Saturday, January 30, 2016

New Dominican Album

This morning, 12 Dominican friars are professing their final vows, "unto death," in Washington, DC. The Eastern Province of St. Joseph Dominican Fathers and Brothers have experienced an extraordinary vocations boom in the last decade and more now, resulting in enormous numbers of vowed Religious men serving the Church in many important ways, from campus ministry to parish pastoring and staffing to hospital chaplaincy to higher philosophical and theological education.

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Dominicans, a worldwide celebration of the Order founded by St. Dominic "to praise, to bless, to preach."

A vocation boom is certainly a blessing, but it is also expensive, as the many friars in formation are supported and educated. Among the creative ways the friars have developed to finance their vocation explosion is by publishing CDs of chant and polyphony. Friars joining the Order often have musical skills already, and these are honed in the rich liturgical life they experience as they move toward profession and ordination.

The friars' latest CD is called Gaudeamus and was recorded at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, not far from their House of Studies in the area of Washington affectionately called "Little Rome," due to the many seminaries and religious houses in the area. The Monastery's church has wonderful acoustics.

The CD comes with a beautiful libretto, and is of a generous length of 24 tracks. It contains five new compositions written by the friars in addition to Dominican chants that have been composed throughout the Order's history, and other truly sacred music. Details and purchase options, including Mp3, may be found here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hymns, Hymns and more Hymns!

The subject of hymns replacing Mass Propers is not a new one.  Often there is a simple misunderstanding of spoken versus sung Mass, and the lack of catechesis on this topic. It appears common in our age to prefer neither High or Low, trading it in for a confused "Middle Mass".

At the Middle Mass, clergy can remain comfortable in their way of praying, apart from obedience to the Liturgy.  Musicians in turn "choose" music at whim, trying their best to select something close to the readings, with an occasional sung antiphon.  The Alleluia is sung on weekdays, to avoid that awkward silence during the Gospel procession, while the Psalm itself is spoken.  Chant is simply an option, often inserted to check a rubrical box.  Is this really what the Church intends?  Creativity and hymns?  As has been thoroughly discussed, I quote a previous article from this forum:   Instead of receiving the Mass that is given, we make the Mass that we choose.

In a recent diocesan Instruction on Sacred Music, there is a good desire put forth to unify parishes and their music programs.  A five year plan is promulgated which requires the use of a diocesan hymnal (for better or worse), simple English congregational communion antiphons, and learning English/Latin versions of the Funeral Mass.   At its current charge, music directors now have to submit their choral music to the chancery for approval.  Palestrina, Handel and Byrd, look out; but modern hymnody is ok!

This instruction causes much confusion, departing from earlier instruction and conflicts greatly with Ecclesial directives on Sacred music.  In essence, it encourages hymns and once again endorses the Middle Mass.  

At a Sung Mass, the Priest and Deacon sing their parts, primarily leading acclamations that are responded to:  "The Lord be with You", "The Gospel of the Lord", etc.

At a Sung Mass, the Choir sings the Mass Propers: Introit, Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion.  

At a Sung Mass, the congregation or choir may sing the Mass Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  

At a Spoken Mass, none of these parts are sung:  Acclamations, Mass Propers, or Mass Ordinary. Hymns have been permitted as devotional items, with their principal use remaining within the Divine Office.

Mass Propers can be sung in various settings, chiefly Gregorian chant and Sacred polyphony. Choirs and scholae hold an esteemed place of beauty, adornment, and solemn praise.  They provide a spiritual haven for the congregation to pray, as their diligent work promotes Sacred scripture, clothing it in beauty.  Truly vocal and choral music provide the glorification of God and sanctification of the faithful.

The silence and austere awe that is present at a spoken Mass is truly a gift for God and for us.  Let us not lose this!  

The joy and exuberant melismaticism present in the sung Mass is truly a gift for God and for us.  Let us not lose this!

The Middle Mass pushes an agenda of mediocrity, hoping to please all.  We dumb-down chant as merely an option.  Choral music is often discouraged or altogether deleted, in favor of the cantor or choir as an "extension of the people".  Hymns, often replete with non-Catholic Theology become the norm.  The problem is not hymns or hymnals, it is the Middle Mass.  

