In addition to attending their local parish, Angelo and Bette Attanasio watch Mass every day on EWTN. On Sunday, March 15, because of the coronavirus and their age, and because no public Masses were offered in their diocese, they didn’t attend Sunday Mass as usual. But they did watch the Mass on EWTN.
“In fact,” Angelo Attanasio emphasized, “I watched it twice. Father’s sermon was so beautiful and from the heart, and the choir outdid themselves.”
Even Father Miguel Marie of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word commented on the choir that first Sunday of coronavirus-induced solidarity.
“The way the choir sings was just beautiful,” Attanasio told the Register. “The last song of the choir was fantastic.”
That hymn was Sicut Cervus by Palestrina. The text is: “As the deer longs for flowing streams, my soul longs for you, O God.”
“Listening can bring you to tears,” Attanasio said.
Derek Paul Kluz, the director of the choir of the Eternal Word Television Network, director of music, organist and master of the choirs, makes it very clear: “When you tune in to one of the many outlets for viewing or hearing EWTN’s daily Mass, be assured the choir is thinking of you, the viewer, and is very appreciative of your prayers for our sustentation and spiritual health.”
Choir member Siobhan sees the music helping viewers — even non-Catholics who happen to tune into the Mass. “They’re brought in by the beauty of the music and feeling God’s grace and his presence,” she told the Register. “Anyone who tunes in can be drawn in by the music.”
Siobhan loves singing on EWTN, which helps her to see the Mass in a unique way. “The most important part of music is that it elevates your soul when you’re at Mass,” she explained. “The Mass is so beautiful, and the music highlights it and brings you closer to it.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value. ... The main reason for this preeminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy” (1156). The Catechism then quotes Ephesians 5:19: “Address … one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” The Catechism also quotes St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”
“I feel I’m really praying when I’m singing,” said choir member Deborah, adding, “People are looking for beauty.” And viewers’ connections with the choir as they watch the Mass touches the choir members in many ways. Deborah has her own personal story.
She was so happy when she was asked to join the choir, seeing it as a great witness to her family and faith. In fact, affecting viewers has come in a very special way to Deborah, when her parents were living in Minnesota, and her mother was sick, later dying from cancer.
“She could see me singing on TV, and then she would call me and say, ‘You just made my day.’ It did that for her.”
“I know we do that for so many people,” Deborah said, especially for those who see EWTN as “the only place they have a family. My son John Paul serves the Mass a couple of times a week, and he gets fan mail from people. They want to see young people; they want to see [and hear] beauty.” She feels being in the choir is a call from God to reach out across the world to those who want to see the love of God.
Director Kluz (pronounced Clues) has served as organist since 2001, then a recent “revert” to the faith. He resuscitated the choir in 2016, recruiting singers from Birmingham’s best choirs and music directors. Kluz described today’s choir of 25 as comprised of married couples, single men and women, and people whose relatives work at EWTN.
Many members have music degrees, including a doctoral pharmacist with a vocal degree, a city planner with a master’s degree in opera, a retired professor of choral music, two professors of music, and several college music majors.
He finds the response from the EWTN viewers “very encouraging, overwhelming actually.” And the friars, especially Fathers Anthony Mary and Joseph Mary, have been pivotal in their early and ongoing support. “Planning music for the choir takes many hours, countless written and online sources, and much prayer,” Kluz said, citing that it is a beautiful service to the Church.
There's a definite influence of the Holy Spirit. Father John Paul Mary told the Register, “As a priest, I feel, in a sense, spoiled by the work of Derek and our choir. I know the work of the Holy Spirit is operative in the tiniest details. More times than I can count, Derek comes into the vestry after Mass with a stunned look on his face and has said, 'How did you know?' There have been theological points or verbatim Scripture quotes that I preached on that ended up being part of the choir’s hymn 'choice' for that particular day. I think we must be listening to that 'still small voice.'”
Kluz shared insight about the choir members. “I am continuously impressed by the solidity of their faith and by their commitment to our great cause.”
“Serving God through singing is something that is part of their everyday lives,” he continued. “We regularly pray in rehearsals and immediately after Mass, especially if there is a need among our singers for prayer. One of our sopranos suffers with lupus, and her husband was recently furloughed at work; her faith in these personal crises has been a source of inspiration to the choir who pray for her.”
“Our alto, Deborah, who is also children’s choir director at her parish and a home-school mom, has begun composing pieces for the EWTN Youth Choir, who you may also be familiar with,” he added. “They sang for the ‘Protect Life’ Mass in January and for the anniversary of the sainthood of the children of Fatima in February. Deborah is a prime example of the charitable Christian spirit and excellent Christian formation our singers show, both at their parishes, in their homes and businesses, and with each other in the choir.”
Kluz said his highest joy is directing the choir and believes the singers would also say that assisting in the liturgy is their highest joy.
Being part of the choir helps the singers as much as the viewers. Siobhan, who grew up watching EWTN and is so glad she’s part of it, explained, “Ever since working at EWTN, I’ve grown in my faith exponentially.” She has enjoyed going to daily Mass in addition to Sunday Mass. “Receiving daily Communion has brought me closer to God, thinking more of him, going to confession more. Being in the physical presence of God keeps my thoughts more centered on him.”
Kluz added that although all 25 singers in the choir aren’t Catholic, three converted to Catholicism after joining, including a recently married couple named Heather and Michael, who converted together last Easter. They had the priest in Kluz’s parish bless their previous wedding vows.
The director said he is “personally still moved and inspired by the story of Heather and Michael’s journey from Protestantism into the Catholic Church, through regular participation in my two Catholic choirs.”
He also shared how many wonderful discussions have come from reading viewers’ letters and emails aloud in rehearsals. As a result, “We reflect carefully on the needs and preferences of our viewers when we select and interpret a piece of music for the Mass.”
Deborah, whose husband works at EWTN, highlights that the friars, especially Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, “really encourage everyone to do their best. He often tells us at end of Mass what a wonderful opportunity it was to hear us.”
Deborah, who has, since she was 12 years old, done music ministry in Catholic churches in a number of states, also believes others can do the same as the EWTN choir. “Our choir is a model for other churches. People can do this. Their churches can be filled with this beauty every Sunday.”
Choir members want viewers to know something very important. Kluz emphasized, “The viewers and their prayers mean everything to us. I hope to never be without the prayers of the EWTN viewers because I know the tremendous effect those prayers have on my life and the lives of our choir personnel. We promise to pray for the viewers, too, and ask that they pray for us every time they see or hear us at the Holy Mass.”
For his part, Mass viewer Attanasio will continue to tune in and thanks all at EWTN “for giving us hope in this time of crisis.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
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