Friday, August 31, 2012

New Book: Music in the Liturgy

Dr. Ben Whitworth, the liturgical musician and learned English writer who is the Assistant Editor of Usus Antiquior, has written a most useful book, Music in the Liturgy.

Written for the non-expert lay Catholic, and focused on the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the book provides an introduction to liturgical music in a low-cost, accessible format. It is simple, yet evocative, leading the reader to ponder aesthetics in general, the theology and ecclesial practice of singing, and, most especially, the key role that music is intended to fulfill in the liturgy.

One can easily see the benefits of providing copies of Music in the Liturgy to choir members, parishioners, and particularly those involved in making parish decisions that affect the music program.

22nd Sunday, Simple English Propers

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Advice Needed: The Parish Book of Chant, 2nd ed.

Publishers don't usually (actually never) do this sort of thing. We are supposed to be omniscient beings who know our markets perfectly, have all things figured out, and manage every detail of publishing precisely as it should be.

The reality is that publishers make gigantic errors all the time, about what to publish, yes, but, more substantially and more importantly, about other details such as how much to print, what form to print, how much inventory to keep on hand etc. We misjudge our market and that can be a disaster. Well, I'm here to tell you that despite years of experience in this industry, I do not know the answers.

The ChantCafe has built up a large readership. I would tend to trust comments here and to my private email as a good market indicator. I need such indicators going forward here because the Church Music Association of America operates on an absurdly thin and tiny budget.

Our net income is zero or near zero and we all celebrate when we can pay the bills. And despite this, our activities and publications are more extensive, and certainly our impact more widely felt, than organizations that plow through $10 million per year.

Now to the point. We have a second edition of the Parish Book of Chant coming out soon. This is the book that four years ago pretty well kicked the sacred music movement into high gear. It galvanized a generation of Catholic singers to re-embrace their heritage and make the music native to the rite and the culture come to live again in our times, right in our own parishes. It has been the essential resource, the infrastructure on which everything since has been built.

What about the second edition? It is amazing. As Richard Rice says in his introduction, it is what the first edition should have been. First, it has everything the first edition had: the ordo for the ordinary and extraordinary form in English and Latin, ordinary chants for the Mass, chant melodies for every occasion, and a tutorial.

The first edition sold 12,000 copies. They are all gone.

The second edition is twice as large in pages but we hope to keep it thin in physical form. What does it add? The ordo for the ordinary form has all the Eucharistic prayers. The Sequences are all in here. The Requiem is complete. The ad libitum communions from the Simplex are here. There are litanies. The Kyriale is complete with all Vatican Gradual ordinary settings. All the verses for all chant hymns are notated and not merely pointed.

All these additions make this book something spectacular, something essential, something that can really take us to the next stage in the development of the chanted music of the Catholic faith. And of course we will make it free online as well.

Now, I had known that Richard had been working on this project for at least a year or more. I had seen all the details as I just typed them. But nothing had prepared me for what the physical book would be. He sent me a draft copy and I spent time with it today. I was just blown away by the value of this book.

As wonderful as the first edition was, this book is more complete, more substantial, more comprehensive, more useful in every way. It provides material you cannot get in any other book in this form. It is the best that the second edition of a great book should be.

Now to my questions. Are you interested in buying this book? Do you have a sense of how many others might be willing to purchase this book? Do you know parishes that might even want this book in the pew? These are the issues I'm dealing with now. I am absolutely sure of its value. There can be no doubt of that. What I'm unsure about is the practical matter: how marketable is this product and how invested should we be in this?

I'm biased. This is why I'm breaking every rule in the publisher handbook: I'm asking for your opinion about a matter that is usually kept very private and internal to any publisher. Is this the time to act and take a leap and prepare for a real smash hit? I'm thinking that the answer is yes.

Contradict me if you think I'm wrong. I need to be checked here. If I need a dose of reality, give it to me plainly and clearly.

Finally, let me make an appeal. The CMAA is a non profit organization. We can accept tax deductible contributions. If you would like to donate to this, that can only drive down costs and the price and increase the distribution. We can't do a fundraising drive but if you are interested in making a substantial gift, we would love to talk to you. Just drop me an email.

"Go therefore and teach" or "cease and desist"?

A nasty split in the Orthodox world led to a wicked lawsuit over supposedly copyright texts being posted on the website of one faction. The other faction didn't like it. The dispute landed in the secular courts. The courts went with the precedent in secular law. The result is...a restriction in the proliferation of essential liturgical materials.

This is a case that is filled with dangerous implications that reach to the core of the Christian mission. The American Conservative has covered it in detail.

As the American Conservative says:

"It’s pretty clear that by any reasonable definition, copyright infringement occurred. The court made the right decision, but was the monastery right to seek one? The argument that making the files available cut into the monks’ ability to make a living seems exceedingly weak. Moreover, even if it did — and I very much doubt it would — if the freely-available files led to more people becoming interested in the True Faith, wouldn’t that be worth the potential loss? It’s hard to see the monastery’s actions as motivated by anything other than personal resentment. And it isn’t behavior one would expect from a community concerned with saving souls."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Join the CMAA

Many people have been asking how to be connected to and join the sacred music movement. The answer is to join the Church Music Association of America. You contribute your financial support, which makes a gigantic difference, and received updates on all the goings on in our world. Of course, makes a world of music available for free, plus forums and much else that energizes and instructs. We don't ask for a fee for these downloads. But we surely do appreciate every bit of support for our work.

Jeffrey Ostrowski on Internet Resources for Musicians

Here is the resource page and here is the video:

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Caspar Othmayr (12 March 1515 – 4 February 1553)

Caspar Othmayr (12 March 1515 – 4 February 1553)

Chant in Florida

  • More Singing the Psalms led by Mary Jane Ballou, Director of Cantorae St. Augustine; Saturday, September 15, 9:30 am – 11:30 am; Villa Flora-Brown Hall Renewal Center, St. Augustine, FL To register call 904-824-1752 or online at Cost: $15; Building on the first “Singing the Psalms” workshop, Mary Jane Ballou invites you to add your voice to over 2000 years of sung prayer by learning to chant the psalms in your own prayer or with your family. St. Augustine said, “He who sings, prays twice.” This two-hour workshop will show you how to use any edition of the psalms or the Liturgy of the Hours to bring song to your prayer. There will be a little history and humor, a review of the basic principles and more chants to sing. Those new to simple chant will be brought up to speed quickly and more experienced singers will increase their skills. Hand-outs and links to online chants will help you make the music your own. We will conclude by chanting midday prayer.  No prior musical knowledge or experience with the Liturgy of the Hours is needed.
  • Simple Chants for Advent & Christmas led by Mary Jane Ballou, Director of Cantorae St. Augustine; Saturday, December 1, 9:30 am – 11:30 am; Villa Flora-Brown Hall Renewal Center, St. Augustine, FL. To register call 904-824-1752 or online at Cost:    $15. Enhance the anticipation of Advent and the joy of the Christmas season with music drawn from the Church’s treasury of chants.  This two-hour workshop will give you short chants for the season, suitable for morning or evening prayer, for singing with your family or just by yourself.  Some meditative, others spirited; some Latin, some English; from Ave Maria to Puer Natus, you will join 1,000 years of music.  There will be some history of the season and feasts and lots of singing – enough to carry you through Twelfth Night! Hand-outs and links to online chants will help you make the music your own after the workshop. We will conclude by chanting midday prayer on the very last day of Ordinary Time. No prior experience with chant is required.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Children, teach your elders well...

