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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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The Liturgical Heart of our Schools

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By Sister Cecilia Joseph, OP

Something strange is happening…

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In Term 2, I joined students on an after school excursion to a dance competition. Halfway through the trip, coming from the back of the bus I heard repeated rounds of a Latin chant in honour of St John the Baptist, sung by a group of Year 5 boys. One of the girls leaned over to me and said, “Sister, you know why they are singing that? Because it’s catchy!” 

One afternoon during Term 3 I was walking around the yard during recess.  A group of boys ran up and asked if they could sing for me. Not knowing what to expect, they sang, in three parts, the Magnificat round they had recently learned. Arms linked as at a footie game, they were all smiles. Joy was overflowing, a sure sign of the Holy Spirit!

A Year 6 teacher reported to me that some students recently chose to learn the Magnificat on piano which they presented as part of their Electricity Science Assessment.

So what IS happening?

The mission of a Catholic school is an extension of the mission of the Church. In addition to the transmission of the faith, the Congregation for Catholic Education emphasises that a main priority for Catholic schools must be the integration of faith, life, and culture.

Given the ideological and political situation of mainstream society, the lessening of religious belief and practise amongst families, and the changing religious landscape in Australia, these goals can seem unattainable. In his book Beauty for Truth’s Sake, Stratford Caldecott states,

What defines secularism more than anything is an inability to pray, and the modern world in its worst aspects is a systematic assault on the very idea of worship, an idea that begins with the acknowledgement of a Transcendent that reveals itself in the Immanent.

In the Jubilate Deo Sacred Music Program, Sydney Catholic Schools has a critical tool for countering secularism. Children love to sing. Children, regardless of their religious background, love to pray. This program brings together these two elements, forming students and staff in the beauty and rich tradition of the liturgical life of the Church. Through instruction in chant, students and staff are drawn more deeply into the mystery of the divine, into the prayer of the Mass, and become attentive to other liturgical moments of the day. The natural overflow of this experience is a school culture “in which the air of grace can freely circulate” (Caldecott). The effects of this program are beyond what we could have imagined.

Over the past year, it has been beautiful to watch the transformation at St Peter Chanel as students and staff recognise the liturgical life of the Church as that which gives life to who we are and what we do. By their prayerful participation through word and voice during Mass and other times of prayer, it is evident they are entering more deeply into worship. The liturgical heart of a school marks a truly Catholic culture where faith and life are one.

In their pastoral letter 200 Years Young, the Bishops described Catholic schools as “a jewel in the crown of the Catholic Church in Australia.” The Jubilate Deo Sacred Music Program is an essential tool as we continue to strengthen our schools in knowing and loving Christ through thriving Catholic communities.

A closing anecdote: On the first day of Term 4, a mother of a Year 4 boy met me at the front gate, explaining that she was enjoying ‘the song’ her son was learning at school. After a nudge from the Holy Spirit I asked, “do you mean the Magnificat?” She excitedly agreed, explaining that her son and his friends sang this chant while playing video games and whenever they played together during the holidays. She knew the chant was in a language she didn’t understand and was pleased to learn it was Latin. She enthusiastically asked that they continue to learn such songs. 

A message from Mr. Tony Farley on the Jubilate Deo Sacred Music Program: “The Jubilate Deo Program has arrived in Sydney Catholic Schools and is already a huge hit with our students and school community. The program is bringing our students closer to Christ and the Church through the gift of beautiful traditional music. Children naturally love to sing and this program allows them to use this gift in a way that is timeless, engaging and traditional. Through learning the parts of the Mass and actively singing throughout the Mass, our students are immersing themselves in the beauty and transcendence of our Church and its traditions… I can see the Jubilate Deo Program growing in popularity across our system of schools.”

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