Hymns, funerals and extra mourners

I am not much into music, especially religious music. In church I try to sing along, or at least lip sync, when I know the song. However there is no way I can contribute to a song I haven’t heard enough to recognize the melody.

This past Saturday, I was the reader at 5:30 Mass.  Afterwards, I went over to Julie, the song leader, to compliment her on her contribution. A few weeks ago, after a Mass that had four hymns I had never heard before, I had teased her that she and the organist were apparently trying to sing every song in the hymnal at least once during the year. So when I approached her on Saturday, she asked if I thought they were doing any better with their music selection. This got us talking about “So what are your favorite pieces?” I mentioned a few, but said my all-time favorite was “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Julie responded, “Well you must not go to many funerals, because we always sing it there.”

I told her I had been to many funerals as a child (more on that in a moment), but fortunately, I had not much opportunity to do so lately.

During the course of the conversation, I recalled a television show that had a short run in the 1990s that focused on an urban Catholic parish. I couldn’t remember much about it, but I did remember one episode that concerned the death of a nun and a beautiful rendition of “On Eagle’s Wings” at her funeral.

Mrs. Poolman has accused me of being a bit obsessive on more than one occasion. I do hate to leave mysteries unsolved. When I got home, I got on-line and tried to locate this program. Actually, a quick Google search for “tv, drama, catholic, priest” turned up the answer in nothing flat.  “Nothing Sacred” was an ABC network program that had a short run in 1997-98. Beyond that, it turns out there are a number of episodes on YouTube. Since the show had only a short run, it was pretty easy to narrow down the episodes to find the funeral scene. Here it is. The clip is of the entire last segment of the show. The song starts just past the 9-minute mark.

So, why, you might wonder, did I attend so many funerals as a child? It had nothing to do with dying family members, although there were those too. I went to a Catholic grade school, and my sixth grade teacher, Sister Mary Leonard, was also the musical director for the parish. Fairly frequently, when she was called upon to play music for a week-day funeral. Usually there was no substitute teacher available, so Sister just brought the class along for the funeral. Three to four times a month, a grieving group of family and friends would show up at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church to say farewell to a loved one, and there, sitting in the back rows of the church, were 40-45 sixth graders.  We were all well trained on the proper procedures and etiquette of the Requiem Mass. We knew all the responses and the words to most of the hymns.

One day, we even attended a wedding. I wonder if the father-of-the bride looked over as he was escorting his daughter down the aisle and wondered, “Are they coming to the reception too?”

Looking back on it, I am a little surprised at how well behaved we all were. However, by that time, we were all veterans of a number of years of parochial school, weekly Masses, monthly confessions, etc. We were well aware that any cutting-up during a funeral Mass, might result in a lightning bolt from the choir loft. In any case, it would not be a pleasant experience. We knew what was best in the long run.

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