Monday, November 25, 2019

Son of AGTG: Why So Long for the Next Hurd-Canedo Project?

No one was more surprised at the success of Alleluia! Give the Glory  than Bob Hurd and me. Based on popular requests, Mass of Glory  and several of the album’s songs were quickly added to OCP’s pew resources: Music Issue and, eventually, Breaking Bread, Spirit & Song, and Glory & Praise, Second and Third Editions.  It wasn’t long before people started asking, “When is the next Hurd-Canedo album coming?” 

Over the years, Bob and I joked about creating a new project called Son of Alleluia! Give the Glory, but we just got too busy in our own solo projects and career paths. Bob immediately launched into an exciting collaboration with Jaime Cortez that resulted in their groundbreaking Spanish-English bilingual collection, Somos El Cuerpo de Cristo / We Are the Body of Christ.

Bob started teaching philosophy at Santa Clara University in California but continued more solo liturgical albums/collections well into the 2000s that continued to display his gift for openness to the diverse needs of the multicultural Church: Ubi Caritas; Misa del Pueblo Inmigrante; A Contemplative Rosary; Holy Is the Temple; A Lenten Journey; Cantaré Eternamente / Forever I Will Sing (bilingual psalms compilation); God’s Eye Is on the Sparrow (a retrospective on his years with Anawim); Dining in the Kingdom; Our Common Home (a compilation of various composers reflecting on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudate Si); The Bread of Your Word; and so much more. I get exhausted just reading this list of Bob’s continuing creative output! 

Meanwhile, in the 1990s, I got involved at St. Monica Parish in Moraga, California as pastoral musician and, eventually, as youth minister. At this parish, I honed my skills as a liturgical composer, writing songs and hymns for the community’s liturgical needs. Unity Music Press, an imprint of the Lorenz Corporation in Dayton, Ohio, started publishing octavos of my individual songs, including “Fly Like a Bird,” which was eventually picked up by OCP. Unity also published my Pentecost musical, We Are a Light.

Most notably, in the 1990s, I met Jesse Manibusan and collaborated with him in youth ministry events throughout the Diocese of Oakland. We had a band that led the music at monthly gymnasium liturgies at Catholic high schools in Oakland, Concord, San Francisco, San Mateo, and other cities in the Bay Area. From this partnership emerged new original songs for youth ministry, including “Holy Spirit,” “Mountain of God,” “We are the Light,” “Power of Peace,” “Fish with Me,” and other songs that were featured in Jesse’s solo albums, and in our collaborative CD, Love Never Fails in 2003. We had a follow-up album in 2016, Fish With Me

In 1999, OCP published the first edition of Spirit & Song that included the youth ministry songs that Jesse and I were composing together. In November 2000, I left the Bay Area and moved to Portland to take up a job with OCP as Marketing Assistant. I now work for them as Music Development Specialist while continuing my ministry as a composer and as a pastoral musician at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, Oregon. 

OCP did gather together all the diverse parts of the Hurd-Canedo Mass setting in the Mass of Glory collection (2000) that included the new movements we composed for Spirit & Song, including a Glory to God and the Memorial Acclamations. This was revised in 2010 with the promulgation of the new Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition.

And, within the past 19 years, Bob and I became authors, writing for various liturgy magazines and books. My books include Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution (2009) and its sequel, From Mountains High: Contemporary Catholic Music 1970-1985 (2018). Bob’s book, Compassionate Christ, Compassionate People, was published in 2019. 

Can you see why it’s taken almost 30 years for Bob and me to finally do a follow-up to Alleluia! Give the Glory? We’ve just been too busy on the paths of our respective lives and ministries. God is good! 

Next blog: More details on the new Hurd-Canedo album/collection!

