Friday, November 30, 2012

First Sunday of Advent, English Propers


Tomorrow night the Holy Father begins the Advent season by celebrating Vespers in Saint Peter's Basilica. The booklet may be found here.

He (we, Lord willing, as I plan to attend the Vespers), will sing the same exact hymn as many American parishes, Creator Alme Siderum, translated as Creator of the Stars of Night.

The celebration will conclude with the Marian Advent hymn, Alma Redemptoris Mater, which will likewise be sung around the world throughout this holy time of waiting, when we look to our Blessed Mother, our Star of the Sea.

The chants of the Church, while beautiful and eminently suitable for many musical reasons, are also helpful for a simple sociological reason: we share them with others throughout the world.

Lineup for the First Sunday in Advent

As we are waiting on the miraculous, the general sense is that mysterious music should be happening in our parishes; music that reflects the many moods of anticipation. Alas, Advent always sneaks up on me in terms of planning. That's the nature of the Ordinary Form. So, for the First of Advent, we're singing:

Gregorian Introit Ad te levavi
Responsorial Psalm - Parish Book of Psalms
Alleluia (simple mode ii Alleluia from Parish Book of Chant)
Offertory from the Simple English Propers
Offertory motet: Josquin's Ave Christe
Gregorian Communio Dominus dabit
Post Communion motet: Weelkes' Let Thy Merciful Ears, O Lord
Recessional: don't know yet!

What will you be singing this Sunday?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Monastery on the Island

No time now, but I would love to know more about the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (Transalpine Redemptorists). They seem to be the only thing going on in a tiny island called Golgotha Monastery Island, Papa Stronsay. They are selling a calendar that supports their work.

The Geese Book

Because this is a time of year when musicians have hours and hours to spend poring over old manuscripts and singing chants, chant scholar Ben Whitworth makes known this amazing online 1510 manuscript, The Geese Book.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rorate Caeli Desuper

Chant and Culture

Call for Papers

The University of British Columbia's Committee for Medieval Studies presents


8th Annual Colloquium of The Gregorian Institute of Canada
August 6-9, 2013
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia

The Gregorian Institute of Canada has focused from its inception on performance, providing a unique opportunity for scholars and performers from Canada and around the world to share and discuss their ideas, research, and experience. This year's theme—Chant and Culture—is inspired by an essay currently found in WILLIAM MAHRT's book, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, and which also originally appeared as "Gregorian Chant as a Fundamentum of Western Musical Culture", in Sacred Music 102.1 (Spring 1975): 3­ 21. WILLIAM MAHRT, Professor Emeritus of Music at Stanford University, will be giving this year's keynote address. In addition to academic papers, there will be workshops in chant performance. Vancouver Early Music Programme & Festival will have concerts on campus at the same time, including one on the medieval Carmina Burana by BENJAMIN BAGBY and the ensemble SEQUENTIA.

Submissions on any topic of chant research are welcome, but paper and workshop proposals that address the broadly conceived colloquium theme—Chant and Culture— are particularly encouraged and will be favored over others in the selection process. Suggested topics include anything related to Mahrt's thesis: i.e., "Gregorian chant was not only the historical predecessor of a great development of polyphonic music; it was also the actual structural basis of the better part of medieval and renaissance sacred music. One could chart this history in great detail, but more interesting are the ways in which it played the role of a fundamentum, and the part it played in the development of a polyphonic fundamentum. From the high middle ages onward, there existed a polyphonic sacred music which used the materials and even the thought processes of each age. A creative interaction between the traditional fundamentals of sacred music and the ideas of the time is a hallmark of the entire history. If at times it seems that the ideas of the time prevailed, it must not be forgotten that polyphonic sacred music always existed in the context of some kind of performance of Gregorian chant as chant."

Please send a 250-word abstract to the program committee, chant at Abstracts may be sent and papers presented in either English or French. Conference papers will be limited to 30 minutes, followed by a 10-minute discussion period. Performance practice workshops will last 40 minutes.

The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2013.

For further information, registration, and conference updates, please visit the Gregorian Institute of Canada website at

Jean-Pierre Noiseux

Abbot Michael Zielinski, chant advocate

"To recover the great treasure which the Tradition of the Church gave to us, it is necessary to begin with Gregorian chant, which is capable of communicating to the people of God the sense of Catholicity and to guide it towards a correct inculturation."

Those are the words of American Benedictine Abbot Michael Zielinski, the new head of the office on liturgical arts at the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Read more at the National Catholic Register

Gifts for Musicians and Priests

Here are my suggestions for the books to give musicians and priests for Christmas.

The Christian West and Its Singers, by Christopher Page. This is the book of a lifetime. I picked mine up when it was first published and then it went out of print. It is back now. There is no Kindle version. But the physical version is an absolute treasure. The imagery is vivid. The story is compelling. This is the book that really connected me back in time to the singers of the 3rd and 4th centuries. They were human beings in a liturgical environment just like us. Their struggles were similar to ours. Page tells the story in a masterpiece of scholarship, one to last the ages.
The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, by William Mahrt. Professor Mahrt is the master of chant scholarship and practice, and this volume is his masterwork that does what no other book does nearly as well. He provides a coherent map of the place of music in the Roman Rite. In so doing, he makes an excellent contribution to liturgical scholarship. But this book is more than that. It is a guide for every parish musician. To understand the ritual and its musical structure makes an immediate difference in how one goes about the task of singing at Mass. It changes the manner in which you present Psalm, sing the acclamations, and make choices about what settings to sing and why. I've felt for years that this core knowledge is the missing piece in liturgical praxis today. This volume completes the picture. It is both citation rich and extremely accessible to everyone.

A Byrd Celebration
, edited by Richard Turbet. William Byrd seems always to be in the process of being rediscovered. Once you approach his music and understand his task, you are struck by his genius and place in history, equal in many respects to that of Brahms or Beethoven. He also lived an extremely interesting life as a Catholic in the court of Queen Elizabeth, composing Masses for secret Catholics even as he produced excellent works for the court in English. This book of essays explores his sacred and secular works, the politics of the time, his personal life, his techniques, his legacy. All of the world's experts on Byrd are featured in this book. For the serious musician who is interested in 16th century polyphony, this would make a great gift.

