Of Kings and Pipe Organs

Recently, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral celebrated the installation of a world-class pipe-organ, with a Solemn Vespers presided over by Bishop Olmsted (you can view footage of this event on the Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral Facebook page).

The story of how the organ came to be installed in the Cathedral smacks of divine providence (or intervention). Out of the blue, a donor approached the rector, Fr. John, with an amazing offer: the donor would give upwards of a million dollars to have a Peragallo pipe-organ custom-built and installed in the church, if the parish could come up with the remaining necessary funds ($100,000+, if I recall correctly).

While very hopeful of such a prospect, I was very surprised when, only months later, the news was delivered that enough funding had been raised, and that the organ would be installed!

Anticipation grew. Significant work began this September, and the work was (almost) complete by late-October. And at that Vespers, as I sat in the pew, with my two eldest sons in tow, with my sinus cavities reverberating inside of my skull at the immensity of resonating sound, I knew that the Cathedral parish, and the Diocese as a whole, had been blessed with something truly special.

 Photo taken from the Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral Facebook page.

Photo taken from the Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral Facebook page.

First off, the musician/historian side of me was intellectually thrilled.  After all, the pipe-organ is a key element of our Catholic musical tradition. For as noted in the evening’s program, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed in Sacrosanctum Concilium, that “the pipe-organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies....” Truly, to hear a reverent, sung Mass accompanied by a pipe-organ is to really take a trip down the Church’s memory lane, to the era of Palestrina, Byrd and Hassler (the latter being actually a Reformation-era Protestant who wrote some of the most beautiful Catholic masses I’ve ever heard).

The purpose of music in the liturgy is above all to give glory to God and to lead us to holiness.

However, there is far more to the role of a pipe-organ in a Catholic Mass than the relish that one can take in musically returning to the era of one’s forefathers. There is something far more special, which Bishop Olmsted expressed in his opening blessing, of his hope of what a pipe-organ can really do for us blokes in the congregation:

My dear brothers and sisters, we have come together to bless this new organ, installed so that the celebration of the liturgy may become more beautiful and solemn. The purpose of music in the liturgy is above all to give glory to God and to lead us to holiness. Thus the music of the organ wonderfully expresses the new song that Scripture tells us to sing to the Lord. To sing this new song is to live rightly, to follow God’s will eagerly and gladly, and, by loving one another, to carry out the new commandment that Jesus gave us.

There are some big-time implications to what His Excellency has to say. The beauty we express and experience in our liturgical music ought to move us, not only within our time at Church on Sunday, but also in the rest of our lives outside of Mass. 

And does this not seem right?

For insofar as we are able to more closely encounter the Truth happening at Mass through reverent and beautiful music…how can we not be changed? By having some measure of grandeur and majesty in our liturgy, maybe our hearts can be raised above our own selfish concerns, and we might be better able to direct our attentions outwards towards God and neighbor. And maybe, just maybe, confirm for ourselves Mozart’s assertion, that the organ is the “king of instruments,” while also growing closer to the King of Kings.

As we progress through Advent into the Christmas Season and beyond, I would invite any and all readers to experience the same soul-edifying (and sinus-cavity-shaking) music which a real pipe-organ can produce. In addition to any of the regular six Sunday Masses at Sts. Simon and Jude which are accompanied by the organ, there will be a Dedication Organ Concert Series held at the Cathedral:

  • Organ Concert I: Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 7:00 pm - Dr. Paul Weber, organist
  • Organ Concert II: Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 6:00 pm. - Dr. Skye Hart, organist
  • Organ Concert III: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 7:45 pm - Dr. Emma Whitten, organist
  • Organ Concert IV: Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 6:00 pm - organist TBA
  • Organ Concert V: Tuesday,  April 25, 2017 - 7:45 pm - Mr. Mark Husey, organist
  • Organ Concert VI: Saturday, May 6, 2017 - 6:00 pm - Mr. Jonathan Ryan, organist

Hope to see you at one of the concerts!

Will Bertain