Marc Barnes, the prodigal purveyor of his amazing blog BAD CATHOLIC (Patheos), is not unlike our young lions and lioness' known to us in CMAA, a white hot beacon of light that portends a revival of Catholic sensibility that, to some, has escaped the consciences of perhaps two generations of 21st century professed Catholics. Because we in CMAA adhere to these three judgments, "sacred, universal and beautiful," to discipline our repertoire decision processes, I thought this essay by Mr. Barnes would be of some interest. Here, a portion:
Readers, allow me to speak to the Catholics reading this blog, for I do not plan upon justifying my claims. Catholics, allow me to establish two principles which — if you’re a regular reader of my blog — you already know I hold. 1. The world sucks. 2. The way to end said suckage and thereby save the world (and for those who doubt it needs saving, I offer you the popularity of Nicki Minaj) is the way of Beauty. I’ll certainly be the first to admit that Beauty is under attack, for such is the nature of the Transcendental roads — one is the other is the other. But Beauty is not a thing easily rejected by the human person. It invades him. No matter what the elite might say, there exist very few proclaiming the ultimate subjectivity of the sunset, and for those that do — in that semi-conscious reflex of “each to his own” — their proclamations are negated by their experience. No one experiences Beauty as finite. No one experiences Beauty as relative. Everyone — having made it to the top of the mountain, having woken up after their wedding night to gaze on their spouse, having heard Mozart’s Requiem — would be offended by the comment, “it’s not actually beautiful, you just think it is.” The dominant philosophies that makes it so very difficult for modern man to know and love God, and thus experience the satisfaction of his yearning heart — I speak of relativism and materialism — fade. The human person experiences Beauty as infinite and a universal, independent of the opinions of a particular man. It awakes within him a desire for the infinite and an agreement with C.S. Lewis, that “we do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” It leads man to wonder — which is only ever to worship — to lift up his hands, cry, laugh, sing, and moan. As Catholics then, we have a duty to be well versed in Beauty. We have a duty to experience Beauty, to be formed in it. We have a duty to know, love and serve Beauty, to recognize it when we see it, to call out its impostors, to lead others to communion with this glorious Transcendental — who is only ever The Holy Trinity making Himself known to His children.
For the entire article click HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

This is what Occupy Oakland should mean!

Some long-standing Cafe habitues know of my undeniable affection for the city across the "City by the Bay," my beloved Oakland, California. It was at its former, exquisite cathedral that its founding bishop, Excellency Floyd Begin (RIP) slapped my face into full communion with the OHRA Catholic Church on an Easter Vigil night at St. Francis de Sales when I was in college and a musician/chorister on staff.
And having left the diocese in '87, I still thirst to know of its well-being and progress. Of course, wondering if the joyeous appointment of Abp. Cordileone to San Francisco would again result in Oakland's weak sister situo status being again prolonged, it came as even better news that "The Lion" would, for now, continue over-seeing both SFO! (Just like the airport.)
My mentor, Frank LaRocca, Prof. Emeritus of Composition at CSUEB, let us all in at MSF on the completion of a commissioned work for the very upcoming 50th anniversary of the founding of the Oakland Diocese, Diffusa est gratia. Frank forwarded this rehearsal video of one of the bright stars of the present and future, Rudy de Vos (who wowed at his SLC organ concert, and IMO is "so Wilko!" ) and the schola cantorum (of Christ our Light?) in their final rehearsal of Dr. LaRocca's opus. And may I say that those who have questioned the new cathedral's acoustic ambience, please take note of the obvious heard here.
Without further adieu,

To access the score-

21st Sunday, Simple English Propers

Introducing Juan de Anchieta

Juan de Anchieta (Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, Spain, 1462 – Azpeitia, 1523)

The Musical Legacy of Theodore Marier

On October 17th 2012, there will be a wonderful celebration of the life and work of Theodore Marier, on what would have been the 100th anniversary of his birth, at St. Paul's Church, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. This is being organized by John Robinson, who is doing such a spectacular job as director of choristers at the choir school.

The Mass is at 6:00pm, and it will include music by Marier's favorite composers. It is followed by a reception at 7:00pm. This reception includes a talk by his student and chant master Scott Turkington. Turkington's talk is not to be missed. The title: "Keep Singing: the Musical Legacy of Theodore Marier."

This is going to be a wonderful event!

St. Sherwin Gloria, Harmonized

I personally think that Jeffrey Ostrowski did a marvelous job with the harmonizations here. You can download the Mass setting here.

Psalms at Mass: Tragedy and Solution

Scholars tell us several critical points about the Psalms as they relates to Christian liturgy. The early Christians had no question about their suitability as texts for liturgy. They were the very first text used for Christian song in all lands. What later emerged as the various liturgical rites all used the Psalms and the basis of song. The Psalms were the basis of what became the Divine Office. And the earliest and most developed of all the Gregorian chants at Mass were the Psalms.

The most prominent place for the Psalm at Mass was between the readings of scripture. Their performance was a time for prayer and meditation. They were the most elaborate chants of the entire Christian songbook. This Psalm between readings was called the Graduale, as a reference to the position of where it was first sung. This tradition of elaborate chants between the readings is preserved in the liturgical books to this today, particularly the book named after the Gradual itself, the Graduale Romanum.

In short the chanted Psalm, the crown jewel of the liturgical books and the foundation of so much musical development for centuries, is the foundation of song at Mass.

Sadly, anyone reading the above today, would find this entire history completely unrecognizable based on their own experience at Mass. Even people who have been attending Mass weekly for decades would find this history to be implausible. What mostly happens between the readings at Mass sounds and feels like nothing history, contemplative, reflective, and beautiful.

The question arises: what happened to the Psalm?

Contemporary reports show that before the reform of the Mass in 1969, the Psalm was not usually sung in its original form. The true chant was mostly too difficult for most parishes. So most parishes took recourse in the Psalm-toning technique, meaning that the text was rendered in a simple formula. It was dignified by comparison to what we are likely to hear today, but not what it should be. One can understand how people could have gained the impression that it just wasn’t that important.

But in 1969, something more dramatic happened. The Psalm was rendered in the vernacular, thereby making the older form awkward for any but the most enterprising music programs. Even more substantially, its form was changed from being a solo chant to necessarily involving the people. As William Mahrt was once told in the defense of this approach, the people needed to “have something to do.”