Evangelia Cantata: A Notated Book of Gospels, by Edward Schaefer. This outstanding book takes all the guesswork out of singing the Gospel at Mass. It provides the complete Gospels for the liturgical year. It can be used in any parish, and just owning it will provide one less excuse for why the Gospels are not being sung. Published with the approval of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here are some additional titles:

Music Teaching
Title Author Sellers
Advanced Studies in Gregorian Chant Justine Ward Lulu
An Applied Course in Gregorian Chant Joseph Robert Carroll Amazon, Lulu
Gregorian Chant according to the Solesmes Method Dom Gregory Sunol Amazon, Lulu
Gregorian Chant for Church and School Sr. Mary Antonine Goodchild Lulu
Music First Year Justine Ward/Elizabeth Perkins Lulu
Music Fourth Year: Gregorian Chant Justine Ward Lulu
Music Second Year Justine Ward Lulu
Music Third Year Justine Ward Lulu
A New School of Gregorian Chant Dom Dominic Johner Lulu
The Technique of Gregorian Chironomy Joseph Robert Carroll Amazon, Lulu
Words With Wings (instructor guide) Wilko Brouwers Amazon
Words With Wings (student workbook) Wilko Brouwers Amazon

Chant and Choral Music
Title Author Sellers
Chants Abregés Solesmes Amazon
Chants of the Church GIA/Desclee (1953) Lulu
Communio: Communion Antiphons with Psalms (softcover) ed. Richard Rice Amazon, Lulu
Communio: Communion Antiphons with Psalms (hardcover) ed. Richard Rice Lulu
Communio with English Verses ed. Richard Rice Lulu
Graduale Romanum 1961: volume 1 (hardcover) Solesmes Lulu
Graduale Romanum 1961: volume 2 (hardcover) Solesmes Lulu
Graduale Romanum 1961: volume 1 (softcover) Solesmes Lulu
Graduale Romanum 1961: volume 2 (softcover) Solesmes Lulu
Kyriale Romanum (hardcover) Solesmes Lulu
Kyriale Romanum (softcover) Solesmes Lulu
Offertoriale with Offertory Verses Solesmes Amazon, Lulu
Officium Majoris Hebdomadae et Octavae Paschae, Cum Cantu Ratisbon Lulu
The Parish Book of Chant CMAA Amazon
Parish Book of Psalms Arlene Oost-Zinner Amazon
Plainchant Gradual, vols. 1 & 2 (in one edition) Palmer/Burgess Lulu
Plainchant Gradual, vols. 3 & 4 (in one edition) Palmer/Burgess Amazon, Lulu
Simple English Propers Adam Bartlett Amazon
Simple Choral Gradual Richard Rice Amazon
Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum Solesmes Lulu

Essays, History, Interpretation, Practical Guidance, Spirituality
Title Author Sellers
The Bugnini Liturgy and Reform of the Reform Laszlo Dobszay Amazon, Lulu
A Byrd Celebration (softcover) Richard Turbin Amazon, Lulu
A Byrd Celebration (hardcover) Richard Turbin Lulu
Catholic Church Music Richard Terry Amazon, Lulu
Chants of the Vatican Gradual Dom Dominic Johner Amazon, Lulu
A Dictionary of the Psalter Rev. Matthew Britt Lulu
Frequently Asked Questions on Sacred Music CMAA Lulu
Gregorian Chant: A Guide Daniel Saulnier Lulu
The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal Rev. Matthew Britt Lulu
The Musical Shape of the Liturgy William Mahrt Amazon
Pange Lingua: Breviary Hymns of Old Uses McDougall/Fortescue Lulu
Psallite Sapienter B. Andrew Mills Amazon, Lulu
The Rhythm of Plainsong Dom Joseph Gajard Lulu
Sing Like a Catholic Jeffrey Tucker Amazon, Lulu
The Spirit of Gregorian Chant Marie Pierik Lulu
A Study of Gregorian Musical Rhythm (hardcover) Dom Andre Mocquereau Lulu
A Study of Gregorian Musical Rhythm (softcover) Dom Andre Mocquereau Amazon, Lulu

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Something just got cheaper!

The Marriott hotel in Macon, GA has reduced its rates for those attending the upcoming Winter Chant Intensive. The new, lower rate is $99 per night. Make your reservation before midnight on December 8, 2012.
Reserve your room at the Marriott online.

Gary Penkala on Children and Singing

From the Cantica Nova website:
There is great work being done to promote quality music in Catholic parishes. The CMAA holds frequent symposia and workshops to train musicians in chant and polyphony. Corpus Christi Watershed and other groups are producing ample music of good quality, much of it free for the using. Even "less traditional" organizations and periodicals are experiencing a shift toward the sacred and orthodox. And all of this is wonderful — almost miraculous! But are we ignoring an important facet of the Catholic world? In focusing on current musicians and their training, are we overlooking the roots of the future of Catholic church music — the roots that might be (quite literally) under our feet?
Read more here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bulk Pricing Now Available: Lumen Christi Missal

I'm excited to announce on this Cyber Monday that the Lumen Christi Missal is now available with bulk pricing discounts as low as $18.95 per copy

Orders that are placed today or tomorrow may still arrive by the First Sunday of Advent.

Cantor Scores with pointed psalm verses can be found here, and organ accompaniments will begin to become available by the end of this week. 

You can place an order here, or contact Illuminare Publications here if you have any questions or would like to order by phone.

"They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne."

Today's first reading at Mass:

I, John, looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

On Hymn Translation

My essay in last January's Usus Antiquor is now available for free download online.

