Holy Cross Catholic Church Whitwick


Holy Cross has had a long history of traditional Church Music. More recently this has integrated more contemporary music and hymns, but important ties with our heritage still exist.


Why do we use Music at Church?

Throughout many of our masses here at Holy Cross, music forms an integral part. The mass, more often than not, begins and ends with a Hymn. Quite often the offertory and communion sections of the mass will also have a congregational hymn. Outside of this, you might hear the Organ being played before or after mass, or perhaps in the reflective pause post-communion, you may hear the organ, voice, or both together.

Observations on congregational singing yield the same comments wherever you go – “The hymns are too high for me”, “I’m too embarrassed to start it off”, “I can’t sing” – but congregational music isn’t about you as a soloist or a need to be professional standard.

Pope Benedict XVI said that, “Music and song are more than an embellishment of worship; they are themselves part of the liturgical action. Solemn sacred music, with choir, organ, orchestra or the singing of the people, is not therefore a kind of addition that frames the liturgy and makes it more pleasing, but an important means of active participation in worship.”

Psalm 150 speaks of trumpets and flutes, of harps and zithers, cymbals and drums; all these musical instruments are called to contribute to the praise of  God. In an Organ, a choir or any musical ensemble, the many pipes and voices must form a unity. If here or there something becomes blocked, if one pipe or voice is out of tune, this may at first be perceptible only to a trained ear. But if many pipes or voices are out of tune, dissonance ensues and the result is unbearable.

As we find and create harmony in music, we hope that, through our communion in faith, we can also find harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love.

Far from simply embellishing the liturgy, music enhances it – and, as Pope Benedict put it, “[Music] Transcends the merely human sphere, it evokes the divine”


Ambrose De Lisle was a keen amateur musician and singer, arranging and writing his own settings of various masses and psalms. He was a keen exponent too of Gregorian Plainchant, something he would continue to promote during his lifetime. While it is not known how much De Lisle influenced the musical development at Holy Cross, it is entirely possible that he did so.

During Canon O’Reilly’s time in the late 1800s there was a mixed voice SATB choir, but this had changed by the 1920s to an all male ensemble. Gregorian plainchant became prominent in the liturgy during that time, some of which can still be heard at Sunday mass. Music continued to be centred around the Latin liturgy with the weekly singing of both the proper and common of the mass, with both a Men and boys choir up until the mid 1990s.

The ‘Folk Group’ were first formed in the early 1980s under the direction of Father Neary. They were formed to support the singing of more contemporary hymns which had become popular after the folk revival of the 1970s. Father Godley succeeded Father Neary in 1984 and had a wish to have singing at all masses. This led to the Folk Group leading the singing at the Saturday Evening masses, with the Sunday Morning Masses remaining fairly traditional in terms of music, led by the Organ. Since then the Folk Group has grown to include several instruments as well as voices but always welcomes new members.

Church Organ

Mozart famously called the Organ, “The King of Instruments”. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Organ, “…is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.”


Photo of pipework taken in December 1964 by Walkers to put into their Catalogue for the ‘Positif’ Organ Range. Note the lack of carpet and Altar Rail!

The Organ at Holy Cross is a 2 Manual Walker ‘Positif’ Model C, installed in August 1964. This type of design, sometimes called the ‘pipe organ in a box’, was very popular during the late 50s and 60s.

The reason the design was so popular was a combination of size and cost. Although the console suggests 18 speaking stops, the Positif in reality only has 3 ranks of pipes – something made possible by the extension principle used in its design. In effect, the same pipes will be called upon and used for different voices (The A, B or C lettering on the specification below shows where). The drawback, of course, is that this can sound very samey and requires some intelligent forethought to registration to avoid it as much as possible.

After some time to bed in, final checks, inspections and adjustments were carried out in October 1964. The organ was then demonstrated by Walkers in December the same year, and it was also photographed by Walkers to appear in their catalogue for the Positif organ range.

On the 24th June 1965 we had our first and to date only visit from the Leicester & District Organists Association. This was followed shortly afterward by the Organ’s first recital, given by Mr Edward Try of Bristol. His programme included a solo arrangement of Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 13 “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale” and Bach’s Trio Sonata No.5 in C Major.

2014 has marked the 50th Anniversary of the Organ’s installation into the Church. With only light maintenance performed over that time it has performed remarkably well, but it is showing some signs of those 50 years. Consideration is currently being given to restoring or replacing the instrument.

Organ Specification

       Great                                                 Swell                                            Pedal

  • 8′ Open Diapason     (A)                    8′ Open Diapason         (A)                 16′ Bourdon        (B)
  • 8′ Lieblich Gedeckt  (B)                     8′ Lieblich Gedeckt      (B)                   8′ Bass Flute     (B)
  • 8′ Dulciana                (C)                     8′ Dulciana                    (C)                  4′ Fifteenth         (A)
  • 4′ Principal                (A)                     4′ Lieblich Flute           (B)                    4′ Octave Flute (B)
  • 2 2/3′ Twelfth           (A)                     4′ Dulcet                        (C)                   Great to Pedal
  • 2′ Fifteenth                (A)                     2 2/3′ Nazard               (B)
  • Mixture (3 Ranks)                              2′ Flautino                     (B)

The Carillon

Strictly speaking, Holy Cross has a traditional 15 Bell ‘Chime’, as such an instrument cannot be called a ‘Carillon’ until it has at least two chromatic octaves, or 23 bells. Despite this, our Chime is often known locally as ‘the carillon’ as well as simply ‘the bells’.


The Holy Cross Chime

Carillons and Chimes are played by striking a keyboard or clavier, the stick-like keys of which are called batons. These are laid out much like a piano keyboard and operated with the hands. On larger instruments they can also incorporate a section for the feet, much like an organ. The batons mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the inside of the bells, allowing the performer on the bells, or carillonneur, to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

Our Chime was installed in 1960 by Taylors of Loughborough with the Clavier situated in the first storey of the tower, making it the Ringing Loft as well as the Organ Chamber.

Taylors are a company world famous for their work. The largest and heaviest bell in Britain, ‘Great Paul’, was cast by Taylors and is hung in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, weighing over 17 metric tons.

Holy Cross has several budding carillonneurs who serve on the altar and can regularly be heard to ring the bells after Sunday morning Mass. The bells are also rung after Weddings or special events.