I am very honoured to be asked to open the 40th Summer School of the Irish Church Music Association (ICMA).  I don’t use the word ‘honoured’ lightly or casually because it is an honour to be in the company of talented musicians who have further enhanced their reputation by giving of their time to place their gifts at the service and glory of God by training choirs whether it is in schools or parishes or communities up and down the length and breadth of this country.  So I wish you a happy, joyful Ruby anniversary under the guest directorship of Kevin O’Carroll. 

I say it is a privilege to be asked to open this School. 
•    Firstly, because of the dignity and richness of the topic being studied. 
•    Secondly, because of the calibre of the people involved.
•    Thirdly, because of the seriousness and purpose and generosity with which the subject is being addressed
•    Fourthly, because of the huge difference which each and every one of you is making to society.

I am well aware that the Association was founded in 1969 to respond to the needs and vision of liturgy as set out in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. On behalf of the Catholic Church in Ireland I want to thank you, and thank all those who attended previous Summer Schools, for the magnificent response which you, and those who went before you, have given to the needs and that vision of the liturgy over the last forty years. 

I suppose I am well positioned to express that thanks for this reason.  In my work within my own diocese and in the various engagements I fulfil throughout this country, it is my privilege and my joy to be present, take part in and celebrate a great number of wonderful liturgies where the music is superb.  That situation has come about largely as a result of the work of the Irish Church Music Association.  So, I gladly put on record, my thanks.

Last September Pope Benedict XVI went to Lourdes to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions there.  On his way he stopped over in Paris and addressed representatives of the World of Culture.  In that Address, which was not widely publicised in this part of the world I am sure, he said some things which I think may be of interest to people like yourselves, immersed as you are, in the culture of Church and its music and worship; especially people who have chosen Fauré’s Requiem for one of your celebrations. 

The Pope was speaking in the College des Bernardines.   Of course he was well aware that the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived and where, at the same time, a new culture slowly took shape out of the old.  It strikes me that you, yourselves, are often concerned with preserving ancient musical treasures while, at the same time, creating new compositions and works of art.  But, says Pope Benedict:  ‘really the monks were searching for God in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties’. 

Of course that also has a certain relevance to what is going on in the world today.  Because they were Christians, he said ‘God had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow’.  This path was his Word – the Word of God – which had been disclosed to them in the Books of the Sacred Scripture’.  He goes on to say:  ‘We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the Word of God for it is the God who speaks in the Bible, who teaches us how to speak with Him ourselves’.  Especially in the Book of Psalms God gives us the words with which we can address Him so that life itself becomes a movement towards God. 

The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments and from this the Holy Father reaches this remarkable conclusion.  ‘For prayer that issues from the Word of God, speech is not enough, music is required’.  Let me repeat that again, ‘for prayer that issues from the Word of God, speech is not enough, music is required’. 

He went on to remind his listeners that there were two chants which were very familiar to all of us:  The Gloria and The Sanctus and which comes from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels.  As we all know, the first Gloria was sung by the angels at the first Midnight Mass while the Sanctus, on the other hand, according to the Prophet Isaiah, (Chapter 6) is the cry of the Seraphim, who stand directly before God. 

Christian worship is an invitation to sing with the angels and Church music, is part of the worship of God – part of the praise we give to God.  St Augustine tells us that praise of God should be the object of our dedication in this life because in the life to come, it will be forever the object of our rejoicing.  This is what he had to say:

“No-one will be fit to receive the life to come unless he has prepared himself in this life to receive it”

And so, in this life we not only praise God, we also petition to God.  Our praise is expressed with joy.  We are back again to the theme of your Conference:  Waiting in Joyful Hope. 
In a special way the Easter season reminds us of the happiness which, hopefully, will be ours hereafter.  That is the meaning of the Alleluia which we sing with gusto in paschal times.  For our songs we often turn to the Old Testament –

Psalm 95 tells us

Sing to the Lord all the world
Sing to the Lord and praise Him

The words of Psalm 95 have been heard and honoured, thanks be to God, in various ways, down through the centuries in the history of the Church.  The reason is this.  Music is found, in every era and in every culture.  Music has great power to open up our spirits.  Down through the ages, music has been connected with the experience of the sacred.  Of course, across many different cultures, music is a symbol of the mystery of being – of life itself.  As such, music becomes the natural medium for story and for myth.  It has power to evoke experiences that surpass and transcend the natural and to reach deep into the supernatural.  Many musical composers have stated that all their creative efforts of composition of music were only a prelude to something greater than themselves – something that was to come.

We know well that music makes a special contribution to our prayer and worship and praise of God.  Music expresses the depths and the heights of reality – the depths and lengths of emotion.  It has been often said that worship without emotion, is worship without truth.  I think Church music must be connected with the congregation.  There is a place for a solo, for choir but also from congregational singing.

The greatest hymn of praise of all is the Te Deum.  It has been sung every Sunday, except in Advent and Lent – since the 6th century.  It is the foretaste of the chorus of Heaven and it goes like this:

We praise you, O God,
We acclaim you as the Lord.
Everlasting Father,
All the world bows down before you
All the angels sing your praise.
The hosts of Heaven and all the angels
All the cherubs and serpentines 
call out to you in unending song.
The glorious bond of apostles
The noble of prophets
The white robed army who shed the blood of Christ
All sing your praise.

