From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (2)

At around the time of the Edict of Milan (313 a.d.) and the legalization of Christianity, the question of the inclusion of music in sacred worship was raised and much debated. Did it have a place at all […]? Since the psalms, part of Sacred Scripture, were meant to be sung, […] music was seen as necessarily worthy of being preserved and fostered in the public worship of the Church.

[…] This means that the music proper to the Mass is not merely an addendum to worship, i.e. something external added on to the form and structure of the Mass. Rather, sacred music is an essential element of worship itself. It is an art form which takes its life and purpose from the Sacred Liturgy and is part of its very structure.

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. (Second Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112)

This understanding would preclude the common notion that we take the Mass and simply “tack on” four songs (the opening hymn, offertory hymn,  communion hymn and recessional hymn), along with the sung ordinary of the Mass (Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) We must come to see that, since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself, not just ornament it.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (1)

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: “The People of God assembled for the liturgy sing the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost.”

The  beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action. The Holy Mass must be truly beautiful, the very best we can offer to God, reflecting his own perfect beauty and goodness.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)

Heyr himna smiður

This 13th-century devotional poem from Iceland is also the country’s favorite choral work, thanks to music added to it in a more recent century.

Hear, smith of heavens.
The poet seeketh.
In thy still small voice
Mayest thou show grace.
As I call on thee,
Thou my creator.
I am thy servant,
Thou art my true Lord.

God, I call on thee;
For thee to heal me.
Bid me, prince of peace,
Thou my supreme need.
Ever I need thee,
Generous and great,
O’er all human woe,
City of thy heart.

Guard me, my savior.
Ever I need thee,
Through ev’ry moment
In this world so wide.
Virgin–born, send me
Noble motives now.
Aid cometh from thee,
To my deepest heart.

Its text and a translation and the colorful story of its writing are on-line. Not many hymn-writers wage war on their bishops and die from a rock-blow to the head.

Writing about music, but not about music

I saw a little news item today about how the Pope has paid homage to the important Jesuit baroque composer Domenico Zipoli by writing an introduction to a recent book about him. And a little quote appeared in the Osservatore Romano yesterday (my translation):

“With joy I accept the invitation to write a foreword to the latest publication of maestro Sergio Militello, for some years organist at Santa Marta and currently docent at the Pontifical Gregorian University”, writes Pope Francis in the foreword to the book Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726). The musical dream of a ‘Paradise on Earth’ (Vatican City: LEV, 2018, 250 pp.) “He was,” the Pope continues, “a young missionary who, through the gift of music cultivated with passion and enthusiasm, completed a marvelous work of evangelization still remembered today. The composer Domenico Zipoli lived in the last years of his brief existence as a novice of the Society of Jesus in the city of Córdoba, a place to which I am connected, having been a spiritual director and confessor for some years of my ministry.”

Alongside that somewhat self-referential (!) quotation appears an essay by Maestro Militello, but not about Zipoli, about whom I’d really be interested in reading.  Rather, it’s about themes he considers neglected in Christmas music. He cites the predominance of certain stylistic elements in the received tradition: in some pieces triumphal motifs, in some the tone of lullaby or of the pastorale, as in “Tu scendi dalle stelle”.  But here is what is missing, according to the writer:

[…] in the musical literature it is difficult to find compositions that set the real “drama” of the event of the holy night fully in the foreground: the negative reply to a request for lodging, and taking refuge in a cave for shepherds, with no help…

But the human drama of the holy family of Nazareth is still present […] in so many refugee couples [….] For them also there seems to be no sonic commentary about shared hard-working solidarity, about effective intervention to alleviate the weight of life that often – from its beginning – finds incomprehension, indifference, and atrocious silence.

Whatever else there is to say about such a commentary, it’s not a manifestation of the maestro’s artistic expertise or of any scholarly discovery on his part.  It seems to be just a facile echoing of some of Pope Francis’ themes.  To see this sort of space-wasting in the culture section of the Osservatore Romano, in an edition that only has eight pages for the whole paper, is disappointing.

I’m not even sure the book is worth recommending, for those who can read the Italian.  It has a total of one reader review so far on Amazon, and it’s not favorable:

[…] we’re happy for the Holy Father’s attention to a musician close to our heart…. But did anyone point out that the great scholar Luis Szaran treated the subject with documentary completeness in his splendid essay “Domenico Zipoli. Una vita, un enigma” (2000)? Or perhaps that … Alessio Cervelli already published his essay “Domenico Zipoli: amo dunque suono. La scelta radicale di una vita […]”  (2016)? All this new amazement shown by Militello, when he talks about examining the Spanish sources […] as though it were something unheard-of and startling: we would like to hope that it’s simply ignorance and a lack of investigation about recent publications (something that would be rigorously necessary for any scholar evaluating the status quaestionis on the object of his study), and […]  not rather an insipid act of “courtly obsequiousness” toward an Argentine and Jesuit pontiff.

