“The Son of Man”

Some folks have asked to use the hymn we sang at the end of Mass on Friday, The Son of Man. It’s under copyright, but that is a fairly easy fix for anyone who might be interested. CanticaNOVA makes a collection of nearly 30 of my texts available for a small charge, and full rights to copy and set the hymns for any given school or congregation are included.
Here is another text that might give a sense of the general tone of my hymn writing.

I was delighted that The Son of Man was set to Newman, the tune associated with Cardinal Newman’s Praise to the Holiest in the Height, particularly during this year’s Colloquium, when the CMAA formed such a strong bond with the Blessed Cardinal’s own Birmingham Oratory. I was so pleased that we sang it on the most ecclesial of feasts, at a Mass celebrated with particular dignity and beauty by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, who has responsibilities in the Universal Church. It was very beautifully sung, and so thoughtfully played by the Colloquium’s organist Jonathan Ryan.
The feedback I’ve heard about last night’s hymn suggests that Catholics are ready for hymns with a good sense of poetry but perhaps an even better sense of Catholic theology. I’d like to help fill that need and would be grateful for suggestions.

The Ambrosian Hymn of the Day

Apostolorum passio

Blest day by suff’ring sanctified:
Christ’s chosen high apostles died.
Today St. Peter wins renown.
Today St. Paul accepts the crown.

Together, equally, they bled:
Together: the victorious dead.
They followed God and sacrificed
And now their faith is crowned by Christ.

St. Peter holds the highest place,
Yet Paul is not the less by grace.
An equal faith was giv’n to Paul:
The chosen vessel of God’s call.

St. Peter, downward crucified—
To honor God in how he died—
Securely tied, he sees unfold
The death his Shepherd once foretold.

On such foundations Rome may claim
The highest service of God’s name.
His noble blood has dignified
The city where this prophet died.

Let all the world, then, run to Rome.
Let families of nations come!
The head of nations teaches there
Beside the nations’ teacher’s chair.

O Lord, we ask that we may be
In their exalted company,
And with our princes sing Your praise
Forever, to unending days.

The Graduale Parvum: “Gradual Progress”

Last evening, before his exquisitely sung Mass, Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory introduced the Colloquium to the forthcoming Graduale Parvum, a most promising form of Proper chants, based on the pioneering work of László Dobszay.
Instead of relying upon newly composed simple chants, the work is based on the very thoughtful realization that the Church already has a vast store of simpler Gregorian melodies, the antiphons of the Divine Office. These may be paired with the Proper text to form a new unity, with the authenticity of a true, ancient, Gregorian melody.

Notable as well is the intended format of the Divine Office melody as an antiphonal chant, wonderfully appropriate for those Proper Mass texts with an antiphonal form.

At some point in the future I would like to write out some thoughts about the publishing decision, not exclusive to the Graduale Parvum but also Simple English Propers and By Flowing Waters, of pointing the Psalm texts rather than lining the text of the song out beneath a printed melody. Despite many good reasons for pointing, the latter format is enormously more initially accessible to the average parish musician and would greatly increase the possibilty of these collections being used regularly in more situations–and thus, of the Proper texts of the Mass being sung. But for now, let me say that this is a brilliantly thought-out project, and easy and lovely to sing.
One insight I gained from Fr. Nicholls’ talk is the pattern of Introits through Ordinary Time, which acts not as a reflection on the readings, but as a Psalter. This is a thought that might well resonate in and help form the minds of parish musicians who make decisions about music to be sung at Mass.

What has Westminster Abbey to do with the Sistine Chapel?

We interrupt our wall-to-wall Colloquium coverage to point out that an extraordinary ecumenical musical moment is happening tomorrow, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul..

At the express wish of the Holy Father, the Choir of Westminster Choir of Westminster AbbeyAbbey will form one choir for the Mass with the Papal Choir, the Cappella Musicale Pontificia “Sistina”, under the direction of the Maestro Direttore, Mons. Massimo Palombella. In addition the Choir of Westminster Abbey, under the direction of the Abbey’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, James O’Donnell, will sing music from the tradition of the Church of England.

