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November 22, 2005



Wow...this is a challenge.

Either the second time I sang the Britten War Requiem (during the Vietnam War), or the first time I sang the Gloria from the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, with its 'extra-text' ending, repeating the "GLORIA!!!!!" without symphonic accompaniment, and hearing it echo back.

Or maybe the time I sang Balshazzar's Feast with my 4-month-pregnant wife in the audience, at the very back of the hall, (on the 4th floor, to boot)...and when we, the 200-voice chorus, did the shouted "SLAIN!!!!" our firstborn damn near jumped out of my wife's uterus...

This is really hard...


Wow...this is a challenge.

Either the second time I sang the Britten War Requiem (during the Vietnam War), or the first time I sang the Gloria from the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, with its 'extra-text' ending, repeating the "GLORIA!!!!!" without symphonic accompaniment, and hearing it echo back.

Or maybe the time I sang Balshazzar's Feast with my 4-month-pregnant wife in the audience, at the very back of the hall, (on the 4th floor, to boot)...and when we, the 200-voice chorus, did the shouted "SLAIN!!!!" our firstborn damn near jumped out of my wife's uterus...

This is really hard...


The hearing of the "Salve Regina" (in Latin), after Compline, at "Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles" Trappist monastery, Azul, Argentina, some 9 or 10 years ago. It was my first retreat at a monastery. And my impression was exactly the same as yours Amy. I was very moved.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal

It's a three-way (today) tie between:

1) The Good Friday and Tenebrae liturgies at St. Meinrad Archabbey

2) The Easter Vigil at St. Meinrad Archabbey


3) Vigils at Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA.

The first two picks come because of music well-composed and well-performed in order to provoke awareness of transcendence.

The latter pick comes because men who might have sounded just a wee bit less gifted than virtuosi clearly sang from their hearts and souls.

RP Burke

For us practicing musicians this is a very hard question, for our relationship with God is mediated daily by music.

I guess two things come to mind.

1. Performing the latest work that gets past the notes and into your soul. Most recently for me, it was at a concert where I had a solo part, but it wasn't the solo: It was singing the choral work by Herbert Howells "Like As the Hart," a setting of ps. 43. Want to hear it yourself? Here's a free Real Audio recording by a British choir:


2. Then there was how we used chant to quiet down our daughter Celia, now 14, when she had to lie in the sun as a two-day-old to clear up neonatal jaundice. She cried and cried -- wanting to be hugged -- until we started the chant recording that we'd played for her (and her mom!) for listening in utero. The monks hadn't even finished the first work (I don't have the CD here to tell you what it was) before we had a quiet child being de-bilirubined. (Is that a word?)

It is music -- our best work from our best composers -- that has kept me in faith, and I am convinced we are losing people with low-end schlock that isn't even good pop music. My daughter came back from the National Catholic Youth Conference with new names for songs, like "My God, What an Awful Song!" and wondering if the organizers thought they were all stupid.


Once, when I was going through a pretty hard time, my little sister (who was middle school age at the time, I think) wrote out all of the words to "Be Not Afraid" and mailed it to me, along with some other words of encouragement. It meant so much to me then and now, when I hear that song I can't help but think of the comfort it gave me when I read those words in my sister's letter. I still have the letter.

Also... I never sang "How Great Thou Art" in church until, as an adult, I moved to North Carolina for a few years. I was always moved to tears when singing the last two verses of that song.

"And when I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scare can take it in; That on the cross my burden gladly bearing he bled and died to take away my sin, then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, How great thou art.... etc"

"When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim my God how great Thou art. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee..."

Paul Smith

A church near me has a Miraculous Medal novena every Monday evening. Singing "Hail, Holy Queen" during a few times just sounds angelic as though Heaven itself was joining us.


Either the time we sang "Adoremus Te Domine" during adoration the night before the March for Life or, going off in a different direction, ... the first time I heard Five Iron Frenzy's "Every New Day" live. Incredible. The lyrics are here: http://www.christianrocklyrics.com/fiveironfrenzy/everynewday.php


At my brother's burial, a few monks from the abbey where he had once been a professed monk gathered by his open grave and sang a hauntingly beautiful hymn to the Blessed Mother in Latin. I still don't know the name, but one of the monks told me that it was traditionaly sung at a monk's burial. It was such a sweet and touching surprise and such a comfort because he had died suddenly and young. It seemed a final healing for any rift or hard feelings caused by his leaving the monastery. In a way it was so fitting because despite marriage and fatherhood, my brother always kept one foot in the monastery.

Tim Ferguson

My first time - October 6, 1985 - at St. Agnes in St. Paul. When the choir and the orchestra started up the Kyrie from Beethoven's Mass in C - I was bowled over with tears. Having grown up with guitars and tambourines at Mass I always felt something was missing. At that moment I knew what had been missing. I felt it, I experienced it; and I knew that God loved me.

