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Aunty Maureen's 'O Holy Night'

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

‘O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth…
Fall on your knees; oh hear the angel voices, O Night divine! O night when Christ was born…’


One of my earliest memories of Christmases past is of my choir mistress, Miss Maureen Stanton, singing, ‘O Holy Night’ with such touching fervour, at the midnight Mass in the little old church of Cavel. As both organ music and her sweet, angelic voice drifted skywards, the stars shone brighter than ever, and the Child Jesus was born again, even as the little congregation fell on its knees...  

“An angel sang” they whispered after the Mass, in awe and wonder… And in her journal, in her neat handwriting, with the small ‘r’s always in capitals, Aunty Maureen herself wrote with child-like simplicity: 'An angel sang!’… those who have heard me have told me, “an angel sang!”

What made Aunty Maureen’s rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ so special?  What gave it that ethereal ‘angelic’ quality? Surely, it must have had something to do with her piety, her child-like Faith and Trust in the Infant Jesus, the painstaking way in which she arranged flowers for the Altar and polished the vases till they shone, the long hours she spent before the Tabernacle in prayer, and the even longer hours she spent patiently teaching little children to pray, to speak, to sing.

Aunty Maureen did not only teach ‘The little bells of Cavel’ (as she fondly christened her beloved Children’s Choir) how to sing and dance. She taught the big bell(e)s too.  And she will always be fondly remembered for her Nativity Play, with the beautiful Virgin and curly-haired Child Jesus, and the host of characters that peopled it. The play not only brought joy to a weary world, but raised the much-need funds for the new Baretto High School building, which stands till today…

And on many a Christmas night, she kept singing ‘O Holy Night’ for a rapt congregation… she sang it in the open air in the Cavel School Compound, she sang it when she was burning with fever and unable to speak, let alone sing, she sang it within the 200-year-old walls of the Church in Cavel, and she sang it within the 400-year-old walls of St. Andrew’s Church in Bandra.

And each time, the congregation whispered with the same awe and wonder: ‘An angel sang..’  

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace.Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease.Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name.

Aunty Maureen will not be singing ‘O Holy Night’ any more. At least, not on this earthly plane. You see, the angels came and took her to the Heavenly choir a year ago…on the 2nd of October, to be precise. After she had attended the morning Mass, as usual, and prayed at the Blessed Sacrament thereafter. The very same day that another great Indian ‘apostle of peace’ was called to his Maker. The man who preached love and ceased oppression. Perhaps, they are singing the great soul’s favourite hymns: ‘Abide with me’ and ‘Lead Kindly Light’. And perhaps, even as I write this, the angels are looking down at a weary world and urging Aunty Maureen to remind it, of that Holy Night, when Christ was born.

— By Caroline de Souza

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