I felt privileged and blessed to have the opportunity to attend a sacred music concert at the newly rededicated St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on September 30th, 2016.
Articles about the restoration project of the Cathedral have been featured on all major newspapers. Reports on this beautiful sacred place in Toronto have been shown on local TV news channel. Praises and positive commentaries on the concert were all over social media. There are very few words that I can actually use to describe how beautiful is the building and how glorious were the sound of the choristers from the St. Michael’s Choir School and the tones from the beautiful Casavant organ played by organist William O’Meara that have not been used in all those reports yet.
True. I was blown away by how they managed to restore a Cathedral to its present glorious state. The statues, the detailing of every archway, the ceilings, every ornamental design on the beams, the light fixtures, the stained glass,… that was truly a feast for my eyes. Seriously, when my eyes could see so much more details than my digital camera could capture, I thanked God for his creation of our human eyes. I wonder what is the capacity of our eyes in terms of megapixels?!!
The choral music performed by the 275 members of the St. Michael’s Choir School was magnificent! Together with the organist and a brass ensemble, the choristers performed works across time, from Palestrina to Haydn, Bruckner to modern composers. They were really well done! Most important of all, the program was well chosen, showing reverence to the space and letting the glorious music showed the power of God.
All the above would be worthy for one to dwell on and to write a touching article. However, I want to talk about a magical moment that happened at 7 PM! As the booklet for the concert says,
The Cathedral’s capacity, I was told, would be around 1200. Prior to 7 PM, people were entering the Cathedral, claiming their favorite spot to sit, walking around, taking pictures, or chatting with friends. The choristers had walked in 5 minutes earlier and were standing in place. The place was bustling with people and sounds. I was reading the program booklet when I noticed a sudden dead silence. At first, I thought someone important walked in but I did not see anything out of the ordinary from my spot in the choir loft with an unobstructed view. I looked at my watch and it was 7 PM. The silence was so pronounced that one usher walked up an aisle with a stack of program booklets in her hand and I could hear her every footstep clearly. The silence went on for about 7 minutes until Cardinal Collins, the Rector of the Basilica and the Director of the Choir School walked in and approached the ambo. During those 7 minutes or so of silence, the atmosphere was stunning.
Why would so many people in the Cathedral collectively willingly participating in this moment of silence? I really cannot explain the phenomenon. I did not hear an announcement asking for silence. I did not see anyone signaling people to quiet down. Except for the choristers standing at the edge of the Sanctuary, there was no movement by the altar in front of us. The only explanation that I can think of would be that our good old Catholic training, attending mass and learning to be silently praying in church trained us all to this stillness, but that still wouldn’t explain the “sudden” silence at 7 PM for so many minutes! We are talking about over 1000 people in the Cathedral here!
I remembered that after the first puzzling minute of silence, I found myself willingly staying quiet and sitting there by the pew. Personally, I just felt that I could use that time to clear out the noise and the chatter in my mind and in my heart. I was anticipating a sacred music concert and needed that time of silence to properly prepare myself for the coming of the glorious sounds. Looking up at the ceiling of the Cathedral, there was a dove suspending from a light fixture.
It seemed to symbolize the coming of the Holy Spirit among us, weaving through the music, reaching deep into our souls. Mother Teresa had said that
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.”
Of course, there is also the famous line from St. Augustine saying that “he who sings prays twice.” Such is the power of music!
I would say that evening, in the St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, everyone faced God in prayer and in silence. I knew I went home after the concert with my heart enlightened and my spirit renewed. The Divine communicated with me in a very personal way and, more importantly, I experienced that power of silence.