I've been to hundreds of Masses since then with excellent music, and probably a hundred or so orchestral Masses. Beethoven's Mass in C will always have a special meaning for me.


The first time I went to adoration and benediction, I was really moved by the chanting of Tantum Ergo and the incensing of the Holy Eucharist. I had no idea what they were chanting (they actually recited it in Latin), but it was just a beautiful acclamation of the Church's faith. It was a small chapel, and the few people there were kneeling in front of the Holy Eucharist in prayer. It was a great moment.


In a slightly different vein, I was very touched recently listening to some radio reports from St. Peter's Square while John Paul II was lving out his last moments in the apartment above the square. In the background, I could hear the crowd of mostly young people singing to him very powerfully, and in unison, "Risucito" -- He Rose From Death.

For me, this was a very powerful sign -- the Holy Father and this crowd below, in a way, living their faith together, proclaiming their faith in communion.


Each time I listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor, I am reminded that God really does exist. It is the aural equivalent of walking along a long, deserted ocean beach in early autumn, after the crowds have gone but before it's too cold to endure the wind coming off the water. I know this sounds melodramatic, but 'tis true. It may be sad to say so, but I do need this sort of reminder from time to time. Thank you, God, for the Atlantic Ocean and for J.S. Bach.

C Johnson

We chant the Pange Lingua each Holy Thursday (all of it, in Latin, in whatever the common current setting is). It my absolute favorite part of the Holy Week liturgy.

tony c

Traditional Latin High Mass, Holy Trinity, Boston. Pentecost Sunday.

Hearing the Credo sung from the choir loft, particularly the part "unam sanctum catholicam et apostolicam eccelsiam" (one holy catholic apostolic church).

Goosebumps and tears.

I got the feeling the whole Church Triumphant was singing along.

C Johnson

Actually, my husband tells me that the chant we use is the traditional one, so even better

Michael Shea

Whenever In Paradisum/Chorus Angelorum is chanted - and the line about Lazarus is sung - I am done for....

And thanks for that Howell link RP Burke - Is it possible you sang this in Danbury with me on November 13th???!?


At the funeral of a friend's mother, I heard "Abide with Me", and could not help but cry with joy at what is promised to us after our death. I want that hymn sung at my funeral as a catechism lesson to those who attend, and as a statement of my faith.

At the wake of a young friend who died suddenly and tragically, we sang "Gentle Woman, Peaceful Dove". I still can't stop the tears whenever I hear that hymn. It makes me feel like I'm being held very close and very tight by our Blessed Mother.

sharon d.

Being an amusical philistine, I generally don't know one classical piece from another (and am always quite impressed by those who due).

But one morning our eclectic local station played a piece so beautiful I actually had to pull over because I was tearing up. I recognized the first verse of Psalm 51 in Latin, and the music matched the psalm so perfectly that it took my breath away. It made me want to rush over to the church and confess all my sins. Afterwards, the dj mentioned it was by some guy named Allegri, and I rushed out and bought the King's College Choir version of the Miserere (in English; sorry, it's more meaningful when I can understand all the words; no doubt the Novus Ordo is to blame) and played it over and over.

Charles A.

Bach - B minor Mass - "Dona nobis pacem."

Victoria - Reproaches - "Popule meus" (St. Gregory Society at the New Haven, CT indult Good Friday)

Plato's Stepchild

As a former pagan, I had accumulated an eclectic collection of music. I was a hard core Anti Catholic, though I married one. Once I converted and after I became aware of sacred music, I went through the music that I had accumulated and searched out what was, without, a doubt my favorite.

For 12 years, I had been listening to and moved by Arvo Paart's Berlinner Messe on Te Deum. I did not know that it was a Mass as I had never read the liner notes before.

So, for those of you folks who think only Rad Trads like sacred music (old school), an Estonian Philharmonic Choir, playing in a very old CD player, helped convert a hard core anti Catholic.

So there.


Plato's Stepchild


And just to answer Amy's question, the moment post-conversion for me was:


To this day, the only music that can move me to tears, even in public. When you read the liner notes, you will begin to feel a semblance of what it was for Mary to have her soul pierced (The Presentation part of the Joyful Mysteries).

Music forms the soul, as Plato said.

Plato's Stepchild


Forgot to say -- the music is Henryk Gorecki, Sorrowful Songs, Symphony No. 3 with Dawn Upshaw singing soprano.

