Allison Hunwicks, The Catholic Register

Allison Hunwicks, The Catholic Register

Allison Hunwicks is a reporter with The Catholic Register and studied journalism at Humber College, and before that voice performance at York University.

She has also written for Post City Magazine and Spacing magazine.

Click here to send her an email

TORONTO - When Barbara and Stephen Barringer decided to announce to their children that he would be working towards becoming a deacon, their son’s immediate comment was, “Oh wonderful. Dad’s always been great at preaching and now they’re going to give him a licence!”

September 10, 2012

What is a deacon?

When asked just what exactly is a deacon, Steve Pitre bursts out laughing.

“You’ve asked the question that theologians have been pondering for 50 years, and they still haven’t come up with a definitive answer,” said the co-ordinator of the permanent diaconate for the archdiocese of Toronto.

That’s because the nature of the deacon’s work is so all-encompassing and thoroughly engaged with his community that it can often be difficult to lay a strict definition to their ministry.

“The deacon is to be the icon of Christ the servant. When we talk about service, it’s in three areas: charity, liturgy and the word,” said Pitre.

Diaconate candidates in Toronto do four years of formative study and practice at St. Augustine’s Seminary. Unlike a priest, the deacon is ordained through a call to service. The ministry is open to all men between the ages of 35-59, both single and married, and, if married, requires the complete consent and support of his spouse (wives are active in their husband’s ministry).

“If he’s married, the call comes from his marriage and therefore from his family. But, in essence too, even if he’s single, it’s still coming from the family, from his support and from his friends,” said Pitre.

“While everybody seems to see us strictly in liturgy and preaching, that really comes from our service of charity. It starts with our families first, the community and then with a special emphasis on the less fortunate, the weaker members and the marginalized of our society,” said Pitre.

Indeed, in St. Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians, he notes: “… as ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, the deacons should please all in every way they can; for they are not merely ministers of food and drink, but the servants of the Church of God.”

In this way, the deacon serves as a vital part of our Christian community. They work not only in parishes, but in all places where there may be need such as hospitals, prisons, even on the streets. They are the mission of service personified, bringing the liturgy of our faith and the essence of charity to all in our communities who may be at need.

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Sept. 25, 2011 marked the launch of the newly minted musical settings that followed the complete liturgical overhaul of the Roman missal.

In parishes around the archdiocese of Toronto, congregants were greeted with the small, floppy Celebrate in Song hymnal — a book that contains three freshly commissioned musical settings of the Mass. Much like the often overlapping of the spoken “and with your spirit” with the erstwhile “and also with you,” the musical settings presented congregants with a fresh challenge — adapting responses that had been previously learned en rote to a completely different, and sometimes complex, vocal line.

“I think that for people, change is death. Change is a metaphor for death. Nobody likes change,” said Peter Togni.

Togni is one of Canada’s most noted composers, and his choral works are heard in parishes across the world. Having set the Mass to music before, Togni provides an interesting view on the musical tradition that some congregants are still adapting to.

“I think the language that they’re using, in many cases, is more elegant and more directly translated from the original Latin, which goes back to what Paul VI really wanted,” said Togni.

“But, I understand the paradox, because in some ways there’s kind of a wooden link to Latin for some people — the sacrilization of Latin, almost, just for its own sake and I understand that this gets in the way of ecumenism for some people. But, from an artistic standpoint, setting the text to those words is in some ways easier and prettier, you know? ‘Lord, God of Hosts’ is easier than ‘Lord, God of Power and Might.’ I like that from a purely artistic standpoint.”

However, the adaptation, despite what may seem a more poetic version, hasn’t necessarily lent itself in all cases to the accompanying musical line. Thus, there lies an imperfect synthesis of text and music which is crucial to the participation of the congregants.

“One of them that I’ve heard, I find very awkward,” said Togni. “In the congregation that I go to now, the congregation doesn’t sing very much with one of the Mass parts because there’s so much for them to do that I find it’s overwhelming for them, and frankly, most people don’t sing.

“I think it’s the integration with the music and that text,” Togni said of what may be the inherent problem with the adjustment to the changes.

