Thursday, September 29, 2016

What Will We Sing When We Get There?

In case you didn't know, we are going to Mars.

In our lifetime.

When humanity flings itself into the inky blackness of the nearby heavens, will the silly songs of contemporary worshiptainment be an adequate musical expression of this endeavor?

When the first priest arrives on Mars, and says the first Mass on another world, what sort of music could possibly match the profound human accomplishment, and the divine inspiration, that got him there?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wyoming Catholic College Announces Fellowships for Sacred Music

Professor Peter Kwasniewski sent a note about his college's program of music scholarships, so we pass it along for interested readers:
Since its opening in 2007, Wyoming Catholic College has always supported a strong choir program and a men's schola. On average, about 40 students participate in the choir, and about 10 men in the schola.  
The choir practices cover more than repertoire: we work on voice production, solfege, music theory, and some history and theology, especially as regards the liturgy (we sing for both EF and OF Masses). Schola practice, too, delves deeply into the structure and "rhetoric" of the Proper chants for Sundays and Holy Days so that we may sing them better. 
Students who have prior experience playing the organ are given opportunities to play at Sunday High Mass, and if they are good enough, they can receive a work-study scholarship for this position. In addition, students who can play instruments well are included in small ensembles for performing Renaissance and Baroque music during liturgies, paraliturgical functions, and social events. 
Recently it was decided to go one step further. To attract musically talented students who wish to study at a Catholic liberal arts Great Books college, WCC is offering an indefinite number of "Pope Benedict XVI Fellowships for Sacred Music" for qualified applicants. The fellowship is a merit-based grant given to freshmen who can demonstrate musical talent, experience, and interest, and who are planning to sing in the College Choir and/or Schola. 
For more details, visit this page, and look under "Fellowships and Merit Scholarships":
Please address inquiries to Trevor Lontine, Director of Admissions, at

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sts. Cosmas and Damian--and Ecclesiastical Reform

The Franciscan basilica Cosmas and Damian, in the Roman Forum, is a unique renovation. Because of the dampness of the surrounding area in the old heart of Rome, the basilica's remarkable mosaics began to lose tiles, and entire figures. So in the 17th century it was rebuilt by papal works, and its floor was raised an almost impossible 7 meters. Its old floor was now the floor of its crypt, and the new floor was above the waterline, saving the priceless and ancient works of art along the interior walls.

What is striking about this renovation is the wonderful sense of beauty and proportion in the new space. Somehow the raising of the floor was done so thoughtfully and expertly that there is no sense of walking into a space that has been fixed and redone--with the exception of the replaced mosaics in the corners of the apse, which are visibly drawn by a new hand. As far as the architecture goes, the space works as a complete and harmonious whole.

 It seems to me that the basilica suggests a lesson about all reforms in the Church. Reform is not bad in itself, and the Church must always be discerning its way forward, with "continuity and discontinuity at different levels," in the happy phrase of the Pope Emeritus.

More of our reforms should be this seamless, this beautiful, this attentive to both the past and the present, preserving a sense of harmony and proportion. Reform is not destruction. It attends to the ethos of a thing. Reform in the Church respects the authentic expressions of the Church's marks wherever they may be found.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Papal honors for Peter Latona

The latest recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, "For the Church and for the Pope," is exemplary church musician Dr. Peter Latona, Music Director at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The award is the highest papal honor available to the laity, and is given exceedingly rarely. Dr. Latona served extensively during the visits of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during their visits to the United States. With this medal, Pope Francis recognizes these contributions to the life of the Church.

What makes this honor particularly well-deserved, in my opinion, is not only Dr. Latona's work both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in these high-profile events, but the careful attention to excellence that he brings to every Mass. Music at the National Shrine is a daily job, with 4 sung Masses every day of the year. When Dr. Latona plays a daily Mass, the music is exquisite, particularly during the time of Communion meditation. It might be easy to "fill" music at these less visible events, instead of really playing, but that is not his way. He really plays, composes, carefully curates, and the results are a wonderful example for Catholic cathedrals and parishes to follow.

Congratulations! Ad multos annos!

