Bringing Song to the Bishop’s Online Mass

BRIDGEPORT—Online Masses have given thousands of people the opportunity to not only worship together but also the ability to experience a variety of liturgical music to hear the word of God.

Lyndy Toole is one of many musicians who have accompanied Bishop Frank J. Caggiano during his Sunday online masses from the chapel at the Catholic Center in Bridgeport.

“It is a wonderful gift to me to be able to do this,” Lyndy said. “I get so much out of it,” she said adding that selecting the music for the masses is an honor.

“Each song is important to me,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll mull it over for a long period of time and sometimes it’s a spur of the moment selection but always with the intention to be connected to the liturgy, easy on the ear and easy to sing for the congregation. I’m hoping people are singing at home along with me.”

The diocese has made it easier for people to do just that by scrolling the words of the songs on the screen during Mass. “By putting the words on the screen, we give the folks at home the chance to participate more fully in the liturgical experience and I think it becomes a richer experience for them,” said Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of the Diocesan Leadership Institute.

Lyndy says she selects songs that help make the liturgical passages memorable. “I want people to walk away thinking, “I like that song and words out of the second reading or the homily. There’s always a connection from the songs to the liturgy. I feel it and I want other people to feel it too.”

She said she specifically tries to choose songs for communion that are not overpowering and that have a recognizable melody.

“Music should connect to the liturgy and enhance, not detract from it,” she said. “I am there to encourage others to participate in the mass through the music.”

Collecting liturgical music, referencing annual liturgical planning magazines and attending liturgical conferences, including a virtual conference earlier this month, helps Lyndy to keep abreast of what composers are working on and any new music books that are coming out.

“I like to incorporate all different styles, from traditional to more contemporary because we are all different,” she said.

Lyndy, who grew up listening to rock and roll music, the Beatles and U2, also listened to Irish and classical music and studied piano.

A self-taught guitarist, her skills flourished during her college years at the University of Notre Dame where all students were encouraged to not only listen to but participate in liturgical music. There was even a waiting list to participate in the dormitory folk choir.

The demand was so great she didn’t get to actively participate in her own dorm choir until her senior year. Undeterred, her passion for music led her to play guitar in other dorms and as fate would have it, she met her husband Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal delegate for administration of the Diocese of Bridgeport. The retired IBM executive also shares her love of music and enjoys the cello, organ and clarinet.

Married two and a half years after meeting, they lived in North Carolina before moving to Connecticut and raising five children. Their children attended St. Thomas Aquinas in Fairfield where Lyndy spent five years as a volunteer developing and teaching music programs before being hired by the school where she continued to guide her musical charges for the next five years.

The musical legacy continues in some of the couple’s children and respective families (they now have two grandchildren) but mostly through her teaching at schools and summer camps which unfortunately have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A music minister at St. Luke Parish in Westport, she welcomed the extraordinary opportunity to play during some of the bishop’s online Masses on Sunday.

“It gives me so much joy when the bishop sings with me. People need to see that he is singing along as well. What it has made me do is connect more to the actual music the musicality of the piece and the words.”

“I love that the bishop is trying to bring as much diverse forms of Catholic liturgical music to the general public,” she said. Music from other artists including Dr. Bill Atwood, David Harris and Jane Lambert, reflects the many musical styles of the congregations in the diocese.

“All of the musicians bring such great passion to the small chapel where we gather,” Donovan said. “As Bishop Caggiano often says, the music they provide offers, ‘a bridge to the Beautiful One.’”

Reaching the entire congregation through music is important and it is especially important to get teens involved to encourage the next generation to actively participate in Mass, Lyndy said.

Her own journey with music started at a young age. Although trained classically to sing and play the piano, when she was 10, she tried her hand at the flute before choosing to focus on the guitar which her father brought home after playing the instrument while serving in Vietnam.

When the family moved to Hawaii, her beloved piano and coach stayed behind and she picked up the guitar in earnest. This time, the lesson books were her coach and the nuns at St. Francis in Honolulu became her ardent supporters.

“The nuns were trying to get girls who were proficient, to play at mass. I said, ‘I’ll try,’ and I just loved it.”

Traditional music is important but Lyndy tends to favor the more upbeat contemporary music selections. “Traditional melodies have been handed down through the years but by taking traditional hymns and playing them with different instruments you can breathe a more contemporary life into them,” she said.

She enjoys the musical treasure hunt.

“I try to find songs that I’m not familiar with and listen to them,” Lyndy said. “I also want to present music in such a way people want to listen to it and seek it out.”

Music and music selection permeate all aspects of her life. As a kickboxing instructor at a local gym, she knows her music choices can help inspire and focus her class or distract from the task at hand. Understanding not everyone is going to appreciate all music styles, she is pleased to be a part of the bishop’s mission to showcase a variety of musicians and liturgical music during the online Masses.

“I have been so grateful for the way the musicians plan and hours they put into this small celebration,” Donovan said. “They know that for many, this is the only opportunity to celebrate Mass with their bishop and so great care is taken to include music that both adds to the beauty of the Eucharistic celebrations and engages those at home who miss going to Mass in their parishes.”

Lyndy said she’s adjusted to not playing in the company of a large congregation. The most challenging aspect of that she said was not audibly participating in the congregational responses during the Mass.

“Music is an expression of how you are feeling,” she said. “The joy you get from participating is wonderful. It’s isolating for everyone right now. You have to find joy somewhere else. This gives me a purpose and joy. This is fun.”