The History of Music at St. Patrick’s

Fifth Avenue Famous (Fordham University Press, 2010) is a complete history of the music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. A good review of this book appears from Maureen McKew:

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book by St. Patrick’s Cathedral musical historian and cantor, Salvatore Basile, titled Fifth Avenue Famous (Fordham University Press, 2010). Whether your interest is music, New York history or you simply love an inside story, you will really enjoy this book. And if, like me, you come to the Cathedral regularly, it may explain a few things you have heard and seen.

I have been present for many of those highs and lows as the Cathedral’s music directors, organists, and singers juggled Gregorian chant and polyphonic anthems with the requirements of the post-Vatican II church while, at the same time, responding to the personal preferences of an assortment of archbishops and rectors.

One or two music directors even tried to resist. I recall a Sunday in 1989 or 1990 when longtime conductor John Grady led what had to be the liveliest rendition of the Welsh air, “Cwm Rhondda,” outside of the Welsh Rugby Union. I am not 100 percent certain which set of lyrics Grady used – it might have been “Guide Me Now, O Great Jehovah” with its reference to the Bread of Heaven because this all took place as the congregation received Communion – but I will never forget the sight of Cardinal John O’Connor listening to it. I think I saw steam coming out of his ears.

Until I read Fifth Avenue Famous, I had no notion that the two men had been on a collision course since the Cardinal’s arrival in 1984.

Read the entire review.

A Plea to the Fathers of Vatican II, Fall 1963

I just stumbled upon this remarkable document from the Autumn 1963 issue of Caecilia, the predecessor journal to Sacred Music.

What follows is an official petition concerning music in the liturgy. It urges greater focus on the issues at hand, with special concern shown for the propers of the Mass, the training of choirs and priests, the furtherance of the Gregorian ordinary, the discouragement of the then-growing practice of vernacular hymnody at Mass, and limiting (at the start) the extent of vernacular to parish Vespers.

On every point, this document is correct and history bears this out. These were great experts on music here. They knew that vagueness and slogans were not enough to do what needed to be done. Moreover, they were not reactionaries but rather true advocates of the Liturgical Movement: see the plea for the congregation to be encouraged to share in the singing at Mass, but not at the expense of the structure of the service. This is not a call to preserve the status quo (see even the criticism of the 1958 decree on music) but rather a plea for a more solid framework for progress in the future.

I’m particularly struck by #4 and the suggestion that a sung Mass be made possible within the Low Mass, to be handled by a Cantor alone. This of course is the most common Mass structure we see today but it also most commonly lacks propers of the Mass. It’s as if the worst of the old (four vernacular hymns) ended up by default combining with the worst of new to create this modern hybrid we know so well.

One senses a profound worry at the heart of this document that if the Council was not specific enough, disaster could befall the music of the Mass. Would that the Caecilian’s plea been heeded!

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, passed later this very year, did not necessarily contradict anything in this petition, and it even gave a ringing endorsement of Gregorian chant, but it lacked the specificity and failed to correct for the abuses which the Caecilians anticipated.

Note finally that two years later, Pope Paul VI called for the successor organization to the Society to be given a leadership role in guided the development of music following the Council. (It goes without saying that this wish was not fulfilled.)

Everyone who sniffs at the stuffiness of the old Society of St. Caecilia ought to consider the foresight revealed in this petition. It is time that history acknowledge who was right.

The American Society of St. Caecilia respectfully submits to the consideration of their Eminences and their Excellencies, the Most Reverend Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, the following petitions.

1. Regarding the place of music in the liturgy:

In view of the fact that the church has always regarded the function of the cantor and the trained choir, as well as that of the singing congregation, as an integral and necessary element of public worship, this Society is sincerely hopeful that the Fathers of the Council, before making any changes which might affect the structure of the services, will give earnest consideration to the importance of these traditional elements. While this tradition is not founded upon recent documents, we should desire the retention of the principles so clearly outlined in Pope St. Pius X’s Motu Proprio and in the Musicae Sacrae Disciplina of Pope Pius XII.

2. Regarding the Propers of the Sung Mass:

If any changes are to be made in the structure of the Proper of the Mass, this Society respectfully urges that the Fathers of the Council give careful thought to the fundamental structure of the service, and therefore to the meaning and value of each part, clearly preserving the roles of the cantor and trained choir. This Society also begs that art and beauty, which are inherent and not foreign to the casting of the Proper parts, not be sacrificed to the single issue of simplicity and brevity.

