The parish priest wants more people to join the choir. Six, he says, is not enough; there should be at least ten of us. And in a way he has a point. We’re not a large parish, but there are certainly people scattered around the church with good voices, singing out on Sunday mornings, and every now and then he makes an appeal for more members. I’m grateful for his support, but I know from talking to people that one of the barriers to joining is our Wednesday evening practice: parents are busy with families, or aren’t yet home from work, older people often don’t like coming out on dark winter nights. So we adapt. The ones who come on Wednesdays, do. They learn the psalm, the communion song, the acclamations, so they can give a lead. On Sundays we have a short rehearsal before Mass, in the meeting room, to which all are welcome. People who can pick things up quickly, who like the singing, join us then, and everyone learns the psalm response, or a Communion chant, at a short introduction about seven minutes before Mass begins.

We’ll never sing the Hallelujah Chorus like this – but why would we want to, at 10.30am in St Joseph’s, with the Children’s Liturgy group making their cheerful way back into the assembly, and the grown-ups welcoming them and assimilating the homily… What we might be moving towards is a gradual understanding that singing is something we do together, as a community gathered to worship in this place; and that our song is sometimes our great praise and sometimes our quiet prayer.

The women of the choir are mothers and grandmothers. Their attendance at choir practice and indeed at Mass on Sundays is affected by whether they’re on grandparent duty or not. They are also (and I know you’ll recognise this phenomenon) the ones who make the coffee after Mass, arrange the flowers, run the Church Bazaar, populate parish prayer groups, lead baptism preparation, visit the local prison. It’s my hope that as people join with the song they might also join with the life of the church: not just the coffee and the flowers and the bazaar, but also the work of being Christ to others in their families, workplaces and in the town. I came into the Church twenty-seven years ago via a group of young people singing their way through the Celebration Hymnal in a presbytery in south London, and now I could not be anywhere else. What surprised me (again) when I came to St Joseph’s, and began to look after the music and some of the liturgy, was how many people have taken this same route, and how much the liturgy sustains them in their lives of continuing conversion. Not as in ‘Oh, the music was nice this morning’, but as in ‘I’ve been singing that psalm all the way through our OFSTED’.

Sing the Lord a new song.

Let the sea and all its creatures,

the coastland and its people,

fill the world with praise.

 

Let every village and town,

from Kedar on the plain

to Sela in the hills,

take up the joyful song.

Sing glory to the Lord,

give praise across the world

 

Isaiah 42:10-12

 

AnnB