Thursday, November 21, 2019


Was I dreaming?  There I was in the great cathedral, sitting in the pews with a broad cross-section of humanity: CEOs and soldiers, patriarchs and prostitutes, young and old, men and women of all races, all faiths, all nations.  Our hands were raised in prayer, and we were united in one voice, singing an incredible gospel-style song that I had never heard before.  Swaying back and forth with the congregation to the basic blues beat, I was too far back in the church to see what was going on in the sanctuary.  But it didn’t matter.  God was in our midst, right where we were, as we sang our hearts out. 

Shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters in the Lord, I gazed upward and was pleasantly surprised to find that the cathedral had no ceiling!  Instead, our sweet singing soared straight up to God’s blue sky!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

The alarm clock buzzed and I slowly sat up in my bed in a hotel room.  It was indeed a dream!  I shook my head and got my bearings.  Today was the wedding day my good friend, Tom Riley, to his fiancée, Becca.  The liturgy was to take place in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Sacramento, California, where we had a rehearsal the night before.  After the rehearsal dinner, Tom, his brothers Mark and Brian, and a few other friends and I went out to a local blues bar.  This wedding was a major event in Tom’s family, and we wanted to celebrate.

Funny how dreams work: the cathedral, the blues, celebrating with family and friends not seen in such a long time.  All that entered into my dream.  And that song!  That melody!  It was still playing in my head!  I had to write it down.  Looking around the hotel room, the only paper available was the hotel stationery on the desk table.  I was determined not to forget that melody, so I quickly drew out several staff lines and penciled in the notes with the 12/8 time signature. Confident that I had captured the gist of the song, I folded the stationery in half, placed it in my bag, and got cleaned up and dressed for the wedding liturgy.  

It was a wonderful day, and in the midst of the joy and celebration I promptly forgot about the song and the dream.  In fact, I didn’t even think about it again until two weeks later, when I cleaned out my bag.  There was the crumpled hotel stationery with the penciled melody.  Intrigued, I went to my piano and started playing through it.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  There was that song again, just like in my dream.  Was this for real?

Now the song was stuck in my head for several days as I tried to write lyrics.  I knew early on that this was to be a Gospel Acclamation because three “Alleluias” fit perfectly into the opening bars.  But it needed something else to complete it.  I decided to share it with my old college friend, Bob Hurd.  Maybe he would have an idea for what I could do with this song.  

As I drove down Highway 101 from San Francisco to San Jose, I kept the radio off so I could sing the song over and over again.  By the time I arrived at Bob’s I had the additional lyrics that the song needed: “Give the glory and the honor to the Lord!”

And so, I sat down at Bob’s baby grand piano and played him this fragmented dream song.  Bob listened silently and asked me to keep playing it again and again.  

“You know, Ken, I’m working on a new collection of gospel-style music, and this Alleluia would be perfect for it!”  We took out a lectionary and figured out some basic verses.  By the end of the day, we looked at what we composed together: “Alleluia! Give the Glory!”

At that time, Bob and I were working together as pastoral musicians at St. Leander’s Church in San Leandro, on the Oakland side of the San Francisco Bay.  Our contemporary choir was already singing a Holy, Holy, Holy that I composed, and a Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen.  All of this, plus some additional acclamations that Bob composed, would eventually become the Mass of Glory,  so named because of our Gospel Acclamation anchor song. 

The Alleluia! Give the Glory  collection contained the parts of the Mass of Glory  that Bob and I had completed thus far.  This 1992 CD was my very first published work since my college-era songs that were published by F.E.L. Publications in the late 1970s.  Bob was gracious in allowing me equal billing with him on this CD.  The whole idea of a gospel-style collection was a departure for Bob, and we didn’t know if the Catholic community would accept this more lively material.

Just six years later, OCP asked Bob and me to complete our Mass setting by writing music for the Glory to God, the Lord’s Prayer, and additional Memorial Acclamations.  Mass of Glory  had taken off almost immediately, and now it was to be the anchor Mass setting for the new Spirit & Song  contemporary songbook.  

