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On the Death of a Choir Director

I was driving to attend a 9:00 A.M. traditional Latin Mass with my family recently. Ordinarily, the trip is exciting for us. My wife and I love the anticipation of attending a prayerful Mass. My boys like that they can listen to audio books during the trip, and then be sprinkled with holy water during the Asperges. My two-year-old daughter is enamored of the Latin Mass because she gets to see babies, which says all you need to know about our usual Novus Ordo parish at home.

However, on this particular morning, I was battling feelings of bitterness.

I woke up at 5:15 A.M. to make the trip. We had to leave earlier than usual for the two-and-a-half-hour drive. It had snowed the previous day, and the highways were icy and treacherous. Thick fog was rolling in as well. To make the visibility more wretched, our van abruptly ceased discharging windshield washer fluid. I nearly turned around.

What kept me driving that morning were mental images of the Mass we were fleeing. At our local Novus Ordo Mass, it was “Development and Peace” Sunday, promoting the Canadian bishops’ social justice organization, which has scandalously funded pro-abortion groups. In addition, that Sunday was my wife’s birthday, and she rightly wanted to avoid the awkward liturgical “Happy Birthday” serenade at Mass. A further reason was to escape yet another superfluous YouTube “homily.” Overall, we were fleeing a Mass that stifles, numbs, and eventually deadens our best spiritual intentions. These thoughts, in addition to the precarious weather, immersed me in bitterness.

Also on my mind was the recent death of someone I had known while growing up. She was the longtime choir director at my home parish. This particular choir director was a champion for every aspect of reform in the Mass, or rather desecration, that I despise, including banal music, the rejection of Latin, and the promotion of any modern-sounding idea. Indeed, like the infamous Susan from the Parish Council, she represented what it meant to sing a new Church into being, and it was not gratifying.

As I drove to Mass that morning, I considered how, even from an early age, I never got along with this choir director. Once, I had to sing with the “youth choir” for a Mass. I found it humiliating to stand in front of the congregation while singing: “And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack. Ouch!” The song jeeringly continued: “And I’m so happy. So very happy.” With great irony I mouthed those words.

On rare occasions, this woman would lead her choir in a non-traditional Latin song such as “Dona Nobis Pacem.” She seemingly performed the Latin so as not to spiritually enlighten, but rather to deride the ancient language. As the orcs in The Lord of the Rings sent dismembered heads of the Gondor warriors over the walls of Minas Tirith, likewise, a defaced and scorned piece of sacred tradition was propelled toward the few in the parish who had not yet totally despaired.

For my confirmation, our bishop had the brilliant idea of renting a hockey rink for celebrating one large Mass. This way he could confirm half the diocesan youth in one afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the choir director of my parish was chosen to lead the music. Thus, I was confirmed while standing on a stage built over a penalty box, desperately trying to block out Bryan Adams’s “Everything I Do, I Do It For You,” which was being sung by a choir of senior citizens. Bryan Adams reportedly wrote this song in less than one hour, and I believe it. I spent the rest of the Mass fuming.

Somehow the Paraclete did come to me that day. I fought our choir director ferociously in subsequent years, as did my parents. One afternoon, I even remember getting into a shouting match with her. It was a breaking point. What I loved about the Church was undergoing thorough destruction, like a high altar in the year 1970. The sentiments of writer Evelyn Waugh to Lady Diana Cooper described my feelings: “They are destroying all that was superficially attractive about my Church. It is a great sorrow to me and for once undeserved. If you see Cardinal Bea [a key figure at Vatican II] spit in his eye” (A Bitter Trial, p. 68).

Thankfully, spitting in the choir director’s eye never happened. I moved on to university. Amazingly, the choir director eventually moved far away as well. I never heard about her afterward — not until the night before I left on my recent family trip to the Latin Mass. That is when I learned that she had died.

With these bitter thoughts in my mind, I drove my family through icy conditions in order to attend the Latin Mass. Thankfully, we arrived safe and in good time. The Asperges sprinkled my boys, my little girl smiled at all the babies, and my wife and I prayed with fervor and devotion in the presence of a tabernacle embedded in a newly constructed high altar.

After Holy Communion, I knelt down and prayed. “O Bone Jesu” echoed harmoniously throughout the church while the sweet smell of incense dissipated, as if the veil between earth and heaven was now lifted. I looked up and observed young families everywhere, approaching the Sacred Mystery with reverence and peace. What I really witnessed was my faith, and all its fullness, resting upon a Church so wounded by years of infiltrated principles. The Church has been wounded, but it is not dead. Nor will it die.

At that moment, I remembered the soul of the choir director. In an inexplicable way, it was this woman who had compelled me to flee my home parish, a frequent source of anguish, and journey to a far greater place than I deserve — indeed, somewhere greater than I could have ever hoped: to authentic Catholicism.

I prayed for her soul. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

Without bitterness, I prayed.

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