(UPDATE: I edited the piece after posting to improve a point of the translation. –RC)

Lost and found: the English choral tradition

In a new book review, Michael White outlines a history of how the English choral tradition was disrupted by the English Reformation and reconstructed in the 1900s, partly through Catholic influence:

On Christmas Eve, the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be broadcast from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and listeners throughout the world will think how wonderful it is that, in these crazy times […] the great English choral tradition carries on: soothing, consoling, with the same exquisite beauty that it’s cultivated since the Middle Ages.

The idea is an attractive one, but not quite true. And this book tells you in no uncertain terms how far from the truth it is.

The review is on-line at the Catholic Herald.

Newly published: Graduale Parvum: Introits

A new book of Mass propers in English and Latin has appeared from our friends in England: Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory has published Graduale Parvum: Introits.

The book contains entrance chants on simple melodies, much in the style of the Graduale Simplex and ICEL’s Roman Missal ordinary chants. Here’s an example:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book has some attractive advantages. The melodies are freely adapted from the authentic Gregorian chants in the Graduale Romanum and often preserve their melodic outline, so they’re a step up for choirs that have used more formulaic English adaptations. In addition, the English texts are all from standard, well-known sources approved for liturgical use by the Holy See: the ICEL Roman Missal and the Revised Grail Psalter. They’re fully notated, including the psalm verses, in attractive, readable chant notation.

American readers can get the book from the CMAA Shop web site, a little easier and slightly cheaper than ordering it from the UK.

Incidentally, in 2002, Fr. Nicholls spoke at the CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium  about the propers and the task of promoting them; the talk has an introduction by Jeffrey Tucker, and included some examples from the book’s draft at the time, which the gathered participants sang.

Cantus sororum: medieval Brigittine chants

Some time ago we got a note from the makers of a recent book of chants published in Finland.

Cantus sororum is a collection of transcribed medieval chants sung by Brigittine nuns, edited by musicologist Hilkka-Liisa Vuori. If I understand right, the chants were associated with the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Some samples from an album by duo Vox Silentii are on the net:
Transplantatur ab Jericho
Benedicamus in laudem Patris

An article about the material is on-line at the site of Vox Silentii, and the book is available from the editor or from the Catholic Information Center in Helsinki.

You can read the book’s introduction here.

Why do young people drift away, and why do they return?

A letter to the synod bishops by Italian blogger Sara Manzardo, a young married woman, has drawn quite a bit of interest over there. She writes:

[According to the newspapers] this synod on youth will be talking mostly about migrants, LGBT, and naturally about premarital sex, because chastity seems to be the main reason why youth drift away from the Church.

But we young people deserve much more. We aren’t satisfied any more to hear homilies full of politics, the common good, the news, the environment. […]

We drift away because we don’t find anything in the Church different from what they say to us outside: nothing more moving, nothing worth the trouble of living and dying.

Instead we come closer to the Church when someone explains to us why they have chosen chastity […]. We come closer when someone opens our eyes about our life, when someone says words to us that burn like salt in a wound, but they’re living, true, strong words.

Here’s an English translation of the whole letter.

Bp. Barron at the synod: Catholicism has consistently embraced the beautiful

Bishop Robert Barron, speaking at the Synod on youth, called for catechesis and apologetics that goes beyond the superficial to look in depth at the questions people are asking.  Among other things, he said:

Our apologetics and catechesis should walk the via pulchritudinis, as Pope Francis characterized it in Evangelii Gaudium. Especially in our postmodern cultural context, commencing with the true and the good—what to believe and how to behave—is often counter-indicated, since the ideology of self-invention is so firmly established. However, the third transcendental, the beautiful, often proves a more winsome, less threatening, path.

And part of the genius of Catholicism is that we have so consistently embraced the beautiful—in song, poetry, architecture, painting, sculpture, and liturgy. All of this provides a powerful matrix for evangelization.

And as Hans Urs von Balthasar argued, the most compelling beauty of all is that of the saints. I have found a good deal of evangelical traction in presenting the lives of these great friends of God, somewhat in the manner of a baseball coach who draws young adepts into the game by showing them the play of some of its greatest practitioners.