Paul Pfaffenberger

My brothers and I singing a folksy arrangement of the Lord's Prayer at my sister's wedding. It wasn't the harmonies or the arrangement that made it spiritual. It was four Catholic guys singing lovingly to their very pregnant sister in her groom's Baptist church with just family and a few friends and God looking on. So many opportunities for that to have gone horribly, but grace saved the day, and the 16 years since.

I've been part of lots of more beautiful music, both classic and contemporary, but never more love.


Too: If the singing is restrained but strong, "O Holy Night" at Midnight Mass can make me feel drugged. There's probably a more precise way to describe this feeling, but i can't think of it right now.


Two very different occasions, actually.

The first was hearing "On Eagle's Wings" (really!) at my husband's grandfather's funeral Mass. He grew up in a rust belt mill town and was a hard worker (built his house himself) but the great joy of his life was raising and racing pigeons. The little pigeon coop he tended so carefully was in his backyard within shouting distance of the church. The words of the song just seemed to fit him, and there weren't many dry eyes when it was sung that day. And the parish was St. Cecilia's, ironically enough.

And the second instance was my first visit to a European cathedral, in Segovia, Spain. They pipe chant music into many of the great cathedrals of Europe, apparently, to help enhance the experience for tourists (I suppose). Well it certainly enhanced my experience. I felt a true connection to the many generations of Catholics who had prayed in that spot over the centuries.

I learned a lot on that trip about the declining Christian heritage in Europe, but the experience of hearing that music in that cathedral will always stay with me.

Aristotle A. Esguerra

Three off the top of my head (there are more):

- Holy Thursday 2000(?), singing the Berthier "Stay With Me" after the Eucharistic procession - the first time I had to fight choking up while singing, and realizing that music was much more than just an intellectual and technical exercise to please the masses.

- The first time I attended a High Mass at St. Agnes (NYC), spring 2003, where the choir sang da Viadana's Missa L'Hora Passa - weeping openly in the back pew.

- The entire Juventutem choral experience at World Youth Day, (esp singing Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, the Gloria and Agnus Dei from Bach's Mass in B Minor, and the Solemn Tone Salve Regina - all within the context of the Sacred Liturgy.

RP Burke said above:

"It is music -- our best work from our best composers -- that has kept me in faith, and I am convinced we are losing people with low-end schlock that isn't even good pop music."

As a musician, this has been my experience, and I hold the same opinion vehemently. Among the faithful that we lose with medocrity are those most sensitive to beauty - or worse, have a vocation to cultivating it - such as poets, musicians and artists.

Cheryl M

I was in a museum in New Orleans next to Jackson Square on a Sunday AM after church. I don't remember what was in the gallery, just the sunlight streaming through the windows and the singer outside singing "Amazing Grace". I felt both amazed and awed, and touched by grace. The right song for the right moment.


About 13 years ago during a time of unemployment and introspection, I was reading one of Muggeridge's books, thoroughly entranced with his truculent but beautiful prose in which he describes his spiritual journey and denounces the falseness of the world. I somehow had the good fortune - certainly not the intelligence - to be playing a CD borrowed from the local library. It was Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass, specifically the "Agnus Dei". It was performed by the Regensburg Cathedral Choir under the direction of the curiously named Georg Ratzinger ( YES ! I think he's the same Georg Ratzinger who is the pope's brother ! ) I had borrowed the CD so that I could get some "culture", but with Palestrina's music and Muggeridge's prose I got a very heady dose of something far beyond mere culture.

Just a quick plug for another piece not to be missed while you're alive --> Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria", especially the very end ( "in hora mortis nostrae. Amen" ). Do NOT waste your time with any other recording of it - get the Chanticleer version on the CD "Our Heart's Joy".

Nick Alexander

There are certain praise and worship songs that really get to me--the simplicity and power inherent in the lyrics and melody. I am in awe over the music of Catholic songwriter Robert Filoramo (he has an excellent album out!)--particularly the songs "Press On", "Hope in the Lord," "I Belong to You" and most especially "My Lord and My God." I believe Martin Doman has covered these same songs on his recordings... I remember going to a funeral mass for one of my dear friends, passed on at 20, and the entire congregation sang "Press On." One of the most powerful songs you'll ever hear.

These songs give me goosebumps, and inspire me to write the best I can, when I'm writing worship songs, and not merely comedy parody songs.


An impromptu singing of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before the Blessed Sacrament after a Pilgrimage to Lourdes mass and benediction at Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara. Tears of pure joy.

RP Burke

A reply to Michael Shea:

Sorry, it was October 8 in Columbus, Ohio.

Ed the Roman

Yes, Chanticleer does it amazingly. I've sung it several times, but best of all heard Chanticleer perform it live with the US Army Men's Chorus.

As we said in Hawaii, that one chicken-skin moent in my life, Brah.

