By: Dan Branch
It’s five thirty on a Sunday night. The congregation of the Cathedral of the Nativity is gathered to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Amos Kissel, a member of the Cathedral Singers invites everyone to stand and join in singing Forty Days of Lent. As rain falls on the Cathedral’s roof and Sally Moskito lays down a beat on an African drum, we sing the hymn that reminds us of why we are here.
Father Pat processes up the aisle, then welcomes us to the celebration. Minutes later, after we listened to the description from the Book of Samuel of how God selected David to be the new King, the Cathedral Singers form to the left of the altar and sing the refrain from the Twenty-Third Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” I sense, as I join the choir in repeating the refrain, that they believe every word of it.
Perhaps the key to the choir’s ability to communicate their faith through the songs they sing at mass is the length of time they have prayed and sung together. They first sang as a choir in November 1995 at the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. Before that the choir members had only sung during weekly meetings of their Twin Hearts of Mary and Jesus Prayer Group. At that time the Sunday 5:30 mass lacked a choir. Father Peter Gorges, then the rector for the Cathedral, asked Thelma Carillo, one of the prayer group’s members, if they could fill the slot. Happily for those of us who consider the 5:30 our mass, they agreed.
The choir sang a cappella during the celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Lent but they are usually accompanied by Annette Barril on twelve string guitar, and when she is not traveling, Mary Stone on the piano. Before he moved to Montana, music director Kris Seaman served as their pianist. Emma Quimpo often acts as the lead vocalist. Her voice blends beautifully with other choir members Sally Moskito, Annette Barril, Mila Reyes, Remy Carrillo, Amos Kissel, Thelma Carillo, and Nita Sablada.
Sally Moskito believes that each of the choir’s songs is a prayer to God – a prayer of praise, worship, adoration and thanksgiving. She recognizes that God is always in our midst, ready to help, and feels that she talks to Him thru singing. She and Emma Quimpo believe that when they sing they pray twice.
St. Augustine once wrote “cantare amantis est… Singing belongs to one who loves.” Since choir members gather as a prayer group each Sunday afternoon to deepen their love of God, Augustine would agree that the songs they sing during mass do belong to them.
Before each mass the choir practices the hymns they will share with that week’s congregation. Because they know that they cannot make sacred music without help, they pray for the Holy Spirit to send angels to help them sing. When this writer asked Sally Moskito why the choir members’ voices blend so well, she said they ask the choirs of angels in heaven to help and to sing with them and she believes that they do.