The people-involving form chosen was based on the chanted structure for the Divine Office. There would be an antiphon. The antiphon had to be easy for the people to sing. It had to be extremely easy to sing because people had to hear it only one time and then sing it back. Then it was followed by Psalm verses. The antiphon would be repeated after each verse or at the end.

Monks knew well how to accomplish this task because it had been part of their liturgy for more than a millenium. Sadly, lay people had long ago ceased being exposed to this approach to song, and they were the ones charged with writing music for the new approach. They had no clue about how to do this, and instead took recourse to the beats and tunefulness of music in the culture at large.

In other words, there was nothing inherently wrong with the Responsorial Psalm structure. It is not as perfect as the Gradual but it was not fundamentally flawed either. One can make a case for the new approach based on some scraps from history and also from the general sense that it did take place within the “Liturgy of the Word” so a borrowing from the Divine Office is not entirely outlandish.

But composing for it would be tricky, and require a great deal of subtlety and compositional sophistication. A handful of people accomplished this in the 1970s and 1980s. Theodore Marier would be primary among them. But his book in which the Psalms were published did not reach a wide audience. What did and has reached a wide audience were the Responsorial Psalm based on popular music. Forty years went by. Readers who have experienced these can provide their own assessments of their musical merit.

In any case, let us moved forward in time to the way in which this problem came to be addressed in a competent way. Five years ago, Jeffrey Ostrowski opened up a new website called Chabanel Psalms that provide free Psalm settings for download. He offered them to the world. Why? He was so upset about the poor quality of the standard Responsorial Psalm that he just had to fix it. This was his fix.

The website was a smash hit. Finally, after decades of waiting for something, people could freely download a dignified and fitting setting of the Psalm to sing between readings. It was marvelous. And it was just the beginning. Immediately others began to come forward. It turns out that many Church musicians had been composing their own settings for years! They began to send them into Jeffrey and Jeffrey very graciously and enthusiastically began to add those to his collection that he was offering for free.

Among those who were sending in sending was the director of my own Gregorian Schola, Arlene Oost-Zinner. She was insistent on retaining the Gregorian psalm tones for the verse. Her Psalm antiphon was composed in the Gregorian style. It was simple but sophisticated, paying careful attention to the text and the flow of the words. I had noticed in my own parish (in which these were a real godsend) that people were able to sing them very quickly (and, most impressively, not feel ridiculous for having done so!).

There are three years of Psalms that had to be composed -- three times the whole liturgical calendar. In other words, this task is not for the faint of heart. It requires being creative on schedule, and sticking with it no matter how you feel that week. And you must do this for three full years, without seeing a dime in revenue for your work. After all, these were being given away and there was no revenue stream to compensate anyone at all.

This whole project is culminating in a number of new resources. The Vatican II hymnal is one example. My personal favorite is of course the ones I have known in my own parish and are loved by the parishioners in my parish. These the ones that have been among the most downloaded, the ones by my own schola director.

I’m pleased to say that these have all been typeset in a single book and made available as the Parish Books of Psalms, as published by the Church Music Association of America. This book allows anyone to have one resource that captures a good part of that original sensibility of the Psalm while retaining the Responsorial structure.

The antiphons are simple but dignified, and the verses are entirely written out for the singer, using traditional Gregorian Psalm tones. You only need to open and sing. It can be done by a single cantor or a full group, but I’ve never seen a case when the people do not sing along while maintaining an atmosphere of contemplation.

A point I find rather interesting about this music publishing business: once these resources come to be, people tend to take them for granted, as if they had always been here. But think about it: the problem of the Psalm dates back decades in the midst of a time when such resources were nowhere to be found! Generations have suffered and this suffering can now end.

It was this way with the Simple English Propers. No one seems to even remember what life was like without them. It will be the same with the Parish Book of Psalms. The remedy arrives and all is forgotten and forgiven. So let me just say this from the heart: it was a gigantic struggle to get to the place. Thanks be to God, the future will be better than the past.

This book will become available within two weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bring back the serpent?

Fr. John Mark Missio writes:

At the recent conference of the Gregorian Institute of Canada, Montreal, August 16-19, 2012, serpent player Gary Nagels provided compelling (and sometimes humorous) evidence of use of the serpent or ophicleide to accompany plainchant. Time for a comeback, perhaps?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If Mass is Boring, What Are Propers?

Despite the huge and varied number of offerings for singing the proper texts of the Mass, many parishes still sing what amounts to a novus ordo version of a low Mass, with the musical emphasis squarely on hymns and songs and inspired songs.

The reason is this: Propers are boring.

Consider this text: "The Lord said to me, you are my son. This day I have begotten you." Whom could this text possibly thrill? A monk, surely, though it probably depends on the monk. A poet, surely. How about a family of five who barely got dressed in time after Christmas shopping and Christmas eve dinner with friends in order to tumble out of the minivan in time to find a seat for the 9:30 pm Midnight Mass? Whose car radio was just now playing Call Me Maybe?

Propers, in contrast, are written for the 1%, the Holy Father's beloved category of "simple believers."

Who could possibly be thrilled to hear or sing "Today the Light will shine upon us because to us the Lord is born" at the early Mass, before the road trip? 

Here is the person who will be thrilled. The contemplative who excuses himself briefly from the family celebration to attend the early Mass. The elderly woman, the daily communicant, who has spent the last week reading ahead in her Magnificat to prepare for the great day. The little child who learned the introit in school. The retired priest who says Mass in a convent, or in the chapel in the rest home where he lives.

But for most of the plugged-in world, the propers sing of a different world, a world of silence and peace and recollection. Our music is a mirror, and hymns bustle along, just like us.  

Who has time for the propers?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Truth Telling

Yesterday I wrote a post lauding the efforts of those putting new resources into action.  One of the comments in response to my post read:

I think it would be good time, right now, to take a survey of how many parishes are using the Vatican II Hymnal, the Lumen Christi Missal, &c. &c., and how these parishes are improving their musical worship through these New Resources.

So, let the reporting begin.  Is your parish using new resources?  Which ones?  How are they changing the way you do things?  Who pushed for the change?  Who resisted the change? How are things progressing?  What are the unexpected challenges?  Unforseen benefits?

Fr. Ruff on his new book

This interview is very much worth listening to.

Local Dispatch

I receive a lot of correspondence from CMAA members reporting on local goings on.  The reports are fascinating...and encouraging.  The latest, an internal communiqué, comes from a newly formed CMAA chapter on the West Coast. 

