"Let's leave Mary out of this. Let's talk about Jesus. You're okay with Jesus, right?"
With a curt nod I gave my first assent to Catholicism. Yes, I was okay with Jesus. I was NOT okay with the news that my husband of ten years was converting to Rome.
This was not the future I had envisioned. I didn't believe in any of this. They worshipped statues, and COOKIES for crying out loud. They didn't use the same Bible. They sprinkled babies, although I didn't mind that so much, found it rather quaint. But, and this was the worst of it for me, they had ghastly music.
I must confess that I was brought up on the gospel music of the rural Deep South. I knew the Sacred Harp and shape note hymns inside and out. I was baptized into that tradition at the tender age of nine, and hold a fondness for it even now. But, I grew up. I met and married an Anglican, not an Episcopalian with an inclusive mentality, but a High Churchman who believed in Sacraments and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. As Islam believes there is no God but Allah, High Anglicans believe there is no hymnal but the 1940. There it began, my love affair with sacred music.
Yet here I sat, arms crossed, scowling at a priest (who sounded just like Joe Pesci) as he listened to my husband explain why he wanted to become a Catholic. He knew I didn't believe and didn't want to be there. And so he waved my husband into silence and asked me. "What about you? Where are you in all this?"
My response was a rude one. I didn't believe half of what the Church taught. I didn't think Mary was all that and I thought confession was a private matter to be handled discreetly between the Good Lord above and the one who had "erred and strayed" from His ways "like lost sheep". Father Kelly (of St. Patrick's, can one get any more Irish?) interrupted me, brushing aside all but one of my objections with the words above. "Let's leave Mary out of this. Let's talk about Jesus. You're okay with Jesus, right?"
Somehow, he convinced me to listen a little longer. He coaxed me into the RCIA program and quickly saw that I was beyond the basics. High Anglicans, especially those married to men with a Masters in Apologetics, didn't need the Sacraments explained. We didn't need to be introduced to Liturgy. Former Baptists didn't need to be introduced to the Old Testament stories and the Roman's Road to Salvation, either. But, I was a singer. He had a choir. And, God be praised, he didn't like "On Eagle's Wings."
"Tell you what, you come here for half the class, then you go over there and sing with the choir...that okay with you?"
I would have said it wasn't, but I was curious. I had always been in a choir. I assumed I would still be in one. I hoped to bring my favorites with me, and being a tenacious sort, rather assumed I would eventually have the director using the "right" versions of the hymns. So off I went, joining them for the rosary beforehand, saying only the Our Father and the Glory Be while they drifted antiphonally through the Aves, until, suddenly, I realized they weren't praying TO Mary, they were asking Mary to pray FOR them. Then they sang:
Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae:
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
I had never heard anything like this. I wanted to learn it. I did. Then came the preparations for Easter, the Vidi Aquam, the Regina Caeli, the original words to "Humbly I Adore Thee". I began to sing along with the Latin Ordinary, and in so doing, began to learn the Mass.
I made a reluctant first confession (the priest commended my obedience even as I protested too much) and was received into the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church while the choir sang above me. As I received Our Lord for the first time, a timid soprano began the Regina Caeli, the phrases swelling as voice after voice was added in the loft above, until it sounded as if the Heavens were themselves declaring her as Queen. I fell in love with Our Lady through the beauty of her song. Nothing so sublime could be anything but true.
And so I am a Catholic. I learned the prayers of the church first in singing them, understanding first their beauty as child recognizes the beauty of a lullaby, its purpose secondary until it has done its work. The child is drawn to sleep, the singer to Truth, and I find it beautiful.