to my wife for getting home late that night after giving the musical tour. I find such “intrusions” suit me well. (My wife is very supportive and understanding, Deo gratias.)
RUE TO BEING A “MOTHER CHURCH”, the Cathedral has become home to communities displaced elsewhere: the Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form, formerly at the closed Holy Trinity (German) Church, and the Ethiopian Eritrean Ge’ez Rite Mass. With a difficult to memorize Mass schedule, each and every Sunday, Mass is celebrated in four different languages and three different Rites all in union with the Catholic Church. As “Mother Church,” this diversity exemplifies what it means to be part of the Universal Church.
The chanting of the Ethiopian Eritrean Ge’ez Rite Mass is nothing like I have ever heard and draws a sense of antiquity and reverence (as do the gorgeous vestments). The diversity of age and ethnicity of those who attend the Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form defies outside perception. Young families are commonplace. The Spanish Community is a strong backbone of the Parish. They consider each other family. Parochial Vicar Fr. Pablo Gomis is a unifying force who preaches and catechizes in Spanish and English every day of the week. And when I look to the congregation at the English speaking Masses, the diversity of the congregation is striking, once again defying that stereotype of a cathedral.
Certainly, such diversity of various disparate communities beckons particular challenges. There can be tension, disunity, and daresay, dysfunction. I am not blind to that. But there is opportunity and the greater good is served as God intends. Each community lends strength and prayer for the Church. Each community forges hope.
HERE DOES THIS LEAD TO? The people, of course. I’ve spoken to several who have been faithful parishioners through some of the worst time of history in the Roman Catholic Church. Boston was ground zero in 2002. The Church is reeling still. The people I speak with understand the need for prayer and faithfulness of service of others around them. They have forged ahead despite unspeakable pain. Perhaps this is what speaks most loudly of all.
While there is a physical renewal of the Cathedral building, Rector Fr. Kevin O’Leary speaks of the necessary and accompanying spiritual renewal—which is of course the entire point of a renovation—to support the spiritual mission of the Church.
What has this renewal have to do with sacred music? A great deal. The liturgy is our greatest tool for evangelizing and transmission of faith. Sacred Music is not an added component, but an essential element. As Jeffrey Tucker often pointed out, Gregorian Chant and the Roman Rite grew up together—wedded hand in hand.
S A “MOTHER CHURCH,” cathedrals have a responsibility to model liturgical standards—not in complex music—but in the simplicity of singing the Mass with beauty and reverence. We are obligated to uphold the Roman Catholic identity of our sacred music — by giving Gregorian Chant “pride of place in liturgical services” (§116, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), by singing great treasures of the Church new and old, (see Mt. 13:52) and by singing songs and hymns with strong Roman Catholic theology. The transmission of faith through sacred music is the job of all parish musicians. What we do at the Cathedral does not stay at the Cathedral, but must extend outward and beyond!
However, as I stated before, I was in no celebratory mood entering into this position as Director of music of the Cathedral and Archdiocese. The Church is hurting badly. But the backbone of the Church is the people—people with more faith and daily courage than I can imagine. For this reason, there is great hope.
In fact, under my current musical direction, there are singers who lived though very difficult history at the Cathedral. They have stayed, demanded reform, and continued to pray and sing and give to the Church — the people — what is rightfully theirs—an expression of love and faith through music. They truly believe what they sing.
There are currently many in the Cathedral parish who lived through the same horrific history. They too have stayed, demanded reform, and have been a rock to the parish, the Church, the people.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Boston, nearing the age of seventy-five, continues to carry the profound weight of reforming sinful and criminal elements of the Church while preaching the hopeful Good News of the Gospel, which is his most profound duty.
It is also ours.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11