The Feast of the Assumption has special meaning for us, since three years ago it was the first Mass our new schola sang and one which is always marked by an exquisite sermon by Father ---, who has great devotion to Mary as our Mother.
Because we have been cramming disparate groups of people into a 9 by 12 chapel at the hermitage and yesterday, six more people from an SSPX community planned to come, Father asked our new bishop for special permission to lift his restrictions for this occasion and allow us to use a small mission church seven miles south of the hermitage. The bishop agreed, a very good sign he is a reasonable and understanding man. For photos of what Father and helpers have to do to transform this rather ugly sanctuary into a suitable place for an EF Mass, see: www://
The Mass was very beautiful, even sans schola.  A colleague sang the propers and she and I managed to lead the ordinary, Mass IX, and do what responses were necessary. Father had three acolytes, so was able to do incensing. We also had a couple from Lyons, France, who were  in the area and  came to the Mass. They have been here before and attend the FSSP parish in their hometown. They were also pushing a pilgrimage to Chartres that happens every year. (Probably for the very young, as it involves a walk of some 50-plus miles. Right now, I can barely manage a block!) I hope to keep in touch with them, as they can give me some info about Solesmes as well.
We had a potluck later and a board meeting, which may be interesting to you for this reason: We plan to send the bishop a letter soon and follow it up with a meeting in the next month. Our group will present him with three things: 1. Summorum Pontificum is not being followed in this diocese and a generous spirit on his part could change that; 2. The severe shortage of priests problem here in regard to holding EF Masses we are ready to address by offering a diocese-wide training for priests who want to learn the ancient rite, and 3. He could lead by example by saying a low Mass (the mind boggles at the requirements for a pontifical High Mass in the EF!) sometime in the near future, such as on the feast of St. Gregory the Great or that of the Holy Cross, the anniversary of the proclamation of Summorum Pontificum
Pray we make some headway there. Of course, we also plan to mention that he does have a priest whose restrictions he has the power to lift who can and will say this Mass until such time as parish priests are ready to take over.

On Music and the Priestly Life

By Fr. Gary Selin, writing on Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Priests need to be aware of how to engage, with courage, the people on this topic while maintaining authentic pastoral charity and understanding. It is my hope that this essay will help priests—and seminarians—to reflect deeply on the type of music they listen to and the role it plays in priestly life. More

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Another Lost Great: Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521)

Books to Live By

There are tons of good resources available to liturgical musicians and parishes these days.  Projects galore.  I eagerly await the release of Adam Bartlett's Lumen Christi Missal.  I am thrilled to see the the St. Michael Hymnal and the  Vatican II Hymnal appearing in pews across the country.  The CMAA alone has published a number of books in the past couple of years, all of which are transforming the ways we celebrate Mass...parish by parish.

Why are the resources making a difference? It's not merely because the books exist. It is because people are using them.  People are making the conscious effort to change the way they do things.   A thousand new books on a subject won't do any good unless people pick them up and apply their lessons.

Think of going to the travel section at Barnes and Noble.  There are volumes and volumes written about England or Italy or Japan.  Many authors, many publishers.   You can walk past the section and by happy to know that those books are available in the case of a cash windfall that promises that long awaited vacation.  When the cash comes the first purchase you make consists in a Frommer's guide, a Berlitz language crash course and a "getting around by train" guide.  Acquiring the materials and doing your research is a valuable and enjoyable first step toward the vacation of your dreams.

What about the music of our dreams at Mass?  It, too, is within your reach.  The treasury of sacred music is there.  It's not hidden away in a vault in the Vatican; or even closer to home, behind lock and key in the far corner's of your music director's office.  It is available right here and right now.  You can download everything you need at and other websites.  You can browse Amazon and purchase all of the resources mentioned above.  You can buy the books and do your research take advantage of the many chant and sacred music events being offered around the country on a regular basis a part of your dream landscape. 

Musical genius and pedagogue, Wilko Brouwers, lives and acts on this knowledge every day.  He has given the world a remarkable gift when he wrote Words With Wings: Gregorian Chant for Chidren in Twenty Lessons for children in Holland.  The CMAA saw immediately the great promise that this resource holds out.  I've had the great privilege of working alongside Wilko and translating and adapting the book into English, making it available to a much broader audience. 

Music directors have noticed the book. They are picking it off the shelves and doing their research.  They are preparing themselves to deploy it with their children's choirs this September.  They have taken the first step, and are preparing their journeys -  just like our friends who headed to Barnes and Noble and by now certainly have their discount Eurail passes in hand.

Are musical dreams going to come true in these parishes? I think so, although no one can truly prepare us for the joy of listening to a choir of fifteen children singing the Puer Natus along with the angels during Christmas this year.  I suppose it is kind of like the Grand Canyon.  You've read about it.  You think you're ready. You finally get there.  Your jaw drops.

No matter how jaw-dropping it all is, there is always more to see.  Lots more.  Why stop at a choir of twelve children? Let's not limit it to a self selected small group. Each of the children in our parishes can sing a simple line of chant.  As Catholics we must take on the responsibility of teaching them to do so.  This is not only the job of the music director.  This is the job of parents.  This is the job of educators. And this is the job of pastors.  Words with Wings needs to be implemented in every parish in this country.  The solution need not elude fact, it is staring us in the face for the first time in fifty years.

So many are working so hard to make the treasury of sacred music open to everyone. Musicians and authors and publishers are doing their part.  But none of these resource will do any good unless we all pick them up, learn how to use them, and teach others--all Catholics--to do the same.  Like the Gospels, these books must be lived.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hymn Tune Introits for 20th and 21st Sundays OT

O God our shelter, turn your gaze
To look on your anointed's face.
One day within your courts outweighs
A thousand any other place.


O answer, Lord, and turn your ear.
Your servant trusts you; save and hear.
Have mercy on me, Lord, I pray.
To you I cry out all the day.

Simple English Propers, 20th Sunday

Thursday, August 16, 2012

St. Ambrose's Aeterne rerum conditor

Eternal maker of all things
Of day and night the sov'reign King,
Refreshing mortals, You arrange
The rhythm of the seasons' change

The rooster sounds his morning cry
--Throughout the night he watched the sky--
For travelers, a guiding light
To tell the watches of the night.

The morning star that hears the cry
Dispels the darkness from the sky.
The demons, hearing the alarm
Abandon all their paths of harm.

The sailor hears and he is brave;
The sea becomes a gentle wave.
The rooster's call reached Peter's ears:
He washed away his sins in tears.

Our wav'ring hearts, Lord Jesus, see.
O look upon us, make us free,
For in Your gaze no fault can stay,
And sins by tears are washed away.

O Light, upon our senses shine.
Dispel our sleepiness of mind,
That we may sing Your morning praise,
Then, vows fulfilling, live our days.

Fascinating presentation of the Our Father

What's the Word?

Reviews are coming in on the Words With Wings Workshop.

--Thumbs up for the book and the workshop!

-- The Words with Wings Workshop was such a good use of my time. Excellent presentation of the book and the method. We're going to be adding the program to our regular CCD classroom schedule.

--I really enjoyed the afternoon sessions where participants got the chance to teach the materials themselves.  I didn't think I could do it, but I did.  And it was fun.

Helps us spread the word;  get registered for a workshop between August 16 and August 31, 2012, and receive  30% discount off the workshop fee.    Discount will apply to workshops held through October 31, 2012.

