[dropcap type=”4″]T[/dropcap]he unified voices and various instruments of a church’s choir gather us in and send us forth. Their melodies lift Catholic hearts on a journey through the Bible and place them at the heavenly banquet.
The voices and souls that form Mass choirs do so out of a love for music and a desire to serve. At St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale, those voices belong to six choirs, including three for children. And while their voices are strong when united, they pray that they themselves will be transparent.
At least that’s how William Buthod, organist and associate musician who also leads the parish children’s choir, said he leads choristers in prayer. He asks God to remove them from the liturgy so that only His message shines through.
“There’s somebody out there who needs to hear those words today,” he tells choristers, referring to each song’s content.
Buthod, alongside Verena Anders, director of music, try to harmonize with other liturgical content. On one recent weekend, the adult choir even remained in the pews until the Communion song.
“It’s just as much about the person in the pew,” Anders said. “We just try to reinforce what’s already happening with the liturgy.”
Kathleen Horne’s daughter is in her second year as part of the children’s honor choir. Even though her daughter has a hearing impairment, Buthod and Anders made music such a positive experience when they brought it to the St. Thomas Aquinas classroom, that Horne’s daughter continued to pursue singing. Horne said the hearing impairment has fallen by the wayside.
“She’s focusing on her heart and singing and we’ve seen her self-esteem just go through the roof,” Horne said.
The 11-year-old even served as cantor one Sunday.
“Music allows people to participate more in the entire Mass, not just responding at a particular moment,” Horne said.
Maggie Adrian has been singing with the adult choir at the late morning Sunday Mass for roughly eight years. She’s also part of a new women’s choir.
She sees it as a free voice or music lesson — a hearkening back to her glee club days in high school and college. It’s an activity and a service project that supports her love of singing.
“It’s a form of worship and prayer. That’s what I take it as. That’s what I love about it,” Adrian said.
She sees the music component of a liturgy complementing other parts of the Mass to bring it together for parishioners.
Sometimes that connection is so strong, that parish staff carrying about their day stops to listen. Horne, who also works in the parish office, noted that several members of the staff step outside during a funeral Mass where they can hear music through the bell tower.
Anders said liturgical music is about careful planning.
“Any piece of music can really be touching if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing and the theme of the day,” Anders said.
She’s attentive to what’s possible and to the Holy Spirit. Buthod agreed.
“We’re careful with our approach to ministry here and doing it prayerfully. God gives us all the tools we need to connect with them,” Buthod said.
Each choir leads Massgoers in a wide variety of music styles. The Schola Cantorum, an audition-only group that often sings alongside the adult choir, is the exception.
Cassandra Gonzales, 21, joined the Way, Truth, Life choir for teenagers and young adults a year and a half ago as a way of looking for friends in a new diocese. She noticed that the closing song, meant to send forth the crowd, has many staying through to the final note.
“It’s nice to know they’re very much in the moment,” Gonzales said.
She has gotten more involved herself too. Gonzales is among the youth responsible for composing the psalm every Sunday.
The choir experience, Gonzales said, has “definitely shown me a better way of life as opposed to other paths I could have taken.”