By Sarah Mac Donald - 03 July, 2019
The Primate of All Ireland has paid tribute to the Irish Church Music Association’s “important ministry”, commending its members for ensuring that “sacred music of beauty and quality continues to be composed, taught, learned, shared and performed to the praise of God.”
In his homily for the opening Mass of the Irish Church Music Association’s Summer School, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is himself an accomplished musician, addressed the ICMA membership in Maynooth.
He said they knew that the music chosen and the quality of singing and playing must be ‘prayer-ful’ and befitting of worship, capable of lifting people up from much of what is banal and shallow around us “so that we can touch the mystery of the presence of God”.
“You know that when music of beauty is chosen, which is inspired by our faith, and is offered to God from the very best of our efforts, God can work through it to inspire the souls of others, nourish their faith, and bring them closer to him.”
Speaking to the assembled musicians, he spoke of the importance and significance of silence.
“If music is carefully selected and beautifully offered, it can open up a space of silence which God can fill,” he said and added, “Silence is not empty.”
“Silence does indeed open us up to the presence of what might otherwise go unnoticed or hidden. It is in the silence in particular that God speaks. In the quiet we can find him whom our heart seeks.”
Dr Martin acknowledged that the difficulty for all nowadays is finding any opportunity for deep silence and listening.
“Even when we do shut out much of the external noise and clamour that tends to fill every second of life nowadays, we often find there is an interior din – our minds and hearts and passions racing, distracted, restless.”
He wondered whether in this “screen culture”, with all the social media that gate-crashes people’s every moment, “are we are uncomfortable with silence and losing our capacity to sit still, to be at peace?”
Without silence, “We are sadly therefore missing out on so many opportunities to notice the ‘still small voice’ of God, gently whispering in our hearts.”
The Archbishop acknowledged that it might seem strange for him to be talking so much about silence at the golden jubilee of the Irish Church Music Association!
“Here you are, learning new and beautiful music to enhance our liturgies for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, and I’m rattling on about silence!”
But, he continued, good musicians know all about the “sound of silence” and how it can be used to add colour and beauty: the pauses that create expectation, how a note lingering in the heights of a church building can evoke the sacred and draw listeners into contemplation.
“Was it Mozart who said something about music not being so much in the notes, as in the spaces in between? In many ways good sacred music creates sacred interior spaces for silence, reflection and of course, prayer and meditation.”
Recalling the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the liturgy, Archbishop Martin said it recognised the importance of observing “a reverent silence” at what it called “the proper times” in the liturgy.
“It went so far as to state that this was to help ‘promote active participation’. In other words, a congregation might participate in the silence as much as in the prayers, readings and spoken responses of the Mass.”
The Primate concluded by congratulating the ICMA on its 50th anniversary.
The association was founded in November 1969 to support the work of musicians working in the field of liturgical music in Ireland.
Through training, publication and dissemination of information, the ICMA strives to improve standards and encourage musicians in their service of God and the community.
Over 100 singers and musicians from around the country are attending the 50th Annual Irish Church Music Association’s summer school in Maynooth between Wednesday 3 July and Friday 5 July on the theme ‘Rejoice and Sing’.
This year the summer school was preceded by a two-day jubilee conference, which was held in partnership with the National Centre for Liturgy.
The conference reflected on how music in the liturgy has changed over the past 50 years, and how it has evolved in practice within parishes throughout the country since Vatican II.
Speaking as the jubilee conference opened, chairperson of the ICMA, Fr Turlough Baxter, said, “2019 is a particularly exciting time for the Irish Church Music Association marking 50 years of our annual summer school. Our success to date is drawn from the association being a family of people involved in music throughout the country – women and men who are deeply dedicated to the enrichment of parish liturgies. All of us in the association draw strength from coming together and by sharing our skills and faith.”
He added, “This year we celebrate 50 years of building this family. Our opening two-day conference is an opportunity to revisit why we use music in our liturgies, how we can move forward in a changing Church in Ireland, and how music unites a community and keeps worship alive.”
The guest director of this year’s summer school is Fr Michael Joncas, liturgical theologian and composer of contemporary Catholic music, best known for his hymn, ‘On Eagle’s Wings’.
Several key Irish composers will present workshops during this year’s summer school including Ephrem Feeley, Bernard Sexton, Orla Barry, Ciaran Coll, Sr Marie Dunne CHF and Dr John O’Keeffe.
A new publication will be launched to commemorate 50 years of the ICMA and to honour influential members of the association over this time span.
The ICMA is supported by the Irish Bishops’ Conference and is based in the National Centre for Liturgy, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare.
It has a membership of approximately 250 people, made up of people from choirs around the country and those interested in church music.
See www.irishchurchmusicassociation.com for information on membership of the association and for a complete timetable for this year’s summer school.