Tonight: Music for the Year of Mercy

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A new recording of the Requiem chants

For some years, Massachusetts-based hymn expert Peter Meggison has been working to keep classic devotional hymns alive by commissioning new recordings of them.  Having made over a dozen sessions with choirs and small ensembles, he distributes the songs on CDs and on the web.  Most of the music on the site is from the era 1850-1950, and represents popular hymns sung at Catholic Masses and devotions in America and England.

This summer he collaborated with conductor and organist Michael Olbash to offer something different. Instead of late-Victorian hymns in English, the aim was to present a once-familiar sound from the traditional Mass itself: the sound of the Latin chants of the Requiem Mass, sung with organ accompaniment.

A choir of 11 met for an afternoon in St. John Church in Clinton, Massachusetts in June to perform the music, and it is now available on the project's website at .

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hymn for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Let us join in the feast:
The triumph of Christ’s Cross.
The Greatest has become the Least,
Assessing gain as loss.

God grant I never boast
In glories that will end,
If Christ, who sacrificed the most
Accounted me a friend.

What greater love than this:
The Lord laid down His life.
The Master of the realms of bliss
Bore pain and scorn and strife.

He conquered Satan’s pride
By deep humility.
Within His saving wounds I hide
And gain His grace for me.
Meter: SM ( Suggested tune: Saint Thomas (Williams), or others:
Franconia Southwell
Saint Bride Swabia

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Gaude, Mater Anna

O mother Anne, rejoice!
O mother blest, applaud:
Your daughter has been born today:
The Mother of our God.

The Virgin Mary born!
A new parental bliss!
Rejoice, rejoice with Joachim
For such a babe as this!

Your daughter is the first
Of blessings we receive,
Renewing earth whose early dawn
Was cursed because of Eve.

And so we give you praise,
And banners raise today,
And ask that through your holy prayers
Our sins be washed away.

To God the Father, praise,
And glory to the Son,
And honor to the Spirit bright:
Blest Trinity in One.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Church Marketing 101

If you want to be welcoming as a church, it's important not to use special "insider" language. People don't want to try things if they don't know the words.

That's why yoga, pilates, sushi, açaí berries, and kombucha never really caught on.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Rationality of Catholicism

Bishop Robert Barron recently issued a clarion call to those working for the spread of the Gospel in an article entitled Apologists, Catechists, and Theologians, Wake Up!

As someone who ticks all of those boxes, plus Church musician, I thought I might offer some thoughts.

  • It is true that many fallen-away Catholics' expressed protests against the faith are easily-answered and superficial fallacies. Not only should those charged with teaching and defending the faith know how to respond well to them, but every Catholic from high school age should know as well. Middle-schoolers ought to be trained in fallacy detection (here is an age-appropriate book with which to begin).
  • The use of the internet and mass media by Catholics has been an evangelistic boon for those who find the Catholic outlets. Videos, Catholic radio, EWTN, and internet forums provide opportunities for evangelization that were simply unavailable in previous generations. But these do not engage everyone, even when spread through social media. How can we improve their reach?
  • There are 3 major sources from which most people receive their information about the Catholic Church: the news, the Mass, and Catholics they know. People meet Mass-going Catholics all day long at work and in various social situations. The laity ought to be equipped to defend the faith. I know a priest who wears clerics on plane flights with the intention of engaging those he meets--but how many will he meet?
  • There is a general crisis of the liberal arts in our culture, to the extent that most people are perfectly willing to hold mutually inconsistent thoughts in mind at the same time. This is a problem for apologetics, which depends on an intellectual coherence which many do not find necessary.
  • Unless a Catholic is "hooked in" to forms of evangelization outside the Mass, they are immune to the efforts of apologists, catechists, and theologians. All they have is the Mass. If this is the case, what must the Mass be? And how does it differ from what the Mass is in our day? 
    • What must homilies be? What are they? Are they sometimes therapeutic, moralistic, deistic? Or do they present the Faith as a unity in its beauty and truth?
    • The rituals of the Mass should present supernatural reality in such a way that the mind is led to contemplate divine things. Are they done so, in a way that invites elevation of the mind, or in a casual, rushed, almost embarrassed manner?
    • Liturgical music represents the angelic intelligences in the Mass. It engages human minds and emotions and is united with the sacred text. How, precisely, does it engage the mind? Does it give an impression of randomness and puerility? Is it elevating in any way? Is it actually united to the sacred text?
Our entire heaven will be an exercise in "kneeling theology" (logikan latreian), for which most Catholics are almost entirely unequipped. This is indeed a crisis, and one which bishops will hopefully continue to invite all of their helpers to address.