Unlike the Mass, which has its own proper and ordinary chants, the Divine Office or Breviary is the privileged place for hymns in Catholic liturgy. In the hours of the Divine Office, a hymn’s images often announce a particular time of day. The imagery of light, for example, pervades the Liber Hymnarius, whether it is the light of early morning, the noontime sun, or the daylight’s fading. Light imagery likewise pervades the scriptures, most notably as a metaphorical name for Jesus Christ, the light of the world.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Collection of Choral Propers

The Anglican style is beautifully suited for the renewal of Mass propers. Many sets are becoming available, and they are being placed on the MusicaSacra forum for free download.

Here you will find Peter Johnson's excellent settings. Here is an example. They all also include Psalms.

From the Second Vatican Council

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.

Holy Scripture, indeed, has bestowed praise upon sacred song, and the same may be said of the fathers of the Church and of the Roman pontiffs who in recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord.

Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.

Sacrosantum Concilium #112

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Music for New Cardinals

Discount Continues Through Cyber Monday

In response to many emails, the Black Friday sale on the 2013 Winter Chant Intensive will continue through the weekend and Cyber Monday. Register before 12:00am on Tuesday, November 27 and receive a $25 discount on your registration fee. Register Here.

Paul Weber's choir does it again

Music that Broadens the Mind and Spirit

In all the debates about Catholic ritual music over the last half century, the issue of the propers of the Mass has played very little role at all. Mostly the debate has been about styles. It’s been pretty much the same since the 1960s: one group like the old hymns and one group likes music in contemporary style.

I’m temperamentally inclined toward the old hymn model. This is because they are less subject to changing tastes, whereas what is defined as contemporary changes about every ten years, with the Catholic inevitably about five years behind the times.

Theologically, older hymns tend to be more sound (overall). Plus, there is a sentimental case for old hymns. They help connect us to the past. Another important point is that older hymns do not cause aesthetic offense, whereas few things in this world are as grating as amatuer musicians attempting to sound like pop stars.

Over the years, I’ve had many people say to me, when discovering that I’m a Catholic musician, some version of the following: “I’ve learned to wince whenever I see that a chosen hymn was composed after 1965. I shut my book and try to brace myself until it goes away.”

I’m supposed to agree with this point of view, and I do sympathize with the feeling because I felt this way for years. But more and more, I find that these sorts of comments bother me. Most of the musicians singing post-1965 material are doing their best to make a contribution, and loathing their output can tend towards cultivating divisive antipathies.

Few of these musicians have any idea how many people are rubbed the wrong way by varieties of pop music at Mass. Plus, it seems like an odd demand that Mass should only have music written between, say 1850 and 1965. In the long history of the faith, that is a very small slice of time.

More substantially, the debate over hymns completely misses the essential point that has become more obvious over the last few years. The truth is this: the hymn war distracts from the core issue, which is whether we will sing what the liturgy is asking to be sung or whether we will sing something else. The Mass assigns texts throughout the year for the precise parts of the liturgy where hymns are often inserted.

The text in question is not metric as given. It takes a skilled hand to re-rendered them in a metric suitable for the hymn structure. Kathy Pluth and others have been doing this, and this strikes me as a fantastic thing. If you are going to sing a metric hymn -- and so many of the traditional hymn tunes still have a beautiful sound and do not sound dated in the slightest -- this is the best way forward. Kathy and her colleagues are working on providing introits and other propers for the entire years.

If you are going to take the text as given, the suitable vehicle is of course chant. Chant came about as a style of music precisely because it is the best method for textual declamation. Chant is flexible and adapts to any length of text. As chant emerged over the centuries, its melodic and harmonic structure became more rich and varied than we typically hear in modern music, so it can express a greater range of colors and emotions.

The sacred music community has been making this argument for a few years, hence completely changing the terms of debate. Except for one thing: I’ve really not detected much of a debate at all. The argument is so strong, so obvious (in retrospect), and so indisputably more faithful to the liturgy that it is not really debated at all -- at least so far as I can tell.

In my view, then, the intellectual argument is largely a done deal. Why don’t musicians immediately change? Well, this is where matters get complicated. Music that is more accessible than the Graduale Romanum (the official book of the Latin rite) has only become available (in a suitable form) within the last 18 months. That’s just not long enough to make the decisive difference.

The musical trajectory of a parish music program is exceedingly difficult to change. Musicians are not warm to changing. They are often pained by learning new material. Directors of music, too, are disinclined to undertake a new direction for fear that it will reflect poorly on their choices and management to date.

In conversations with singers and musicians, I’ve also found an interesting cultural objection to the idea of chanted propers. They strike people who are used to random improvisation as too narrow, too closed, too conservative, too culturally bound up with specific attitude toward Church politics. Now, this point of view is entirely wrong. If anything, it is the opposite.

Chant opens up history in a way that other music does not. It takes us back to the first millennium, to the early church, and even to our ancient Jewish roots. Music that maintains its power to compel for this long is extremely rare. In fact, can you think of other music that is still in mainstream cultural circulation that has this long a history? Even now, anyone can hear a few notes of Roman Rite chant and know what it means: this is Catholic liturgy (or as people might say it today, “this sounds like monks and stuff”). Music that has this degree of longevity leaves time entirely and becomes truly timeless, pointing both to a long past and a long future.

More importantly to my mind is that chant opens up the word of God to us. This the source of the text of the propers of the Mass. To be sure, some old and new hymns are based on scriptural sources, but one cannot be absolutely certain of that on first look, and even when they are rooted in scripture, the paraphrases can depart to a great extent. What’s more, the propers of the Mass are assigned Sunday by Sunday.

Christ the King propers are different from Advent which are different from Christmas and so on. They are all chosen with precision by the Church for a particular liturgical purpose. Therefore, they not only open the word of God to us; they also provide another means of spiritually accessing the overall liturgical experience in a way that accords with the calendar.

Discovering the Mass propers is a liberating experience, very much along the lines of what people feel when they first discover the Catholic faith itself. We don’t have to make stuff up. We don’t have to manufacture our liturgy from our own sense of how things should be.

