I Have Fixed My Eyes on Your Hills

This is the week of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. Since Ash Wednesday, our eyes have been fixed on Jerusalem’s hills as we travel closer and closer to Jerusalem alongside Jesus and his twelve disciples.

I have had so many people come up to me to tell me how much they love the closing hymn we have used this season. It seems that the refrain has stuck with people during the week and has provided, as one person put it, “a sense of safety.” This is one of the most rewarding aspects of music ministry.

As an organist and conductor, playing on the world’s greatest pipe organs has been a thrill. Conducting choirs and orchestras is also thrilling. But I’ve spent thousands of hours preparing for that through practicing, score study, and learning from great teachers. There’s something deeper about connecting people with Catholic music and their spirituality, bringing them into a closer relationship with God that is simply rewarding.

This week, we endeavor into the holiest week of the year. People often ask if I find Holy Week challenging. My response always seems to confuse people: No, I don’t find it to be the most musically challenging. While yes, the music and the liturgies themselves change every day, we have reached a musical homeostasis. The music selected and prepared is simple enough for a member of the assembly that has never been to a Catholic Mass before to sing to but elegant enough for a dinner party with our Savior. While there are certainly parishes of all flavors that seem to emphasize music over the liturgy itself, at Saint Anthony of Padua, the music only supports the liturgy and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

There is a certain Latin phrase that comes to mind: Lex orandi, lex credendi. The literal translation is, “The law of prayer [is] the law of belief.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops understands this to mean “that prayer and worship is the first articulation of the faith” (USCCB, 2009). Our liturgy – lex orandi – which music is a major part of, communicates what we believe as Catholics – lex credendi.

This is why the music that we sing at Mass does truly matter. This is why it’s completely inappropriate to sing music with non-Catholic lyrics to, simply put, anti-Catholic lyrics.

The Holy Spirit has the power to use music in a way that guides not only our own spiritual formation through catechesis but also a way to impact our mood. The comments from so many parishioners about “Jerusalem, My Destiny” really drive that point home to me. As an educator, I know that music can be used to teach everything from the ABC’s to the order of planets in our solar system. As a Catholic music director, I know that music can draw us into a deeper relationship with God and help establish the character of a liturgy.

You will hear that this week. The Holy Thursday Mass begins with a triumphant contemporary song based on the Introit Antiphon, and then we sing the Gloria, which for many will be the first time since Presidents’ Day Weekend. From there, through Good Friday until about the halfway point of the Easter Vigil, the music takes a completely different tone. The lyrics, most drawing directly from Sacred Scripture, reflect what we are about to participate in and celebrate.

Section 598 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church starts with the heading, “All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion.” That heading grabs my attention every time because it calls me, and every single person I know, out. Saint Francis of Assisi wrote, “Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still when you delight in your vices and sins.” These are strong words that always seem to motivate me through this upcoming week. This week is all about God’s love for each and every one of us and is why it’s so extra important for us as a faith community to offer our best effort at the liturgies celebrate.

For me, this week is about God’s love for all of us. I encourage you to join us this week for as many Holy Week liturgies and events as you can attend. I encourage you to sing along with us, or if you aren’t a singer, just listen and pray along. To our parish’s numerous liturgical volunteers, thank you very much for your dedicated service to the people of God here at Saint Anthony of Padua.