As much as I believe in their existence, I can’t say that I’m always on the lookout for miracles. However, this past Saturday night as we celebrated the Easter Vigil, a miracle was on the lookout for me.
Now, you may read this story and think that it was just a coincidence, and that’s fine. Or you may think, like I normally would tend to, that my years of experience and training worked in my favor. And I’d 100% agree with you. If I read the story logically, these are the exact conclusions I’d come to.
But reading it with the eyes of faith? Experiencing it during the most beautiful liturgy of the entire year? Well, friends, my vote is cast for miracle.
A Phone Call
Saturday afternoon was absolutely crazy at my house. We were cleaning up inside and out as we prepared for our Easter Sunday guests. The girls were running in and out of the house to balance working on chores with playing with friends. I’d been out running errands for a couple hours and was just about to sit down and rearrange my choir folder to get it ready for that night’s Easter Vigil Mass.
When the phone rang and I saw that it was my friend and choir director, Frank, I was immediately worried. See, Frank is one of those people who reads every text he gets, but never responds to any of them. So to see him actually calling to talk to me was shocking!
Long story short, there had been a family emergency with one of the other cantors that evening and she would not be able to lead one of the responsorial psalms. Would I do hers in addition to the one I was already doing, he wondered.
“It’s Psalm 30,” he said. “You know, it goes, ‘I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me. I will praise you, Lord.'”
“Oh! Yeah, sure, I know that one,” I said. “No problem.”
He thanked me, we said we’d see each other soon, and then I returned back to my House of Chaos. And not one more thought did I give to that poor song.
Then Came Mass
If you’ve never been to a Catholic Easter Vigil Mass, let me give you a little background info. See, Mass starts outside the church. There’s a big bonfire and the priest blesses the new Paschal Candle for the year. After that, there is a procession into the church during which one of the clergy (in this case, our deacon), brings the Light of Christ into a darkened sanctuary. There are all sorts of candles, lots of excitement, lots of songs. It’s really amazing.
What this unusual process meant for me, though, is that I didn’t have my usual opportunity to practice and warm up before Mass started. No, I didn’t even get to glance at this psalm I hadn’t practiced but proclaimed to know. Silly, silly me.
The time came for the Liturgy of the Word and the five of us cantors gathered together to wait for our turns in the lineup of readings. We were sharing the one cantor book that evening; one book containing all of the music we would use and would pass one to the next as needed.
While Roger was singing, I thought to myself… Wait a second, how exactly do these verses go again?
While Mike sang, I began to worry… How is it that I can’t think of how these verses go? I know I’ve sung this song before.
Then, while Ireland and Carron sang together, I panicked… Oh, no! I have sung this before, but I’ve never cantored it. I have no idea how these verses go! I’m going to have to sightread them in front of the entire congregation!
Panic and Prayer
At this point, I leaned over to my friend Marley who was about to sing next and I shared with my panicked realization. With big eyes and a smile on her face, she said, “Well, I guess God has a lot of confidence in you tonight!” At which point we both just chuckled because, what else was there to say or do?
From that moment until I walked up to the ambo myself, I had a constant prayer mantra running through my head.
Holy Spirit, You’re going to have to sing this for me because I simply do not know this song. Please help me!
And Then It Was Time to Sing
The first refrain went just fine, since that was the only part of the song I knew.
I spent the first verse using every sightreading technique I had ever learned or picked up in my years of singing. I paid attention to the intervals so I would remember them later. Counted out every beat, looked for patterns, and glanced ahead to notice that the second verse was different from the first. All while reading the verses for the very first time as I sang them out loud in front of the congregation.
The second verse went well. I felt more comfortable as it went on and began to loosen up a little bit.
When the third verse came, I felt totally at ease as it followed the same melody the first verse had. As I read the words while I was singing, though, I began to smile. Then I almost chuckled. You see, these are the lyrics:
Hear, O Lord, have mercy on me.
O God, come be my help!
You have turned my tears into dancing.
O God, I will thank you forever.
(refrain) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will praise you, Lord.
As the music ended, I lowered my arm and bowed my head. With the biggest smile on my face, I exhaled my thanks to the Lord who truly had rescued me. The lyrics assured me that God was with me the entire time. Like Marley had said, God had confidence in me. And, by placing my confidence in Him, by surrendering to how He wanted to use me in that moment, a miracle had happened. I sang, or rather, God sang through me, and we didn’t mess up once.
Friends, not all miracles involve healing. Not all miracles are obvious. Some miracles happen when God takes the talents He has given us and does more with them than we could do on our own.
When we give our gifts back to the Lord with trust and hope in His Providence and Power and Love, He will never let us down. Never.