Our main responsibility is to bury the ego, defer to the Church’s wishes, allow ourselves to become part of something larger than our own time and place, and serve the faith. This is a huge responsibility. Singing the propers makes being a Church musician and honor and a serious apostolate.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Black Friday Deal on Chant!

Black Friday sounds liturgical, but it isn't. But we'll breach good taste and get into the discount spirit of the day... Register for the Winter Chant Intensive today (Friday, November 23) and receive a $25 discount on your registration. Instead of $265, you pay $240. The Winter Chant Intensive will be held in Macon, GA, on January 7-11. 2013. Registration deadline is December 14. More information here.

Joan Dillon, founder of Scotland's Academy of Sacred Music, on Sacred Music and Young People

"As a parent myself it seems to me young people are being brought up immersed in the negative messages of modern music via MTV, a lot of which is demeaning.
They need the transformative power of sacred music to balance that, but instead they are getting banal, happy-clappy stuff at Mass. Sacred music can lift young people up and help them embrace more noble ideas, yet it is not sung in many Catholic churches in Scotland."


English Propers, Christ the King

Hymn tune introit, Christ the King

The Lamb once slain receives by worth
The power and divinity
The wisdom and the strength and might,
Eternal, glorious majesty.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On St. Cecilia Day

Lead, lead, lead, Kindly Light,

An interview,in which Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman updates his greatest hymns for the praise and worship age:  

When we're up in the heights, or we feel a little blue,
Oh we like to praise our holy holy Friend,
For He sorted us out, yes He did for me and you,
So we're saved, yes we're saved, and that's the end.  

Chorus: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, 
praise the holy holy Lord... (ad libitum)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"You Have But One Teacher"

Many liturgical issues can be argued sensibly both pro and con. However, the one argument I have never understood has to do with ad orientem posture. How can it be reasonably claimed that the versus populum posture is less "clerical" than the ad orientem posture?

In very few situations in life do we accept a single person facing a group for any length of time. A speech, a toast--we accept these for a limited amount of time, and we are very much aware of the discomfort that accompanies an excess of the normally accepted limits. A conductor can face his or her musicians at length, yet consider the ceremonies that are accorded him or her, in order to justify such an unusual position. An actor or entertainer can face the audience, but only for as long as we really find her or him entertaining, and this is never very long.

Consider how odd it would be, among a group engaged in watching tv or any other group activity, for one of their number to adopt a position facing the group, instead of the tv. It would take just a minute or two before increasingly insistent invitations to sit somewhere else would begin to be offered.

In daily life, the one kind of person who is allowed many hours of steady versus populum posture is a school teacher, and for many students, these hours seem interminable.

For the people as well as the priest, Mass versus populum is an unnusual and unnatural posture. It feels uncomfortable. There is too much eye contact, and too many associations with school. Priests do not generally go into the seminary for the same reason actors go into the movie business. And the Liturgy is not a school--not like a normal school, anyways. The Mass is not a venue for one "expert" Christian to teach all the others, with certain exceptions, such as the homily, particularly that of the bishop.

The ad orientem posture softens the distinctions of roles; it does not accentuate them. By it we all spend nearly the entire Mass facing the same Lord, who really is so much greater than all of us that our separate roles for the sake of the building up of the Body of Christ have less opportunity to divide us.

An Advent Sacred Music Concert in Phoenix

Please join Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Catholic Phoenix for Singing the Mass: A Sacred Music Concert, featuring Solis Camerata, on Tuesday, November 27 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chapel of Our Lady, Xavier College Preparatory Campus, Phoenix, Arizona.

The event is jointly sponsored by the Catholic Phoenix organization, and the Diocese of Phoenix, as a diocesan activity in the Year of Faith. Adam Bartlett, Director of of Sacred Music at SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral, will offer an introduction and overview to the concert, and Bishop Olmsted will provide closing remarks. A free reception will follow the event.

The concert will feature the Mass for Five Voices by William Byrd (1540–1623), and the Gregorian chant propers of the First Sunday of Advent. It will be sung by Solis Camerata, the early music ensemble of Arizona State University, under the direction of Kira Zeeman Rugen.

More information, and tickets for the concert can be found here.

Flow River Flow

Last Sunday I attended a well planned, very well sung Mass in the Ordinary Form. It began with an English choral setting of the introit, perhaps one of Richard Rice's, and just continued, smoothly, from that point.

There was no extraneous commentary, and very little of the common feeling of starting and stopping. The altar servers or lectors or priest were often in motion, simply carrying the Mass forward. One could be caught up in it. Except for the homily, which always brings the Mass to a halt (and which in any case was wonderful), the Mass carried one along like a rising tide, deeper into the mysteries, right through the reception of the Sacrifice.

The sense starting and stopping, it seems to me, is one of the unconsidered problems of most Ordinary Form Masses. It is always helpful to be reminded that the problem does not have to happen. Rather, careful planning can keep the motion moving forward in the characteristic swiftness and forward motion of the Latin Rite.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Léon Gromier: Liturgical Reform Between Rupture and Continuity

Msgr Léon Gromier (1879-1965)

Up until a few years ago, any peep of concern about the 1970 Missal of Paul VI was adduced as evidence of schism and obscurantism.  Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Liturgy, first published in 1981 in Germany and in English translation in 1993, changed all that.  Likewise, in traditionalist circles, peeps of concern about the 1962 Missal of John XXIII were squelched.  Today, however, searching questions about the Pauline Reform are being asked out loud from the halls of the Vatican to blogs with a readership of 2, and questions about the liturgical reforms of both John XXIII and Pius XII are beginning to be taken seriously.  Now, there are still some quarters where the very mention of such criticism is laughed at.  Those who suggest a closer analysis of the pre-Vatican II liturgical reform are often accused of wanting to found a Society of Pope Pius II.5, since X and V already exist, and they are rejected as hopelessly wedded to “older is better” in the face of scholarship and common sense.