Tom K

This is a grat questions! One of my most moving musical experiences happened on the Saturday after John Paul II died. I was cantoring at 5 PM Mass, and we chose to sing the hymn 'I Know That My RedeemerLives' by Scott Soper It was all I could do to finish!
"I know that my redeemer lives,
The one who calls me home.
Ilong to see God face to face,
To see with my own eyes."

James Isabella

Anytime I sing a Marty Haugen song.

Just kidding! :)

I'll give three instances, one a traditional hymn, one a chant, and one a contemporary praise song.

1. Every time at the end of adoration, when the song "Holy God, We Praise thy Name" is sung. I feel as if I have been transported to heaven.

2. Occasionally, one of the parishes in my area will chant (in English) the Lord's Prayer during Mass. There is nothing like 300 or so people chanting at the same time :)

3. I know a lot of people around here don't like praise and worship music, but I absolutely love the song 'Agnes Dei/Worthy is the Lamb' by the band Third Day. I remember singing this song at adoration at the Franciscan University several years ago with 2000 teenagers. Loved every second of it. One of the few examples of a contemporary song that reaches the majestic. Yes, it can be done!

Livi Ruffle

St. Caecilia is one of my Confirmation patrons, so I'm on a roll today.

The one experience that springs to mind was my first experience of the monastic office - Compline, Buckfast Abbey, April 1995. Particularly the Memorare sung by the monks at the very end.

Livi Ruffle

Oh, and perhaps the most unusual and unexpected place - Adoration with the Pope on the Marienfeld near Cologne this Summer. Saturday evening, all the happy-clappy stuff was nearly over (although we hadn't of course been forewarned about the 15km trek to our coach afterwards!), my friends and I were kneeling on the ground, clutching our little candles, and everything seemed very simple for a moment.


My husband did not have a job, I was pregnant with #4, and I took a job delivering newspapers one winter. It was a hard job, in a bad neighborhood, getting up at 3 every morning, in the cold, snow, rain, whatever. I was having trouble not resenting my husband (that's another story), and I was very emotional about the whole thing. One morning, as I drove through the cold darkness, "Let it Be" came on the radio and I sang it at the top of my lungs, tears streaming down my cheeks, flinging newspapers through the open car windows. I was thinking of Mary, Jesus' mother, and I knew then that everything would be alright, considering my family situation. I now look back on this and chuckle.

Fr. Totton

Whether it is appropriate to say on the feast of a Roman Martyr, I would say I have felt most moved by Sacred Music of the Eastern (Byzantine) variety! I have a great appreciation for Gregorian chant, and I have been moved by it, but for that feeling of utter transcendance, give me the unaccompanied cadences of eastern chant. Whether at the Divine Liturgy in a tiny (It is really a small house) parish church in St. Joseph, MO (St. Joseph's Ukrainian, in fact) or the Byzantine Solemn Compline in the crypt of the National Shrine during the pro-life vigil. There is just something, how shall we say it, otherworldly there! The same might be said for Gregorian, but for all practical purposes, one rarely experiences chant in Latin rite (N.O.) parishes anymore!


At the tipping point of re-conversion:

Emerson Lake and Palmers verion of that old english hymn "Jerusalem" (played very loudly, please thank you). (The modern timbral and harp, folks)

and the cement was John Rutter's stunning "Requiem", in particular the "Pie Jesu"


A lot of the commonly used contemporary songs do get on people's nerves, I know. And I do love the old hymns and the classical and medieval music. But when my grandfathers died, singing "Be Not Afraid" and "On Eagle's Wings" really helped me and moved all of us to worship.
If it makes you feel better, I'll also mention singing "That Old Rugged Cross" at Great-Uncle Connie's (United Methodist) funeral. It made me feel very blessed to be able to help out through my music, though, because I knew it wasn't me that was talking to people. Same thing with my brother's wedding.

But I don't really have a specific mystical moment to note here, because it does happen fairly often if you sing a lot and can manage to sing mindfully. Singing and meditation with vocal prayer are very similar, especially considering the importance of breath control to both. :)

Patrick Rothwell

There are a number of these moments. One took place during an Ash Wednesday service at the Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, when I was (I think) 15. I was a server at the time. The "senior choir" - as it was called - sang a very long anthem at the offertory, Brahms' "Warum ist das Licht gegeben" - a four part a cappella motet which strongly appealed to my snobbish, mopey ecclesiastical "spike" adolescent self. The spiritual meaning I got behind it was that much of the adolescent questionings and melencholy that I had at the time was not necessarily in opposition to religious faith, but that faith not only incorporates but even presupposes the "why is there suffering in the world" or "why do I suffer" questions and the sadness that sometimes goes along with them. The music seemed to me to be far more profound and of greater import than the happy-clappy stuff that was being sung at YMCA summer camp and the "Episcopal Young Churchmen" youth group. It certainly was more constructive to appreciate that kind of music than taking solace in the nihilistic visions of the "Dead Kennedys," punk bands, or head-bangers like AC/DC and the like.



