Sistine Chapel Choir Concert: Touching the Spirit of the Divine

Making a pilgrimage to experience the wonders of Rome is always memorable.  Now, some of that beauty will travel to our community for what will prove to be an equally memorable evening.  Two years after Washington received the extraordinary gift of a pastoral visit by Pope Francis, the nation’s capital will welcome “the Pope’s Choir,” with a free concert performed by the Sistine Chapel Choir on Wednesday, September 20, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Sistine Chapel, famous for its immortal “Creation” and “Last Judgment” frescoes painted by Michelangelo, other masterpieces by other artists, and the site of papal elections, is also home to the world’s oldest choir. Known formally as the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, it dates back to the earliest centuries of the Church and was reorganized in the sixth century.  And like the sacred art of the Chapel, the sacred music of the choir has the power to lift up people to the glory of heaven.

Led by Monsignor Massimo Palombella, the choir with its 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers sings at important papal liturgies, such as the Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica, and at celebrations like the 2013 joint concert with the Tomaner Choir, a noted Lutheran choral group from Leipzig. The concert’s sponsors include EWTN, which will film it as part of its “In Concert” series. The Choir has already performed at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City last Saturday, and after leaving Washington, it will conclude its three-city tour with a performance at the Detroit Opera House on September 23.

The visit of our Holy Father’s choir to the nation’s capital is a recognition of the importance of The Catholic University of America, the significance of the National Shrine, and our fraternal bonds that link us to our Holy Father in Rome. As chancellor of Catholic University, it is my honor and privilege to welcome these artists to our campus. The visit of this world-renowned choir is an opportunity to support, as well, Catholic arts here at the university. Students and faculty from its Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, who are hosting the choir, play an important role in providing a center of Catholic music for our nation and preserving the tradition of sacred music.

The presence of the Sistine Chapel Choir is truly a blessing for our city, our local Church and our university.  The performance will also demonstrate the power of music to touch the spirit of the divine that dwells within each of us. By its transcendent power, beautiful music can help us encounter that spark of the divine. In that way, the sacred music sung by this choir through the centuries can echo in our hearts and in our lives today.