Monday, August 19, 2013

My Sunday at a Russian Orthodox church

My girlfriend has been struggling for some time with the Catholic Church's current situation as a haven for banal liturgy, pedophilic clergy, and effeminacy (or so it would seem when one is frustrated). It's hard to blame her, as I sometimes feel embarrassed to be associated with the Roman church myself. The easy solution, you may think, is to recommend her to the local Latin Mass community, but her "brand" of medievalism shares Orthodoxy's consternation against the angel-on-a-pinhead-counting type of rationalization and legalism that has pervaded the Catholic world's intellectual circles since the age of scholasticism. True that these words don't mean anything to your average Catholic in the pew, but Latin Mass communities are practically built by eggheads whose idea of a good time is reading a commentary on Aquinas. Being an egghead herself, she does what most disaffected, liturgy-loving Catholics in her situation do: turn to the East.

This past Sunday morning, we visited a Russian Orthodox church in the outskirts of the city. "Tiny" would be an understatement, as it was established in a converted house well within a residential neighborhood. I don't think the congregation numbered above 20. And why the Russian church, as opposed to a larger Greek church in the city? Lauren is a bit of a Russophile and has some Russian ancestry. We both spent the summer reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov too, a tome chock-full of Russian Orthodox themes. I also knew that the celebrating priest was an expert on the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite (which I've blogged about extensively last year) with many articles about it on the web, so I wanted to see him in person.

Modern Medievalism and Orthodoxy

First, what does this have to do with the theme of "modern medievalism"? The answer is simple: as much as the Roman church embodies the word "medieval" as we think of it today, the Orthodox do a much better job of bringing medievalism to the modern world than we westerners do. Every Latin Mass is "compromised", if you will, by the newfangled Gregorian calendar and its artificial Easter dating. Most are celebrated in the trappings of Rococo barbarism branded as traditional because, in the literal sense, they were still fashionable in the 1950's. Baroque music is at least as likely to be heard as plainchant. If the Roman liturgy is truly older than that of Saint John Chrysostom, as certain apologists claim, it's only by accident on the part of westerners. The Orthodox, on the contrary, seem hellbent on giving their believers the impression that they've stepped into a time warp peering back to the apex of Byzantium's hold on the Christian world.

Now that I've set the story, I'll narrate to you my thoughts as I entered the church and pondered what made our eastern brethren different from us.

Attending Divine Liturgy, step by step

We were ten minutes late, but the Divine Liturgy being as long as it is, they were just getting started. A lot of regulars showed up much later than we did. I'm told that the Orthodox are not given to punctuality, and many come in and out of the church throughout the Liturgy without batting an eye; already one point in their favor, in my book. Ten minutes in, and the congregation was only a little more than half what it would become later in the day. Also of note: when we entered, I observed that women and men had segregated themselves into opposing sides of the church. I split off from Lauren after that, but when some families came in, they stayed together on what I understood to be the "men's side", so perhaps I made up that rule in my head entirely based off of a coincidence. Moving on....

Aside from what I perceived to be sex segregation, the first thing that struck me when I walked in was that the entire nave and sanctuary of the church, all in what was perhaps some guy's living room once upon a time, still looked "churchier" than most Catholic churches I've been to. Icons decked out all sides, and the sanctuary was sectioned off by an impressive iconostasis (considering the surroundings). These were definitely not a people who were concerned about offending their Protestant neighbors' sensibilities. They would probably not think whitewashing their walls or getting rid of their fine vestments would make them any more humble than they already are. (After all, they were worshipping in a house like the early Christians, or like underground Catholics in China. I doubt they need any more reminders about their position in society.)

After what felt like something six times longer than our fore-Mass (here I mean the preparatory prayers, Kyrie, Gloria), a lector in cassock stepped from the choir in the back to the center of the nave to chant the Epistle in English. Another gentleman stood beside him, following the English version immediately with a re-chanting in Russian. The church didn't have a deacon, so the priest chanted the Gospel. This was the first time I got a good look at him. He was a hieromonk (the word easterners use to describe a monastic priest), and appeared in the flesh as I imagined all priests should: clad in the finest vestments a church can afford, with a great beard and unclipped hair, just as virtually all our depictions of Christ have it. I've never bought the idea that a western priest should shave just because that was the fashion during the late Roman Empire. Do we want a priest to be an alter Christus, or a mock Roman senator? Another argument I've heard is that a priest with long hair and a big beard would scandalize people. (Who, your grandmother?) But then, why wear a cassock outside of the church? Indeed, why bother with the Roman collar at all? In the first world of the 21st century, a Roman collar is going to scandalize a lot more people than a beard if for no other reason than because the collar has become the universal sign of the pedophile.

Bishop Nikon
After the gospel, the priest gave his sermon. A kind middle-aged guy who knew I was visiting and helped me follow along in a service book invited me to sit on a bench resting against the wall. As there were no pews and only a couple other benches beside the one I was sitting on, everyone else sat on the floor, Woodstock-style while the priest spoke. He wanted to expound upon a sermon of Bishop Nikon (Rklitsky's) on the Transfiguration and passed out printouts of that sermon to everyone (the following day was to be the feast of the Transfiguration in the old Julian calendar, which this church observes). The priest was very engaging and personable without having to resort to lame jokes, as one Latin Mass priest I know does. For a moment, I imagined I was really there with Peter, James, and John as Jesus revealed His divine nature to them. Most of the time, I can't wait for a sermon to be over, but I was sad when this priest ran out of things to say. 

Following the sermon, the priest began the "Litany of Fervent Supplication", which corresponds to the prayers of the faithful in the Novus Ordo Mass. Latin Mass purists may get irritated when I say that I believe restoring the prayers of the faithful was one of the (very few) legitimate improvements of the Novus Ordo. I use the word "improvement" loosely because intercessions used to exist in the Roman liturgy (and continue to exist in the famous intercessions of Good Friday), but I can't go so far as to say "restoration" because I don't think the early medieval West had middle-aged women in pantsuits rasp the prayers out from the lectern. A handful of western churches, such as my Anglican Use parish, pray them in a sensible manner with a deacon, but it's a needle-in-haystack situation. (For further reference, I posted an example of the intercessions, or "bidding prayers", that existed in pre-Reformation England near the end of this article.)

Anyway, I smirked when the litany used charmingly old-fashioned phrases like "again we pray for our great lord and father, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill" and for "pious kings and right-believing queens" as though any still existed. After that, the priest said "as many as are catechumens, depart". The Eucharistic portion of the liturgy hadn't even started yet, but if I had gone to a Roman Mass, it would already be well into coffee hour by now. I had gotten a little tired of standing and contemplated taking the liturgy's cue to leave, but I then resolved to restrain by pathetically short westerner's attention span and see it through to the end. I also concluded that as a validly baptized Christian, I wasn't really a catechumen by Orthodox reckoning, just a schismatic. And so I stuck around.

A word on the music: one of Lauren's beefs with the western church, which I heartily agree with, is what some call the "low Mass mentality". Don't get me wrong, I like low Mass... in its proper context. But when it was developed in the later Middle Ages, it was supposed to allow a monastic priest to celebrate an additional Mass for his own and other intentions, beside the conventual solemn Mass that he and his brothers all attended. Later on, during the Church's great missionary age, the low Mass was very useful for priests stuck by themselves in strange lands without the resources to recreate Notre-Dame in the middle of Indian territory, or say in Ireland when priests were on the lam during the penal days. And even today, low Mass is great for weekdays when the pious faithful want to get in and get out for a boost of holiness before the start of the work day. I get it, truly. But at no point was the low Mass ever supposed to replace the solemn Sunday liturgy. Every Sunday is a feast, and a feast implies singing. Somewhere down the line, we in the west have supplanted "festivity" with "obligation", so it's no wonder we want to punch our timecards at church as quickly as possible and get back to football season. 

So I was struck that at this tiny Divine Liturgy I was observing, attended more sparsely than even some weekday low Masses, everything was still sung from beginning to end. I'll hasten to add that the Divine Liturgy would probably take a long time even if it ever occurred to a priest to just recite the entire thing in the spoken tone. The choir was a mix of men and women singing the responses and other liturgical texts in harmony, but by no means dragging them out. They went through the Nicene Creed much faster than it would take us westerners to chant Credo I or III. I don't know if the Divine Liturgy has anything analogous to our long, melismatic Proper chants like the Gradual, but I didn't hear anything like that here. In truth, I was disappointed that I didn't hear anything like the deep all-male Russian chants you might find on YouTube with the droning, but I'm told those sorts of choirs are rare outside of Russia itself. Or perhaps it's just beyond this tiny parish's resources. Either way, the choir here seemed to exist just to lead the congregational singing. In America, though the schola I belong to actively tries to foster as much congregational singing as possible, sung Latin Masses tend to be showpieces for the choir as the congregation listens in admiration. (I've actually heard the line, "if you were at a symphony, you wouldn't climb into the orchestra pit to perform with the musicians, would you?")  

An iconostasis
The priest withdrew behind the iconostasis for the anaphora/Eucharistic prayer, and for at least part of it, he closed an additional screen so that you couldn't see even the top of his head. My mind wandered for a while so I don't recall all the details, but I think the entire anaphora was sung aloud. There was no silent Canon as we have in the old Mass. Later, Lauren remarked to me that in the west, after the Counter-Reformation, we seem to have discarded visual veiling in favor of verbal veiling. We got rid of the rood screens to appease Protestant objections, but retained the silence, and the Latin language, to preserve a sense of mystery. The east, I would venture to guess, didn't see the need for a silent Canon or any problem with the common tongue because they already had the iconostasis. In my opinion, it'd be great for the Mass to make use of all of the above, but according to Cardinal Newman, you might as well celebrate Mass in the sacristy if no one can see the action. Apparently, most traditional Catholics agree with the sentiment, so rood screens won't make a comeback anytime soon.

Communion eastern-style
Naturally, just being a visitor, I refrained from Communion. Many people in attendance, who I assume are regulars, also refrained from receiving. I'm not sure if it's because this is normal for Orthodox churches the world over, or because the congregation is made up of "trads". (Nearly all the women also wore headcoverings like in trad Catholic churches, but not a mantilla in sight.) Again to the consternation of my friends who are 1962 purists, I admired the Divine Liturgy's use of both species and wished I could receive both in the context of the old Mass. The priest addressed the communicants by name, saying "the servant/handmaid of God, N., partaketh of the precious and holy Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, for remission of sins and for life everlasting." 

An aeon later, after the dismissal, the priest informally spoke to the congregation about things like Russian traditions regarding Communion, the vigil for the Transfiguration to be held that evening, and about the current attacks on Christian churches in the Middle East. Finally, he asked if anyone had any birthdays or name days coming up. One guy did, so the whole church sang "God Grant You Many Years" or something similar. When that was done, everyone dispersed to either the "parish hall" (another room in the house) or to receive a blessing from the priest. The guy who helped me follow along in the service book invited me to receive a blessing from the priest along with everyone else, but for the same reason I decided not to make signs of the cross Eastern-style, I decided not to go up for fear of mucking things up. 

The fellow who had a birthday was, I think, also the choir director. He warmly welcomed me to the church and asked if I was a musician. I don't know what prompted him to ask since I didn't even sing the congregational parts, but I said I was, and he responded along the lines of, "if I had known, I would've invited you to join us in sightreading some of the parts." To which I replied, "thanks, but I'm not Orthodox." He continued, saying, "that's okay, I wasn't Orthodox when I began singing here, either." He then invited me to stay and eat lunch with the other parishioners. I would've taken him up on it if I didn't feel so awkward, but instead, Lauren and I left.

The ride home

Lauren enjoyed the Liturgy quite a bit, and I had a very positive experience about it and the community myself. In fact, if you've read up to this point, you might be wondering if I've thought of "going Dox" by the end of it all. In a word, no. And although I mused that I unwittingly tossed Lauren headfirst into Patriarch Kirill's clutches by indulging her with this visit, she actually came through it more comfortable with her Catholic identity. Although our proverbial pilgrimage to Moscow affirmed in both us everything we disliked about western spirituality, there was still something missing. Lauren iterated the four marks of the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) and said she believed the Orthodox came up short on the "catholic" part. After all, we visited a Russian Orthodox church, as distinct from a Greek or Serbian one. While it's true that the Roman Church also has eastern rites, and in the not-too-distant past also had ethnic Irish, Italian, Polish, and Korean parishes in America, these are all window dressing by comparison to the distinct ethnic character of the various Orthodox churches out there.

An Orthodox reading this will quickly object by saying that there's no ethnic requirement to joining the church. Indeed, I believe the priest at the church I visited was of Irish descent (just based on name and appearance; I didn't talk to him), and I'm led to believe that it's quite normal for Orthodox clergy in America to be of Anglo, Irish, German, or otherwise non-Eastern European origin. But still, just speaking personally as a non-Slav, I feel like even if I did have the urge to convert to Orthodoxy, I wouldn't feel completely integrated into the Orthodox world unless I went above and beyond, and became a cleric in the faith. Otherwise, I'd perpetually be a hanger-on, a token half-Anglo, half-Indonesian guy (if not the only half-Anglo, half-Indonesian guy in all of Orthodoxy). As a convert to the Roman church, while I do still feel like a bit of an outsider, this is more because I'm just a single person going to church without any family ties or little ones trailing behind me, rather than because of ethnicity. 

In spite of all the eye-rolling induced whenever I read about the latest media stunt or soundbite surrounding Pope Francis, or my general cynicism about anything related to Vatican politics, I have to admit that the bishop of Rome somehow still supports a unity and catholicity you just can't find anywhere else in Christianity. I can look at photos of Japanese people attending Mass in Nagasaki after the bombs fell and think it makes sense, but think it would be bizarre if it were a Divine Liturgy instead. I can be irritated as hell looking over photos of the Eucharist being tossed like candy at World Youth Day in Brazil, but still feel the event is somehow relevant to me because I'm Catholic. I can have absolutely nothing in common with the average pew-warmer at the Catholic parish down the street, but what happens at his Novus Ordo Mass still matters to me more than what happens at an aesthetically perfect solemn Mass at Saint Clement's Episcopal in downtown Philly (though they are more Tridentine than Puginesque, but I digress). Much as I'd like to ignore the daily doings of Francis, his office somehow ties the ordinary Joe Catholic pew-warmer's fate to mine more than that of the most zealous Anglo-Catholic medievalist.

A Western Orthodox world

If I could build my own church, it would look like the Sainte-Chapelle and have daily solemn Mass and Office in the Sarum Use with a rood screen, choir stalls in the sanctuary, Communion under both species, less scholasticism and legalism, and some odd combination of both married secular clergy and celibate canons; and somehow still have a very active role in social justice and ministering to the poor of the area. As a young male convert to Catholicism with just enough education to enjoy armchair pontificating and not enough to be wise and content with what I have, I have the bizarre daily temptation to re-imagine the Church as I want it to be. Lauren, being a more masculine thinker than most women (don't tell her I said that, but honestly, when was the last time you heard of a single young female who thought of converting to Orthodoxy because Catholicism is too effeminate?), sought solace in the East but came through with a reassurance of Catholicism's catholicity, despite itself.

My imaginary church will never exist under the auspices of Pope Francis or (probably) any of his successors in my lifetime. The closest it's ever come would be under the extremely niche communities of Anglo-Catholics (such as Saint Clement's, as I mentioned above) or in so-called Western Orthodox communities. The priest of the Russian Orthodox parish I visited is an expert on the Sarum Use and, I imagine, has celebrated it many times before if he doesn't now. These communities are havens for thinkers such as Lauren and myself, and I'm sure some of them even read my blog. 

This Western Orthodox bishop (?) is precisely what I imagine all western churchmen ought to look like

My last thought for this entry: if reincarnation were true, I'm pretty certain I would have been Henry VIII in a past life. No other historical figure so embodies the "if I could build my own church" sentence I wrote better than he. Contrary to popular belief, Henry didn't create the Church of England just because he was randy. Any other king in his position would have just taken Anne Boleyn as a mistress and carried on with life. But before Henry became king, he was a young man groomed for a career in the clergy while his older brother, Prince Arthur, was set to be king. Indeed, his father named his firstborn "Arthur" out of a belief that he, the first of a union between the feuding houses of York and Lancaster, would lead England to a new golden age just like the king of myth. Young Henry, some said, would serve the realm as Archbishop of Canterbury beside his elder brother. 

Henry VIII before he was fat
So when Arthur died and Henry became heir, it's no surprise that his background as a potential churchman shaped his approach to the kingship. Henry's piety led him to come to the Papal States' defense during the Italian Wars. With the aid of Saint Thomas More, he published the Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Luther and was named by the Pope a "defender of the faith". When the continuation of the Tudor line came into question, it wasn't enough for Henry to just take a mistress as any other king would have done. He had to have his union validated by the Church, and if the Church wouldn't acquiesce (and honestly, if Katherine weren't the Holy Roman Emperor's aunt, the annulment probably would have gone through), he would have to take matters into his own hands.

Still, for the average Englishman, nothing changed under Henry's Church of England at all. At most, he introduced the "for thine is the kingdom" doxology to the Lord's Prayer, but that was already in Eastern usage, not a Protestant innovation. Lutheranism was still condemned in Henry's church. So ironically, I don't see Henry VIII as a Protestant at all. He was instead, perhaps, the first Western Orthodox; for if every king had followed his example, the West would have broken into national churches while otherwise remaining completely apostolic. The Pope would have remained "patriarch of the west" but with no real power outside the see of Rome.

And therefore, every day in between brushing my teeth and flossing, I look into the mirror and ask myself, "have I become Henry VIII?" The answer remains no, and it's not just because I decided to lay off the enchiladas. No, friends. Lauren and I will remain where we are, loving the Roman church despite Her best efforts to eject medievalists to the dustbin of history. Apologies if I offended anyone in the process.


  1. Very interesting take on Henry VIII.

  2. Read "The Banished Heart", by Geoffrey Hulls. I think you'll like it.

  3. Well done HK, great article.

  4. Interesting and edifying post on Orthodoxy, until you got to Henry VIII and your statement "Still, for the average Englishman, nothing changed under Henry's Church of England at all.” You have forgotten a little something known as the dissolution of the monasteries, which were a huge part of the economic life of the country. Henry’s plunder resulted in spiritual and physical impoverishment, not to mention the many Catholics he tortured and murdered, including the aged Lady Margaret Pole.

    1. I didn't forget. I thought of mentioning it, but it would have digressed from the overall point. (I could have also mentioned the suppression of Becket's cult.) I would have also suppressed many of the monasteries if I were in Henry's position. This was mostly a political decision, not one made out of moral opposition to monasticism in itself.

    2. Dear James

      Please read Geoffrey Moorhouse, “The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.”

      Best wishes,

  5. James, if you have some time please read

  6. I’m completely with you on this. I’ve been frequently attending the local Ukrainian Catholic parish and though it’s fairly westernized no effeminacy or minimalism there. It is about 200 feet from an OCA parish and I’ve not gone there yet.

    Chanted in Russian… or Old Church Slavonic?

    It is normal as far as I can tell for not everyone to receive communion all the time in eastern churches.

    1. I was told by the guy next to me that it was Russian. It's possible he just said that for the sake of simplicity. Just by hearing, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two languages. Truly, most of you commenters probably know more about the Eastern rites than I do.

    2. It's chanted in "Church Slavonic", quotes because the Church Slavonic used in Russia in actuality is Russified, a lot of the words over the centuries have been replaced by what was at the time Russian vernacular but still doesn't have same meaning in modern Russian. Vernacular Russian is never ever used in Church services. I speak Russian and I kind of get the jest of it, kind of like reading Middle English I guess.

      To hear real Church Slavonic I guess you'd have to go to a Serbian church. To hear Old Church Slavonic (more archaic than Church Slavonic) you'd have to go to a Bulgarian church.

      I'm Ukrainian Catholic and back in the day we used Old Church Slavonic, then switched to Church Slavonic in the 1940s and now it's all vernacular Ukrainian more or less, though my parish still does Slavonic in some parts of the liturgy.

      I would recommend you try a Ukrainian parish, but Ukrainians have always prided themselves in being European in contrast to those Russians! So you wont exactly have the same vibe with us as you would in a Russian Orthodox church. I feel completely at home when I visit a Polish ethnic parish (even the hymns before and after church are the same), cant say the same about a ROCOR parish!

      The thing about us Ukrainians though is that we're pretty big on the ethnic thing. So if that would seem discouraging then try the Byzantines they are all Americanized now.

  7. I don't know where you live but why not go Eastern Catholic? I am a Roman "convert" to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and I'm extremely happy with my decision to transfer churches.

  8. Dear James, I think this blog would be very interesting to you.

  9. P.S. There is Google translate bar at right

  10. Interesting post, especially regarding Henry VIII, but I must say I strongly disagree with you about choral music and congregational singing. I believe the congregation can participate most effectively by listening and that the West's incomparable patrimony of choral masses should be preserved, not as a concert but as an integral part of the liturgy. I have never felt more at home in the Roman Catholic Church than when attending St John Cantius in Chicago or St Agnes in St Paul where choral settings of the Ordinary are the norm and congregational singing is minimal. I don't know where this idea that the congregation have to be singing all the time came from but it's simply wrong. As for the claim that "Baroque music is as common as plainchant," really? I have NEVER heard Baroque music at a Latin mass. (Mozart, common at the two parishes I mentioned, is not Baroque music.) Renaissance polyphony, occasionally, but not nearly as much (and usually not at as high a standard) as I would like. In fact one of my major frustrations with the traditionalist movement was the "plainchant-only" mentality which is only slightly "higher" than the Low Mass mentality you rightly criticize. I'm all for medievalism to a point, but the legitimate development of sacred music did not end with the Middle Ages (though it might have ended in the 1960s), one reason I'm glad to be an Anglican.

    1. "I don't know where this idea that the congregation have to be singing all the time came from but it's simply wrong."

      "All the time" is a stretch because I'm a big supporter of chanted propers, which are impossible for all the laity to sing. I wouldn't bother being in a chant schola if I didn't think those were important. That involves learning five entirely new melismatic chants a week and then forgetting them until the next year. However, the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) and the responses (Et cum spiritu tuo, etc.) developed from hymns and words sung in common by the whole assembly in the ancient Church. That's why Pope Pius XI said:

      "From the earliest times the simple chants which graced the sacred prayers and the Liturgy gave a wonderful impulse to the piety of the people. History tells us how in the ancient basilicas, where bishop, clergy and people alternately sang the divine praises, the liturgical chant played no small part in converting many barbarians to Christianity and civilization. It was in the churches that heretics came to understand more fully the meaning of the communion of saints; thus the Emperor Valens, an Arian, being present at Mass celebrated by Saint Basil, was overcome by an extraordinary seizure and fainted. At Milan, Saint Ambrose was accused by heretics of attracting the crowds by means of liturgical chants. It was due to these that Saint Augustine made up his mind to become a Christian. It was in the churches, finally, where practically the whole city formed a great joint choir, that the workers, builders, artists, sculptors and writers gained from the Liturgy that deep knowledge of theology which is now so apparent in the monuments of the Middle Ages." (Divini Cultus)

      "As for the claim that "Baroque music is as common as plainchant," really? I have NEVER heard Baroque music at a Latin mass. (Mozart, common at the two parishes I mentioned, is not Baroque music.)"

      I didn't mean literally just music from Bach to Handel anymore than a fiddleback chasuble literally comes from the Baroque age. But rather, music which typifies the Tridentine era of the church. So that would include Rossini propers, the Schubert Ave Maria, and other so-called chestnuts, and pretty much all the hymns one would hear at a low Mass.

      That being said, I hear the organ music of Bach all the time at Latin Masses.

    2. I'm not a big fan of Rossini propers (like you I prefer Gregorian chant propers) or the Schubert Ave Maria, but I do advocate choral settings of the Ordinary by composers such as Josquin, Palestrina, Tallis, Byrd, Victoria, Haydn, Mozart, Vaughan Williams, etc., which from my point of view are not heard nearly enough in churches (Catholic or Anglican). (We Anglicans also have the English choral communion services such as Stanford in C which my choir are singing liturgically tomorrow.) If there's a parish in Texas where such masses are the norm, I would very much like to know about it.

      The fact that something was done a certain way in the early Church doesn't necessarily mean that it should always be done that way. I see the enrichment of the liturgy by choral settings of the Mass by great composers from the 14th century onward as a perfectly legitimate and praiseworthy development inspired by God so as to make the liturgy even more beautiful. I discussed this in my 2010 address at the Anglican Use RC parish here in Arlington:

    3. I apologize if the article makes it look like I'm opposed to choral Mass settings on principle. I'm not. I like Josquin and Tallis a lot. I'd go so far as to say that some modern compositions like Part's are interesting. But plainchant is the bread and butter of the Roman liturgy, so that should be what people are most familiar with. If I were a pastor, I'd have plainchant Ordinaries on "green Sundays" and choral Masses on solemnities or other special feast days. I've never personally been to a Latin Mass community where choral Masses were feasible on all Sundays, anyway. Even Cantius probably uses plainchant settings on green Sundays a lot.

      Another consideration is that choral Masses, in practice, virtually require a choir with women. That's a different can of worms, but I believe the ideal practice is to have a choir of men and boys in cassock and surplice, seated in stalls in the chancel. The trad Catholic world is a VERY long way away from ever achieving that ideal, however, so it's hardly worth even mentioning.

    4. True. Thanks for that. Even I concede that a weekly choral mass is not practical in most places (my Episcopal parish does it once a month and on major feasts), but I think it should be encouraged wherever possible. Even with plainchant, however, I prefer for it to be sung by a small group of men who have invested some time and effort into learning to do it well, like you, rather than by the entire congregation.

      As for the composition of the choir, I sing in a choir of men and women and love it, but can't resist pointing out that in the Episcopal Church we do have at least one outstanding parish meeting your (and my) ideal, New York's Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue, where the Choir of Men and Boys, in cassock & surplice in stalls in the chancel, sing a different choral mass setting every week (resuming for 2013-14 today). All of their services are available to listen to online. Arguably St Thomas, though not Roman Catholic, with its soaring Gothic architecture, all-male choir and clergy, and devotion to the sung daily Office, offers the most authentically "medieval" worship experience in the United States.

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  12. "an aesthetically perfect solemn Mass at Saint Clement's Episcopal in downtown Philly"

    No need to worry about that any longer. It's all been dummied-down since fall of 2011.

  13. " In truth, I was disappointed that I didn't hear anything like the deep all-male Russian chants you might find on YouTube with the droning, but I'm told those sorts of choirs are rare outside of Russia itself."

    Holy Trinity Monastery/Seminary has a wonderful all-male choir in Jordanville, NY (between Albany and Syracuse) and there is even one Indonesian seminarian there now. :)
    I would recommend that you attend the All Night Vigil on Saturday night sometime to get a fuller experience (it's not really all night - only about 2 or 3 hours).

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  16. For your consideration.