Clergy and faithful alike need to reclaim our musical heritage.  Certainly a stepwise approach can be taken, but these steps are not 5 year plans to learn the ICEL chants/funeral Mass, or simple communion refrain ditties in English, resulting in an increased impoverishment of choirs and cracking down on those already adhering to orthodoxy.  

Hymns shouldn't replace Propers!  Propers should replace hymns!  Sing the Mass!  If you can't, then let it be silent!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Accidental Ecumenism

One of my hymn writing hobbies is translating Latin office hymns into clear, plain English. To me, it's like finding treasures that have been packed away in the attic for many years, and discovering them and polishing them off so that they can be used by people today. It's sort of like an ecclesiastical Antiques Road Show.

Some of the reactions have surprised me, particularly the overwhelmingly Anglican appreciation of the translations. I've done this work for the purpose of supporting my own communion, the Catholic Church. But every year I receive requests from Episcopalians and Anglicans.

I suppose that part of the reason is that the Office hymns are meant for the communal recitation of the celebrations of the Hours, and since this is a more common practice among Anglicans than Catholics, then the Office hymns are more in demand.

Another aspect is the perduring use in Anglicanism of hymnody of a more 4-square kind. It's possible to find a guitar-piano combo in an Anglican church, I would guess, but it's not the norm. Elevated diction is the norm as well. Culturally, even in more theologically progressive circles, casualness is not an Anglican liturgical attitude.

Whatever the reasons, I've been flattered by the requests and happy to serve. The most recent request was for an Episcopalian service of Compline for the Feast of the Presentation at a parish in St. Paul, and this was the hymn. Note especially the theologically rich verse 3.

Let Zion's bridal-room be clothed:
He comes, her Lord and her Betrothed.
Let bride and Bridegroom, by faith's light,
A vigil keep throughout the night.

Saint Simeon, go forth in joy,
Exult to see the baby Boy:
Make known to all this Light divine
Who soon upon all lands shall shine.

His parents to the temple bring
The Temple as an offering
The righteousness of law He chose
Though to the law He nothing owes.

So, Mary, bring this little one,
Yours and the Father's only Son
Through whom our offering is made
By whom our ransom price is paid.

And forward, royal Virgin, go
And let rejoicing overflow
With gifts bring forth your newborn Son
Who comes to rescue everyone.

Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory bright
Who guides the nations into light
Be praised, and for eternity
Be glorified, O Trinity. Amen.

Translation c. 2009 Kathleen Pluth.


Yesterday's DC March for Life coincided with an unusually large snowfall, and some of the pilgrim buses have been stuck on the highways making their return trips home.

This morning, after 17 hours on the road, some of the groups got together for a Mass, accounts of which are currently tweeting about the world at #TurnpikeMass

Just one more day in this fascinating Kingdom, where all that is perennial is constantly being made new.

Winter Sacred Music Videos

The CMAA's Winter Sacred Music Conference in Houston, TX (January 4-8, 2016) included two sung liturgies in which the participants provided the singing. On January 6th, an EF Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany was celebrated; on January 8th, and OF Votive Mass for the Holy Name of Jesus was celebrated.

Several conference attendees have shared their videos with us of excerpts from either the pre-Mass rehearsal or the liturgy itself. Here are those we have received so far:

Entrance Procession, Votive Mass: Holy Name of Jesus, January 8, 2016 from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

Jesu Dulcis Memoria (Victoria, uncertain) from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

Gradual: Domine, Dominus Noster (Gregorian Chant) from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

Lassus-Gloria-PilonsLorge from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

JesuDulcis from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

Sanctus-Lassus Pilons l'orge from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

For other recordings, please check out Carl Dierschow's site, where my recordings from the week have been uploaded.
Winter Sacred Music Recordings

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mystagogical Reflections: Free Resources from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions

The FDLC has produced a wonderful set of resources for reflection on the Liturgy.

The Quasimodo introit famously quotes St. Peter's words: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Pet 2:2). On the Second Sunday of Easter, the newly baptized begin to follow a process of mystagogy, delving into and delighting in the mysteries of the sacramental life.