Reform of the Roman Rite

Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL, spoke at the Colloquium this evening about the Holy Father’s vision of the liturgy, formed over the course of a long life of study. He spoke about the problems of implementing this vision, even in Masses celebrated abroad by the Holy Father or by his delegate, such as the concluding Mass of the recent Eucharistic Congress in Ireland.
This is the vision of the dogmatic consituttion Sacrosanctam Concilium of the Second Vatican Council, a document which Msgr. aptly noted is much more likely to find expression nowadays by celebrations of the Extraordinary Form than of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The talk was encouraging, but perhaps a little sad. One thinks about the many people who have never had an opportunity to experience beauty in the liturgy, to be caught up in it, and to taste the heavenly gift in a worthy context.
Tomorrow Msgr. Wadsworth will speak in the morning breakouts about aspects of English translation, sure to include reflection upon the (brilliantly implemented) recent translation of the Missale Romanum. Fewer topics are more compelling these days, and no one is better qualified to speak on the subject. Having once heard him speak, everyone will want to go to Msgr. Wadsworth’s breakout session tomorrow and no one will come to mine. Rather a relief, really, as frankly I’d like to attend his talk as well.
(Photo gratefully appropriated from Fr. Jeffrey Keyes.)

Update: As Jeffrey T notes above, the audio is available here.
Update 2: Fulltext here.

An Ancient Christian Hymn

In his General Audience today, the Holy Father discussed one of the great biblical hymns, the Saturday Vespers hymn in the second chapter of Philippians. The great Vesper canticles are concerned with God’s plan in Christ, or in the Holy Father’s felicitous expression here, “the Son of God’s divine and human itinerary.” This is the Vatican Information Service’s account of the talk.
The Letter to the Philippians which, the Holy Father said, is in some way St. Paul’s “spiritual last will and testament”, was the theme of his catechesis during the general audience, which was held this morning in the Paul VI Hall.
The Apostle of the Gentiles dictated this Letter from jail, when he felt death approaching, yet nonetheless it closes with an invitation to be joyful. Joy, the Holy Father explained, “is a fundamental characteristic of being Christian. … But how can one be joyful in the face of an imminent death sentence? From where, or better from whom, does St. Paul draw his peace of mind and the strength and courage to face martyrdom?”
The answer is to be found in the middle of the Letter to the Philippians, in the so-called “carmen Christo” or “Christological hymn”, which “summarises the Son of God’s divine and human itinerary”. It opens with these words: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”. This, the Pope said, “means not only following Jesus’ example, … but also involving the whole of our lives in His way of thinking and acting”.
This hymn to Christ begins by saying that He is “‘in the form of God’. Yet Jesus, true God and true man, did not experience this condition … in order to triumph and to impose His supremacy”, but to take “‘the form of a slave’, the human form marked by suffering, poverty and death. He assimilated Himself fully to mankind, except in sin”.
St. Paul continues by outlining the historical context of Jesus’ earthly life, up to the cross where He “experienced the greatest degree of humiliation, because crucifixion was the punishment reserved for slaves, and not for the free”. Yet it is “in the cross of Christ that man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is transformed “. If the first man sought to be like God, “then Jesus, though ‘in the form of God’, lowered Himself and immersed Himself in the human condition, … to redeem the Adam within us and to restore to man the dignity he had lost”.
“Human logic”, Benedict XVI went on, “often seeks realisation in power and domination. … Man still wants to build the Tower of Babel with his own strength, to reach the heights of God, to be like God. The incarnation and the cross remind us that full realisation lies in conforming our human will to that of the Father, in emptying ourselves … of selfishness in order to fill ourselves with the love of God and thus to become truly capable of loving one another”.
The Pope then noted that, in the second part of the Christological hymn, the subject changes: no longer Christ but God the Father. “He Who abased Himself by taking on the form of a slave, is exalted and raised above all things by the Father, Who gives Him the name of ‘Kyrios’, ‘Lord’. … The Jesus Who is exalted is the Jesus of the Last Supper Who … bends to wash the feet of the Apostles. … It is important to remember this always during our prayers and our lives”.
“This hymn in the Letter to the Philippians contains two important indications for our own prayers. The first is the invocation of ‘Lord’ addressed to Jesus Christ Who, … amidst so many ‘dominators’ who seek to rule, remains the one Lord of our lives. … Therefore it is important to maintain a scale of values in which the first place belongs to God”.
“The second indication is prostration, … the ‘bending of every knee in heaven and on earth’, … the adoration that all creatures owe to God. Genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament or kneeling in prayer express the attitude of adoration before God. … When we kneel before the Lord we confess our faith in Him, we recognise that He is the one Lord of our lives”.
“At the beginning of this catechesis we asked ourselves how St. Paul could be joyful when faced with the risk of imminent martyrdom”, the Holy Father concluded. “This was possible only because the Apostle never removed his gaze from Christ”.