Corpus Christi, Papal Liturgy

Perosi can be great:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ave Maria, Richard Clark

Another wonderful work by Boston's own Richard Clark:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Open thread: Music for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Monday, August 13, 2012

Music History in Three Minutes

Skips a few things :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are you "antiquarian" and "artificial"?

Paul Innwood offers an an interesting post at PrayTell, and I'm still trying to make sense of it. His conclusion is strangely and surprisingly disproportionate to the excellent content of the post itself.

He begins by confirming that ever more parishes are using the Graduale Romanum as the source of liturgical music at entrance, offertory, and communion. They are doing this based on the conviction that propers are the correct source for liturgical song, and that the Gregorian tradition provides the ideal of liturgical music.

His conclusion after much in the way of quoting source texts from documents is that "they/we are trying to promote as the norm something which in practice never was the norm during the past 600 years and more. This is either antiquarianism or just plain artificial."

I don't get his point really or who it is directed against.

The push for propers and Gregorian chant really comes to down three propositions:

1) propers are a liturgical text and should not be thrown out in favor of whatever, as has been done for decades in parish and cathedral praxis,

2) Gregorian chant embodies the instructive ideal that informs the fullest presentation of the liturgical approach to music, and

3) this ideal in no way excludes other forms of music including employing vernacular text, as well as polyphonic motets using propers texts and hymns that use the proper text.

Based on his post, I don't really see where Innwood disagrees with any of the above three and he seems to want to pick a fight with someone about something. In any case, his assembly of quotations is very valuable.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Winter Chant Intensive: January 7-11, 2013

This year's venue is beautiful St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, Georgia.  Stroll back in time and enjoy the southern hospitality of Reverend Allan J. McDonald (who many of you know from his popular blog, Southern Orders, and elsewhere) and spend a a week singing and praying in this stunning and revitalized parish...situated right in the middle of Macon's historic district, a spot largely untouched by Civil War cannons.

Registration is already open.  More details here,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Enculturation in the New World-the Redux

This is Charles: I received the following email from Adam Wood and even though what follows expresses his initial reaction to some communication he'd received, we agreed that both the email and his musing were worth sharing. To whit-

Adam: I just read possibly the most humbling comment I've ever received. On my post "Gregorian Chant is for Radicals: Part 1"
My daughter and I are part of a choir that is under the aegis of a Benedictine monastery in a third world country. This basically means that you have about 10 amateurs who do their best to keep up with the choir director, who has no choice but to sing with us while strumming on his guitar, as no one knows how to play any other instrument. We also have a very good guitar player who is only 16, but seems to be more content playing Guns n Roses. The rest of the choir is made up of housewives and women who have to work all day. Our participation is more wishful thinking than anything, but our collective goal is to make beautiful music for God. My daughter was recently introduced to Gregorian chant. She began to cry because she said “Mom, we´re never going to sing like that!” I had to agree, but she has her heart set on learning Gregorian chant. We don´t have any places that have Gregorian chant in this country that I know of, so it certainly will be a challenge.

I responded via email- assuring her that Chant is, in fact, much easier than it seems, and asking if it would be helpful to point her in the direction some free online resources. I also asked where she is and what language they use for Mass. I did a search for email address, and I suspect she is in a Spanish-speaking country. Also, I don't know if she is a missionary or a local. What really struck me was the disconnect between the us (the LitMus haves) and the vast majority of Catholics- the LitMus Havenots. Like- maybe we're all spending a little too much time debating the finer points of liturgical hermaneutics, or trying to convince goofy suburbanites to give up their Gather Comprehensives- maybe we need to make a more concerted effort to serve these types of communities.

From the First Hymn on Paradise

I took my stand halfway
between awe and love;
a yearning for Paradise
invited me to explore it,
but awe at its majesty
restrained me from my search.
With wisdom, however,
I reconciled the two;
I revered what lay hidden
and meditated on what was revealed.
The aim of my search was to gain profit,
the aim of my silence was to find help.

St Ephrem the Syrian

Three New Simple English Chant Masses in the Style of the Simple English Propers

We're now almost nine months past the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. Many parishes have taken up the call of the Bishops of the English speaking world and have begun the implementation by singing the Mass Setting within the Missal itself.

This setting undoubtedly ought to become the default English Mass that can be sung by all English speaking Catholics no matter where they go. It should be the "go-to" setting that we use for inter-parish, or international English liturgies. My own parish has been singing this Mass Setting, particularly the Gloria – based on Kyriale Mass XV – since Christmas 2011.

This fall is a great time to begin to build your parish repertoire a bit further. What should you sing next?

I'm happy to introduce to you three new simple English chant Masses that are included in the forthcoming Lumen Christi Missal, which has now received full ecclesiastical approval and has gone to print (pre-orders are still being offered here, and books will be shipping in September).

Introducing (FREE DOWNLOAD):

These three "Simplex" Masses are composed in a simple chant style, very similar to the Simple English Propers, and can be sung very easily by average parish congregations.

Simplex Mass I is the simplest of all three, is in a major mode (mode 6), and is built upon a simple melodic pattern that is repeated and developed throughout. It is a great starting place for parishes that have never used a chanted Ordinary before, and will serve as a very nice compliment to the Missal chants in a parish's repertoire.

Simplex Mass II may sound familiar to some here, since I composed the Gloria over a year ago and posted it here, and since have completed the entire Mass. This Mass is in mode 8, and also is composed in a "formulaic" style. It offers some nice variety and can serve as a very strong Mass Setting that might serve well for Feasts and Solemnities.

Simplex Mass III is also in a syllabic style, but is more developed than Simplex Masses I and II. This setting is composed by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, and is in the minor modes (modes 1 and 2) that evoke in a particular way the breadth and depth of the Gregorian ethos. Once learned by a parish congregation, this Mass could serve as a wonderful Mass for the long stretches of Ordinary Time.

The following are some recordings of the first two Simplex Masses, for demonstration and practice purposes:

Simplex Mass I

Simplex Mass II

Please enjoy these new Mass settings! They are licensed in the Creative Commons and may be printed and copied for your cantors and parish choirs free of charge.

Hymn Tune Introit 19th OT

 Look to your covenant, O Lord, and forget not the life of your poor ones for ever. Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.

Your covenant remember, Lord.
Recall the life of all your poor.
O God, defend your cause, arise!
Do not forget your people's cries.

Register Now for Conference on Charles Tournemire

The Aesthetics and Pedagogy of Charles Tournemire: Chant and Improvisation in the Liturgy

October 21-24, 2012
Duquesne University and venues around Pittsburgh

The Church Music Association of America will hold a conference exploring the legacy of Charles Tournemire as an improviser and teacher of improvisation on October 21-24, 2012 on the campus of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and at neighboring Pittsburgh churches. The conference seeks to explore the aesthetic, liturgical, theoretical, and technical principles of Tournemire’s improvisations and teachings on improvisation, the use of Gregorian chant in organ improvisation, the role of organ improvisations in the Catholic liturgy, and pedagogical approaches to teaching organ improvisation. The conference will include liturgies, opportunities for the study of improvisation at the organ, recital programs and papers relating to the conference theme.