Today, almost everywhere I go, people are singing Mass of Glory  and, especially, “Alleluia! Give the Glory.”  It started out as a dream.  Now, with the enthusiastic acceptance of this song by people all over the world, that dream has come true.  All I can say is, “Give the glory and the honor to the Lord!”

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


I honed my performance chops as one of Bob Hurd’s supporting musicians, playing piano in his rock band in college, at his workshops at the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim and, of course, at liturgy. I eventually added electric bass to my arsenal. I even learned how to play banjo specifically so I could record that instrument on his song, “Anawim,” a bonus track from his second FEL album, Bless the Lord. From Bob, I learned how to accompany and support a lead singer, and we had good chemistry. I knew his phrasing, and I developed a good sense of the sound he was looking for. 

Because I knew how to write music notation, I was also Bob’s arranger, a skill that got me a job at FEL Publications, where I got my feet wet in the liturgical industry. My early arrangements were elementary but I was eager to learn and grow. Bob eventually moved from Los Angeles and we didn’t see each other for many years. 

From my second book, From Mountains High (Chapter Twelve, page 139) 

Bob Hurd was back in the recording studio. It had been six long years since he recorded Bless the Lord, his 1975 album with FEL Publications that was fraught with production disappointments. Hurd composed the songs on his two FEL collections while a student at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Saint John’s College in Camarillo, California. 

Hurd left the seminary in 1974 to pursue doctoral studies in philosophy at De Paul University in Chicago. He volunteered at a local Catholic Worker house, met Dorothy Day, and entered into meaningful discussions with her about social justice in Church and society. While working on his dissertation, he moved back to Southern California and began teaching at Loyola Marymount University. He participated in campus liturgies and worked part-time as a music minister in a Los Angeles parish. During this busy time of academics and ministry, Hurd’s five-year contract with FEL expired. He was now free to start over again as a liturgical composer and relished the opportunity to have greater artistic control over his next project. 

Followers of Hurd’s music noticed a marked difference between his FEL songs and the music he recorded for his new collection, Roll Down the Ages. For his music ministry communities, Hurd began composing songs that were more grounded in liturgy: 

“I also began to realize that I should be writing for an assembly—not my individual tenor voice,” Hurd remembered. “I began to think critically about melodic range and syncopation. While the center of gravity in pop music is the band or the artist, the center of gravity in worship music is 500 or 800 or 1200 people singing together. Finally, if music is servant of the word and the ritual, rather than an end in itself, one should start with the text, and let the text call forth a melody and chord structure. At the same time, I was growing in theological and liturgical knowledge…” 
© 2018, Pastoral Press, Portland, OR

Bob’s Roll Down the Ages album (1980) brought him back into greater prominence as a liturgical composer. This led to a succession of influential albums with OCP (Oregon Catholic Press): In the Breaking of the Bread (1984); Each Time I Think of You (1986); Behold the Cross (1990); and so many more albums recorded with his group Anawim. His new songs fit so well with the liturgy, with soaring melodies, Scriptural texts, and spiritual depth. Bob’s music was underscored by his commitment to Catholic social justice teaching, and he was a pioneer in writing bilingual English and Spanish songs for the multicultural Church. 

I happily followed Bob’s career from long distance and was proud of his success. We had a reunion in San Francisco in the late 1980s at a catechetical conference. By that time, we had both moved to the Bay Area, and he introduced me to Pia, his lovely fiancée. They invited me to their wedding, a joyful liturgy that featured a full-throated assembly singing Bob’s beautiful songs. I eventually started doing music with my friend again, playing bass and piano for his talented choir at the Sunday evening liturgy at St. Leander’s Church in San Leandro. It was awesome for us to be together again. There, at St. Leander’s, we finally started composing together. 