I'm sure this will get some groans but when I was between 7 and 9, I can't remember exactly, I heard "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love". This was a bit of a revelation to me since before that time, if you had asked me if I was a christian, I would have said, "No, I'm a Catholic".

Having a son in the Archdiocesan Boy Choir of Philadelphia for four years has improved my taste in church music but that song still holds a place of fondness in my memory.

Patrick Rothwell

That's quite alright Tim. At the risk of hijacking the thread topic, when I was seven, I actually liked Marlo Thomas' "Free to Be You and Me" album/movie. Thank goodness that piece of 70s trash has been long forgotten. Sorry to remind everyone of its existence....


As soon as I read this, the memory flooded back of seeing Rich Mullins in concert at Franciscan University of Steubenville, many years ago. It was such a powerful show and he was such a humble man. The most amazing moment though was him leading us in "I am the Bread of Life". Goosebumps abounded and our voices were raised and it that was the song that he left the stage, too. If you had ever been to one of his shows that was his signature- leaving the stage while the audience stood there worshipping the Lord in song.
What a great memory!


Realizing how drastically different my response was to everyone else's. But after reading them, I thought of another powerful musical experience. After I had walked down the aisle to meet my soon-to-be-husband, we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful" as an opening song. It was Christmastime and it just completely set the mood for what we wanted our wedding mass (and marriage) to center around. Another amazing memory!


James Isabella, as for a contemporary "Agnus Dei/Worth is the Lamb," Amy Grant has a very beautiful version on her album "A Christmas to Remember." Brings me to tears every time.

Dan Crawford

The Salve Regina sung in English?? Oh no, no, no. Let it not be so! It must have rendered the service invalid.

Dan Crawford

I was kidding, of course, in my previous comment. Two great musical moments: the office of Matins at 2:30 AM in Gethsemane Kentucky 43 years ago; and the song, I Want to Walk As a Child of the Light sung during Advent Lessons and Carols (Evening Prayer) at the Cowley Fathers Monastery in Cambridge MA, the Saturday following Thanksgiving, 1986. To this day, I still have trouble finishing the song.

Thanks for all the comments on this thread.

RP Burke

Dan, every time we sing "Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above," we're singing a metrical English version of the Salve Regina. So we were doing it even back in the old days!

Patrick Rothwell

Another really good metrical hymn of a Marian anthem - rarely heard - is the following Regina Coeli sung to the tune "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." It's very effective at the conclusion of Easter Sunday mass around noontime...accompanied by joyous peals of the Angelus bells.

"Joy to thee O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia,
He whom thou wast meet to bear, Alleluia,
As He promised hath arisen, Alleluia,
Pour for us to God thy prayer, Alleluia."

scotch meg

1) Episcopal hymns for children as a child, especially "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" -- yes, schlocky, but effective in getting the message across.

2) The REFRAIN only of "Eagles Wings" -- which I actually think is lovely. I keep forgetting how atrocious the verses and accompanying music are.

3) And, lately learned, and most appreciated, "O Salutaris Hostia" and "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum"...

Mary Kay

Not a particular moment, but every year,

"Christ, our Light. Thanks be to God." at the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

Gelineau psalms at Morning Prayer at Madonna House

Byzantine liturgy music.

Nick Alexander

I apologize if I sound legalistic--I do not want to denigrate anybody's musical preferences. I write this as a huge fan of the music of Third Day, and think Michael W. Smith is one of today's great songwriters and composers (his Freedom album is phenomenal).

But that said, I cannot stomach their rendition of "Agnus Dei". Not only is there no mention of the phrase "Lamb of God" in the text (what "Agnus Dei" means), but it's one of the increasing number of songs that declare that God is "Holy Holy." Um... no. God is "Holy Holy Holy." To state something three times, according to the tradtional Jewish mindset, is to declare a perfection that can never be topped. To state anything less is to allow room for improvement.

I do not doubt that the artists are well-intentioned. However, being that there are, literally, hundreds of thousands of wonderful contemporary praise songs, hymns, spirituals, chants, polyphonaies and cantatas one can be inspired by, we have the luxury to be exacting in the doctrines carried within the lyrics. We can afford to demand the best in lyrical worship. In this way, we can have our hearts and minds fully loving God in unison.

James Isabella

Reply to Nick, who was concerned that the Third Day song 'Agnes Dei' only includes two "Holy's" rather than three

Hmm, interesting. Never thought of that. Okay, how about we add another 'Holy' to Third Day's song…

So it now reads:
Holy, Holy
Holy Lord God Almighty

Instead of:
Holy, Holy,
Are you Lord God Almighty.

