Friday, August 8, 2014

Schola Sainte Cécile and the Renewal of French Church Music

If you ask most people what names come to mind when you associate the words church, music and Paris, there are lots of beautiful places that rise up in the imagination: Notre Dame, Ste Clothilde, St Germain des Pres, St Eustache, the Madeleine: the list goes on and on.  It is no secret that the City of Lights has been an inspiration to many a church musician through the ages.  And it is still unparalleled when it comes to organ music.  It's hard to go far on a Sunday afternoon and not stumble into a first rate organ concert.

Many moons ago when I lived in Paris, I used to go to a small little church off of Grands Boulevards which may not be a household name, but it certainly will be someday.  Not far from the Conservatoire, already home to so many promising musicians of the future, this neo-Gothic wonder not too far off the beaten path is home to what in my opinion is one of the brightest spots in the sacred music scene in the world.


The Church of Saint Eugène is twinned with the parish of Sainte Cécile and in this space you will find a home where the liturgical thought of Pope Benedict XVI and Tradition flourishes.  On any given Sunday, you can attend Mass in the French Novus Ordo as well as the Extraordinary Form.  In my day, Philippe Guy was the mastermind behind the whole musical affair, and the Abbé François Poté attracted numerous families and young people to a parish which otherwise might have suffered, as the neighborhood around it changed.

The musical programme is quite impressive, if for no other reason than here you can listen to some of the best of the classical repertoire of French sacred choral music.  It's one thing to hear Charpentier's famed Messe pour minuit de Noël in a fashionable French church.  It's another to experience it alongside sequences from the Parisian Missal, Eucharistic motets from the ancien régime and chant at its finest, Sunday after Sunday in a parish that celebrates both forms of the Roman Rite well.



The parish is itself a veritable vocations factory and a center for traditional Catholic piety.  Every year men and women go off to seminaries, convents and monasteries, and others start Christian homes as married layfolk from the altar of this amazing parish.

Today the Maître de Chapelle is Henri Adam de Villiers, who not only presides over one of the most unique programs of Catholic music in Paris, but much more.  A contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog, he has not only an encyclopedic knowledge of Parisian church music, he also is master of theory and practice at the Russian Catholic community of Paris.  The Schola Sainte-Cécile runs a blog called Liturgia, which is an impressive place to learn more, not only about the work de Villiers & co are doing in the 9th arrondissement, but also all about Gallican liturgy and music.  Not to mention the fact that the Schola has provided music all over Italy for the traditional Ambrosian Rite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enJSG0miCD8&list=UURSpGrA_n-siAOfww5i3WnA


Saint Eugène is certainly a model parish in its spirituality, liturgy and sacred music.  But, as a parish, its story is not widely known outside of a few cognoscenti who follow the Parisian music scene.  That is about to change.  There is a kickstarter campaign to get the message out about the incredible music being done every day at this remarkable piece of heaven on earth.
photo credit to Gonzague Bridault

There is a great way you can learn more about the project and also donate towards it.

The more the world knows about places like this, the more that other parish priests and musicians may be encouraged as they restore the sacred and bring the fullness of the Catholic tradition alive.  I am very blessed to have been a quiet, discreet member of its flock for an all-too-brief period of time which changed my life.  My hope is that this shining light may go far and wide with this documentary!