How beautiful God must be: Heavenly sounds from the cathedral’s new organ

Sketch by Juget-Sinclair Organbuilders of the gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond.

Hearing the cathedral’s new choir organ for the first time, a fellow priest remarked, “That is a sweet sound.” Ultimately, that “sweet sound” is an echo of salvation, along the lines of Isaiah’s prophecy: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news … announcing salvation, saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’” (Isaiah 52:7).

A pipe organ’s power, range, and finesse reflect the majesty and gentleness of the King himself. An organ also mirrors the Church’s response to God, as we praise him with all that he has given us: our longing for beauty and our ingenuity that produces mellifluous sounds.

In this vein, Vatican Council II (1962–1965) taught that, “The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 120).

This teaching has resounded in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which received two of its three new pipe organs in 2022, both from Juget-Sinclair Organbuilders in Montréal. The first instrument is a portable continuo organ, used to accompany Renaissance-era polyphony (motets). The second is a choir organ in the sanctuary, used for smaller liturgical celebrations.

A third instrument – the flagship – has arrived, in pieces, at the cathedral. This gallery organ will be installed above the entrance of the church, replacing the cathedral’s original organ that was built at the time of the church’s dedication in 1906. That organ, which was rebuilt and modified several times, had aged to the point of infirmity and could no longer be relied on.

Workers from Juget-Sinclair Organbuilders carry pieces of the gallery organ into the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, April 2, 2024. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

The new instrument is a colossus. Also built by Juget-Sinclair, this gallery organ weighs fifteen tons (30,000 pounds) and contains 4,332 pipes, ranging from 36 feet tall to the length of a pencil. It features both a frightening “thunder” stop, as well as a soothing nightingale effect (the sound of chirping birds, produced by submerging pipes in oil within the instrument). These impressive specifications and capabilities point to the immensity and tenderness of God, whom the organ will be used to worship.

The cathedral’s new gallery organ will be installed in these weeks during the Easter season and will be “voiced” (tuned) throughout the summer. Once the instrument is blessed for liturgical use, several dedicatory events will follow.

Everyone is invited to a solemn double-header: Vespers (Evening Prayer) led by Bishop Knestout on Tuesday, Oct. 29, and a concert on Wednesday, Oct. 30, featuring Olivier Latry, one of the main organists at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. (No tickets are required for Vespers; free tickets for the concert are available through the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart website:

Significantly, the case of the new pipe organ resembles the cathedral’s façade – a reminder that the purpose of the instrument is to enliven the Church’s prayer. This grand instrument will almost touch the cathedral’s ceiling, lifting minds and hearts upward, to heaven. In this setting, the organ will produce an array of beautiful sounds in praise of God.

How beautiful, then, God himself must be.


Father Anthony E. Marques is the rector of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond.

Read about the organ installation at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond.

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