Yet, there are thinkers in the Church who are earnestly trying to understand where a hermeneutic of rupture has been applied to various aspects of the Church’s life, and just how continuity is or is not reform.  The only approved form of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is the 1962 Missal and its associated books.  But the provision in Universae ecclesiae 52 allowing religious orders to use their proper rites may give hope to some that a further liberalization to employ previous editions of the Roman Missal, such as those pre-dating the 1955 Pian Reform of Holy Week, is possible. 

But why should we even bother looking at the pre-Vatican II liturgical reform?  The Church’s current liturgical law only allows the 1962 Missal and most EF enthusiasts seem perfectly content using it.  But if we are to discern, under the Church’s authority, where a hermeneutic of rupture has been applied to the liturgical life of the Church, it seems nonsensical to stop at an arbitrary date or edition of the Missal such as 1970, 1962, 1955, or even 1570.  Is every abridgement, replacement or omission evidence of rupture, or can they be seen as little pieces of thread in the larger tapestry of liturgical reform?  I should like to argue that a closer look needs to be paid to the pre-Vatican II liturgical reform.

Recently I came across a name that I had never heard before, and I would bet that even the most seasoned of Chant Café readers are unlikely to be familiar with him either.  Léon Gromier (1879-1965) is best known as one of the Ceremonieri of Pius XII’s papal liturgy.   But this priest of Autun had been in Rome since his ordination in 1902 and was a consultor on matters liturgical from the time of St Pius X.  As early as 1936, he expressed loud reservations about the trajectory of liturgical discussions, such as that of restoring the Easter Vigil to celebration during the night.  With characteristic aplomb, he made his opinions loud and clear, and did not rise in an ecclesiastical career, but his knowledge was such that even those who disagreed with him still respected him. 

You can find some information on Gromier and excerpts of his works in Italian and French here.  He is best known for his commentary on the old Caeremoniale Episcoporum, which I have tried in vain to obtain.  But what struck me as the most interesting was a conference Gromier gave in Paris in 1960.  You can read it in its original French or in its English translation by the always interesting-to-read Anthony Chadwick. 

This conference makes for interesting, if difficult, reading.  As the transcription of a talk, it often reads, especially in its translation, not very linearly.  One must be patient with editorializing and the occasional shot across the bow at his liturgical adversaries.  But there is also much here that I find fascinating.

An impression that I have gotten from studying the successive series of texts of the Holy Week ceremonies, as well as their accompanying rubrics, is of a certain amount of “cut and paste.”  Anyone who is familiar with the Breviary of St Pius X who has then switched to that of John XXIII knows of those awkward moments where et reliqua is preceded by a mental ma da dov’é abbiamo cominciato qua?  Gromier in this talk often points out where the “cut and paste” mentality has produced some very difficult to explain things in the liturgical reform up to 1960.  One wonders if these were things which Evelyn Waugh found so irksome in his letters to Cardinal Heenan.

But before we look at what some of those things are, there is an observation in order.  Before we cut anything, it behooves us to really understand why what was there, was there in the first place.  Often, we invent a reason why something should be changed or removed, which does not respect the reason for its existence and also does not foresee unintended consequences.  This is true in many aspects of our life, and, as Gromier points out, is also true in the liturgy. 

Gromier makes a distinction between what he sees as the true Roman liturgical spirit embodied in the texts, rubrics and ceremonial traditions of the Roman liturgical books, and a very different spirit animating those he calls les pastoraux, what we might call the “pastoral liturgists” one assumes were imbued with Liturgical Movement ideas more akin to Guardini than Guéranger. 

He begins his talk with the indication that the proposed restoration of Holy Week was to commence with the timing of the service.  Fifty years out from Sacrosanctum concilium, many priests and lay faithful are shocked to hear that, up until the middle of the last century, centuries had gone by with the Triduum services celebrated in the morning.  The usual quips about the “Mass of the Lord’s Breakfast” and the flame of the paschal candle not being able to be seen because of light bathing the church usually come up.  Most liturgists just dismissed the idea of having services at those times as an inexplicable anachronism tied to some idea that Mass was not supposed to be celebrated after noon.  But Gromier points out that the timing was intimately connected with the Church’s ancient discipline of fasting, which of course had been significantly relaxed. 

He talks about the renaming of the services.  He asks why the ancient name of Good Friday as In Parasceve had to be replaced by the Passion and Death of the Lord, when passion as a concept included death, and if so, why not call the Passion Gospel the Passion and Death Gospel?  He talks about why the Passion and the Gospel were two distinct things, which were then in 1955 melded into one history.   Gromier also complains of the fact that in the 1955 Holy Week, Vespers is omitted in Holy Thursday and Good Friday and Compline on each day of the Triduum. 

One of the more interesting parts of the talk is when he takes issue with the adjective solemn as applied in the 1955 Reform.  He writes, “The solemnity of liturgical services is not an optional decoration; it is of the nature of the service . . . Outside of this, so-called solemnity is not an amplifying enticement, to impress and score the goal .  . . we made a prodigious use of the word solemn even for necessarily or intrinsically solemn acts.  We use words, believing that we can put more solemnity into the Procession of Palms than into that of Candlemas, more solemnity into the Procession of Maundy Thursday than that of Good Friday (abolished as we shall see).  Always on the same slippery slope, we learn that the Passion of Good Friday is sung solemnly, as if it could be sung in another fashion.”

Here Gromier identifies a crucial characteristic of the Reformed Liturgy that I had never been able to put into words.  Theologians often talk about the svolta antropologica, a man-centered volte-face of theology after Rahner.  Here we have a clear liturgical complement.  Solemnity no longer arises from the nature of the Christological mystery being celebrated, but of how we go about celebrating it, and what we do to celebrate it.  The Eucharistic Processions of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were solemn before because of their reference to Christ being carried to and from the Sepulchre.  After 1955, Maundy Thursday remains solemn because incense and song and candles accompany the Procession.  Good Friday ceases to be so because those things that we do are omitted.  I think this is a point worthy of further reflection.  How often in our parishes, basilicas and papal liturgies have we seen attempts at solemnization of the liturgy interpreted as our use of Latin, candles and incense rather than the solemn nature of certain ceremonies rising from their intrinsic Christological import? 

