Consistent teaching

It is one of those ecclesial matters that comes up with some regularity.

No, opera is not appropriate for Mass.

No, a piano/ violin concerto is not appropriate for Mass.

No, an ordinary inspired by The Girl from Ipanema is not appropriate for Mass.

No, Let It Be and Sunshine On My Shoulders are not appropriate for Mass.

As a parish music director I found the distinction between sacred and secular was most helpfully put this way: “At your relative’s funeral Mass we should sing Church songs, not radio songs.”

Lest this seem snobbish, opting for highbrow vs. lowbrow tastes, the distinction could just as easily be made between Church songs and concert hall music, and often should be, for weddings.


The Latin Mass comes to Laredo, Texas! 

Beginning this coming Sunday, December 16th at 3:00 pm, the Society of St. Padre Pio is proud to announce that extraordinary form liturgies will be offered once a month at 3 pm on the Sunday after the third Saturday of each month. Mass will be held at Christ the King Parish with Msgr. James Harris as celebrant.

It is possible to offer this liturgy in the extraordinary form because of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, from July 7, 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Music will be provided by the St. Cecilia Choir, with Rogelio Senties as director. If you’re in the area, make plans to join them and support their effort to make this form of the Mass available to those in the region.

December 16, 2018, 3:00 pm
Christ the King Parish
1105 Tilden
Laredo, TX 78040
Ph: 956-723-4267


Bouguereau’s Angels

Organist Randolph Nichols writes here from time to time on the works of painters inspired by music:

We’ve seen the image countless times on Christmas cards, parish bulletin covers and even coffee mugs, but scarcely give a thought to where, when and by whom it was painted.

Song of the Angels, an oil on canvas measuring 60 x 84 inches, was painted in 1881 by the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), an artist who exemplifies, as perhaps no other, how sudden change in fashion can mar a seemingly unassailable reputation. He was as well-known and financially successful in the nineteenth-century as Pablo Picasso in the twentieth. Showered with official acclaim, popular with the art-buying public (especially American millionaires), he was also a highly regarded teacher. But towards the end of his life academic painting, i.e., the neoclassicist rendering of mythical and religious tableaux in which he excelled, fell out of favor. Bouguereau’s reputation ebbed and the artist was considered by many as nothing more than a huckster aiming to please the gullible middle-brow. Such an assessment, however, could not be sustained because Bouguereau, though indeed old-school and at odds with his now famous avant-garde peers, was a brilliantly talented draughtsman and manipulator of paint.

After its debut in France Song of the Angels came directly to the United States and years later (1940) was acquired by businessman and art collector Hubert Eaton to grace a private chapel of his business enterprise, Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. (The painting now resides in the Museum at Forest Lawn, framed by the liturgical enclosure that had held it in the chapel.)

Sentimental, yes, but a masterful composition: a mother and child sleep in a wooded setting while a trio of hovering musician angels offer strains of a lullaby left to the viewer’s imagination. The work demonstrates the artist’s uncanny skill at rendering realistic flesh tones and subtle gradations of white, the latter with a luminance more often associated with watercolor. Color and form lead the viewer’s eye from face to face, hand to foot in a life-like yet supernatural scene. You perhaps may not initially notice that the angels and Madonna are modeled on the same face, thought to be that of the artist’s wife Nelly who had passed away four years before this painting was finished (as had their 9-month-old son). This quiet scene therefore is most likely Bouguereau’s lasting tribute to his departed loved ones.


Lost and found: the English choral tradition

In a new book review, Michael White outlines a history of how the English choral tradition was disrupted by the English Reformation and reconstructed in the 1900s, partly through Catholic influence:

On Christmas Eve, the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be broadcast from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and listeners throughout the world will think how wonderful it is that, in these crazy times […] the great English choral tradition carries on: soothing, consoling, with the same exquisite beauty that it’s cultivated since the Middle Ages.

The idea is an attractive one, but not quite true. And this book tells you in no uncertain terms how far from the truth it is.

The review is on-line at the Catholic Herald.


Newly published: Graduale Parvum: Introits

A new book of Mass propers in English and Latin has appeared from our friends in England: Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory has published Graduale Parvum: Introits.

The book contains entrance chants on simple melodies, much in the style of the Graduale Simplex and ICEL’s Roman Missal ordinary chants. Here’s an example:








The book has some attractive advantages. The melodies are freely adapted from the authentic Gregorian chants in the Graduale Romanum and often preserve their melodic outline, so they’re a step up for choirs that have used more formulaic English adaptations. In addition, the English texts are all from standard, well-known sources approved for liturgical use by the Holy See: the ICEL Roman Missal and the Revised Grail Psalter. They’re fully notated, including the psalm verses, in attractive, readable chant notation.

American readers can get the book from the CMAA Shop web site, a little easier and slightly cheaper than ordering it from the UK.

Incidentally, in 2002, Fr. Nicholls spoke at the CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium  about the propers and the task of promoting them; the talk has an introduction by Jeffrey Tucker, and included some examples from the book’s draft at the time, which the gathered participants sang.

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Only for your love alone

What a relief it is when pretense and romanticism are set aside and we come face to face with reality in its starkness and candor.

For those who work for the poor, not with soundbites or ideologies or doctrinal compromises but in reality, romanticism passes early and often. As St. Vincent de Paul wrote to his spiritual children:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters, you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

If the corporal works of mercy, in which we give people that which we and they and all agree on the desirability of the gift given, can meet with anger, how much more are the spiritual works of mercy resisted–particularly the three in which we must communicate to one another his or her inadequacy:

  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish the sinner

Rarely will the beneficiary of these merciful acts feel them as unmitigated love and mercy.

Certainly some of the hesitancy will be due to pride, hardness of heart, indolence, or attachment to sin. And yet is is incumbent upon those of us who are exercising this type of mercy to examine our ways.  As a sinner, anyone of us who acts to rouse the Christianity of others has inward access to the paradigmatic Instructor, Counselor, and Admonisher: the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit convicts us without condemnation.

Do we do likewise?

Resistance is necessary, because ultimately our enemy is not human, but the father of lies. There was a naive time when it may have seemed appropriate to participate in the pretended rapprochement of  “The Common Ground” movement. There may have been  time when it seemed appropriate to wonder whether we were instigating “liturgy wars” and “culture wars,” rather than simply upholding and teaching the truth. Were we “rigid?” Where we hypocrites? Were we Pharisees?

The McCarrick affair has thankfully put an end to the need for self-examination on points like this. It turns out that his rejection of truth, beauty, and goodness in other aspects of ecclesial life was perfectly consonant with a life of unrepentant, predatory sin. It made a terrible kind of sense. And so we must resist and admonish, with a new clarity and resolve. As St. Paul says, “Let your love be sincere.”

So what should our response be?

1.  Practice the works of mercy–all of them.

2. Confess and repent.

3. Practice the virtues that are opposites of the vices of ecclesial corruption.

4. Pursue and promote the good, the true, and the beautiful.


Cantus sororum: medieval Brigittine chants

Some time ago we got a note from the makers of a recent book of chants published in Finland.

Cantus sororum is a collection of transcribed medieval chants sung by Brigittine nuns, edited by musicologist Hilkka-Liisa Vuori. If I understand right, the chants were associated with the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Some samples from an album by duo Vox Silentii are on the net:
Transplantatur ab Jericho
Benedicamus in laudem Patris

An article about the material is on-line at the site of Vox Silentii, and the book is available from the editor or from the Catholic Information Center in Helsinki.

You can read the book’s introduction here.