nlike the Boston College’s main church, St. Ignatius, which occupies pride of place on Commonwealth Ave., St. Joseph’s Chapel is nestled away on Upper Campus, built into Gonzaga Hall. It’s easy to miss on walks from dinner at Mac after a long day of classes. Yet on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, if you inch closer to the sturdy, wooden doors guarding the entrance, you may be able to make out people singing hymns, and sometimes even feel the energy radiating through the walls.
The voices and instruments heard inside belong to the students of the Liturgy Arts Group (LAG) of Boston College. Falling under the umbrella of Campus Ministry, the group provides liturgical music for Masses on campus intended to make the readings and services resonate more deeply all gathered in worship. With a multitude of singers alongside pianos, guitars, brass, woodwinds, and strings, the group plays songs of varying styles, yet all are centered on praise, worship, and reflection.
Beyond a passion for music, the members of LAG share a commitment to cultivating meaningful relationships and a tight-knit, supportive community. President Matt Davis, MCAS ’20, and vice president Elizabeth Roehm, Lynch ’20, discussed the impact of the retreat to Cape Cod where new members are welcomed into LAG, and the group forms closer bonds and develops a sense of community. While there are admittedly fun, goofy activities such as telling embarrassing stories, there are also more serious ones such as the Faith Walk, where members are paired randomly and then spend quality time in conversation.
For Davis, one of the especially meaningful experiences of his last retreat was giving a faith speech.
“It was all about … how you keep that faith in difficult times,” he said. “And it was a very emotional and a vulnerable thing for me and I was worried at first to do it but … it was so nice to see all of the love and friendship and connections that kids give back to me, just by being vulnerable.”
A different activity, an art project based on the theme of that year’s retreat, “Keep the Faith,” resonated deepest with Roehm. The group constructed compasses inside boxes to remind themselves where they are headed and to have faith in the direction their life is taking.
“For me to have that special moment with [another LAG member] who I’ve been with for four years and to make that box for me really built community and really kind of strengthened the bond of the group,” Roehm said.
For Davis, strengthening this already-close community and ensuring new members feel welcome, regardless of their religious affiliation, was one of his goals this year as president. LAG currently counts those who practice other religions or are not religious at all among its members. Despite religious differences, these members find a supportive and welcoming community in LAG.
“We’re more than just a church choir,” Davis said. “I think we’re very much, I already said, like a family. And families don’t necessarily agree with everyone and everything, but we’re very open, we’re very welcoming.”
The collective energy was palpable during a recent LAG rehearsal. The singers flashed smiles at one another in between verses while the musicians on the other side of the room focused intently on their instruments, moving and playing as one. All eyes were on campus minister Meyer Chambers, who conducted gracefully and pulled the different parts of the piece together with ease.
hambers has served in this role since 2003, preparing the group for weekly Masses as well as helping members of the group navigate their college experiences and spiritual journeys. For Chambers, music is an integral part of Masses on campus. He said that even though the liturgy is still the primary focus, music can enliven it and enhance the quality for those in attendance, making it resonate more deeply.
“As Saint Pius X said, ‘Music is the handmaid of the liturgy.’ They go hand in hand together. One supports the other,” Chambers said. “You know, the psalms were written and attributed to David, but they were never meant to be spoken. They were meant to be sung.”
Building on the idea of music serving the liturgy, Chambers made the distinction that LAG’s role is to enhance the collective worship experience and to give praise to God, rather than strive for applause or acclaim. According to Chambers, music functions as a guide, moving the Mass from one stage to the next.
“When the cantor chants the gospel verse before the priest or deacon reads the gospel at Mass, it’s actually like he’s doing or she is doing a commercial for what you’re about to hear,” Chambers said. “It’s them saying, ‘Hey, listen everybody, whatever you’ve been doing, you need to stop now and pay attention, Jesus is about to talk.’”
While remaining committed to serving the church community on Sundays on campus, the group does have some opportunities to reach a wider audience and receive applause for its hard work and diligence. Every year, LAG performs at Arts Fest along with other BC music groups.
As the song they were rehearsing reached its swelling chorus of “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” Chambers’ passion was written across his face as he moved around the front of the room, signaling for the instruments to come in and for the singers to give it their all. At the peak of the song, Chambers abruptly interjected: “Wait, wait, wait.” All were silent, looking around wondering what happened.