“I think different composers might have done different things with that text. Not that the text is perfect… you can get in sort of a dualistic all or nothing thinking — this is totally right, that’s totally wrong. I don’t think you can do that.”

Togni does note that the textual changes certainly serve to unite the Church across the country.

“You’re talking about universality, right? The beautiful thing about the new text, if we’re asked, is, for the French they always say ‘avec votre esprit.’ We now say, ‘and with your spirit,’ but the French have been saying it for years. So, it links us up with them,” said Togni.

Looking forward, Togni suggests that perhaps the music will adopt a more Gregorian tradition and create a solid chant-like structure that would accommodate and highlight the textual changes.

“Even if you read the Vatican documents, the chant is supposed to have lots of room. We had an opportunity to write an English setting that I think could have been more people friendly and more chant-like,” said Togni.

“No matter what you do to ‘people of goodwill,’ it’s hard to set. But, then, English is cumbersome anyway,” he laughs. “I get the sense that there’s something sort of artificial with what they ended up with.”

It’s not entirely unsuccessful, though. In particular, the Angeles “Agnus Dei” has been particularly well received by congregations that Togni’s witnessed, and musically well executed.

Despite that, perhaps the root of any musical problem in the liturgy lies with what could be described as a lagging musical culture in the Catholic tradition.

“Church choir attendance is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, in some places,” said Togni.

“In our culture, we’re not a singing people. We’re just not… I think we need to find a Mass setting that’s more people friendly, melodically; simpler rhythmically. Let’s face it — not many people sing any more.”

Another factor of the tradition that could be remedied is a less performance-like aspect to the melodic line, which would allow the cantor to interact more thoroughly with the congregants, some of whom may be averse to singing entirely, he said.

“In the Gloria, for example, I don’t know why there isn’t more refrain for the people and then the cantor or the choir can do the rest of it,” said Togni.

“It’s just so much easier. If you’re going to have the entire text, then you better make it singer friendly, and it’s not,” said Togni, who notes that some of the song selections in Celebrate in Song lend themselves well to congregant participation.

Hopefully, the new settings will entrench themselves in the musical tradition. That, or adapt to what the congregants need.

“What is that Latin phrase? ‘Lex orandi, Lex credendi’:  the law of prayer is the law of belief — what we say in prayer expresses what we believe. That’s really the crux of it,” said Togni.

“It doesn’t sound like an entirely successful experiment, artistically, so far. Not yet.”

Klaas Bos, the founder and owner of the Classical Organ Centre in Norwich, Ont., first fell in love with the instrument in his native Holland.

“When I was back in Holland, I immigrated (to Canada) in 1989, I got interested in organs. A lot of times, like on a Saturday afternoon, we’d go to an organ dealer and play a couple songs,” Bos told The Catholic Register.

While there, he got to know an organ dealer who, being wheelchair bound, would ask Klaas to assist him with deliveries and in fixing small parts.

“I got acquainted with the organs, like the ‘guts’ side of it,” said Bos.

After moving to Canada, Bos wanted to get back in the organ business, and decided to start up a market for European-style organs.
“I bought myself a ticket, went back to Holland and met with seven of the dealers that I knew personally and I knew wouldn’t ‘pull the skin over my nose,’ ” laughs Bos.

So, in 1992, the Classical Organ Centre was born, with an emphasis on the Content brand of instruments — a make of pipe organ from the Netherlands that was not common in the Canadian market.

“It was not known here, so this was a big step for me to do,” said Bos.

“Obviously, trying to market something that people know is a lot easier than trying to market something that people don’t know about. But, I thought to myself: ‘I’m going to stick to my guns.’ ”

That attitude has paid off, as Classical Organ now exclusively sells the Content brand, a move Bos feels secures his company a certain niche in the organ industry.

“The capabilities that are in the Content organs, they go far beyond what any other organ in the industry can do at this moment, especially with the new Cantata series,” said Bos. “Everything is totally adjustable.”

The Content brand, while digital, allows for a user-friendly set up that can be easily modified to suit the needs of the setting or player. The style of play can be adjusted to suit different voicing, such as a more European-style Baroque sound to a Romantic sound, from a symphonic pipe organ to a cathedral pipe organ.

Additionally, the Classical Organ Centre will also accommodate existing manual pipe organs by creating a hybrid instrument — the melding of some the original pipe work with an electric instrument so that both components can act together.

“We set it up for the customer — we ask them what do they like, where do they want to be. From there we follow up a bunch of times to see if that’s exactly where they want it,” said Bos.

“For all these extra features and options, the price doesn’t go up.”

From a performance standpoint, Bos also notes that the sheer adaptability of the Content organ can allow the player a multitude of different musical experiences that he may not have previously been able to have.

“When I started, I was always a more Romantic-style player,” said Bos. “Now, because it’s just a matter of hitting a button and you have a totally different organ, I’m getting more interested in Baroque music and symphonic music.

“Because it’s on here, I practise with it and see the value of the different organs.”

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TORONTO - It's mid-summer at the MasterCard Centre in south Etobicoke, and a Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect game is about to get underway. Some of the most talented young hockey players in the world are powering across the ice for the pre-game warm up. Sporting the blue and and white of the hometown Leafs, some names are already familiar to fans, and all are currently under the scrutiny of scouts in the National Hockey League's biggest market. Leafs' general manager Brian Burke himself is visible on occasion from a box above the ice, surveying the prodigious talent circling below.

For one player, however, this is a setting that may seem more familiar than to the others. Matt Finn, Toronto born and raised and selected by the Leafs in the second round, 35th overall, in the 2012 draft, is poised to become the hometown hero fans of the franchise have been awaiting.

The middle sibling of three brothers, Finn grew up in central Etobicoke as a Leafs fan, attending St. Gregory's Catholic Elementary School and Michael Power/St. Joseph High School before leaving for Guelph to play for the Storm in the Ontario Hockey League. He played school hockey in both places, and helped to start up the first St. Gregory's intramural team.

"I loved it. Just being out there and playing with them," said Finn of his time in school athletics. "You don’t get many chances to do that often. To be able to play and compete with some of your best friends is pretty special.

“It was really great to have that community supporting not only myself but hockey (development) as well in that neighbourhood,” said Finn, who also attended St. Gregory's Church where he was confirmed.

He also attributes the hockey community in Etobicoke for some his most influential and fond memories of the sport that he hopes to make his career.

“When I was six or seven years old, my team, the West Mall Lightning, won a tournament where the final game was played at the Air Canada Centre. That was a really cool experience for me," said Finn.

"Playing hockey with your friends on the backyard rink at all hours of the night, and being out there doing what you love — it's something that you don't forget,” said Finn, whose childhood friend, Connor Brown, was also drafted by the Leafs.

“We actually grew up playing hockey together, since we were about three or four years old. He’s one of the first friends that I made playing hockey," said Finn of his fellow Michael Power/St. Joseph's alumni.

Finn had a breakout season last year with the Storm — Finn led the Guelph defence in goals, assists and points (48 in total — and is finally coming down from what has been the most exciting time in his young career.

“Things are calming down," he laughs. "It’s been a crazy couple months, for sure."

At six feet tall, Finn is a multi-talented player.

"I think overall, I’ve found my comfort level as a player... I just kind of took it and ran with it,” said Finn of his success this past year. “After my first year we lost a lot of the senior players and they moved on to the American or National leagues so there was a lot of room for young players like myself. I saw an opportunity and did the best that I could.”

For now, Finn expects he will return to the Storm for another season or two, where he hopes to work on his strength and skating to allow him to fulfill his dream of playing for the Leafs.

“That’s always been the goal," he said, "and I was fortunate enough for that to become a reality this summer.”

Now 18, he also relishes the potential opportunity to be selected for Team Canada for this year's World Junior championships in Russia.

"To represent Team Canada and play in the World Juniors, that would be a dream come true for me.”

Despite the often strained relationship between the fans of Leafs Nation and the sometimes beleaguered Leafs, Finn welcomes the opportunity to become a part of the historic franchise.

“Growing up in Toronto... I think I know more of what to expect. I’m extremely excited to be a part of the organization.”

For now, Finn intends to work hard and dedicate himself to earning a place in the NHL, and speaks earnestly about his love and enthusiasm for the game.

“I think it speaks volumes about the sport, how passionate you have to be to play it.”

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