3. Regarding the Ordinary of the Sung Mass:

Since the necessity of a clearer insight into what worship really is presses for a greater sharing by the people in the song of the Church, this Society earnestly recommends that the congregation be encouraged to share in the singing at Mass, not necessarily according to the medieval and mistaken norm of the Ordinary as a unit, but with due regard for the place the various chants have in the fundamental structure of the service. It therefore also pleads that the great treasures of medieval chant and classical polyphony, as well as the riches of modern and contemporary music, not be discarded on the untraditional plea that there is no place for participation by listening.

4. Regarding the music at Low Mass:

This Society respectfully urges that consideration be given to maintaining the sung mass as the norm for congregational service, and where necessity demands, that provision be made for a simplified form of sung Mass that requires only the service of a trained cantor to supplement the singing of the congregation. The singing of hymns at low Mass, a solution suggested by the 1958 decree, is not completely satisfactory, because it remains extraneous to the action at the altar.

5. Regarding the use of the vernacular in the sung liturgy:

The Society of St. Caecilia recognizes that the vernacular problem is a pastoral problem, but even more basically a problem involving the proper attitude toward worship. Because music is an integral part of worship, the problem is necessarily also a musical one. This Society therefore urges care and caution, since the musical problems involved are certainly very great, whether in creating a new music for a vernacular text or in adapting a vernacular text to the rich store of chant and polyphony and other music from the past. The Society especially suggests vernacular adaptations to the offices of the church which have fallen into disuse, notably parish Vespers.

6. Regarding the practical realization of a sung liturgy:

The Society of St. Caecilia urges the Fathers of the Council to implement the repeated wishes of the Holy. See by encouraging the musical training of both clergy and laity, and especially of choirmasters and organists, according to the norms laid down in the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of September 3, 1958, so that the ideals of a reverential and artistic musical worship may be realized.

The above articles have been approved by the Most Reverend Gerald T. Bergan, Archbishop of Omaha, the. Liturgy and Music Commissions of the Archdiocese of Omaha, and by the Boys Town Liturgical Music Institute’s eleventh national session.

For the Society of St. Caecilia:
September 12, 1963
Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt, President
Rev. Francis A. Brunner, C.Ss.R., Secretary
James P. Keenan, Treasurer

Epilogue: After the Constitution was passed, with its strong endorsement of chant, the same writers were actually rather calm. Wrote Fr. Schmitt: “I have every confidence that the post-conciliar Commission on the Sacred Liturgy will keep things, officially at least, within the guidelines of the Constitution.”

It was not to be. Their worst fears were realized in time.

Liturgical Music in the U.S., 1937

From an editorial in the December 1937 issue of Caecilia:


There are approximately 32 dioceses maintaining liturgical church music commissions; regulations; or providing facilities for learning the principles of liturgical music at the present time. We know of the following and there may be others:

California — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Monterey,Fresno.
New Jersey — Newark.
Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh.
Missouri — St. Louis.
Illinois — Peoria, Iowa, Dubuque.
Wisconsin — Milwaukee, Green Bay, La Crosse.
Montana — Helena.
Louisiana — Lafayette, New Orleans.
Indiana — Indianapolis.
New York — Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester.
West Virginia — Wheeling.
Minnesota — St. Paul, Crookston.
Ohio–Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus.
Iowa — Des Moines.
Mississippi — Natchez.
Washington — Seattle.
Montana — Great Falls.
Maine — Portland.
Kansas — Wichita.

The above dioceses do not include those offering summer courses only. In each of
these 32 dioceses there is one Priest or layman whose assignment is the planning and supervision of liturgical music activities throughout the year.

Yet of the 32 dioceses listed above not more than eight have really aggressive
church music commissions actually working out a comprehensive plan for the improvement of conditions (i.e. actually supervising conditions, and holding regular choirmasters meetings). A few years ago there were not eight such dioceses. Now at least progress is being made. If in the coming year 1938 out of the 32 listed above a few more join the aggressive list the march of progress will continue. If more dioceses join the above named 32, by at least recognizing that there is a permanent place in the administrative side of church work, for liturgical music the Motu Proprio of 1903 win become proportionately more closely observed.

Comment: it is frequently observed that Catholic liturgical music was in a sad state before the Second Vatican II, and so therefore it is quite unfair and unbalanced to contrast the current shabby situation with an idealized version of the past. Fair enough.

But there are two considerations: first, the direction of change (at least before World War II) indicated progress, and, second, the very definition of what constituted progress was not in dispute among competent people: it meant Gregorian chant and polyphonic music. This was the goal and there was no question about it. A diocesan commission dedicated to music would be dedicated to that ideal.