This, I believe, is the true work of the New Evangelization: drawing out from the Liturgy, the font and summit of the Christian life, various helps to the life of prayer. Not content with simply attending the Mass, we want to be awash in its riches. This is the kind of RCIA that never ends, a constantly replenished well that everyone in the Church, old or young, can draw from.

The FDLC series currently offers two sets of reflections, on the Collects, and on the Prayer after Communion. The reflections are brief and rich and would be useful for many purposes that reach the "people in the pews," either as homily helps, quotes on parish websites, weekly email updates, or bulletin announcements. Wide permission is given for these and other uses.
The FDLC hopes both member and non-member diocesan offices and commissions will post these weekly one-page reflections on diocesan websites as well as make them available for parishes and institutions to post or print in local sites and publications. Although these reflections include copyrighted texts of ICEL (used with permission of the USCCB Committee for Divine Worship) and are the copyrighted work of the FDLC, you are free to share and to reproduce them as long as they are not bought or sold. 
Details may be found on the FDLC website here.

What a wonderful initiative!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hymn Tune Introits: The Annual Collection, New from WLP

My second book is available for purchase here at World Library Publications, a major Catholic music publisher here in the US
The collection presents the Entrance Antiphon for each Sunday, rewritten to rhyme and to follow the rhythmic pattern of Long Meter hymns. There are many famous Long Meter tunes, including the tunes for Jesus Shall Reign, Jesu Dulcis Memoria, All People That on Earth Do Dwell, and Creator of the Stars of Night.
From the feedback I have received when promoting this collection here on the Chant Cafe and elsewhere, the Hymn Tune Introits have proven especially useful in parishes that desire to "sing the Mass" by singing the proper antiphons of the Mass, but which also are more accustomed to singing hymns. This project provides a bridge between the two, meeting a congregation halfway.
Although the collection is presented with suggestions for appropriate LM tunes, each congregation has full freedom to choose according to its own knowledge base and background. This provides maximum flexibility--and once again, a bridge to keeping the adoption of propers low-key and low-resistance. A table of Psalms is provided if parishes would like to chant a Psalm between repetitions of these antiphons.
Here is an article I wrote on the project several years ago, with samples. 
Thank you and God bless.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Winter Sacred Music Photo

The CMAA's Winter Sacred Music course was completed yesterday with the final sung Votive Mass for the Holy Name of Jesus at St. Mary's Seminary (Houston, TX) Chapel. This Mass was in the Ordinary Form, with Rev. Stephen Reynolds as celebrant.

A group photo of our Winter Sacred Music 2016 Participants, with the exception of a few who had to leave immediately in order to catch flights.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Winter Sacred Music Draws to a Close

As we begin the final day of the CMAA's Winter Sacred Music course, here is a photo from yesterday's Mass...

The children's choir at St. Theresa's Parish in Sugar Land sang for daily Mass... directed by Ben Geier, assisted by Sawyer Sellers, with Kevin Clarke as organist.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Hymn in Honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Last year about this time this hymn text was commissioned for the dedication of a wonderful parish's altar renovation and dedication.
Hymn in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, c. 2015 Kathleen Pluth
Tune: Laudes Domini 
 God fills His saints with grace
To finish out the race,
His servants unto death.
Then let our praises swell,
Glad hymns to God forthtell
For Saint Elizabeth.

Her childhood’s rising sun
In holy paths would run,
Remembering God’s will.
Through early loss she prayed,
And close to Jesus stayed:
His pleasure to fulfill.

A mother and a wife,
She served in family life
Through many joys and fears:
The trials and pleasures of
The motherhood of love—
The motherhood of tears.

In lonely sacrifice,
She turned to Jesus Christ:
The Blessed Sacrament,
She left her worldly friends
For love that never ends.
With joy to God she went.

In time she gathered round,
By vows of service bound,
A band of charity
A seed on fertile land,
That by God’s grace grew grand:
The seed became a tree.

O Triune, ever blest,
Eternally at rest,
Be with us till the end.
Help us to do the right,
With calm and steady might,
Our King, our Guide, our Friend.

Solemn Vespers at Annunciation Parish, Houston

Solemn Vespers at Annunciation Parish in Houston, TX. 
Felipe Gasper directing Sola Stella (professional choir resident at Annunciation Parish).