This morning at St. Peter's Basilica I had the opportunity to watch a most edifying spectacle: rehearsal. Tomorrow is a big day at the Vatican. The morning Mass (booklet here) will not only mark the great solemn feast of the Epiphany, but will feature four episcopal ordinations, including that of the new Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop-Elect Georg Gaenswein.
So this is how they all spent their Saturday morning: in rehearsal. The Papal Master of Ceremonies and all of the Assistant MCs, the Archbishops-Elect, altar servers, Deacon Christopher Gray, walked through the ceremonies step-by-step. From my experience, this is not exactly a fun exercise, and in fact rehearsal can be a bit tedious. Rehearsal does not have the rhythm of a polished ceremony, but is full of stops and starts and small discussions of small details.
But after all, isn't this what it takes? A good walk-through makes all the difference for the Mass it prepares for. People know where and when to stand and sit, who goes first and next, etc etc etc. The small discussions of small details have already taken place, yesterday, and there is no need to ask now. We already sorted it out. We've gone through it. Now, we can live the present joyful moment.
The choir was rehearsing too, singing the Willcocks arrangement of Venite Adoremus several times, ensuring that tomorrow, the timing among the brass and organ and singers will be quite right. The boy soprano sang his beautiful solo in the Credo, et homo factus est.
And isn't this what it takes to be truly musical? Once the blocking has been done, inspiration can have its day. Musicians can afford to be brilliant, once they are sure of being accurate. Even with the loftiest and most demanding duties, liturgists can afford the attention that prayer requires. Everyone can settle into a recollected liturgical experience. All it takes is the commitment to work.
Nathan Knutson, cathedral and diocesan director of sacred music, performing artist, father, lecturer on sacred music