In fall 2021, a small group of musicians from St. Nicholas in Elko New Market and Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale entered a “church band showcase” in New Prague.
One member of the group, who also sang in the St. Nicholas choir, suggested ending the performance with “something obviously Catholic,” as their group was the only Catholic one. The group sang a piece of sacred Catholic music composed in the 1500s, “If Ye Love Me.”
“We ended up singing it at Mass the following weekend and that was the beginning of classical sacred music at St. Nicholas,” said Ryan Flicek, a parishioner with his wife and their five children. Flicek volunteers as the parish’s organist and director of music ministry. In addition, he is a member of the parish council and Liturgy Committee. The parish has about 400 registered families.
Once Flicek began leading the choir and the parish acquired a digital organ, he introduced a few “classical sacred pieces” he had used when he was a member of Immaculate Conception. Before Flicek came to St. Nicholas in 2016, music in the parish was dominated by piano, and had a more contemporary flair, he said. In 2022, Flicek asked the choir’s vocalists if they’d be willing to learn a work of sacred music for Ash Wednesday Mass. Parishioner feedback was positive, so the choir learned more classical sacred music for Holy Week.
Flicek also debuted a new “Mass setting” last year that he composed “in dedication to our parish and in honor of our parish patron.” He named it the “Mass of St. Nicholas.”
A Mass setting is a musical composition set to the text of the ordinary of the Mass, Flicek said, text that is the same week to week. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lists them as Lord, Have Mercy; Glory to God in the Highest (“Gloria”); Nicene Creed; Holy, Holy, Holy; Memorial Acclamations (“the mystery of faith”) and Lamb of God. The oldest musical settings of the Mass ordinary were Gregorian chant, he said.
The new Mass setting at St. Nicholas has been used for special Masses and feast days since then, and during Holy Week this year. “We’re now using it more frequently for regular Sunday Masses,” Flicek said. “We plan to slowly increase the frequency that we use it as the congregation gets accustomed to it.”
Music to the ears
To learn more about music ministry at St. Nicholas, visit stncc.net/music-ministry.
The site includes links to video from the parish Ave Verum Corpus eucharistic adoration events, audio of St. Nicholas Mass settings and two audio samples of the St. Nicholas choir singing sacred music.
Most parishes today use contemporary Mass settings and they are geared toward piano, Flicek said. He said he believes it is “fairly rare” to have a Mass setting composed and dedicated to a local parish.
Choir members at St. Nicholas are junior high through retirement age, with a good percentage of students, Flicek said. When he started leading the choir, he represented about the middle of the choir’s age range. Today, at 41, he is one of the older members. “The core of our involvement is the teenagers,” he said. Not only are they singers but a few play the violin, he said.
“I see a lot of young people being really drawn to more of the traditional history of the Church,” Flicek said, including artwork, architecture and music. And as young choir members shared their enjoyment for sacred music, he believes it had “a snowball effect.”
In all the changes to the parish’s music program in a short time, there is much to be proud of, Flicek said. But he is most proud of the youth involvement and how that’s grown, “because there’s nothing more important that we can do than to show these kids how to serve their parish.”
Tim Havlicek’s daughter, Maggie, 19, has sung in the choir since middle school and continues when she is home from college. Younger members have brought “new life” to the choir, she said.
Sacred music is “so dear to my heart,” Havlicek said, adding that it can help her enter prayer in a deeper way. Flicek does “a great job” balancing chant with regular hymns, she said. “Growing up with chant, I have a deep appreciation for it, and I know that by putting it into our Masses here and there, it can help foster that love.”
Her mother, Molly, 43, also sings in the choir. She said sacred music has brought a deep richness to the Mass.
“I’m not well versed in the language of music, but there’s a connection to the musicians of the past (such as Mozart) that has brought a depth of music to liturgy,” she said, “and we don’t hear much (new music) being created today to that caliber.”
But Flicek has accomplished that in creating a Mass specifically for St. Nicholas, Molly said. “What a gift he’s left us and has opened new doors, I think, to the creativity of being able to enter into … a really rich history in the Church, of bringing beauty to the liturgical music.”
‘AVE VERUM CORPUS’
Ryan Flicek, director of music ministry at St. Nicholas, described a new, recurring eucharistic adoration event titled Ave Verum Corpus, first held at the parish in fall 2022. Four have taken place so far. The event begins with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on the altar in the church, with candles illuminating the sanctuary. The church choir sings sacred music for about 45 minutes, both chant and polyphony, while the faithful adore the Eucharist. Father Michael Rudolf, pastor, is available to hear confessions. A vespers service and Benediction follow adoration.
“They’ve been very well attended and very well received,” Flicek said. He went on to say, “We always end our period of music by singing Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail, True Body).