Registration is now open! To register for the conference ($100) or to find out more information, please visit

Registration deadline is Friday, September 28th.

The Preconciliar Rite in Our Time

The parish schola to which I belong had signed a man’s spiritual will that requested a full Requiem High Mass in the extraordinary form upon his death. The time came much sooner than it should have. He was only 57 when he died.

We had only three days between hearing of his death and the scheduled date of the Mass. We practiced for a total of 5 hours, and this was pushing it. The schola sings the chants from the Graduale Romanum every week at an ordinary form Mass but the elaborate form of the extraordinary form makes special demands on the schola, with very few options. There was a Gradual Psalm and Tract, plus offertory and verses, plus the Sequence, as well as Libera Me and the chants for the final exit, in addition to the chanted sections that we already knew from the ordinary form Requiem.

We knew that it had to be beautiful. There was more at stake here than met the eye. The parish in which we sang was in a town where there had not been this form of funeral Mass in at least half a century and perhaps even longer. Even before the Council, it is likely that the Requiem adhered to the convention of the time, which was a low Mass with vernacular hymnody. The high Masses tended to use Psalm tone propers and not the propers from the Roman Gradual. So this presentation was highly unusual, perhaps never heard in this parish or even in this town.

The celebrant, who did an outstanding job, had never said this particular Mass before. The servers and MC had to come from across the state. Our schola was imported. As for the congregation, it was split between Baptists -- the faith tradition of the deceased’s family -- and Catholics of the parish who are used to the common form of funeral Mass seen today. In other words, we had something here that was completely artificial from a human point of view, not part of a known tradition or experience in any way.

There were very few hooks to help people. We could have printed an encyclopedia of explanations and people would have still be lost. They expect a hymn and they get a chant in a language that is not their own. They expect readings in English but get them in Latin. They expect a Psalm but get a long melismatic piece. No Catholic in the pews today has even heard of the tract. The Sequence is known from movies but not real life. Not even the Angus Dei follows the same familiar text. The Pater Noster might have been known but it is said by the priest alone. From my observation from the loft, it struck me that the only familiar moment in the entire Mass was the Sanctus; we used the Requiem ferial setting that has become standard in many parishes and the only bit of Gregorian chant heard at all in most places.

So you can imagine that I had a full expectation of a sociological disaster. That did not happen. We did sing beautifully. The celebrant was amazing. There were moments of breath-taking beauty at the altar. The liturgy in general moved at a clip, taking in total about 80 minutes. It was absolutely wonderful, and well received. How and why did it work? No matter how much we work or how much all the actors believed that it was up to us to make this happen, we did not make this happen. The Divine took over. We merely needed the will to be guided by the spirit.

The Divine took over from the perspective of the pew as well. I heard reports of how people were enormously impressed at the solemnity and beauty, the quiet and the seriousness. No, people could not follow along despite the aids we handed out, and that’s fine. Remoteness is a feature of mystery and mystery is a feature of the liturgy. Immediate cognition is not the point. The penetration of the heart and soul, areas of our being we try to avoid on a daily basis, is made possible with the remarkable voice of the purest form of the Roman Rite.

The experience led me to some additional thoughts. Did this liturgy work as some kind of advertisement for the proliferation of the extraordinary form? Maybe and maybe not. People were very pleased to be part of the history and the significance of the occasion. But it did not and will not cause a clamor to have this form of the ritual become the mainstream much less the exclusive way that funerals take place. This cannot and will not happen. Not one person in attendance walked away thinking: all Catholic funerals should be required to be this way.

The periodic appearance of this rite in the mainstream of Catholic life is to be valued. But its continued life in our culture is ironically dependent on the the ordinary form as a means of bringing the liturgy to the people in the most direct way, as a teacher and guide. The ordinary form is and will remain the liturgy that Catholic culture knows best, and through it Catholics can grow to develop a special appreciation for the magnificence of what came before.

Pope Benedict XVI was extremely wise in institutionalizing these names: ordinary and extraordinary form. We can take these terms literally and use them in the modern sense to understand what the future holds as regards the two forms of the Roman Rite. I can foresee no circumstances under which this will change in our lifetimes.

To be sure, there are some changes that could be made to the extraordinary form that might give it a welcome boost in Catholic life, small changes that could cause it to become more integrated with the Catholic experience. Please understand that in saying this, and naming these changes, that I am not actually advocating these changes; that is the job of the Church, not laypeople who are writing articles. I would never presume to say that I know exactly what needs to take place to make the extraordinary form more accessible and prevalent in the modern world.

But based on my experience so far, the introductions of some options could make a big difference. If the readings could be in English, not during the homily but during the liturgy itself, that would dramatically increase the engagement of the congregation in the liturgical action. If some vernacular motets or hymns were permitted, and the music were not strictly limited to Psalm tones and Gregorian melodies in Latin, people would not have such a sense of being outside spectators of what is happening. I might further suggest that permitting English sung propers as options could advance the cause of the extraordinary form as well.

These are three very small options that could be introduced that would make a giant difference. If we look at the spirit of Vatican II’s mandate for change, I’m imagining that these are the types of changes that Sacrosanctum Concilium suggested should take place. The idea was not a wholesale revolution but the introduction of options that would fulfill the hopes and desires of the liturgical movement.

It is one of the great tragedies of Catholic history that in the six years after the close of the Council the cause of liturgical reform fell into the hands of a small cadre of rationalistic intellectuals and activists who used the opportunity for change as a time for exercising their wits and trying out their experimental ideology on the Church. We are still working to recover from this disaster.

For forty-five years, we have faced the choice between a reformed rite that often seemed to have nothing to do with our history, on the one hand, and, on the other, going back to repeat that history as if it had to be frozen to an absolute standstill in 1962 and the Council’s desire for marginal improvement completely ignored.

It is the task of this generation to carefully work toward bringing about a Catholic liturgical culture that is not so divided between old and new. There must be give and take on both sides of this spectrum, and the resistance is proportionally strong in both directions.

But let me mention something that gives hope here. Five years ago, no one would have believed that we would have a new Missal with such elegant language and music that is part of the Missal itself. It seemed like an impossible dream, and it too was doggedly opposed by the extremes on both sides. And yet here it is. It exists. It is beautiful.

There is still a long way to go, but so long as we have the example of the extraordinary form before us, and we are willing to consider that the ordinary form does have things to teach us, there is no reason to lose hope for a more integrated Roman Rite in the Catholic liturgical world in the future.

Comments on NPM 2012 from the Forum

Sampling of comments from the

This amount of chant would have been unfathomable at the same convention just a few years ago.


