December 25, 2010 ( – As the year 2010 was winding to an end, something marvelous happened at a food court in a Canadian shopping mall.  Suddenly, the patrons came to life and began to sing, to sing beautifully, to sing the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah.  The “flashmob” event, filmed with multiple hidden cameras, found its way to YouTube, where it has been seen more than 26 million times since November 17, making it one of the most viewed videos in the history of the site.

As I watched the video, I pondered the question of why I, a grown man who is not known for losing his composure, was crying like a baby, and why so many others reacted the same way, both in the food court itself and among the viewers who left comments.  Why was this video of an old work of Christian polyphony reaching and moving tens of millions of people, a distinction normally enjoyed by the banal expressions of popular culture?

The first and most obvious answer is that the sheer beauty and reverence of the piece has been moving people to tears since it was first composed by Handel himself.  According to an old story about Handel, his assistant once searched him out after calling his name for several minutes.  He found Handel in his room, in tears, as he composed the Hallelujah Chorus.  “I thought I saw the face of God,” he said.

It was moving to see such beautiful people, from every generation and racial background, perform this great work with joy and reverence, but even more moving was its capacity to transform a food court, a trite symbol of our increasingly debased consumer culture, with the glorious praise of God. For a moment that day in November, the militant secularity of modern society fell mute in the face of something it could never produce, nor begin to fathom, a beautiful voice from its repudiated past, insisting on truths that will never die: and He shall reign forever and ever!

I wept also for the lost world of my childhood. Although the culture of the 1970s, already reeling from the upheavals of the 1960s, was only a pale reflection of the Christian society that preceded it, many elements of that lost civilization were still intact. The Hallelujah Chorus and other similar works were simply taken for granted, an affirmation of a commitment to a Christian culture that permeated the United States, Canada, and much of the western world. But the America I was born into has been swept away, and the Hallelujah Chorus is now a revolutionary act, a defiant gesture in the face of a cynical, “post-Christian” society.

But Christendom, with Christ as its king, can never die.  It may be forced underground for a time, into the privacy of one’s home and heart, but the words of the Hallelujah Chorus remind us that Jesus Christ is “the Lord God omnipotent,” the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” whose reign will never end. It will sprout a thousand times anew and in a thousand places, in shopping malls and streets, in businesses and government offices. Its resurrection, like that of Christ himself, is guaranteed.

“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony,” wrote Pope Pius XI in his encyclical establishing the feast of Christ the King. To that, let all Christendom say, “Amen.”