Today, the very creation of such a commission would cause a fight to break out. But in some ways, that too is progress, since thirty years ago there would have been no dispute about what such a commission would seek: the gutting of the treasury of sacred music and its replacement by what we know all too well. I have no doubt that the people working and writing for Caecilia in 1937 could not have imagined such a future. It would have been inconceivable.

In a similar way, very few people in 1980 who were working for a universal imposition of pop music in place of real liturgical music could imagine the growing movement for musica sacra today.

Times change and the status quo, whether good or bad, is always made vulnerable by the unknown future.

Liturgical Institute 10th Anniversary Address

Here is the address given by Liturgical Institute director Fr. Douglas Martis during the anniversary banquet and ceremony on the occasion of the institute’s tenth anniversary on July 7th, 2010. This is a vision of liturgical renewal worth believing in!

Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers and Deacons, members of the Catholic Faithful:

Ten years is not a long time, and yet this first decade of the 21st century has been full.

In July of the year 2000, two young men, for whom the beauty of this campus had been foreign, arrived as new pioneers, explorers on the edge of a complex ecclesiastical frontier. They immediately were seized, inspired by the vision of Cardinal Mundelein, that this place should be a center of formation for the sake of the entire Church.

Through the leadership, vision, and profoundly theological intuition of Francis Cardinal George, that the rites of the liturgy should be studied from their long-ignored sacramental perspective, these two had the audacity to launch an new liturgical endeavor into the largely sated and settled—might we even say, “stagnant”—landscape of the post- Conciliar Church.

They discovered in this campus a kind of laboratory, where the values of authentic liturgical renewal could be taught, practiced and promoted.

For a newly minted architectural historian, Denis Robert McNamara, this campus was a play-ground in Classicism an opportunity to merge and consociate theological ideas and their expression in brick and mortar. His academic and professional career reached a decisive moment when Providence brought him here. This same Providence preserved the integrity of this campus when it moved the new kid on the block to speak boldly to his superiors against illogical and incongruous architectural building. In his area of expertise he is unrivaled. There is no one in the United States today, who speaks more intelligently, more articulately, more convincingly of the sacramentality of church buildings and the urgent need to be thoughtful and deliberate about construction and renovation of churches. I am proud to call him colleague.

For the Irish-born priest, Michael Francis Mannion, whose adopted home was the territory of Mormons, whose curriculum vitæ shows him notable as pastor and rector of cathedral, as founder of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, as promoter of the Choir School of the Madeleine, as theologian, teacher and author, this endeavor was the realization of a dream to establish a school where the principles of the Second Vatican Council and genuine renewal could get a fair hearing, it was the chance to provide an environment where the rites of the Church could be allowed to speak for themselves and where their logic, truth and age-less beauty would be appreciated and fostered without partisan polemic or edgy liturgical Gnosticism. We all owe an enormous debt to Monsignor Mannion. (He is unable to join us tonight. I spoke with him a few weeks ago, he sends his congratulations.)

I have the pleasure of caring for and carrying on what others have begun.

There are different ideas about what constitutes a liturgical institute. For some, it is a center of higher learning a base of direct assistance to parishes a resource for those looking for real answers. Some have described our Institute as a kind of national (or even international) worship office.

This liturgical institute, the Liturgical Institute was founded to be a kind of next step in liturgical renewal.

Cardinal George established the Liturgical Institute to explore the connection between liturgical expression and sacramental theology. We take as our starting point the liturgical rites as given and then ask the questions about their origin, meaning, and implementation. Our purpose it not to change the liturgy but rather to help the faithful better understand and appreciate the Church’s prayer in its purest form.

Our approach is nourished by the insights of the pioneers of the twentieth century liturgical movement such as Dom Lambert Beauduin, Virgil Michel, Justina Ward: to make the treasure of the liturgy accessible to the people.

We are aware that in the future, another generation will pick up the torch and promote renewal with the same urgency and commitment that their predecessors have held. Liturgical renewal must be done in every age because each generation must claim the Church’s public prayer in the way that is consistent with its proper genius.

As people who deeply love Christ, the Church and the people, and who have been touched by liturgical renewal we must constantly remind ourselves that we are situated in an historical context that none can escape. The reality of our day and time is not that much different from earlier periods: people have perhaps always called for renewal. Folks like Hillenbrand and Hellreigel complained that the faithful were not involved in the liturgy as much as they should be, that they understood little of what was going on, that they needed to learn more and to be more serious about its celebration.