Can we compromise on that, Nick? I promise never to sing it the other way again! :)


"Amazing Grace" at the cemetary after my aunt's funeral, my sister singing, accompanied by my cousin-in-law and three friends on the banjo. I know my auntie loved it.

"Ave Maria" no matter who sings it or where it is sung.


Church bells! Here in Oxford (UK) when I hear the church bells ringing, I'm transported to a "celestial" plane, and realise that even this wonderful feeling is only a glimpse of the glory of God.

Nick Alexander

Shout out to James--

That's a good fix. Now, only if the legions of admirers of the original song will comply when you sing it in a group setting! (not to mention Smith himself, who may sue over copyright violation...)

Personally, I've had to do this in other songs: God of Wonders? (try to shove a third "Holy" in there somewhere). Chris Tomlin's coda on "Holy Is the Lord"? (sing without the coda). Newsboys' "It is You?" "Three-fold Holy is Our God Almighty..." or "Fully Holy..." or "We say Holy..."

Thanks for understandin'. And until I realized that, AD was one of my faves too...


John Murray

Strangely, very strangely, I have NPR to thank for my interest in liturgical music. Two decades or so ago their evening news show had a brief report on a new recording of William Byrd's Masses for 4 and 5 voices. I ran out and got the vinyl immediately, dumbstruck that such music was intended for use in a Catholic church, during a Mass. No big emotional event, but it did make me aware of the gap between what could be and what was. I still listen to it about once a month (on CD).


Another one: Cristobal de Morales' motet "Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis" sung by the Capella Reial de Catalunya (Jordi Savall) just on the night we learnt that JPII had died. I could not stop weeping for a while...

Mary Jane

As a supposedly high-toned church musician, I hate to confess that one of the songs that affected me deeply during a high-stress phase in my life was Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God." Yes, I know it's a paraphrase and it is totally inappropriate as a responsorial, but that song was right there for me at the right moment.

When I was 10 years old, I was blown out of the water, so to speak, by the opening double-chorus of the St. Matthew Passion. And 40 years later, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

And last, and most ridiculous of all, is an Alanis Morisette song "Head Over Feet." Go figure. I'm driving down the Florida Turnpike and the line "you've already won me over in spite of me" hit the nail on the head of my relationship with God.


The first time I ever heard the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo." I was in high school, and the song is so stunningly beautiful and uplifting and joyful, but at the very same time so haunting and sad. It made me consciously realize for the first time that it really is Christmas Eve other places in the world, too, at the same time that it's Christmas Eve here. And I started to think about what Christmas Eve in Sarajevo must be like, and I just felt so...connected...to everyone in the world celebrating Christmas at that moment. (Very similar situation with Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmastime?", but that one, for some reason, doesn't strike me in quite the same way that "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo" always does.)

Kate P

"Pange Lingua" got me through a really rough summer this year--at one point I was spending a lot of time in adoration chapels and it seemed as if the hymn was following me around; I sang it in church, a few days later I heard it in a song during the "Echoes" public radio program (which normally leans toward new-agey ambient music), and then at the end of the week, I heard it on a CD used during my yogalates class (no kidding, I laughed afterwards). It was reassuring, as if He acknowledged I was coming to Him a lot and knew I needed Him and wanted to tell me He's always there for me--and even in the midst of misery I found I could not help but praise Him, according to the verses.

Patrick Rothwell


I had a similar experience with public radio once. Back around 1990-1991, I was driving down I-85 in North Carolina, and was absolutely blown away by a scratchy recording of Vierne's Messe Solennelle performed by (I think) the Notre Dame Cathedral choir. Personally, I think the Kyrie has one of the greatest opening bars even written in sacred music - one that makes a person Sit Up And Take Notice. Because in part the mass requires two organs to be performed as Vierne intended, it was rarely performed AND it was (until recently) rarely recorded. It's since been re-recorded many times in the last ten years or so, and has even been offered in some local DC area churches with only one organ, including Ascension & St. Agnes, DC (Episcopal) and Holy Trinity, Georgetown (yes THAT one). The late lamented John Balka of St. Matthew's Cathedral once played the Kyrie on the organ after one weekday mass in the summer of 1998.

By the way, there's a fairly decent recording of it by the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

Fr. Andrew G. Bloomfield

Singing the solemn tone of the Alma Redemptoris Mater in pitch-black darkness after Compline at the Abbey of Notre Dame de Fontgombault on the First Sunday of Advent, 1999, with the entire monastic choir. Nothing comes close to joining in praise of our Blessed Mother with 80+ Benedictine monks in our common tongue, inside an Abbey church that is nearly 1000 years old.