Next blog: Alleluia! Give the Glory 

Some of Bob’s most popular songs from the 1980s: 
In the Breaking of the Bread 
Power of Love 
I Want to Praise Your Name 
Come Unto Me 
Shelter Me, O God
Song of Blessing 
Create in Me 
Flow, River, Flow
O Sacred Head 
Behold the Cross 
God’s Eye Is on the Sparrow 
Pan de Vida 
Pueblo de Dios 


Bob Hurd and I have known each other since 1971 when we were seminarians at St. John’s College in Camarillo, California. He was a Junior and I was a Freshman. I wish I had a photo of us in our regulation cassocks that we wore for liturgy. Laugher, for sure! We both had long hair – hey, the Seventies! – and Bob was also clean-shaven. No beard! 

Bob noticed I was a piano player at talent shows and from bumping into each other jamming on Beatle songs at the music rehearsal room. I noticed at Mass that Bob was a great guitar player who was blessed with a golden singing voice. In fact, he was our leader for contemporary music at college liturgies. He eventually invited me to play piano in our liturgy ensemble and to join a rock band he started. 

In the early 1970s, we were in the midst of transition with contemporary music for Catholic liturgy. The earnest and enthusiastic songs of the Folk Mass era were, frankly, worn out by 1971. Nobody wanted to sing “Allelu!” or “They’ll Know We Are Christians” anymore. So we were experimenting with new ideas. One of Bob’s innovations was to bring a piano into chapel. This was a radical idea, especially in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but the piano was certainly making headway into popular music by Paul McCartney, Elton John, Carole King, Leon Russell, and so many other rock pianists of the day. But what really got us excited were Bob’s newly composed songs. 

Here's an excerpt from my first book, Keep the Fire Burning  (chapter 13, page 124): 

Bob Hurd was a seminarian from St. John’s College in Camarillo, California.  Together with the theologate school, St. John’s Seminary, this dual campus was the hub of priestly formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  In 1971, Hurd was charged with coordinating the college folk liturgies, bringing to the position a passion for good music.  He did not find much in the 1960s folk repertoire that his discerning community would want to sing, so Bob began composing original songs that reflected his considerable folk-rock musicianship and his generation’s search for spiritual fulfillment.   

Hurd’s liturgical music rocked and became very popular with the seminarians.  Their Sunday morning liturgy was open to the public and people in the surrounding Ventura County area would come from miles around to participate. Word got out that St. John's was the hot spot for outstanding contemporary worship, and the college chapel was filled every weekend with a standing-room-only congregation that sang with unabashed enthusiasm. Dennis Fitzpatrick, President of FEL Publications, visited St. John’s one Sunday to see what all the fuss was about. Clearly impressed, he offered Hurd an exclusive contract to publish and record his songs. This resulted in two LP albums: O Let Him In  and Bless the Lord.
 © 2009, Pastoral Press, Portland, OR

Bob is the first to admit that his early songs for liturgy emerged from his own personal experience as a folk singer in the mode of the singer-songwriter movement of the early Seventies. His melodies were catchy, his chords and guitar technique wildly original, and his harmonies gorgeous. Although he did base some of his songs on passages from Scripture, they were not direct quotes but more of an exegetical reflection that was meaningful to us college-age seekers. But we're not singing those songs at liturgy anymore, so entrenched are they with their times. 

Here’s an example of one of Bob’s first songs. It’s lovely and a time capsule of where he was at in 1971. 


How the wind runs through the trees;  
sets my troubled mind at ease,  
for the things you say on a windy day  
take my breath away.  

And we’ve all come together  
to the banquet of the Lord.  
To the banquet of the Lord  
we’ve come.   
© 1973, FEL Publications. Assigned to the Lorenz Corporation. 

We loved Bob’s songs and sang along immediately. They were so fresh! But he was just learning about liturgy and Scripture. He did not master the craft of liturgical songwriting until a several years later, but a composer has to begin somewhere. It was a good start; the best was yet to come. 

Next: Making Music with Bob Hurd 

Monday, November 18, 2019


Zzzzzzzzzz . . .