Our French liturgist here also speaks at length about blessings being done no longer on the altar or as close to the altar as possible (ashes, palms, candles, oils) but on a table in front of the people.  He also points out that, after placing these blessings in front of the people so they could ostensibly see what was going on, the rites were so drastically simplified so that there was not much left to see.     

He blames the pastoral liturgists for creating a situation which introduced several ambiguities and contradictions within the ceremonies themselves.  He points out the fact that the clergy are instructed to no longer hold palms on Palm Sunday during the Passion, forgetting that the reason the clergy held the palms was in deference to a reference to St Augustine, whose homily was read that day in Matins.

Often the changes in rubrics belie confusion as to their origin.  The change of color in the Palm Sunday liturgy is an example.  In the pre-Pian liturgy, Gromier, claims the Roman color was always purple (and black in Paris and red in Milan).  In 1955, the Procession is in red and the Mass is in purple, stemming from the introduction of the idea of red and triumphant, and downplaying the predominant theme of Passion in the Palm Sunday liturgy.  Now, of course, Palm Sunday and Good Friday in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite are entirely in red, a sign of the capitulation of the Roman liturgy to the idea of triumph which, arguably for Gromier at least, is not a properly Roman liturgical idea.

While Gromier derides the symbolic and liturgical value of the changes, he also indicates the practical ramifications of the changes.  The celebrant having to walk around sprinkling palms everywhere in the church, introducing laymen into the sanctuary for the Mandatum, the lack of instructions as to the veiling of the processional cross or the altar for Palm Sunday, the removal of the Cross from the altar just to be brought back to it on Good Friday, the changes of the vestments on Good Friday, carrying a large and heavy paschal candle, etc. 

It is common nowadays to hear that the central focus of the liturgical action is the altar.  Some argue that the tabernacle should not even reside on or near the altar because it “distracts” from the Action during Mass.  Everyone is taught that the altar is the symbol of Christ and is worthy of respect with a bow.  But Gromier states, “The Roman Pontifical teaches us that we do not greet a new altar before having placed its cross.  The altar itself is not the object of veneration, but the cross that dominates it, and to which all prayers are addressed.  The altar without a cross, if it is worthy of being kissed, has no right to a bow or genuflection . . . for an altar is not invoked.”  Common practice today is for the Cross to not be on the altar at all, and for the altar as table to occupy much of the attention in reverence.  One wonders what Gromier would say about the later rubric which directs the Celebrant at the Oremus for the collects to bow towards the book and no longer towards the cross.  Today, the altar and the cross have been separated as if they no longer belong together, much as altar and tabernacle have been separated (malgré Pius XII’s admonition against it).  Pope Benedict XVI’s custom of having the Cross on the Altar, referred to as the Benedictine arrangement although it is perhaps more accurately referred to as the Roman basilica arrangement, has restored the unity between Cross and Altar and re-oriented liturgical prayer towards the Cross and away from the Celebrant at the Altar.  I have no idea if Josef Ratzinger, developing this idea in The Spirit of the Liturgy was aware of Gromier’s critique on this point or not, but it is a happy phenomenon that clergy are imitating the papal liturgy in this fashion and giving priority to the cross as a focus of liturgical action, no longer separated from the altar. 

The confusion of symbolism in the 1955 Holy Week led to some oddities that Gromier criticizes.  “The procession of Maundy Thursday, definitively instituted by Sixtus IV (+1484), and that of Good Friday, instituted by John XXII (+1334), therefore by the same authority, have the same object, same purpose, same solemnity, except the festive character of the first and the mourning of the second.  Why abolish one and keep the other?”  He asks why, when fonts, baptismal water and baptisms go together, they are separated out during the Vigil: “the pastorals make baptismal water and baptize in a basin, and in this container they carry it to the font, singing the song of a thirsty deer, which has already drunk, and which is going towards a dry font.”  Why is the renewal of baptismal vows from the custom of First Communion of children inserted into the Vigil after baptisms have already been done, and if so, why not renew the marriage vows of all present at a wedding?

It may be easy to surmise in reading Gromier’s talk that the man was just a curmudgeon opposed in principle to all novelty.  Yet he does not argue entirely against the reform of the times of the Triduum, even as he protests against the removal of them from the context of their fasting discipline and Breviary accompaniment.  He does not argue against the distribution of Communion at the Good Friday Liturgy of the Presanctified, even as he lambastes the rubric of eating the Host without also drinking the ablutions associated with it, as if anyone ever ate without drinking.  The impression that comes across is that Gromier issues a pointed challenge to the pastorals to provide better theological, historical and practical rationales for all they accomplished during the reform.               

As Gromier declares, “Certain modifications of tradition, so well-known, are just as dishonest as they are daring.”  It is a lapidary statement, meant to provoke.  Fifty-two years after he made it, these words still provoke strong reactions.  If we are to explore how Vatican II is an exercise in continuity with the tradition, and to see how the liturgy can be reformed and still be in conformity with the tradition, we must go back to the sources.  Far from accepting tout court the accepted history of the liturgical reform and Vatican II as proffered by the Bologna School and the Liturgical Establishment, we have an opportunity for true ressourcement.  We need not discard the words of criticism of the liturgical reform, whether it be Léon Gromier’s often acerbic analysis of the changes in the liturgy in the pre-Vatican II period, or the linguistic observations of those who express reservations against the new English translation of the third editio typica of the Pauline Missale Romanum.  All of these critiques should be entertained, not out of a sense of ideological protest or loyal dissent, but in an effort to serenely ascertain what has happened, why it happened, and how to recover the spirit of the liturgy, ever ancient and ever new, for today and tomorrow.   