The Liturgical Institute, from its inception, has resisted being categorized as liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional. Rather than saying that we situate ourselves as part of one group or another, I believe it is more accurate to say that the Liturgical Institute is blazing its own trail. At the Liturgical institute, we believe that a return to the original insight of these liturgical pioneers with help protect us from falling into the trap of “liturgical renewal” as a slogan. We want to celebrate the liturgy as carefully as possible, to let its own beauty be revealed.

I would apply Chesterton’s famous phrase to the liturgy: “it is not that liturgical reform has been tried and found wanting, it’s that it hasn’t really been tried yet.” What we would like to see different in the liturgical experience, is not any particular aspect of the reform, but rather people’s intelligence of it. We have been seized by the foundational notions of Liturgical Movement, such as “without intelligence, there can be no worship.” (Dom Virgil Michel) We would like to see people engaged in the liturgy not as a curiosity, not as an occasional, frenzied (or ecstatic) experience, but as something that really grounds their lives as Christians.

Every aspect of the current liturgy has the potential to lead the faithful deeper into the mystery of salvation. It is our conviction, that if the mystery is not tapped into, it is not a lack of the reform, but rather symptomatic of the urgent need for liturgical renewal.

Liturgical renewal is a perennial task because the liturgy continues to reveal her treasures gradually. I like to say that the liturgy is designed for those who are in it for the long-haul, true liturgical expression cannot be reduced to a “flash in the pan” encounter. This is why the Roman liturgy is radiant with noble simplicity.

We tend to say people are participating actively if they sing, and doubt the participation of the who do not sing… but the liturgy is much more complex than that. Regardless of the form of the liturgy, the faithful will always have the ability to participate actively if the notion is correctly understood.

If people do not understand the Christian cultural symbols, even if they know what the words mean, they will derive little benefit. For example if one says “water” or “agua” or “aqua” or “wasser” or “eau” if one only thinks “H20”, then the liturgy will have little effect. The one who is literate in the Christian language will understand any of the terms as flood, and creation, and baptism at the Jordan, and water and blood flowing from the side of Christ. The one with the Christian cultural language will make an immediate connection between the wood of the cross and the Tree of Life and the Tree in the Garden of Eden and Christ as the New Adam. This, I believe, is the urgent task for us. Most liturgist are beginning to acknowledge that understanding what words in a vernacular liturgy denote is not the same as comprehending the rich and expansive nuance that the term offers.

At the Liturgical Institute, we pray in Latin and in the vernacular without stigmas. For us there is no shame in being polyglot (our community is, after all, international!) Rather we see a real benefit in terms of insight and understanding that is brought by celebration and discussion in different languages.

For us, language is not a political statement, but is seen as a natural aspect of our Catholic faith and celebration. What would our communities be like if we worshipped effortlessly in Latin and in the vernacular without hostility or aversion? We see Latin not a archaism but as heritage. Our approach is what Dr. McNamara calls an “easy orthodoxy”. We feel no need to be angry. These are the liturgical rites we’ve been given; they are what we have received. Our liturgical expression is both patristic and scholastic, it is modern and ancient. There is room for Aquinas and Augustine. We don’t have to choose one or the other. We try to balance immanence and transcendence. We see the Eucharist as the body of Christ without compromising our participation in it.

In short, all we need in the liturgy is already available to us, Like grace, as Augustine says, it is always present, but needs to be received. We have no purpose other than the praise of God and imploring the sanctification of the world If we are fortunate, the by product is community, engagement, nourishment.

Thank you for being a part of this vision. The future of liturgical renewal is here.

Rev. Douglas Martis, Ph.D., S.T.D.
The Liturgical Institute

A Happy 400th for the Vespro Della Beata Vergine (1610)

I’m reminded that this is the 400th year of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. This is the signature piece that signaled the transition between the era of polyphonic music to the baroque and to opera, and it is glorious to how central the chant of of the ages its integrated in a living way into this masterpiece.

For me, this piece was part of a transition the other direction, beginning with my own beloved Mahler and going backwards in time to Handel and Bach and then Monteverdi and finally with Renaissance polyphony. This is a piece that beautifully bridges two worlds, whichever way you are traveling.

Intriguing too that the 400th comes at a time when the music and great performances are accessible for free through youtube and other online venues. More people in more nations can hear this music than ever before. I suppose there is some question about whether this is liturgical (however much it is rooted in Catholic liturgy) or performance music only, but, either way, this is truly living music.

Two samples from John Eliot Gardiner from this DVD.