Please, don't wake me. 
No, don't shake me. 
Leave me where I am. 
I'm only sleeping . . . 
-John Lennon and Paul McCartney

It’s the lack of sleep that gets to me, more than anything else. I’m talking about my creative pursuits and how they necessitate my staying up into the wee hours of early morning. In the summer of 2016, I spent many continuous hours in the recording studio, co-producing, arranging, and playing bass on Fish With Me,  the Jesse Manibusan / Ken Canedo second album and follow-up to 2003’s Love Never Fails. During the autumn months of 2017, with a December deadline quickly looming, I was up almost every night until 3:00 in the morning, in the final writing and re-writing for From Mountains High, my second book after 2009’s Keep the Fire Burning.  And here I am again, in latter 2019, working with Bob Hurd on We Should Glory,  our second collaboration since Alleluia! Give the Glory  in 1992. 

It’s certainly not unusual for artists to work non-stop while on a creative tear. Stories abound on how the Beatles became oblivious to time while they were in the studio working on their masterpiece albums like Sgt. Pepper  and The White Album.  John Steinbeck was famously an early riser who started each day by writing non-stop well into the afternoon. George Frederic Handel composed his magnum opus, The Messiah,  in a mere 24 days, working furiously after he received the libretto from Charles Jennens. No, I am definitely not Handel, Steinbeck, or the Beatles, but my point is that creative people sometimes drop everything and work non-stop when inspiration strikes. 

I wish I had that luxury, but the truth is I have a day job with OCP as Music Development Specialist and I can’t work on my own music or books during office hours, strange as that sounds. Hence, my need to work late into the night or during vacation for my creative projects. And during breaks in the studio sessions, I try to keep up with emails and tasks from my day job. 

The lack of sleep these past couple of weeks is exacerbated by my amazing trip to the Vatican on November 5-10. The quick time zone adjustments have been jarring to my internal clock, and I immediately went to the OCP studio on Monday morning after returning from Rome late Sunday night. As they say, no rest for the weary!

Over the next several blogs, I will share background and info on this new Hurd-Canedo album of liturgical music. It is shaping up to be something special, beyond what Bob and I originally envisioned. 

More to come! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Saturday 9 November 2019 
Vatican City, Rome 

We were gently warned that although the agenda of our conference included a private audience with Pope Francis, there was no guarantee that it would actually happen, depending on his schedule (that Saturday was the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Pope’s cathedral as the Bishop of Rome), and on how he was feeling that morning. Our anticipation was therefore tempered by the possibility of disappointment, and understandably so. 

Nevertheless, conference attendees were noticeably dressed to the nines that morning. The ladies wore tasteful dresses, the men were in dark suits and ties, and the priests wore their cassocks. Former NPM President Rick Hilgartner looked quite dashing in his monsignor cassock with bright purple buttons and piping. We attended the Saturday morning presentations nonchalantly, and nobody really spoke of the possibility of a papal encounter. Then, at 10:30, electricity filled the air when one of the conference emcees took the microphone and said in English and Italian, “We’re going upstairs now to the Apostolic Palace. Please leave your coats and notebooks here in the conference room.” 

We were escorted through the Vatican’s maze of endless hallways and staircases – flights and flights of stairs! I’m convinced that these long upward climbs were designed to give the bishops and cardinals daily exercise. But because of the slick marble steps, I had to carefully hang onto the rails for safety. One slip in this large crowd and several people might go tumbling down like ecclesial bowling pins. 

Our group trudged up the stairways with quiet but eager anticipation. The presence of the Swiss Guard, in full colorful regalia, was an indication that our destination was near. We were ushered into the Sala de Consistero, a bright and intimate room with 200 plush chairs set up auditorium style. The walls were ornately decorated in baroque style, of course. Is there such a thing as a blank wall at the Vatican? I was unsure where to sit but, as usual, Virgil Funk found his way to the front and motioned me toward him. Somehow, he sneaked his way into the second row, behind a row of bishops and monsignors. I felt unworthy but if anyone asked me how I ended up sitting so close to the podium I would simply say, “I’m with Father Funk.” 