Friday, August 26, 2016

On Liturgical Customaries for Seminaries: An Example of Mutual Enrichment from the Anglican Patrimony

Easter Vigil from Nashotah House

One of the more rarified genres of liturgical arcana from the first part of the last century was the category of books in English for seminarians that introduced them to the complex world of Mass, Divine Office and devotions within the context of a spiritual and theological ethos.  It is clear that, as younger seminarians struggled to learn Latin, and comprehensive education in classical languages became thinner, seminarians needed a guide to absorb the Roman liturgical tradition as immediately and effectively as possible.  This entire genre of literature disappeared almost completely after Vatican II, as seminaries rode the wave of incessant liturgical experimentation that crashed upon the rest of the Church.  As I think about those books, I am reminded of Hyacinthe Cormier’s Instructions for Novices of the Dominican Order.  This genre of literature explained, in what seems to us now to be mind-numbing detail, all of the observances of the daily life of a cleric or religious.  But these works did so with the knowledge that developing the habit of external observances does have its effect on the soul.  While it may be true that the habit does not make the monk, there is a wisdom, which has unfortunately passed on, that what we do with the body does give a form to the soul, and can lead it, with proper dispositions of the soul formed by the development of the intellect, to virtue and to holiness.

I am told that nowadays some seminaries have attempted more precise handbooks of behavior in church and seminary, general rules of life.  I have not seen any of them myself.  In my day in the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, everything from etiquette at table to liturgical decorum and expectations of clerical dress were all kind of an oral tradition that was passed from superiors to seminarians in the form of peer pressure to conform, rather than in any manual.

While it is true that many seminarians now have access to a sound formation in liturgical theology that may have been lacking in some places in a pre-Vatican II Church that exalted rubricism over the reason behind the rubrics, they may not always have very clear instructions as to how to behave in church and how to execute the ceremonies of the Mass.  Too many seminaries today find themselves burdened with faculty who are of various opinions about the way everything from Vespers to clerical vests should be done, as well as seminarians, at various stages of intelligence and formation, adding their voices to the din.  In many places, an uneasy house “tradition” begins to coalesce as faculty, seminarians and musical staff come to uneasy and highly provisional agreements on how to do things.  And then seminarians find themselves at the mercy of formators who are not in agreement among themselves, and then float in and out of houses of formation, leaving behind echoes of struggles over the very things that should be a part of the formative process.  In American seminaries, the pretense at giving seminarians a “voice” in matters liturgical then creates another layer of constantly changing expectations of every aspect of the liturgical life of a seminary formation house. 

Is there a better way? 

I can imagine that few seminary formators in the post-Vatican II Church want to create seminarians to be rubrical automatons, deprived of any pastoral sensitivity that is crucial for any priestly life in actual parishes with real people.  But could there be a model for some type of manual which delineates acceptable modes of behavior, while placing them in a spiritual and theological context, which is accessible to seminarians from their first year all the way to Holy Orders, something which could imprint upon them a forma mentis, or an ethos, of a legitimate liturgical spirituality, without becoming a framework for endless griping about every detail of seminary life?

Nashotah House, the premier seminary in the United States associated with the Anglo-Catholic world of Episcopal and continuing Anglican bodies, has produced just such a document.  This Customary  I think provides a useful framework for Catholic seminaries to produce very much needed similar documents that might guide more fruitful and peaceful discussions of seminary life in the future.  While it might be hoped that the USCCB could produce something, there is nothing to preclude individual seminaries from opting to graft onto the Nashotah House Customary structure a similar useful guide for their own use.

One of the interesting things to note is that the document is suffused with the presupposition that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the standard for the worship of the house.  It explains what that looks like in the context of seminary life.  At the same time it recognizes that there are other expressions of the Anglican liturgical patrimony which are part of the seminarians’ history and future as well as occasional celebrations within the house (such as the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal).  Where I think this can be useful is that a Catholic seminary today can make normative the use of the Ordinary Form for corporate worship, without excluding, under common sense parameters, other forms of Catholic worship.  As the Nashotah document states, “By permission of the Dean, they may be used for other liturgies, provided that they do not compete with or take students from regularly scheduled community worship.”  There is no reason a document for Catholic use could not allow for such flexibility for the full range of Catholic worship while forming seminarians in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite as the normative use of the house.