I had the pleasure of attending Fr. Anthony Ruff's chant intensive. Father Ruff is, of course, very knowledgable in this area. He did a great job at the intensive of balancing the remedial and basic teachings of chant with the more advanced tidbits for those of us who already knew the basics. He also was a great advocate for the use of chant in the parish. I was glad to have attended his session.


The Mass included many of the chanted sections from the Roman Missal, including the Domine non sum dignus...

The really positive change was seen in the way morning prayer was celebrated. It included a tremendous amount of chant.


The CMAA, SEP and Richard Rice's work was mentioned at countless workshops throughout the week. If only there were a booth at the convention where those books were being sold, I'm sure that those who were in those breakout sessions would have went and purchased them....

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Simple English Propers


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Interesting Video of Mass from 1964

Adoration at Communion?

I think of the mission of the CMAA as a kind of new progressivism, always moving forward in a positive way.

A danger for all progressivist movements is the development of a complex of memes or tropes or canards that must-be-accepted by individuals in order that they might be accepted by the group. So far, it seems to me, the CMAA has largely escaped the groupthink that can become a kind of mandatory entrance fee to a group, insisting that everyone check his or her brain at the door. In fact, everyone I talk to at CMAA thinks differently about everything. And everyone seems to feel free to think freely in a forward, creative motion. There is weirdly little common ground. I suppose beauty and music are commonly held ideals--but those are not closely defined, and certainly not mandated. In most things, we are all over the map. Try to state something outside of dogma as though it were dogmatic, and you will hear someone else beg to differ. And in my view, this is all as it should be.

In that spirit, I would like to ask some help in forming my own opinions about a question I think is crucial for a hymn writer, and topical, given the Gospel texts of this summer. Is it appropriate, do you think, to express adoration at Mass, at Communion?

I believe that one of the primary liturgical questions of our day has to do with what I call "directionality." To whom is a prayer addressed? To whom, for example, was the Christ Has Died acclamation addressed? (No one.) But to Whom is the memorial acclamation in all other cases addressed? (Jesus Christ.) And a similar issue is at stake in many other issues, for example, ad orientem posture. 

At Communion, ought we be adoring the Blessed Sacrament, and if so, as Christ? Or through Christ (per ipsum) to the Triune? Do St. Thomas' great hymns to the Blessed Sacrament address the Blessed Sacrament in adoration? Certainly there is adoration. But Whom, and how, do we adore?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Help Save Sibelius!

Sibelius is a leading software for musical score engraving. It was first developed by brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn while singing in the Kings College Choir in the 1980's, and has since become an industry standard platform, used today by thousands of music professionals around the world. Choral Public Domain Library has thousands of free sacred music scores available in Sibelius file format that sacred musicians use and rely upon daily.

It has been reported that Sibelius, now owned by Avid, has been shut down and the parent company refuses to sell the company back to its owners so that proper and development and support can continue. Here is the report with the details from the "Save Sibelius" Facebook page:

Dear Sibelians,

Yesterday the sacked Sibelius programmers walked out of the London Headquarters for the last time.

We have no time to lose.

Here's what you can do:
If you work in any schools, societies, choirs, bands, orchestras, unions, alumni, guilds - you can raise this as an issue and ask them to visit We have made it as easy as 1, 2, 3 to take immediate action.

The site is linked to Facebook, a Change.Org Petition and has a One Click emailer to contact the entire Avid board. Every single action helps. You can swamp the Avid HQ with your protests.

Even if you have already faxed, emailed, written, phoned, it is still worth writing back and even more importantly, invite your friends and colleagues to do likewise.

The golfing buddies on the Avid board have shown themselves time and again to be devoid of vision or proper understanding of the music industry. Their Wall St modus operandi is to buy viable companies, sack the staff, close down the offices and then simply let them trade on reputation with zero overheads until the products die off. Avid are literally making a killing at our expense.

Sibelius is currently we believe turning over $18 million a year. So now, with no overheads of development team and offices, for Avid that becomes clean profit as Sibelius is slowly killed off over the next 3-4 years.

To Avid's Wall St mentality, that is smart business. Run on empty, make your fortune, then leave the carcass behind to hunt for the next pot of gold. Short term thinking that brings on the Harvard High Fives.

The programmers who left yesterday will have had enough code pre-written for a very slim Sibelius version 8 to be released in a year or two, so Avid can pretend that development is still going on. It isn't. Development on Sibelius ceased yesterday.

Wall St speculators like Avid have no business in the music business. Let's ramp up the pressure, and keep those Facebook Likes, emails, faxes, letters, petition signatures and phone calls coming.

And please keep watching this space - we'll update you as the campaign escalates.

Derek Williams

The EF in Miami

This August 15th will mark a return of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and Gregorian chant to the heart of the Church in Miami.

A solemn high Mass for the feast of the Assumption will be celebrated by Fr. Christian Saenz (SJ) in the oldest, and possibly most beautiful, church in Miami -- Gesu church in downtown. The Mass marks a significant re-entry of Catholic sacred music and tradition to the Archdiocese, and will certainly be a beautiful occasion.

For many Catholics in Miami, the Mass will be their first experience with Gregorian chant in the Archdiocese, though a great number of immigrants grew up with and were perhaps even trained in the chant tradition in schools run by religious.

In fact, a great number of Latino Catholics in Miami are familiar with much of the repertoire promulgated by Paul VI in Jubilate Deo, perhaps making the Hispanic population in Miami unique in the U.S.

The Mass will be chanted by the Schola Cantorum of the Mission of Sts. Francis and Clare (where the sung TLM is celebrated weekly: under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Donelson, and the organ repertoire will include works by Peeters and Langlais played by Mr. Matthew Steynor, organist and choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Rev. Dr. Edward Schaefer will serve as deacon, and Fr. Joseph Fishwick as subdeacon.

8:00 - 9:30 p.m.
Celebrant: Fr. Christian Saenz, S.J.
Gesu church, downtown Miami
118 NE 2nd Street

All are cordially welcome to attend.

You can RSVP on Facebook here.

"Hymn of the Day," 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

As I've mentioned here previously, when I began toying with the idea of writing hymns based on the Sunday Lectionary readings, I used the Psalm of the day as the framework. After all, the Psalm is a song. It lends itself to hymns, as we see in the Genevan Psalter, and in the work of Isaac Watts. 

For next Sunday's hymn, I simply took my first two lines from the Psalm, and the rest unfolded quite naturally in other directions. I had a hymn tune in mind, St. Thomas (Williams), which to my ears sounds joyful, even effervescent, yet solemn enough for the subject matter, with its staid initial rising 4th. The text that I wrote to this tune is frankly confessional. It can be used with or without verses 2 and 3, which alone make it recognizable as lectionary-derived.

The text is below, and here and here are Colin Brumby's thoughtful variations on a single setting.

O taste and you will see
the goodness of the Lord:
humanity, divinity,
the Body and the Blood.

God fed His wand'ring fold
with manna from the sky.
Much better This than bread of old:
we eat and never die.

