Not long ago, a young man called Gareth arrived in a community. The members of the community didn’t believe they could sing – at least not in any way people would want to listen to. But Gareth worked with them, boosted their confidence, and they realised they could sing. They went on to do amazing things.
I’m talking, of course, about choirmaster Gareth Malone. At the start of 2011, he arrived at a military camp in Devon and recruited Marines’ wives to form a choir. The BBC made a documentary about it, and with Gareth’s gentle coaching, the wives sang – first in a private rehearsal chamber, then in front of a crowd of shoppers in Barnstaple – and eventually, in front of Her Majesty the Queen at the Royal Albert Hall!
Those wives weren’t professional musicians or performers. But working together, with practice and encouragement, they developed their natural talents, and were recognised as good enough to sing on a national stage.
There was another young man called Gareth. When he was at secondary school, the music teacher advised him not to sing, because he was putting the rest of the class off. But then he went to seminary, where he received some personal coaching. He learned how to carry a tune, and took his place on the rota to sing psalms at Mass. And when he took charge of a parish, he encouraged that parish to sing the Mass parts – I mean chants like the Holy Holy, and the Great Amen – he even had them record a service of worship which was broadcast on Radio Wales! That Gareth, of course, was me.
Today’s psalm invites us all to “sing a new song to the Lord” – it reminds us that when we gather in God’s house, one of the ways we should express our love for God is to sing God’s praises. Music touches a deep part of our souls. Music helps us remember those deep truths of our faith which have been turned into lyrics. One of the saints famously said that “to sing is to pray twice”.
The Jewish people sang at the Temple, and we know what they sang – the Psalms we still use at Mass today. Our Lady sang – we have the words of the Magnificat preserved in the Bible. The Gospel also tells us that Jesus and the Apostles sang at the Last Supper. And can you imagine the wedding at Cana – after all that excellent wine – without some quite lively songs being sung?
Here at St John Lloyd, we are also called to express our love for God by singing. We don’t need to become professional singers. We can be amateurs – indeed, the word amateur means someone who does something out of love. [A comment here will reflect on each different congregation’s musical ability at the three different Masses.] Today’s second reading reminds us that God gives different gifts to different people; not all of us have the ability to sing a solo or to sing harmonies. But I believe that each and every person here at Mass today is capable of singing a simple tune well, out of love for God.
Don’t be deterred. Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re no good at singing? That’s what I was told at school, but they were wrong – all I needed was some coaching.
Perhaps you feel self-conscious; no-one wants to be the first to sing up. But here we can help each other – if we all sing out loud and strong, we will support each other, and no one person’s mistakes will be noticed.
Perhaps quite a few of us who would happily sing in the pub don’t feel quite the same about singing in Church. It’s true that in within living memory, there was a time when it wasn’t common to sing at Catholic services, unless you were part of a choir trained in Latin chants. But that only reflects the more recent centuries in the history of our church. So take heart – God’s message today commands us not to be silent, but to cry out, and to sing a new song to the Lord! So I’m inviting you, today, to make a renewed commitment in your heart, that when you come to Mass, you also choose to sing loud, sing strong, and sing with love for God.
I know that in recent years this parish met one challenge to “Raise the Roof”, by raising money to repair the roof. Now I am challenging you to raise the roof another way, with song. And since the psalm today tells us to sing a new song to the Lord, I am going to teach you a new song – one we can sing unaccompanied, even while our musicians are receiving communion.
The song I’ve just taught you will be our “theme song” for the Year of Faith. I invite you to learn it, to sing it, and to meditate on the meaning of the words. The Military Wives perform in T-shirts declaring: “My husband serves Queen and Country – I sing for Queen and Country”. I’m not going to give you a T-shirt, but I do offer you a slogan: I sing a new song for the Lord!