Next favorite? Singing the ancient French processional hymns to our Lady while making the walking pilgrimage to Chartres.


Pange Lingua as they were removing the Blessed Sacrament from the Church on Holy Thursday just a few years ago, my first year as DRE here at the parish where I work. They sang it acapella and it tore me to shreads, I was in wracking sobs by the time the church was empty.

Somthing about that song on that night does it to me every year, but that particular night was just so present.

alias clio

The Magnificat in Gregorian chant. Not the modernized tune but the old one.

When it's sung at or near Christmas, it's the most unearthly experience...

Sam Schmitt

Wow, great post. As a church musician, it's humbling to think that perhaps someone listening is really being moved deeply by the music at mass.

This is a tough one, but I'd say it's hard to top singing the Creed in Latin in St. Peter's Square at an outdoor mass with a couple of hundred thousand people - especially "Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam" - it's was difficult for me to keep singing after that.


This may surprise some who know me mainly as a traditionalist, but the one that springs first to my mind actually was during a closing (opening?) hymn at a Methodist church in Houston, TX, that was known for its organist and choir; on the final verse, the organ cranked up, the sopranos in the choir began a purely angelic descant, soaring and beautiful, while the choir filled in the parts and nearly the whole congregation continued to sing the melody strongly. Never before and never sense have I so lost myself emotionally in music - it must have seemed strange to anyone standing nearby, a young kid (I was 17 at the time), still sweating from riding his bike there (long story), all by himself in the front pew, smiling broadly and crying like an absolute baby. I still choke up just thinking about it.

NB: there are to few descants sung by Catholic choirs, methinks -- they are glorious, though I guess they can't really be added to the pop-schlock that we get all too often.

Jeremy Rich

Attending daily morning prayers in Libreville before Mass on the point of conversion, I sang with a group of elderly Gabonese women some psalms and finished with a sung version of the "Cantique de Zacharie" (Luke 1:68-79). It just breaks me up just thinking about how beautiful their voices were, even if they were a bit off-key.

Dave Pawlak

Three instances I can think of:

1) Compline at New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, IA. Psalms 4 and 90 (91) chanted to the accompaniment of a guitar, followed shortly thereafter by the sweetness of the Salve Regina.

2) The Gloria which begins Divine Liturgy at St. George's Melkite Church in Milwaukee. One of the most exuberent songs of praise I've ever known.

3) The music at my wedding, one month ago today. We hired a guitarist and violist, who also sang baritone and mezzo/alto. I especially remember the a capella rendition of "The King of Love My Shepherd is" during Communion.

Maria Ashwell

My husband's cousin was married in a traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony. Most of it was chanted in Greek with some English. It was breathtaking. SACRED in way that I know is rare.
Also, last year, at the very crowded noisy children's Christams Eve mass, I was moved to tears by the children's choir just about every time they sang.
And the day we were blessed with Pope Benedict's election, I went to Mass with my children and at communion we chanted in Latin a prayer for the Pope, don't know what it was, but I felt in that moment the presence of the Universal Church, all of us here, the saints, the choirs of angels. I don't even know what words to describe it with.

Maria Ashwell

Oh and how can I forget, the deacon at my childhood parish singing acapella that prayer at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, of course don't know the real name, but it has the "This is the night..." and " O happy fault" Anyway makes me tear up just remembering.

Taghg Seamus

This one's easy:

I was baptized at St John's Cathedral in Milwaukee in July of 1950. Forty-eight years later, during a concert by the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus in that same cathedral (before the "renovation", thank God) I was part of a group of male singers who, "offstage", i.e., at the baptistery at the front of the cathedral, sang the chant verses to Veni Creator Spiritus between each of the organ variations of the same tune by Maurice Duruflé. I sang that chant with my hand on the very font at which I had been baptized forty-eight years earlier, tears streaming down my face.

I was beyond grateful for my Catholic faith, and, while sad that the many had abandoned the patrimony of beauty that had been bequeathed to them, I was grateful that that same faith had nurtured such beauty in its music and that I was doing just a little to keep that flame burning.

Ron Rolling

I can remember two occasions when this seemed to be true.

The first was when I was the director of the Sanctuary Choir at St. John's Lutheran Church, Sioux City, IA. It was the Sunday after the first Gulf War started. The piece I selected for that day was the round "Dona Nobis Pacem". The choir's performance was satisfactory. The silence afterward summed up nicely what the congregation had in mind and heart.

The other was when I was a member of the Concert Choir at Minnesota State University, Mankato. During a spring tour we had arranged for a rehearsal at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, SD. We pulled out Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" (a setting of the Angelus) and sang through it. I think it was the best we had ever done with it. Nobody wanted to break the silence after we finished. I couldn't help but think, "Folks, we didn't sing; we prayed." Ora pro nobis, indeed.