The Nashotah document evidently is geared towards, not just the celebration of corporate worship in a seminary environment, but also towards the formation of leaders of that worship.  Hence there are excellent sections on the use of the voice in leading worship, and the spelled out expectation that “as poor vocal use can be detrimental to the life of ministry, when errors are detected, the Dean or faculty member with oversight of the chapel may direct for remedial exercises to be completed.”  In a very useful turn of phrase, we also read the excellent advice: “The assumption of accents, mannerisms not used in everyday speech, or performance-life effects are not tolerated in liturgical ministry.”  The document ably delineates realistic expectations of a proper ars celebrandi. 

A significant part of the document is dedicated to minutiae of the Anglican liturgical experience, but there is no reason why such could not be replaced by the parallel minutiae of Roman Mass, Office and devotions. There is also a sense in which the visible and audible expressions of progressive solemnity are spelled out.  This can be useful in the context of a Catholic seminary, where those expressions often become battles in which the lamentable hermeneutics of rupture vs. continuity are played out.  There is in the document a sense that everything has a place and everything is in its place, and is described in detail.  The lack of such instruction, written and agreed upon by the consensus of a seminary faculty, often leads, less to spontaneous creativity in the worship environment by discerning individuals, and more to needless conflict in the community. 

In Appendix 3 there is a very sound addendum the value of which I think would be seconded by most seminary faculty intent on securing some uniformity in worship, not only for good order, but to a good spiritual end:

A cautionary note on individual, personal ceremonial acts: almost everyone is tempted at one time or another to begin to practice some overt personal, unique, and idiosyncratic ceremonial acts— an extra sign of the cross, a kissing of the fingers, a deeply humble bow, some devout expressive hand movements, a genuflection, etc. While I do not doubt the sincerity of such acts, I vigorously caution against them! If they are being done overtly, then they are being done with the knowledge that they will be observed by others, and in our self-oriented culture, they can only involve a recognition that one will be seen as especially pious and devout. (“I am holier than thou!”) In fact, such actions are spiritually highly dangerous because they risk the judgment of Matthew 6:5 “Do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.” Better far to add wholly private ceremonies, i.e., making a sign of the cross on the thumb with the forefinger, a tiny cross on the forehead by the thumb covered by the hand, a closing of the eyes and a silent “Maranatha”, etc. The less pious you appear, the more truly pious you will fact.

Earnest seminarians who are wont to ostentatiously adopt what they perceive as pious practices during public worship are often offended by any suggestion that such practices are out of place.  Indeed, rebuking seminarians for them has often been a tool of rupture-hermeneutic minded formators to drill out of seminarians anything smacking of “traditional” piety.  At the same time though, a clear expectation of what is and what is not appropriate for corporate worship, especially when it conforms to the actual tradition of the Church, is very helpful in forming clerics to an ars celebrandi that truly thinks with the Church.
While this particular document is very particular to the needs of one Anglican seminary community, I think it also represents a common element of both Roman and Anglican patrimony which is crucial to the formation of those who lead corporate liturgical worship: the development of an ars celebrandi that is not only grounded in sound theology and law, but also explained in a practical way for seminarians to develop more than what used to be called priestcraft: instead, a heart for true liturgical worship.  It is my devout hope that more seminaries and religious houses may seek to appropriate a very good model for our own times.     


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bishop Conley on Beauty, Liturgy, Mystery--and World Youth Day

The sacred liturgy at World Youth Day, organized for English-speakers by Polish and American Dominican friars, was an experience of beauty that touched my heart beyond my expectations. I have long known that sacred liturgy is an experience of wonder, as Pope Francis has described so often: a moment “to enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery, and to be in the mystery.” 
But in Poland, I experienced thousands of young people entering into the mystery of God, through the power of beautiful liturgy. At World Youth Day, I was reminded how powerfully sacred worship can transform our hearts.
Much more here.