Your Association is, as is well known, is a response to the Second Vatican Council, especially the reform of the liturgy which took place then.  The Church knew it was doing something great when it reformed the liturgy over forty years ago.  Then you could read statements like this.  “It was in the provision of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy more than anywhere else that the aggiornamento which Blessed John XXIII had demanded – assumed visible and incisive form”.  Well perhaps, after forty years, it is time to ask how comprehensive has the aggiornamento actually been?  Is it a case of a lot done and a lot to do?  There was a lot of astonishment at the Council that, in the Constitution on the Liturgy a chapter almost as long as the chapter devoted to the Mass, was given to sacred music.  The reason is that no branch of the liturgy was affected in its roots to such an extent by the reform as sacred music.  We have to recall, also that sometimes the greatest resistance to the changes came from Church choirs and from experts in Church music.  They argued that if the vernacular language and popular hymns were introduced, then this would automatically mean the decline of Gregorian Chant and eliminate modern masterpieces of sacred music.  The Council reacted to this and placed strong emphasis on the pastoral aspect of the music in the liturgy.

Yes, music gives the prayer of the Church a more dignified form and it strengthens the feeling of unity and solidarity among the congregation.  So it must be connected to the congregation in some way, whether it is a solo piece or a choir piece.  It must connect with the congregation.  Yes, it involves a necessary part of the solemn liturgy, not just an optional extra, and the participation of the people, in some shape or form, is paramount.  For the people to participate, does not mean that they are actually singing, but they must be listening and deriving benefits from it.  It must be a piece with which they can identify.

Recently I met a man who shared, with me, his love and passion for going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as a means of achieving greater union with Jesus. 

That same man shared with me his sorrow that despite his best efforts, his children now don’t bother with the Church.  He and I found that very sad.  Here was a man who all his life had tried to keep the great commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve”, and yet, his own nearest and dearest are turning their back on the worship of their religion of their parents.  What is to be done?  The remedy is for more committed Christians, like you, to be so outstanding in your praise and worship of God that other are attracted to it.  Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and give joy to their Father in heaven. 

I, myself, have had many spirited debates with young people on this subject.  They frequently refer to the liturgy, as celebrated so often today as not experienced by many people as life-giving.  Therefore, people are turning away from it and the Church should do something about it. 

Yet I seem to recall a reflection by Karl Rainer where he says:  “That too often people expect, from the Church, and specifically from the priest, something they cannot get, namely bread, solutions to social problems, happiness on this Earth.  For the priest goes on repeating words, words, words, words, which are sometimes boring words and that is what the priest has got to do.  But, I suppose, the words could be interspersed with delightful music which would break the monotony and attract people and that is the challenge”. There is also the famous statement Qui bene Cantat – bis orat ‘Whoever sings well, prays twice’.

What I am trying to say is that music – sacred music especially, gladdens the heart, heightens spiritual experience and enables us to access the sacred.  But it has to connect.  If it is too esoteric or not connected to congregations, it has no real role.  At funerals music heightens emotions, and enables people to express, to get in touch, with their sorrow and express it.  At weddings it helps people access their joy.

Inviting people to sing along with the choir is desirable if the appropriate opportunities are created.  If you invite people to sing along, with the choir in a difficult piece which the congregation hasn’t practiced, you create a shambles.  The challenge is to create the opportunities to balance solo, choir and congregational singing.  If you insist on only singing what the congregation can sing, you are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  If you avoid the beautiful, but difficult pieces, you deprive the congregation of the opportunity to hear inspirational and uplifting music.  Then there is such a thing as over enthusiastic music.  I heard somebody say that his church had been converted into a rock-and-roll church.  Silence has to be recognised as having a place also. 

People crowd to midnight Mass because it has lots of beautiful pieces.  The end product is beautiful but it involves a huge amount of foot slogging.  For that I pay tribute to you and I thank you.  Now I am told that the relationship established has a great value for choir members, involving, as they do, delight in shared activities, and that, in this individualistic age, is a treasure.  I am told it is getting harder and harder to hold choirs together because there is a big temptation to quit.  It requires Directors and Organists who are prepared to turn up in season and out of season. 

Tonight I want to compliment that commitment, heroic commitment I would say, of the willingness to make sacrifices which comes from a great vision of what the final product is.  It has its rewards:  it is good for health; it is beneficial to use the talents you have and sometimes the talents you do not realise you have, and develop them.  There is great satisfaction to be derived from all of that – a contentment; a loyalty; esprit de corps; which brings people to put the choir before other things.  It also means that you all have to go to the same Mass and that implies a certain discipline.

As somebody said it to me as he listened to his daughter singing on an important occasion, he said:  “I realise there is no finer sound in the world than a voice raised in praise of God”.

God has no need of our praise.  But our desire to thank God is, in itself, God’s gift – a gift given to us for our benefit.  The fact is that our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to God’s greatness but it makes us grow in God’s grace. 

My wish for you, as you begin this Summer School, is that you continue to provide this wonderful service to the Church in Ireland today.  May you inspire other people to join you and help you and sing with you because in so doing you are turning the minds of others to God who is the source of beauty and harmony and truth and love.

Thank you