There was a low, reverent buzz in the room. People were talking but quietly, like in church. I chuckled to myself at that thought. Here at the Vatican, EVERY room is in church. As we waited, I started getting fidgety, and I was slightly hyperventilating. I would soon meet the Vicar of Christ! I calmed myself down the only way I knew – by praying the rosary. The Joyful Mysteries seemed most appropriate, and the repetition of Hail Marys was truly the music whose charms soothed this savage Catholic beast. 

A tuxedoed protocol official distributed a printed handout of the Holy Father’s upcoming remarks, translated in English since he would be addressing us in Italian. I read it quickly and marveled at the depth of his wisdom and compassion. And then suddenly, through a side door, Pope Francis entered. We stood on our feet and applauded. I was a bit surprised because I thought he might process down the middle aisle from the back, but he entered casually and looked out eagerly at our group with that wonderful smile of his. 

We took our seats and Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council on Culture, presented our group to the Holy Father, who listened attentively from his simple chair, which was not a throne and not ornately decorated. I’m not sure what the cardinal said (it was in Italian) but it must have been good because everyone applauded as Pope Francis embraced him. Then the pontiff turned to us and shared his reflections on music ministry. 

The interpreter of music has much in common with the biblical scholar, with the proclaimer of God’s word, but also with those who seek to interpret the signs of the times, and, even more generally, with all those – and each of us should be one of them! – who are open and attentive to others in sincere dialogue.  Every Christian, in fact, is an interpreter of the will of God in his her own life, and by his or her life sings a joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God.  Through that song, the Church interprets the Gospel as she makes her pilgrim way through history.  The Blessed Virgin Mary did this in an exemplary way in her  Magnificat,  while the saints interpret the will of God by their lives and mission . . .  

You can read Pope Francis’ complete address here: Pope Calls on Musicians to be Joyful Interpreters of Music

It was a very warm and affirming talk. His remarks concluded, it was now time for each of us to meet the Holy Father. The row of bishops and monsignors in front of me greeted him first, including Msgr. Hilgartner. I took a deep breath as I walked slowly up the reception line. What does one say to the Vicar of Christ on Earth? The protocol official advised us to be brief. Virgil said I should introduce myself, where I’m from, and what I do. I think I said all that, and I also asked the Holy Father to pray for me and my family and friends. I am actually cloudy on what exactly I said. I now understand how Saint Peter felt when he encountered Jesus, Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration. Peter was basically so in awe that he could only babble off at the mouth. 

What I remember the most is how the Holy Father warmly grasped my hand, smiled, and looked directly into my eyes in an exchange of love and respect that relied not on words but on genuine presence. It is really difficult to explain but for me that brief moment will last forever. I feel as if my life has changed, and my encounter with the Holy Father will lift me up at those times when I am feeling lost or alone or unworthy. Pope Francis looked into my heart and saw how much I love Jesus. I looked into his eyes and saw the face of Christ. 

God is so good. 

(Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

Monday, November 11, 2019


Friday 8 November 2019 
Vatican City, Rome
The academic presentations continued on Friday but this evening a very special event was scheduled: Vespers sung by the Sistine Choir in the Sistine Chapel. Let that sink in for a minute. We were in the sacred space where the College of Cardinals gather in conclave to elect a new Pope; the same sacred space whose walls and ceilings were ornately painted by Michelangelo with the iconic images of the Creation, the Life of Christ, and the Last Judgment. This very chapel is one of the great artistic masterpieces in the history of civilization. And we delegates of the Third International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Culture would celebrate Solemn Vespers here! 

Anyone who has been to Rome knows that photography is not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. In fact, when I last visited in 2013, a young man was brusquely removed by the Vatican guards when he dared to defy the No Photos ban. Yet tonight, here we were, happily snapping away on our smartphone cameras as we took our seats. How did we rate this rare privilege? We were certainly grateful. 