In the silence between polyphony pieces, members of the audience turned to one another and simply mouthed “wow.” The Choir School of the Cathedral of the Madeleine sang a generous program, of broad repertoire, showing precisely what young people are capable of when given the opportunity. Music samples here. Hopefully my fellow bloggers will have something to say about this extraordinary and beautiful accomplishment. Personally, I am speechless, and very grateful.

“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

Today during after-Mass refreshments, we all learned a lot. Jeffrey Tucker learned about etymology, ancient history, and botany. We all learned about Utah’s Sunday laws. And it was confirmed for me, by Jeffrey Morse and Matthew Williams, that children love a challenge.
All of us have established groups of choristers, and all of us have had the same experience. The children do not want to take the easy way out. No Rossini, thank you! No Psalm-tone propers! Credo I, the solemn Salve, one of the real Kyries instead of #18–they want to sing the most difficult chants.
The young people in my Schola are incredibly nice. The only time I get the almost-unavoidable eye-rolling of their age group is when I suggest they cannot do something. With no insult intended, sometime choir directors want to take the easy way, for the sake of a polished performance. But for the young people, who have in fact proved themselves capable of rising to any occasion, we really should allow them to sing the very best music for God.

“Faith Comes Through Hearing”

The preliminary working document (Instrumentum laboris) for the Bishops’ Synod on the New Evangelization does not mention either music or singing. Beauty is mentioned less than a dozen times, primarily in paragraph 157:

Some responses refer to the subjects of art and beauty as places for the transmission of the faith and, therefore, are to be addressed in this chapter dedicated to the relationship between faith and knowledge. Many possible reasons are given to support this request, especially those coming from the Eastern Catholic Churches who have a strong tradition in this area. They have been able to maintain a very close relation between faith and beauty. In these traditions, the relation between faith and beauty is not simply a matter of aesthetics, but is rather seen as a fundamental resource in bearing witness to the faith and developing a knowledge which is truly a “holistic” service to a person’s every human need.  

The knowledge coming from beauty, as in the liturgy, is able to take on a visible reality in its originally-intended role as a manifestation of the universal communion to which humanity and every person is called by God. Therefore, human knowledge needs again to be wedded to divine knowledge, in other words, human knowledge is to adopt the same outlook which God the Father has towards creation and, through the Holy Spirit and the Son, to see God the Father in creation.  

This fundamental role of beauty urgently needs to be restored in Christianity. In this regard, the new evangelization has an important role to play. The Church recognizes that human beings cannot exist without beauty. For Christians, beauty is found within the Paschal Mystery, in the transparency of the reality of Christ.

I am reminded of St. Augustine’s accounts of his own conversions in his Confessions, the initial conversion inspired by the singing of the Church in Milan, and the deeper conversion inspired by the singing of the small child, who sang “Take and Read!”

Preliminary documents famously do not always entirely determine the scope of these sacred deliberations, and one would hope that the final documents of the Synod would better reflect the power of music and singing to change the human heart.