The Future of the “Liturgist”

I guess I’m a bit puzzled by the question asked at the Pray Tell blog: given the reform of the reform (and, implicitly, the renewed interest in the old form of the Roman Rite), what is the future of the liturgist? The post asks: “Will the Reformers of the Reform send us ‘back’ to a day where such professionals and scholars could never make a living as full time liturgists?”

I had a hard time following the question actually. If one is a liturgist, that would presume a specialization in liturgy and, in particular, rubrics, music, liturgical items, vestments, and all that is associated with liturgy. Why would a shift toward greater solemnity and greater seriousness about liturgy (which is how I see the “reform of the reform”) threaten that job? After all, so far as I can tell, there is a huge shortage of competent Masters of Ceremony right now; they have to be flown across several states whenever there is a solemn high Mass right now. We could many more, not fewer, MCs.

I suspect there is some sociological history behind the way in which the author of the post is using the term liturgist here.

The Liturgical Institute: 10 Years of Critical Thinking with the Mind of the Church

Is it possible today to thoroughly and critically study the Church’s liturgy, in an atmosphere of prayer, with complete fidelity to the tradition and authority of the Church, and to do all of this with joy? The answer is yes, and it has been happening at the Liturgical Institute of St. Mary of the Lake University, Mundelein IL, for the past 10 years.

According to a description on the Institute’s Facebook page: “Established in 2000 by Cardinal George to prepare Catholics for ‘a new era in liturgical renewal,’ the Institute’s programs are rooted in a dynamic fidelity to the reforms promoted by the Second Vatican Council and the deep traditions of the Church.”

Yesterday the Institute celebrated its 10 year anniversary with an alumni banquet, and with a liturgy celebrated by LI alumni Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico. The first Spiritus Liturgiae award was given to Msgr. James Moroney, Executive Secretary of the Vox Clara Commission, for his promotion of and service to the authentic liturgy.

Msgr. Moroney, a key player in the new English translation of the Roman Missal, is also on the summer faculty of the Liturgical Institute, currently teaching a course on liturgical inculturation. Also on this summer’s faculty is Dr. Denis McNamara, the Institute’s assistant director, who recently published the groundbreaking book “Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy”.

Institute director Fr. Douglas Martis and LI faculty member and Office of Worship Director for the Diocese of LaCrosse Christopher Carstens debuted the all-new Mystical Body Mystical Voice program for liturgical catechesis in light of the new translation of the Roman Missal as part of the festivities of the 10-year Anniversary celebration. A book by the same title is nearing completion and will be published by the Institute’s publishing imprint Hillenbrand Books in the coming months. A lecture by Archbishop Charles Chaput was also recently given at the LI on the connection between liturgy and evangelization.

Needless to say, the Liturgical Institute is breaking new ground and is truly on the cutting edge of the new era of liturgical renewal that we are embarking upon now as a Church. This is possible because of the four characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph above: Prayer, Study, Fidelity, and Joy, according to the Institute’s motto: “where prayer and study meet in fidelity and joy”.

The academic life at the Institute revolves around the communal celebration of the liturgy, daily Mass, Lauds and Vespers–the office is sung with the Mundelein Psalter, and Mass propers are sung in the Mass (no hymns or songs), along with Gregorian ordinaries and other sacred music offered by student scholas. The singing of the liturgy is foundational for all that is done at the Institute. The second part of the foundation is a fidelity to the norms that are given to us by the Church. Courses are rites-based and are aimed at critical reflection on the liturgy of the Church from all possible perspectives in order for students to become thoroughly imbued with the Spirit of the Liturgy, and to assist in their fully conscious, active and intelligent participation in the sacred mysteries therein.

In receiving and embracing the gift of the liturgy from the Church, who first received the gift from Christ himself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, students of the Liturgical Institute demonstrate a very deep and real joy. The students are not angry, they are not bitter, they are not resentful, they do not mock or defame, they exhibit a Fruit of the Holy Spirit: supernatural joy. I speak from experience as I say this–I myself am a current student at the Institute and I not only possess this joy and deep love of the Church and her liturgy, but I also see it in my classmates, colleagues, and professors. I am surrounded by brilliant scholars, keen intellects, faithful servants, first-rate talents, and disciples of Christ, and I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to study at the Liturgical Institute, especially during this watershed moment in the Church’s history where the fruits of seeds planted over the past two centuries are beginning to bud forth.

Many congratulations to the Liturgical Institute of St. Mary of the Lake on 10 years of faithful service to the Church. May you have many more!