Elijah once was fed
when he could walk no more.
An angel brought to him that bread--
the angels This adore.

To those who would be filled,
this food is life indeed.
To give it Life Himself was killed,
and we from death are freed.

O worthy is the Lamb,
our slain and risen Lord,
the Son of Mary, God and man:
our Eucharist adored.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Annual Assumption Mass

Fr. Robert C Pasley, KCHS, Chaplain of the CMAA and Rector of Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church, Berlin, NJ invites all to Mater Ecclesiae's 12th Annual Assumption Mass. The Mass will take place on Tuesday, August 14, at 7:00PM, at St Peter's Church, 43 W. Maple Avenue, Merchantville, NJ 08109. Please note that it will be the anticipated Mass of the Feast. The setting of the Ordinary of the Mass is the "Mass in E Minor" by Anton Bruckner. Other works include the motet "Quis te comprehendat", which is a reimagination of the "Gran Partita" of Mozart. There will also be two premieres, both written by Conductor Dr. Timothy McDonnell; a choral setting of the "Et Incarnatus est" which will be sung during Credo III, and a setting of the "Sub Tuum Praesidium," for 10 wind instruments, organ and chorus. We hope you can attend, but if not, spread the word. The Assumption Mass has become one of the most grand, if not the grandest, celebration of Our Lady's Assumption in the country.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Is the Liturgy a Stage?

A text message arrived on my phone: “the end is near.”

I stared at it a few minutes and then texted back the only thing I could think to say: “Context?”

The message became more detailed. An older gentlemen whose Mass that my parish schola had contracted to sing was dying. Our schola needed to prepare.

Only then did I recall something I had forgotten about that dates back some six years ago. A gentleman in a neighboring town had attended the funeral of a friend. The music was the usual material we’ve come to expect from funerals. There was eulogy after eulogy. The priests wore white. People were encouraged to think of the deceased as being with God already. There was no chant. No Dies Irae. Nothing looked like a Catholic funeral as he understood it.

He thought to himself: I do not want this to happen when I die. So he contacted me, made up an extremely detailed list of do and don’ts for his own funeral, and had me sign the paper to guarantee that his own funeral would be thoroughly liturgical. He put it away among his things and made sure that his caretaker found it in the last hour.

Why would he do this? He would be dead, so what’s the point? He never put it this way but I suspect that he wanted to leave a gift of praise to God and a gift of beautiful liturgy to his family. I don’t think it was really about him. It was about God and others, very beautiful motivation.

A week later, we found ourselves in a peculiar situation. We don’t usually sing funerals. So we gathered for a just-in-case rehearsal, and took a very long time doing a crash course on all the chants of the purest form of Requiem Mass.

Three days later, he died. The funeral date was set. Then the call came from the Celebrant with news that I had not expected. This would be an Extraordinary Form high Mass. All along I had assumed this would be ordinary form. The change meant that the Gradual and Tract had to be sung as they appear in the liturgical books, and could not be replaced by the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia verse. There would be the Responsory for incensing. The Sequence: required.

This meant more work for us. We cancelled regular rehearsal and gathered those who could come to the Requiem and got to work. Two hours later we had it mostly completed. This would have been an impossible task for a schola just starting out. We have been together for twelve years but, even so, it was not easy. We all felt that sense of being stretched to our limits.

The celebrant felt the same way. He has said the old form in a Low Mass context and some sung Masses but his experience is very limited. The servers were in a similar situation. It’s all new. I suspect that a high Requiem Mass has not been sung in the parish where the funeral is held in half a century, or, perhaps ever.

In some ways, this task is liturgically unnatural. Liturgy should be part of our lives. This level of work and struggle should not have to happen. We should know these chants as part of our apostolate. We should not have to be in a position to recreate anything. It should just happen. But, alas, we must accept the times in which we live and do the best we can. We’ve been given an amazing opportunity . We dare not let this slip by without doing everything we can do to let beauty live again in our liturgical lives.

I found myself thinking of the people in the pews. The deceased’s family is not Catholic. He is a convert in late age. The extended family is Baptist. The parish is a fine one but has no extraordinary form. The music is mixed, traditional in many ways but there is no singing of the Mass propers, no chant schola.

It is at the Requiem Mass where the difference between the two forms, as they emerge in real life, is most stark. The EF gives no choices. A high Mass is highly scripted. Our English motets are completely out of the question. There cannot be English adaptions of anything. The music is substantial and plentiful. The section of music between the readings consists of three separate and very long pieces of music, all sung in Latin, without instruments.

I’ve been wondering how it will come across. It is not likely that a single person attending this Mass will have ever experienced anything remotely like this. Most everyone will be lost the entire time. We could pass out hundreds of pages of guides and notes but it will not help. Nothing will be familiar to anyone there. There will be very little with which the people can connect or identify. It will last more than an hour but less than two, and people might leave mystified and probably a bit confused.

I’m not expecting anyone to walk away and say: wow, this was just fantastic!! I fully expect the results to be otherwise. I’m expecting grumbling and disappointment and disorientation. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe lives will be changed on the spot. But I doubt it. I suspect that most people will be confused and even a bit annoyed.

The question is: what makes a liturgy successful? And a deeper question: what is the standard by which we are measuring success? I suggest that in our times, it is nearly impossible to get away from the standard that is the worst possible standard: we tend to judge liturgy as if all the performers are on a stage performing for us. We want to entertain and be entertained. We want to “reach” people so they can have a emotionally satisfying experience, a rich and memorable encounter with something we define as meaningful. If that doesn’t happen, we are inclined to think we failed.

This Requiem we will soon sing challenges that idea in the most fundamental way. By standards of entertainment and staging, it will be a failure. But judged from the point of view of praise and prayer to God, matters change. In this sense, it will be absolutely perfect. The profundity will be lost on many if not most. I know this. I would love to be proven wrong but I suspect otherwise.

And yet: the encounter with the Divine should not produce obvious and expected results. To have something reach a part of our hearts and souls that the modern world leaves untouched is a remarkable thing. It brings about lasting change. It leaves us with memories that increase in significance over time. The graces are planted and multiply. As the years pass, the people present may eventually come to realize that in this experience, they were presented with a vision of timeless truth, and that they did not and could not recognize it at the time because it was unfamiliar and unrecognizable.

The extraordinary form does this. It is the liturgy for the long term, the liturgy that speaks to something that escapes our immediate cognition but penetrates to the part of ourselves we don’t often access or even think much about. It speaks a language we do not speak. It is a language that we are too often afraid even to hear. But we must and do in the context of facing that terrifying thing: the mortality of all living things and the immortality of our souls.

This is the truth of the liturgy. It has nothing to do with being on stage, and nothing to do with entertainment. Can we handle the truth? I do not know. The deceased in this case did a bold and generous thing. He made it impossible for all of us to turn away from it. May we face it, see and hear its beauty, and be transformed by it.