Charles A.

and another ....

At a newly established Indult Mass here in CT, a newly-established schola doing not-so-well, a West Indian woman of about 65 sitting to my right (with - it looked like - 2 or 3 grandchildren with her) ... singing the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis - perfectly - and perfectly on pitch - without music or a book (meanwhile I'm trying to dope out the neums in my Liber Usualis)...

Et en Arcardia Ego

The most sublime and moving musical experience I can recall from my young life occurred at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a freshman at the university next door, and attended the welcome Mass for new students and their parents. Having grown up on the West Coast where all - and I mean all - of the liturgies I attended were graced with guitar music and new-wave songs, I was completely unprepared for the kind of transcendant liturgical experience that I encountered that Sunday in September. The adult choir and pipe organ in that beautiful Romanesque church burst forth with a glorious entrance hymn, after which the Monsignor proceeded to sing the entire Mass. The Kyrie was otherworldly, as was the responsorial psalm. In short, St. Paul's Cambridge is tremendously blessed with a musical tradition that continues to this day and is very much to be followed.

Second place goes to the Jesuit-run Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue in Manhattan. I attended Solemn Mass there for the feast of Christ the King and was utterly astonished at the beauty of the music. The choir and orchestra performed Mozart's "Coronation Mass", which lifted the souls of all in attendance heavenward.

I feel a bit like Saliere in the opening scene of "Amadeus" talking so rapturously about this music, but there is something so magnificent about the musical treasure of the Catholic Church. I only hope that my generation rediscovers this tradition, which has been overshadowed by the sad, banal repertoire of the last four decades.


Pange Lingua during the Holy Thursday Mass. Our church dims the light as the Priest processes with the Altar Boys one last time before our Eucharist is removed.

Et en Arcadia Ego

I meant to say "Salieri"


Well, that would have to be hands down when I first heard Aquinas' "Adoro te" chanted (during adoration, approptriately enough), first in Latin, then again all the way through in English, utilizing the FANTASTIC translation by Fr. G.M. Hopkins, S.J.

A wonderful statement about the meaning of faith ("Take for truth the word of God's own Son I do...") and the Eucharist in general from the one and only Eucharistic Doctor.


Easter (Pascha) Vigil, 1996, processing thrice around a Russian Orthodox Monastery's Church in northern California's frigid spring air to somber belltones just after midnight. As we completed the procession the Abbot knocked upon the church doors. Then he turned around to us all and called out in a loud voice CHRIST IS RISEN!!!!!
The bells went OFF in joyous acclaim, and we all entered into the formerly black draped sanctuary, which was now all white cloths and bright candlelight (no electricity) with the resounding hymn - alternately in Russian, Greek, English, Arabic and many more besides:


over and over and over again...

As the dawn broke that morning, with the happy strains still ringing in my ears, we climbed a pine carpeted hill to watch the Pascha sun dance with joy at the risen Lord's commemoration.


Having sung in a number of choirs from my teenage years on up, I've had the chance to sing some very good pieces and have experienced some moments that were spine-tingling.

However, I would say the moment that sticks out in my mind that had real spiritual significance was the "Gloria" sung at the Easter Vigil that my husband was received into the Church.

It was, indeed, glorious. The lights came on, the organ was played, the fountain was bubbling water, and everyone sang together. It came close to what I imagine the Angels sing in their praises. For me, it felt like I had been touched by the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, nothing has ever again come close in that church (this was 3 music directors ago).


I forgot to add that along with the lights, the organ, and the fountain, the church bells were pealing for the surrounding area to hear. As I said before, it was glorious!

Another moment, my grandfather's funeral, which came upon the heels of our second miscarriage. The family arranged to have a bagpiper outside playing "Amazing Grace", which made it a perfect sending off as Grandpa played the pipes as a young man in Ireland.


I can think of two: I spent parts of two summers in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks would close Compline each day by singing the Salve Regina, in Latin and a cappela, in a simple two-part harmony. Amazing!

My uncle attended a non-denominational Protestant church that employed "praise bands", and during his funeral, the musicians led a rousing rendition of I'll Fly Away. To this day, I still choke up when I hear that song.


At Taize in France, during Easter Season, as everyone gathered in silence and then began to sing "Christus Resurrexit" as light was passed from candle to candle.


where can i purchase cd or tape or album of monks chanting the gelineau psalms?


When I was singing Ave Maria, I almost started to cry because it was just so touching. I loved the fact that I was using my talent for God and Mary. It just made everything so much more real to me. I feel closer to hime now.

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