ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. Translation: You are Peter [Rock], and on this Rock I shall build my Church.
Those are the large letters written above the columns on the interior of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a lovely building on Capitol Hill (Washington, DC). I was truly blessed to be invited to participate in some of the liturgies during Holy Week and Easter. Dr. Kevin O’Brien is the organist and music director at St Peter’s, and he assembled an octet of singers for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Saturday Easter Vigil, and two Masses on Easter Sunday.
The rehearsals Monday and Tuesday evening of Holy Week were the first times I had rehearsed in-person in an ensemble with other musicians in over a year, and to say that it felt like enjoying a feast after a long period of fasting hardly begins to describe how my experience; imagine giving up something you really love for a very long Lent! The Monday was also the first time I had been on Capitol Hill since paying my respects when Justice Ginsburg lay in repose at the Supreme Court building; returning to the old neighborhood where I worked for almost 25 years was fraught with emotion. It was also sobering to see the fences that were still surrounding the Capitol grounds after the January 6 armed insurrection.
The repertoire for Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, the two liturgies I sang, included some familiar old friends such as the two Leo Nestor pieces pictured below as well as pieces new to me like the lovely “Gloria” movement from Mozart’s “Missa Brevis,” K. 194. Cantor duties were divided up among the various singers–some familiar and some new–and I got to sing some of the verses in the Responsorial Psalm after the first reading at the Vigil, as well as the lengthy Litany of the Saints during the Baptism portion of the Mass. Despite singing pretty steadily in various churches, it has been over 10 years since I did any cantor work, and I enjoyed being able to have that particular type of communication with the congregation (or audience).
The Monday rehearsal had reassured me that, yes, I can still do this kind of work. Then Tuesday night I was feeling really in good shape vocally, and as a result probably sang out more than I should have, given that it was another three-hour rehearsal and I hadn’t been singing that much on a regular basis for over a year. But I had two days to recover and rest before Good Friday.
Saturday was another challenge harkening back to the good old days of sometimes grueling schedules at the [Basilica of the] National Shrine [of the Immaculate Conception]. We had a rehearsal with the orchestra (well, string quintet) from 10am to 1pm, then six hours in which to trek back to Reston, locate the accessories for my tuxedo, iron my shirt, shave and shower, eat enough-but-not-too-much, and if possible, take a nap before returning to St. Peter’s to rehearse at 7pm for the 8pm Vigil.
The nap never happened, but I am happy to report I got everything else done, and managed to get through the additional hour of rehearsal and then the three-hour Vigil with my voice in good repair. I even still had a serviceable low-E for the last piece we sang, Leo Nestor’s “Resurrexi” after Communion. I would’ve given everything I had left for the closing hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today,” but I had to get up on Easter Sunday morning to sing at St. Dunstan’s, so I had to be prudent.