“Music that is truly good, that which has been created and shared with people as a labor of love, always finds its way into our hearts and souls,” said Donald McMahon, organist and director of music at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington.


That is evident in the parish’s annual Holy Week Service of Silent Prayer, Song and Adoration of the Cross in the Tradition of Taize. “While some may be singing, others may simply be listening. Either way, we are all participating,” he explained.


The parish choir of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church will offer the prayer service on Tuesday, March 27, at 7 p.m. in the church at 238 West Main St.


Taize is a village in the hills of eastern France that is home to an ecumenical community of religious brothers who have dedicated their lives to prayer and works of charity. Founded in 1940, the community provided refuge for those who fled the terror of Nazi occupation.


The Bennington church choir will sing selections by liturgical composer Jacques Berthier (1922-1994), who wrote music for the Taize community. These compositions consist of litany-style melodies and refrains that become increasingly prayerful with each repetition.


During the Adoration of the Cross, McMahon will perform at the organ Samuel Barber’s tragic and celebrated “Adagio for Strings.”


“It is a great opportunity for us as musicians to make a return to the Lord with deep reverence, awe and humility during this holiest of weeks,” McMahon said. “It is also a chance for us to connect with the congregation in a special way.”


When people arrive for the service, may enter their personal prayer intentions into a binder. During the first song, a minister of hospitality brings the binder forward and into the sanctuary, where the choir and musicians have assembled. After the first selection, the cantor sings the submitted intentions, shaping them together into Gregorian chant-like melodies. After each set, the choir and assembly sing a refrain from Psalm 61, “Hear, O God, my cry; listen to my prayer!”


McMahon’s inspiration for offering Scripture, prayer and song in this manner resulted from his attendance at Vespers at a Russian Orthodox monastery: “I was deeply moved by the singing of the monks and religious women and the liturgy itself. I wanted very much to share what I had heard and felt there with others.”


Holy Week is the best time for the parish to offer the Taize service, McMahon said: “As we anticipate celebrating the Lord’s Last Supper, Passion, death and triumphal resurrection during the forthcoming days, it is a good time for us to gather, pray and give thanks.”


The ecumenical service is open to all.


Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.