He moved toward the pianist, broke a smile and said, “You can’t lead us to water and not let us drink,” casually letting the pianist know to continue playing through the swelling chorus of the song. The room erupted in laughter and excited chatter before Chambers summoned the group’s attention and started the piece again—this time with an upbeat number, showcasing the wide range of sounds the group covers while retaining an emphasis on worship.
“Watching them grow, being a part of their formation and developing them into pastoral ministers, pastoral music ministers who can take my place ultimately someday—I think that’s a pretty good bet and something that gives me excitement,” Chambers said.
avis and Roehm spoke highly of Chambers and his role as both a leader and mentor for the group. Social media liaison Keara Hanlon also gave high praise to Chambers and how he has shaped her time in LAG and helped strengthen her faith. As a member of the e-board along with Davis and Roehm, she was able to speak on his interactions with the student leadership.
“He puts a lot of trust in us, especially on the e-board,” Hanlon said. “He is incredibly supportive of the decisions that we make and is always looking for feedback. And I think that type of leadership is something that I really respect and strive to kind of incorporate into my own life.”
As social media liaison, Hanlon helped make one of Davis’ goals as president a reality, namely continuing to develop LAG as an inclusive, welcoming setting by bringing in new members. Using Instagram and other platforms as recruiting tools, Hanlon connected with incoming students in the summer, creating content to spark their interest in LAG.
“We have everyone from people who sang in high school, to the people who did band, to people who would have almost no musical experience at all,” Hanlon said. “So we just wanted to make sure everyone knew all were welcome.”
Despite LAG’s success in drawing in new members each year, the larger Catholic Church has struggled in recent years with declining Mass attendance and involvement. Hanlon believes that music is a way to engage more young people in the Church and create a sense of community.
Hanlon said that the group understands that everyone is at a different place on their spiritual journey and that LAG tries to meet people where they are. After hurting her shoulder and being forced to quit marching band as a result, she said she is thankful to have found a supportive community in LAG that shared her passion for music and helped strengthen her faith. Although there are numerous special events throughout the year, one in particular motivated her decision to join LAG and rekindle her love of music.
“I love the Advent Mass,” Hanlon said. “My freshman year, I wasn’t in LAG, and I saw the Advent Mass, like several times… and that was really special, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
For Davis and Roehm, their sophomore retreats were an opportunity to fully experience the LAG community after not attending the retreat their freshman years. While before, they may have been hesitant initially about commiting to the group long-term, their sophomore retreats solidified that LAG was the place for them. A “burden walk” was an especially powerful moment for Roehm, as the LAG members wrote down something that was burdening them and stuck it in a glass bottle before throwing it in the ocean. She said it was a powerful moment of relief and a shared experience of closure with the rest of the group.
Last spring, the death of LAG member Patrick Gregorek, BC ’19, tested the strength of the group, whose members came together to honor his memory and support one another in the especially difficult time. Chambers, Hanlon, Davis, and Roehm all touched on the impact Gregorek’s sudden passing had on the community.
“The day that we found out he passed away, I was actually leading Taizé later that night,” Davis said. “Even though it was probably the most difficult thing that any of us have had to do in college—to cope with in college—we were able to come together as a family and mourn together. … And that’s when I think I realized it’s those people, those people in LAG and those people that you’re comfortable to cry with or to be vulnerable and emotional with, those are the ones that care about us.”
As the rehearsal that Wednesday afternoon in St. Joseph’s drew to a close, e-board members made their way to the front of the chapel. Among the announcements made by the e-board were that they were preparing for an upcoming trip to California and excitedly bringing LAG apparel back.
ooking to the future, Davis and Roehm said they are excited to carry on their commitment to LAG. Roehm, through the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education program, is planning to teach for two years at urban Catholic schools, applying her education major at BC and getting her master’s in the process. Davis is going to Ireland to serve parishes as a youth and music minister. Coincidentally, it is also through the Notre Dame program.
The torch will be passed to Hanlon along with other younger members of the group to carry on the LAG tradition of community and connection. Chambers will still be there to guide students into the next chapter of their BC experience—playing with LAG at Masses every Sunday, each and every one of which is special in its own right, according to Chambers. As he nears his fateful graduation date, Davis spoke about how the themes LAG chooses for each year have influenced his faith journey and will hopefully continue to provide guidance for younger members.
“Our freshman year was ‘Companions on the Journey,’ to then ‘Courage and Kindness,’ to Light the Darkness,’ to now ‘Keep the Faith,’’’ Davis said. “And I think when you look at that holistically, it really shows this is the journey, and we don’t know where it’s going to end up, but we’re together—we’re companions on that journey.”
Featured Images by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor