Even That Free-Spirit, St Francis of Assisi Knew Liturgy Called For Splendor

On the eve of St Francis’ feast day, an interesting interview in the National Catholic Register with a professor of sacred music at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He touches on music at the University, and music in the Franciscan tradition. (I don’t think I knew that Jacopone da Todi was Franciscan.)

Franciscan University has a vibrant musical life. There are two university choirs: the Schola Cantorum Franciscana and University Chorale. A small army of volunteer students leads and participates in bands and choirs, which provide musical leadership for multiple daily and Sunday Masses in the chapel. We have at least two student-led a capella, groups in addition to a string quartet; and, of course, it’s never hard to find a student playing a guitar outside on a sunny day. There are many forms of music here, for various times and places. “Diverse and healthy” is how I would describe it.
For liturgical music specifically, there are few places I’m aware of that have a similar program. If you walk into Christ the King Chapel here, you’re likely to hear one of two different types of song — chant-polyphony and classic English hymnody or guitar-led “praise and worship,” music with compositions that are both more recent and more Catholic. What’s conspicuously lacking is music from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, which is so common in American Catholic parishes.

 Not certain I get this – “praise and worship” music that is “more Catholic” than what? than the “chant-polyphony”? or than the stuff of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that he mentions in the next sentence?

Anyone familiar with and care to comment on the musical praxis at Steubenville?

6 Replies to “Even That Free-Spirit, St Francis of Assisi Knew Liturgy Called For Splendor”

  1. I graduated from Franciscan University in 2001, and there was very little chant or polyphony when I was there. But I have not been back in years, and would not be at all surprised (and I've heard rumors that this is true) if the intervening years and the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum has led to an improvement of both liturgy and liturgical music on campus.

    When he references praise and worship music as being more Catholic, I'm certain he's referring to its recent compositions being more Catholic than the 60s, 70s, and 80s songs common in many Catholic parishes. I remain doubtful that P&W can be considered as sacred music, but I suspect that Mr. Will is trying to be generous as P&W likely remains a major part of many Steubenville Masses.

  2. P&W music is not the same as folk music of the 60's/70's. P&W, while still cringe-worthy at Mass, at least attempts to usually be Christo-centric as opposed to the self-centered music featured so prominently in the OCP "Me, We, Our" stuff they throw together. It is usually written by Catholics who care about their faith and seek to live in harmony with what the Church teaches, as opposed to some of the former St. Louis Jesuits and friends who have gone off the reservation…

  3. As a 2014 grad, I'm happy to say that sacred music flourishes at Franciscan University. That is not to say there are not challenges. Praise and worship music is, and perhaps always will be, the predominant form of liturgical music. The charismatic movement is deeply engrained into the spirituality of the university, and in truth it has born lasting fruits. Yes, there can be conflicts at times when sacred music is perceived as "stepping on the toes" of the university's beloved heritage. But despite the occasions of tension, both forms of music seem to live and thrive at the university. As for the "more Catholic" praise and worship music referred to in the article, take this as an example of a contemporary song by Ed Conlin that is theologically rich. Thankfully, this is the sort of praise and worship that (usually) prevails at Franciscan:

    Rise, O people, called to worship
    Heaven’s highest praise to share
    Clothed by God in holy splendor
    Joined by Jesus’ priestly prayer
    Here and now we see but dimly
    Then and there our eyes behold
    Him who we by faith now worship
    Soon by sight to ever know.

    You, O font of life eternal,
    You, the source of endless joy
    Face to face with love forever
    “Gloria” will angels cry,
    “Glory” will our hearts reply
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”

    One of four Sunday masses is accompanied by a small student-led schola singing sacred music. During my time, there was also one weekday mass group (mind you, there are 10!) that would use predominately sacred music and chant, and there may be more now. The beating heart of Franciscan's sacred music program is the Schola Cantorum Franciscana, led by the above Prof. Will. It is a wonderful group of students, dedicated not only to the professional rendering of the rich treasury of the Church's musical tradition, but also to a devoted and prayerful engagement with the music that they are blessed to perform. The Schola sings for the University's monthly Missa Cantata's, and I believe they have also begun to sing on occasion for some Ordinary Form masses. In addition, they have special roles in the University's liturgical celebration of Holy Week and a few other university occasions, such as graduations and matriculations. Love this group! This is my small shoutout to Prof. Will and the great work of the Schola Cantorum. KEEP IT UP!

  4. Hello, Will,
    I'm a little late in replying, but I wanted to share my memories of FUS. You may recall that I was the only full-time music professor there when you were a student. I taught at FUS from 1992-2005 and, for all practical purposes, I founded the Schola Cantorum Franciscana; I definitely gave it that name. Your brothers Ben & Albert sang for a short while in the Schola, and I think you did, as well. Back in those days, before Summorum Pontificum, there was a monthly Latin Novus Ordo Mass at which the Schola sang. In addition, we sang about twice a month at the earliest Sunday morning Mass (8am, later changing to 9am), and we sang twice during Holy Week–Tenebrae on Wednesday and at the Good Friday Seven Last Words service. The Sunday Mass was in English, but we still often sang some of the Latin Proper chants and Ordinary chants, plus sacred polyphony in Latin or English. There was no music major then (I proposed one three different times over the years), which is why I left to teach at Ave Maria University, where I have been since 2005. Two years after I left FUS a very good music major was instituted, so probably the amount of chant and polyphony sung at Mass has increased. It would be interesting to find out if that's the case. In Domino, Susan Treacy, Ph.D., Professor of Music, Ave Maria University

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