Our church is really big. We get used to it, of course, and periodically we take advantage of it, like at Christmas, when we fill it. But it was designed to seat over 800 people, and that makes for a very big church.
Moreover, the sanctuary is big. The large altar on its raised predella, topped by the towering baldachin, requires and enjoys a large space around it for a proper and proportionate setting. This vast space can be a problem, such as when you realize how much time is required for the priest and assisting ministers to travel from point A to point B, say from the chair to the credence table, then further yet, up to the altar. That takes time! But the space can also be a blessing, such as when you have room to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy in all its glory, and nine or ten altar servers. It is a great place to have a wedding; we have even had an Ordination in that sanctuary. And the complex, beautiful liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum play out in all their splendor, because there is room.
But that big church and big sanctuary are surprisingly intimate. The eternal God of heaven and earth comes down to be with us on that suddenly-not-so-big altar. The people who tread that space, whether a couple exchanging their nuptial consent, or servers washing priests’ hands, are engaged in many intimate and beautiful actions. Christian worship is necessarily intimate because in it, Man finds intimacy in the very Holiness of God.
Our worship is much enhanced by music, music that is itself one of the treasures of our Church and our Faith. The vastness of our church poses problems and benefits to our music, as the complex acoustics make it difficult to unite voices and instruments, but also provide glorious resonance to our efforts.
Music draws us into that divine intimacy, with God and with one another, as our voices and our hearts unite. The music of our worship overcomes the vastness of our church, and the vast divide between us and our neighbor, and between us and our God.
It is in this context that I am pleased to let you know that starting this week, the Director of our Music here at Saint Bernadette will be someone with whom we are already quite close, though he had been quite the distance away. Mr. John Henderson, who was with us in this same capacity until August 2017, is returning. Join me in rejoicing!
Yes, he went to Texas (Austin); yes, he studied music of kinds other than church music; yes, he enjoyed it very much. But he had come to the conclusion that he wanted to return to the Washington area, and he wanted to commit to parish music leadership, when I sent him a note to say I was looking for a new music director. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is the first formal announcement of John’s taking the musical helm, but over the past months I have told any number of people. All of them were delighted. Our own choir section leaders – Joey and Siena, Veronica and Andrew – did a great job of leading our music for the two-month interregnum. We should thank them, along with Paul Griffin, our interim organist. But know that they are among the most excited at John’s arrival. Because the sacred music that we enjoy here, and the sacred intimacy it brings about for us, will be much enhanced by the presence, participation, and leadership of our good friend.
They say it’s a small world, and we know we have a big church. But I hope you are as pleased as I am to welcome John Henderson home to the musical heart of our worship, both large and intimate.Monsignor Smith