Casavant 2793 plays again

The Saint Anne Shrine Preservation Society, a lay association working to preserve and fully reopen the former Dominican shrine in Fall River, Massachusetts, took a step forward this week when they presented a organ recital on the Shrine’s Casavant, Opus 2793.

Matthew Dion, a organ student at Oberlin, has been working with organist and organ builder Bro. Roger Chingas, FSC, to tune and make some minor repairs to the organ, which had been largely idle and unmaintained since the upper church was closed in 2015. The instrument was dedicated in 1964 with a recital by Jean Langlais, and one of the works from that program was included in this week’s recital.

A few days ago Dion recorded these pieces, and they were streamed with live introductions on Tuesday. Times within the video are indicated, with links to the works.

6:32: L.N. Clérambault: Grand plein jeu from the Suite du 1. Ton

12:29: François Couperin: an excerpt from the Messe pour les Couvents

15:09: Louis Marchand: Grand Dialogue

26:32: Percy Fletcher: Fountain Reverie

31:07: J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in a minor

43:50: Jean Langlais: Trois méditations sur la Sainte Trinité: 1. Le Père

48:23: Jean Langlais: Pasticcio

54:40: Louis Vierne: Clair de lune from the 24 Pièces de Fantaisie

1:03:20: Jean Langlais: Te Deum from the Trois Paraphrases Grégoriennes

The full concert video is available here.

(Photo credit: by Kenneth C. Zirkel, via Wikimedia)

PS: I updated this post on July 31 to credit Brother Chingas, whose name I first omitted. Sorry for the lapse! Congratulations to him and Matthew Dion on the fine sound their work produced.

Guerrilla warfare

I’ve been reading Bevin Alexander’s interesting book, How Wars Are Won. He tells of several different tactics that are incredibly effective in warfare. One of them that is being used against the Catholic Church at the moment is Holding One Place, Striking Another. In this tactic, an army is forced into committing  its resources to defense in one place, leaving itself vulnerable to attack in another place.

This has happened to the Church before, and for similar reasons: the Church is currently fighting in the press for its validity as a moral voice, given some corruption that has plagued her from within.

As everyone who is close to the Church knows, the corruption is nowhere near the main story of the Church, and is in fact part of the story of every institution involving fallen humanity. However, at the moment it is the part of the story that is most widely known. It is exacerbated not only from without but from within, by those who are building careers on criticizing the Church.

While the Church spends resources defending her virtue and her credibility to speak as a moral voice, and while burdened with the enormous strain of the coronavirus problem, she is under a true, astonishingly brazen and widespread attack.

Statues too numerous to recount, and too shocking to reprint, have been vandalized in a Cromwellian orgy of iconoclasm, led by both neo-communist cancel culture activists and satanists.

So how do we win this war?

One tactic can be taken from yesterday’s Office of Readings, the attack on Jehosaphat by three armies, from 2 Chronicles 20. The attackers are not at peace with one another, and are already destroying one another.  No group of revolutionaries is at peace for long. Judah needed only to fast, pray, and stand firm.

Another effective tactic suggested by Bevin Alexander is the Feigned Retreat. Withdrawing in an orderly fashion and regrouping, an army draws a pursuing enemy forward in disorder, leaving them vulnerable to effective counterattack. For us as Catholics, this counterattack takes several forms, all of them works of mercy.  I would suggest that the very first is a vigorous teaching of the Gospel in all its fullness–because our victory will be complete when our enemies become our friends, and friends of God.

This is an election year in the United States, and one of the concerns is that an oppressive regime, opposed to religious freedom, may ascend. That would indeed be tragic, but it is important to recall that the Lord was born under Herod the Great and rose under Pontius Pilate. The word of God is not chained.

Ten days after the martyrdom of the Martyrs of Compiègne, the Reign of Terror ended. Hopefully most of us will not have to be heroes in the same way, but we can make our contributions. We have the weapons of the divine Holy Spirit, Who cannot fail, and Who manifests His presence in many ways:

  • The bishop who rallies his diocese and his brothers, and preaches with fire.
  • The priest who through many distractions turns to his breviary first of all, every day.
  • The wife who makes do with less.
  • The husband who listens and consoles, protects and encourages.
  • The church musicians who have begun preparing for Christmas, not at all sure their jobs will last that long.
  • The penitent who confesses the same sin of weakness again and again, trusting in the graces of forgiveness and healing.



