June 24 is the feast of St John the Baptist and is the patronal feast day for Christchurch diocese. On that morning, 320 students from 16 Catholic schools in the diocese converged on St Mary’s pro-cathedral for Jubilate 2019, a Catholic primary schools music festival. It was the fourth year for the festival.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Paul Martin, SM, set the scene. “It’s a special feature of our diocese to hold this annual Jubilate. We are the only Catholic diocese in New Zealand to bring our schools together in this way each year. It’s a wonderful opportunity for you to sing some of the musical treasures of our Church. In Jubilate, we are creating a sacred sound track for you, a playlist that will be with you throughout your lives. You will not get tired of it or grow out of it.”

“The Church teaches that music is of value beyond our imaginations and that its value is higher than any other art,” Bishop Martin said.

“So our Church music is of real importance and its beauty matters. Sacred music is among the best ways we can glimpse heaven and, when we sing to God, our voices unite with those of the saints, the whole company of heaven.”

This year, Jubilate reflected the words of St John found in Scripture. Singers recalled that St John points directly to Jesus, baptises him, encourages people to prepare a way for Jesus in their hearts, and calls them to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away people’s sins. They also sang to Mary and of Catholic belief in Jesus present in the Eucharist.

The hour-long programme drew from the tradition of the Church and more recent compositions. Along with singing in English, students sang in Latin to highlight the universality of the Church and in Te Reo Māori, reflecting the place of Aotearoa in the Asia Pacific region. The Special Choir of St Mary’s Manchester Street offered two settings of Ave Verum Corpus: a 12th century Gregorian Chant setting before Mozart’s famous setting. A three-part choir from St James School, Aranui, sang a modern sacred song, Saviour I heard Thy Voice Gently Say.

Before a rousing rendition of Sebastian Temple’s Prayer of St Francis, diocesan general manager Andy Doherty said that “This Jubilate is definitely the best we’ve had so far. Hearing you sing with such joy and enthusiasm and in such numbers is a highlight of my year. It’s really good to see so many of our schools represented by you today and to see the value your schools are placing on Jubilate. We simply cannot have this sacred music programme without the support of your principals and teachers and it is appreciated.”

He concluded that, “All of you know Ken Joblin our sacred music advisor. He and his guide dog Nelson visited you all in the weeks leading up to today and we are proud of his work.”

St James School principal Jo Barlow said that Jubilate 2019 was “an amazing experience! Our kids were so pleased with their achievement and all credit to the choir leaders who certainly have the choirs excelling”.

David O’Neill, principal of St Mary’s School (Manchester Street), spoke to the children before they left the pro-cathedral and encouraged them to keep singing.

“All of you sound absolutely amazing. I urge you, special choirs from all over the diocese, please stay in your choirs. The gift of singing which God has given you, please use it to glorify his name. At St Mary’s, when our special choir sings, it lifts the rest of the school. Sometimes, it’s a lot
of hard work, but when we hear all these voices together, it’s amazing, it’s worth it, it’s fantastic!”

Before the final blessing, Bishop Martin observed that “When we sing, we are not just singing songs, we are actually expressing our faith. One of the great things about music is that, when we sing songs, we remember the words. Those words that you have sung will stay in your head much longer than other things. May these hymns, these sacred songs, touch your heart and be part of who you are in the future. The only sad thing about Jubilate is that so many other people do not get to hear you sing and pray for us. But one day, we will have a cathedral which can fit lots of people to hear you.”

In response to the bishop’s words, the children sang Sing of the Lord’s goodness, based on Catholic jazz composer Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, the words of which sum up Jubilate, “Come then all you nations, sing of your Lord’s goodness, melodies of praise and thanks to God.

Ring out the Lord’s glory, praise him with your music, worship him and bless his name.”