Christmas brings best out of choirs, congregations

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Go ahead, Catholics. Sing your lungs out this Christmas. You know the words and music, let it out. Your parish choir will love you for it, because it means they are doing their jobs well.

If there is no fire in the choir, there is no fire in the pews.

“That’s a moment of satisfaction for every music minister,” said Katie Beyers, associate director of the diocesan Office of Sacred Worship and director of music.

“‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is one of my favorites because people sing it without abandon,” she said. “It’s amazing. It’s invigorating. It breathes life into the words on the page.”
And into the liturgy, which is the reason the church has always valued music.

But as you hear the majesty of the music, Beyers wants you to know how hard choirs, their directors and the musicians have worked to make it right.

“You start rehearsing Christmas music when you are still wearing flip-flop (sandals in the late summer),” Beyers said.

“We live for Christmas,” she said. “It is a moment to give your best. If you are a performer in a musical setting, preparation is part of it and prayer is part of it.”

Music ministers also know very well that the packed churches they will sing to at Christmas also includes people drawn to the beauty of the particular liturgy of which music plays a large role..

It is on those rare occasions that a choir can remind many people, perhaps on one of the few occasions, in addition to Easter, that they will be there all year, of the beauty of faith.

“Choirs definitely have evangelization on their minds,” Beyers said. And that is why they work and pray so hard to breathe new passion into even the most familiar works, always with an ear to the particular customs and traditions of each particular parish.

“It’s a challenge for music directors to keep it fresh and to keep the traditions going,” by singing those songs “everybody knows” and infusing their gifts and their passion into it, she said.

“If it’s just a karaoke version, then it has no meaning. It has to come from a point of prayer,” Beyers said.

And each Christmas Mass is special, carrying its own music.

Christmas Vigil Mass is a time of quiet reflection of the impending gift of Jesus’ birth.

“The lullaby is what you hear at night,” she said, noting that “Silent Night” is the perfect lullaby.

But that is also a Mass that can be filled with families and young children.

“The trade-off is that you have this wonderful community of children,” especially in larger parishes with schools and a children’s choir.

“You can’t attend a children’s choir Mass at Christmas and leave unhappy,” Beyers said.

At the Mass During the Night, especially if celebrated at midnight, the focus changes to the moment of the birth of the Savior.

No matter how many times she’s heard and sung it herself, and it is many, Beyers said “O Holy Night” still gives her thrills.

“‘O Holy Night’ is for a lot of people what that midnight moment is all about,” Beyers said.

On Christmas Day, music ministers take the role of the angels, proclaiming the Good News.

“We are the choir of angels on earth and we come bearing glad tidings,” Beyers said.

And there is plenty of opportunity to mix in gorgeous liturgical music that is not heard on your all-day, all-Christmas radio, she said, and to let the congregation soak it in.

Among Beyers’ favorites, the haunting Marian poem, “Of a Rose” set to music by John Rutter.

“It still keeps that anticipation of what is to happen. I think it is perfect for a Vigil,” she said.

Also perfect for Christmas, is Eleanor Farjeon’s “People, Look East.”

“It’s a folk song, yet it is full of our faith story,” Beyers said.

But yet, even though Christmas offers opportunity for choirs to show their best, it is also a time to lead.

“One of the personal things I like is hearing the congregation singing over the choir,” Beyers said.

“One of the reasons you want to show your best is to draw people into that community,” she said.


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October 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph