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Making Sacred Space

How do you turn a nondescript hotel ballroom at the Supreme Convention into a beautiful setting for the celebration of Mass? It takes months of planning, attention to the smallest detail, high-tech backdrops with images of sacred art, high-quality music, and a secret ingredient that pulls together the efforts of many talented individuals.

Call it love.

“The Knights show the greatest care for the liturgy, and that has to do with their love of God,” said Peter Latona, director of music for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. “It is a great honor for me and the choir each year to provide music for the liturgies at the convention.”

Latona and selected members of the basilica’s choir are brought to the convention each year to provide quality and consistency in the music at the Masses that begin the proceedings each day. Although Mass attendance is not required for convention delegates, most of them rise early with their families to join in the liturgies. With so many bishops and priests concelebrating from many different countries, they get a sense of the universality of the Church that is hard to experience in their local parish.

Many also remark on the beauty of the music.

“It is a big thrill for us when Knights come up to us after Mass and say how good the music was, or ask what musical setting we were using for a certain Mass part,” Latona remarked. “It makes all the preparation and hard work worthwhile.”

Latona, 48 years old, has been director at the Washington basilica for 20 years. The choir there is celebrating 50 years since it was formed at what is often called America’s Church.

At the 134th Supreme Convention in Toronto, Latona composed music for most parts of Tuesday morning Opening Mass. The music is based on the Huron Carol composed by St. Jean de Brébeuf, the 17th-century Jesuit who was martyred for the faith about 100 miles from Toronto, where Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland is located. The carol is considered the first Christian song composed in a Native American language.

Latona has played in church since he was in eighth grade, and considers the art of providing sacred music his vocation. Music is a vital part of Catholic liturgy, and can move the heart and mind toward God in subtle yet powerful ways, he said.

“What we ultimately strive to do as a choir is to create beauty, a beauty that lifts the soul toward the beauty of God,” he said. “Those who create such beauty in liturgy are on the front lines of evangelization.”