Every Feast Day or Solemnity in which the Church honors Mary, it seems that with a great deal of consistency church music directors across the country choose to make (Composer’s) Hail Holy Queen a part of the Mass for that day. Without fail, whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but crack a smile as everything in me wants to break into the song and dance of Sister Mary Clarence and her fellow nuns found in the hit 1992 movie Sister Act.
Sister Act follows the story of Delores Van Cartier, a lounge singer in Reno who witnesses her lover, an undercover mafia member, murder one of his assistants. After escaping, authorities place her in witness protection at St. Catherine’s Convent where she takes on the guise of a nun, becoming Sister Mary Clarence. At first she has a great deal of difficulty keeping up with the daily schedule of early mornings, prayer, fasting and the simple lifestyle but soon finds a home putting her music background to work directing the choir (in much need of the help, I might add).
A classic film among my family, I recently revisited this movie over the holidays. At one point there’s a conversation in which the Mother Superior chastises Sister Mary Clarence for sneaking out at night with the other sisters to visit one of the neighborhood bars. While the Mother Superior sees the convent’s walls as a means of protection, Sister Mary Clarence argues that they prevent the Sisters from going out into the community. Later we see a softening of the Mother Superior’s heart as she allows the Sisters to go out into the surrounding inner city neighborhood to meet and embrace the people. Not to mention, the improved musical styling of its choir, under Sister Mary Clarence’s directorship has struck a chord with the surrounding youth of the area (just look at marker 1:48 in the video).
While these moments may scream of a 1990’s, somewhat cliché filmmaking style, today it also screams something else to me – the new evangelization. Once the sisters move beyond the walls of the convent they begin to take on what Pope Francis refers to in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, as an “Evangelizing Community.” Pope Francis elaborates, saying, “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (24). As we see images of the sisters jumping rope and dancing with teenagers on the street, handing out food to the homeless, creating a safe playground for children, and greeting patrons in front of a local adult video store, it’s clear they have embraced those on the fringes of society and welcomed them.
Pope Francis emphasizes that “an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always” (24). If there’s any doubt about the joy of these Sisters just listen to their rendition of Hail Holy Queen and try not to crack a smile the next time to you hear it at Mass. And don’t forget to share that joy with someone else!
David Burkey is the Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center