By Jonathan Perez
The statement “to sing is to pray twice” is attributed to St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, who might have based his comments on the Book of Psalms, a collection of hymns primarily to God.
Music has been a part of the Catholic Liturgy — from the meditative and solemn Gregorian and Latin chants to the contemporary hymns written by modern-day composers like Sarah Hart, Bernadette Farrel, Dan Shutte and Bob Hurd, and Fr. Ricky Manalo of the Paulist Fathers.
This has also been the work of Saskatoon’s St. Cecilia Choir, leading God’s flock to prayer through music not only at Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon, but also through regular schedules in other churches that require their services, including the Cathedral of the Holy Family, the seat of Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
The choir first began in response to a call to sing for Simbang Gabi Mass (Missa de Gallo Mass, a Filipino Catholic tradition to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth and to spiritually prepare for Christmas).
Ian Rana, a parishioner and volunteer at Holy Spirit Parish, heeded the call and invited some Filipino parishioners to sing Filipino songs for the mass. The group evolved along the way with a mission to lead the congregation and enhance the Gospel through music, until it became a full-blown choir coordinated by six leaders.
St. Cecilia Choir sings in four Saskatoon parishes — Holy Spirit, St. Joseph, Holy Family Cathedral and St. Anne’s. Requests also arise, in which the choir is invited to serve in other parishes — including, St. Patrick, St. Michael, and St. Francis Xavier in Saskatoon, and recently at St. Theresa Parish in the neighbouring town of Asquith.
St. Cecilia Choir took their name in honour of the third-century virgin and martyr St. Cecilia, the Catholic patron saint of musicians, who is also venerated in the Orthodox, Anglican and some Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden.
The group struggled significantly in the earlier stages and through the pandemic that hit in 2020. However, after the seed was planted, it blossomed into a full choir as pieces fell into place one at a time. The choir now features SATB (four parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass) and descanters, including both Filipino and non-Filipino members and a range of ages.
The choir has grown to over 30 members, splitting into two groups to serve and lead other parishes in the music liturgy when needed.
St. Cecilia Choir (SCC) won the Filipino-Canadian Community Associations Christmas Songfest across Canada in December 2022. The cash prize was donated to a Catholic charitable institution for poor and abandoned elderly persons in the Philippines.
In addition to Eucharistic celebrations, SCC members also lend their voices at weddings, baptisms and funeral services, and joined the Diocesan Choir led by Shaun Bzdel during the Lenten season.
SCC also hosted a successful fundraising activity and donated the proceeds toward repairs at St Joseph Parish in Saskatoon.
This summer, SCC will lead the faithful at the Rama Pilgrimage Aug. 14 and 15, singing worship songs as a prelude to the Eucharistic celebration on the first day, and again on the Feast Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
SCC members have committed to sing and answer the Lord’s call to serve when needed. SCC will also continue to sing for the traditional Simbang Gabi, the nine-day mass during the Advent season leading to the celebration of the birth of Christ on Dec. 25 at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.
(Jonathan Perez is a member of St. Cecilia Choir and a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. He is also a news reporter for Sask Today.)