The Jewish Precedent for Latin Chant

Happy happy that CRISIS has been running chant articles, such as this one I wrote: The Jewish Precedent for Latin Chant.

Proper Chant for Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christus Vincit

I had forgotten just how great this video is, taken at the Winter Chant Intensive. Sign up to come to the next one.

The Sound of Delight is "L"

I've mentioned here before that my basic method of writing hymns involves letting a tune run through my head and letting the words sort of write themselves. It's not exactly that simple, as this procedure is preceded by some kind of inspiration and succeeded by a lot of editing. However, the exercise as a whole is much more about listening for what might work as a hymn, rather than working hard at making the words happen.

One sound that I have come to prefer as I "listen" is the letter L. It seems to be a very pleasant sound, delicate and light. It does not impose, but suggests."N" is similarly tentative, wondering, and delicate.  Here is a text of mine, and here is the Australian composer Colin Brumby's lovely setting:

The day shall never yield to night
when faith gives way to perfect sight.
The Lamb shall be the only light,
and he shall be the temple.

The city streets are paved with gold.
The final scroll shall be unrolled,
and no one shall grow faint or old,
for God shall be their glory.

For now, we see as in a glass,
but soon this childish way shall pass.
Faith and hope and love shall last,
and love shall be the greatest.

For Love Himself our eyes shall see.
The Lord is One, and ever Three,
and in that happy company
we shall rejoice forever.

Note how Charles Wesley has punctuated his marvellous mystical hymn Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown with the "L" sound throughout, here in a modern setting:

This is not a singular instance in Wesley, but rather seems to be characteristic of hymns that deal with the mysteries. Consider his great Ascension text, Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise, and his tenderest devotional text, Jesus, Lover of My Soul, as well as Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. When Wesley repeats words, they often contain an L or two: "Changed from glory into glory."

What is so special about this consonant? Perhaps "L" takes longer to say than other consonants--it lingers. Physically, it uses a similar physical positioning of tongue and teeth as "t," but unlike "t" is not percussive. It's gentle. It leaves the vowels free to express themselves. One rests a moment. "Lord." "Love." "All in all."

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Music Set Apart

The offertory chant for this Sunday is the famous text “De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam.”

From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;

Lord, hear my voice..

The text itself has inspired poems, novels, songs, plays, ballets, and films. One thinks, of course, of the tragic and difficult letter of Oscar Wilde from prison, in which he was working through his nascent Catholicism and coming to understand Christ’s ministry in his own way, years before finally embracing the faith from which he had been running his entire life. It was written during a dark part of his life, when he had fallen from the heights to the lowest level of the social order, and gradually climbed his way out, not back to society but to God. The Lord heard his voice.

To cry to God from the depths is an unavoidable part of the human experience, and this Psalm seems to capture that experience. So too has the text inspired the fundamental music of the Roman Rite, and in a way that is as robust and heart-wrenching as any of the other art to which the text has given rise. The chant begins precisely where it should, at the lowest point of the scale. And the cry itself is long and pleading, ending with a melismatic phrase on one syllable that is fully 35 notes long.

One gets the sense when listening that one is part of a private conversation, an intimate communication between one soul and that soul’s maker. The experience is evocative to the text to the point of novelist perfection. As much as I love English chant and polyphonic music, there is something about the Latin original that seems like the ultimate thing itself, the core music, the perfect expression of emotion and truth, all wrapped up in a form that is most suitable for liturgy. It is ordered and ritual spontaneity, a form of prayer given to us so that we can aspire to a higher form of expression than we ourselves are personally capable.

In many ways, we can say that any Mass that does not include this form of musical expression is deficient in some way. It is missing out. There is nothing wrong with seeking other kinds of ways to express the same thought, putting the idea in other languages and other forms. But to neglect or even forget the chanted original is to miss out on something extremely important. To hear this chant makes me grateful to all those who worked so hard to revive the chant during the late 19th century, and makes me sad that so many Catholics today have no way of experiencing this in the course of their liturgical lives.

Why haven’t we been hearing this kind of music? There are superficial explanations that have a element of truth about them. People can’t read the music well. People don’t know how to sing well anymore without instruments, without microphones. Latin is scary to people. A long melisma like this is hard for modern musicians who are used to didactic verbal expression. It all seems like it is from another time and place, and there is something about modern man that is both attracted and repelled by that time and place.

Also, the singing of this piece seems to violate every rule that people have invented for what constitutes successful liturgical music. The people do not sing it. Only the best singers do. Everyone else listens. The results are not cognitively communicative in a normal sense. The Latin is remote. You can’t swing and sway to it. The melody does not immediately stick in your mind. It doesn’t have a bright and uplifting message that puts a smile on our face. It has nothing in common with any music called popular today. It is free of the prison of rhythm and meter. It is sung in unison

That this music does not pass the routine tests that people put their musical selections through really should raise questions, not about Gregorian chant but about the tests themselves. We need to come to understand that Gregorian chant really is a music set apart, something absolutely sacred. Sacred is remote and mysterious. It has qualities that are out of reach from what is common and accessible in the normal sense. It resists being evaluated by the same standards we use to evaluate everything else. In fact, the reverse is true: what is truly holy stands apart in judgement of what we are, what we do, and what we want.

It is the failure to comprehend the sound of what is holy that I believe is at the root of the resistance to Gregorian chant. Otherwise, people would be inspired to overcome their inability to sing it and appreciate it. It’s true that the music is hard to sing and requires experience and training but it is not out of reach. It just takes effort. Why are we so unwilling to make that effort? Why are we so quick to grab and sing what is easy and available rather than work toward something that is higher, better, and more appropriate to the task?

What this generation of Catholic singers really lacks is inspiration to work harder toward a more noble goal. People imagine that nobility is not attractive on its own terms, that we need to “do something” to music to make it appealing. We have to let our personalities shine through and present music that reaches people in the same way that popular culture does. But what if this is completely untrue? What if what is holy is not only more pure and appropriate but also more effectively in drawing people to the faith and keeping people interested in liturgical life?