Before I go on, please allow me a quick explanation for casual readers of my blog. Vespers is Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, the Catholic Church’s official daily prayer that is celebrated by priests and sisters, religious communities and seminaries, and lay people who desire to pray with the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours utilizes a different format than the Mass. In fact, the Eucharist isn’t even involved with the Hours, which designates prayer at certain times of the day: Morning (Lauds), Daytime Prayer, Evening (Vespers), and Night (Compline). There is also an Office of Readings (formerly Matins) that can be prayed at any hour of the day and focuses on readings from the Bible and the writings of the ancient Church Fathers. The idea of the Liturgy of the Hours is to make each day holy. Those who pray the Hours are obliged to pray for the Church, which means that at every hour of the day, someone in the world is praying for YOU. 

The Psalms are the primary prayer of each hour. For Vespers, we pray two psalms and a hymn or canticle from the New Testament, followed by a brief biblical reading and reflection, Mary’s Magnificat, and Intercessions. Vespers concludes with the Lord’s Prayer. Liturgy of the Hours is normally recited if prayed individually or in a small group. A religious community might choose to sing portions of the hour. Since our celebration of Vespers was in the Sistine Chapel, everything would be sung. We were in the Vatican, after all, and the people would alternate the singing of the chants and hymns with the renowned Sistine Choir. 

Solemn Vespers are presided by a priest, and our presider tonight was Monsignor Guido Marini. I admit I did not give much notice to that name when I saw it on the cover of the printed worship aid. But when we stood in the assembly to begin the liturgy, I was pleasantly shocked to see that our presider was none other than Pope Francis’ Master of Ceremonies for all major papal liturgies in Rome and around the world. Oh, THAT Monsignor Marini. Wow! 

And so we began this amazing celebration of Vespers. “Deus, in adiutorium meum intende,” (God, come to my assistance) Monsignor Marini intoned. “Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina,” (Lord, make haste to help me) we responded. This celebration was bilingual, alternating between Latin and Italian. The psalms and New Testament canticle were a melodious dialogue between people and choir, whose harmonies previewed heaven. After the reading from James 1:2-4, Monsignor Marini shared a brief homily. I could not understand his Italian but his warm tone and heartfelt delivery spoke volumes. My knowledge of Latin helped me discern an emerging theme: love, faith, and the call to holiness through our ministry. 

All too quickly, Vespers was over. But the Sistine Choir, who had been hidden in a choir loft, suddenly walked down the aisle. To our delight, the Choir was going to treat us to a post-liturgy concert from the sanctuary steps. They were dressed in traditional red cassock and white surplice, and I was surprised to see that their number included two rows of boys. That explained the high notes we heard from the loft. As they sang through their choral revue, my heart was filled with gratitude. 

Seeing those kids reminded me of how I used to sing in the CCD Children’s Choir at my home parish when I was their age and the Mass was still in Latin. I teared up emotionally when I realized that the Church has always been there for me and my family ever since I was a young child. Sure, I’ve had my ups and downs over the years with the Church, which certainly has had to deal with its own faults and imperfections. But my relationship with Jesus Christ has been a constant positive force in my life, nurtured consistently by the ministry of the Catholic Church. As I sat in the breathtaking Sistine Chapel, soaking in the soaring choral music here at the worldwide headquarters of this ancient Church, I could only pray, “Deo, Gratias.” 

The concert over, we all reverted into tourists, posing for selfies and group shots in front of Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes. After all, when would we ever have this opportunity again? And then Virgil Funk tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let me take a photo of you and Monsignor Marini.” I turned and noticed that I was standing just a few feet away from him in the sanctuary. Virgil snapped several photos as he introduced me. 

“This is Ken Canedo, an American liturgical composer from Portland, Oregon.” I smiled and shook Monsignor’s hand. 

“It’s an honor to meet you, Monsignor. Thank you for your homily and for the beautiful Vespers.” 

He smiled back and said gently, “God bless your good work.” 

Next blog: Meeting Pope Francis