By Marilyn Rodrigues and George Al-Akiki
The Catholic Church in Sydney is finding its voice again, bringing youth together with a vision to fill the city with sacred song.
A jaw-dropping 1100-strong student choir assembled at St Mary’s Cathedral on 23 November to prove that a renaissance of sacred music is underway.
The sung Mass was celebrated by Bishop Richard Umbers to celebrate the partnership between Sydney Catholic Schools and the Jubilate Deo program.
Beginning in 2018 with Brigidine Catholic College, Randwick, Jubilate Deo director Ronan Reilly and his tutors have trained students from nine primary and two secondary schools in a repertoire inspired by Pope Paul VI’s vision of a church familiar with Gregorian chant.
Led by the original Brigidine choir, the students sang favourites like “In Faith and Hope and Love” by modern Australian hymnographers James McAuley and Richard Connolly, and fittingly, the Renaissance hymn “Jubilate Deo”—deftly accomplishing a three-part round.
The students also chanted the responses of the Mass, which they have been practicing at school.
The students say that learning music from the church’s rich treasury connects them with their faith and each other, and is simply fun to sing.
Feedback from parents and principals is also glowing and the Jubilate Deo program will be expanded to include more schools, as well as parishes and Catholic university chaplaincies.
The aim is to enhance people’s participation in local liturgies and unite the whole archdiocese in song at events like the annual Walk for Christ.
Bishop Umbers, who has prepared and delivered the archdiocese’s bid to host the 54th International Eucharistic Congress, told the packed cathedral on 23 November that half a million Sydneysiders joined a procession of the Blessed Sacrament from the Cardinal Cerretti chapel in Manly to the cathedral when Sydney hosted the 29th congress, in 1928.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing 100 years later to sing all together in the streets of Sydney like that again?” he said.
The host of the 2028 congress will be announced at the conclusion of the one held in Quito, Ecuador, next September.
Even if Sydney’s bid does not succeed, Jubilate Deo is giving the next generation a fresh grounding in beautiful music and the church’s tradition.
In his homily, Bishop Umbers recommended that organisers of school Masses use the chants of the Mass which are found in the Roman Missal.
They are forms of sung prayer containing “both the old and new, innovation and the time-tested.”
“The Mass we are singing today is a treasury of tradition, a beauty which is expressive of prayer,” he said.
“We’re all singing together and there is gravitas, a certain solemnity. So that as we make melody to the Lord, we feel and experience the sacred.
“The sources for our song are Scripture and the Liturgy, and we pray as Christians as we sing.”
Following the Mass the bishop said that it was a sign of the future of the church in Sydney “where we will be praising God at the top of our lungs, all together in the streets, giving witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.”
Anthony Cleary, director of religious education and evangelisation for Sydney Catholic Schools, said the Jubilate Deo initiative has been good for Catholic education and the whole church and he looks forward to its expansion in 2024.
“Through it, young people are immersing themselves in an experience of the good, the true and the beautiful,” Cleary said.
“Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium reminds us that when one encounters beauty, one encounters the Lord himself.
“This morning I think we would all agree that that were moved by the experience we had—certainly an encounter with the divine.”