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24.8.03

I Sing Because I'm Happy, I Sing Because I'm Free

Between Assumption and the Sunday after Labor Day, the Choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has its annual hiatus. For me, one of the joys of not having to be at the Shrine is being able to go to Mass as a member of a congregation, at my home parish on East Capitol Hill, Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian. If you are in Washington and you want to hear a first-rate Gospel choir sing a Catholic Mass, go to the 11 am Sunday Mass. Kenneth Louis is the Minister of Music, and the choir sings his music and arrangements of Gospel standards every Sunday. Be warned, however, if you are used to a staid, quiet, 1-hour Mass: you are going to hear some real preaching, people are going to be moved by the Spirit, and you will be in Church for two hours. The past two Sundays have been the perfect antidote for my jaded attitute toward the Church because of the abuse scandal.

One of the things the choir sang this morning was Kirk Franklin's Why We Sing, and it's difficult to put into words the effect it had on me. The lyrics are so simple, but it made me remember why I like to sing and why good liturgical music, from chant to Palestrina to Kirk Franklin, is so effective. It is the power of music like this that made Saint Augustine so uneasy, as he described in the tenth book of his Confessions. Although he was afraid that sometimes music itself can become more moving than the sacred words that are sung, Augustine finally admits that "by the delight of the ears the weaker minds may rise to the feeling of devotion." Even when one's heart is cold with bitterness.

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