Ecumenism, ancient and new

The patristic reading from today’s Office of Readings is beautifully appropriate for this anniversary of Summorum Pontificum.

The Pope Emeritus has added many treasures to the Tradition. Currently I am reading his catecheses on St. Paul, and I feel that if this were his only contribution, it would be of immense importance. However, it was not his only contribution, and thankfully among all the rest, he has left us an example of a new ecumenism–which, when reading St. Augustine, we realize is a retrieval of something venerably old.

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognizing our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

There are those who, though in some sense one with us, are out of communion with us. How do we restore communion? By making paths of restoration.

Those who are attached to older usages, both the Sarum and the preconciliar expressions of the one sacrifice of Christ, have now a path to full communion with the see of Peter. Full justice is given to everyone in this type of ecumenism, which seeks unity according to the Lord’s prayer on the night He was betrayed, and according to His example of solidarity with the human race while remaining true to His divine nature.

These paths of reconciliation are not easy: they do not brush away the real difficulties. But they are righteous and true. And here I am reminded of the words of the Pope Emeritus, when taking on the responsibilities of the shepherd, in his inaugural homily:

Here I want to add something: both the image of the shepherd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end of his discourse on the Good Shepherd. And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement: “although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21:11). Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn! But no – we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised. Let us remember it in our prayer to the Lord, as we plead with him: yes, Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd! Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity!


An Appeal for Common Sense

Choirs throughout the world face extraordinary challenges at present. Effectively silenced for several months, they have been unable to sing together in rehearsal or in the context of liturgical or concert performance. Even as countries begin, ever so cautiously, to emerge from lockdown, a considerable amount of debate has arisen surrounding the circumstances of viral transmission through singing.

This panic was initially precipitated by the spread of the virus in a choir in the USA, pre-lockdown, with the assumption that it was the singing, rather than the lack of social-distancing, which caused this. A number of preliminary studies, including two carried out in Freiburg and Munich, demonstrate that singing is perfectly safe as long as sensible precautions are put in place.

However, Britain’s choral tradition is now under major threat due to the UK government’s proposed guidance which will make it difficult or impossible for choirs to meaningfully rehearse or perform. Even though there is no scientific evidence to prove the dangers of singing, the negative narrative means that the onus is now on us to prove that singing is safe: so much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’. However in a world which seems unable to accept any risk at all, the UK government’s response is ultimately driven by concerns about liability.

Aside from the obvious impoverishment of the Liturgy and the wider cultural heritage, many professional musicians now face very bleak times. Amateur musicians will suffer too. However in the case of children’s choirs, and those which include children such as cathedral choirs, this situation is nothing short of catastrophic.

Children’s choirs are in a constant state of flux and development and boys’ voices undergo pronounced change which requires particular management. Throughout a choir, individuals are at different stages of sight-reading proficiency, pitching ability and general musical awareness. The younger ones apprentice from the older ones, with every child at a different stage on the journey. Through this process the transmission of the choral tradition itself takes place, encompassing the shared musical experiences, the collegiate knowledge of specific repertoire, and the choir’s unique sound itself, melded by the building in which it sings.

None of this can be simply put on hold; it has to be active in order to exist. This is certainly the case for the two choirs which I direct, the London Oratory Junior Choir and the London Oratory Schola, on whose behalf I wrote to Oliver Dowden MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to express these concerns. Over a week later his department has yet to respond; however, a number of other Members of Parliament including Sir Edward Leigh have contacted me to assure me of their support.

In my letter I wrote that, unlike adult choirs, a boys’ or children’s choir cannot simply pick up where it left off. The process of nurturing and developing cannot be put on ice and then resumed at a later date without significant consequences. It could take three to five years to recover the damage and rebuild, and a generation of singers could easily be lost. Time is of the essence, and the clock is always ticking for a boy treble.

Science is not absolute, even when preceded by the definite article. The risks to the young are absolutely minute. Will institutions such as Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College disappear from the landscape? Will there be no choir at the next coronation in Westminster Abbey? Of course not – common sense will prevail in the end, but the sooner the better.

Originally posted on New Liturgical Movement.

Office Hymn in Honor of Saints Peter and Paul

Here is a description of Apostolorum passio, a majestic hymn in honor of the pillar apostles, Ss. Peter and Paul.

Anyone may use my translation of Apostolorum passio freely this year. I translated it with the tune Agincourt/ Deo Gratias in mind.

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.

Trans. c. 2010 Kathleen Pluth. May be used freely June 28-29, 2020. All other rights reserved.