Benedict XVI seems to understand that hoy music is both true and practical; there is no contradiction between these two principles. In speaking to the St. Cecilia Association in Italy lately, he said:

we need not have recourse to illustrious persons to think of how many people have been touched in their depths of their soul listening to sacred music; and of how many more have felt themselves newly drawn to God by the beauty of liturgical musi... And, here dear friends, you have an important role: work to improve the quality of liturgical song with being afraid to recover and value the great musical tradition of the Church, which has in Gregorian Chant and polyphony of its highest expressions, as Vatican II itself states (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 116). And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music. You, who have the gift of song, can make the heart of many people sing in liturgical celebrations.

He is offering this generation a challenge to take on the hard task, to take seriously the musical responsibility, to avoid the easy and rationalistic path and embrace the difficult and holier path. Truly this generation needs to develop the humility to cry out from the depths and aspire to new heights.

33rd Sunday, English Propers

From the depths

Here is the offertory for this coming Sunday. If you can't follow this and sing this, but would like to learn, come to the Chant Intensive!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shout Out to the Chant Cafe

From the John Henry Cardinal Newman Institute of Liturgical Music:

"If you are inspired, all that you need is available on the web and you will find a great strength of restorative energy emanating from exemplary groups such as the CMAA. Visit the Chant Cafe online and you will find a wave of re-formation sweeping through Catholic Liturgical thinking."

"Hey, I know this song!"

During their discussion of the revision of the revisions of the breviary earlier this week, some bishops expressed a concern that it would be insufficient to include only English translations of Latin hymns. The concern was that whereas there is a body of familiar, modern songs, the translations would be unfamiliar. A suggestion was made that the more familiar hymns be included, so that everyone would be able to sing. This suggestion was not adopted. The revised breviary will contain only translations of the Latin hymns from the normative Roman Rite, Latin text.

Fortunately, however, every congregation knows how to sing the English translations of almost all Latin hymns. Nearly all of the Latin hymns in the breviary are in Long Meter, or 4 iambic feet, which is to say, 8 syllables, with the accent ordinarily on the even-numbered syllables.

We all know these songs. If your congregation can sing Creator of the Stars of Night, you can all sing a Long Meter hymn together. If you can sing Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er the Sun, you can sing a Long Meter hymn together. All People That on Earth Do Dwell. All Creatures of Our God and King (with Alleluias). When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. And dozens and dozens more.

The very morning of their discussion, the bishops sang a Long Meter hymn Let Us With Joy Our Voices Raise, a translation of a 400-year old text, to the tune Eisenach. Although this is not the most familiar tune that could be chosen, the singing was strong and confident. Congregations would find singing the hymns equally accessible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Benedict to the Italian St. Cecilia Association

From Zenit, Pope Benedict XVI's address to the choral pilgrimage organized by the St. Cecilia Association.

But we need not have recourse to illustrious persons to think of how many people have been touched in their depths of their soul listening to sacred music; and of how many more have felt themselves newly drawn to God by the beauty of liturgical music like Claudel. And, here dear friends, you have an important role: work to improve the quality of liturgical song with being afraid to recover and value the great musical tradition of the Church, which has in Gregorian Chant and polyphony 2 of its highest expressions, as Vatican II itself states (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 116). And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music. You, who have the gift of song can make the heart of many people sing in liturgical celebrations.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sistine Chapel Virtual Tour

Beautiful! Here. 

From Aurora lucis rutilat

 “The Lord is risen from the dead!”
The splendid angel loudly said.
And hell is evermore left free
To grumble in its misery.

Be this our thought through all life’s days,
Our Easter joy, our Paschal praise:
The grace in which we are reborn
Was won in triumph on that morn.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Welcoming the Word"

It happened again, and by now I've come to expect it. There I was in a very small church in rural Virginia, at the 12:45 Mass according to the 1962 Missal. The altar servers were earnest and surprisingly numerous (7), and the young ladies in the tiny choir loft sang the Missa Orbis Factor very well, while their choir mistress Rossini'd the propers. All in all it was quite pleasant, serious and gentle.

What happened to me was: recollection.

Recollection, according to St. Teresa of Avila, is when the will is caught up in attentiveness to God. At its basic level, recollection does not capture the imagination and memory. They might be "distracted," and in that case it's best to just let them do their own thing.

When a liturgy is well done, however, the imagination and memory are a help to recollection. They help make the will docile. They prepare the ground for the planting of the seeds of the Word.

In his rich address to the Scholae Cantorum of Italy, as mentioned below, the Holy Father said, among many many notable things, "I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music."

In the years since the Council, a great deal of apostolic effort has been spent on the unchurched. And rightly so. And yet, there has been a liturgical cost. For many of our parishioners, the salt-of-the-earth, Magnificat-subscribers, there must be the oddest disjunct. For many of our most prayerful parishioners, the Sunday Mass is almost certainly not the peak prayer experience of their week. Daily Mass is probably much more prayerful, much less distracting. And private prayer is probably more contemplative than even their experience of daily Mass.

Furthermore, the outreach to the unchurched has not succeeded as it ought to have, given its emphasis in ministry. And why should it? Those who come only to the Sunday liturgy do not see prayer occurring. Only the tip of the iceberg seems to be visible, not the depths of prayer that really are among our parishioners. The contemplatives do that at home, or in the adoration chapel, or in the car on their commute. Generally speaking, there is not room for deep prayer at Sunday Mass. There seems to be no "there" there, nothing for new parishioners to aspire to.

This is not to say that the Ordinary Form cannot foster recollection, far from it. But where the 1962 Missal almost can't go wrong in this matter, the Ordinary Form needs special care and attention in order to foster recollection. This is true in the ars celebrandi, as well as music and art and liturgical appointments and decorations.

We need to be welcoming--but welcoming to what? Welcome to this Church full of deep riches and treasures. Welcome to the new life in Christ. Welcome to prayer. Welcome to God.