Thursday, April 28, 2016

Radio chat is now online!

The Poor Clares in San Antonio attending our nuptial Mass in 2014

You can now listen to my radio "fireside chat" with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in San Antonio at this link, provided you have iTunes installed. Just select the broadcast for April 27, 2016.

Our discussion, which was prompted by the month's-mind Requiem Mass offered for their late abbess, Mother Angelica of EWTN fame, at my former parish in San Antonio, revolved around the prayers and Gregorian chants of the Requiem, devotions for the souls in purgatory during the Middle Ages, the Office of the Dead, and the importance of reclaiming the spirituality behind these traditions in the modern age. 

The sisters' main site is the Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel, or From there, you can learn a bit more about them, buy their soap, and find their blog, Quidnunc. My first real encounter with the Poor Clares was when they attended a Requiem Mass for my stepfather years ago. Since then, I correspond with them every once in a while, and was honored to design service booklets for one of their solemn professions. And, if you saw my post two days ago, I did the same for the Requiem Mass for Mother Angelica according to the Divine Worship Missal of the Personal Ordinariates, which is now on YouTube below.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Requiem aeternam

Pictured above are a few of the first-printed service programs I designed for the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in my hometown of San Antonio, resting atop their altar as a "first fruits" offering. This evening, a Requiem Mass will be offered for the sisters' late abbess, Mother Angelica, on the month's mind of her death at my old parish of Our Lady of the Atonement. Memory eternal!

The image chosen for the cover is one of my favorites: a Requiem Mass illustrated by the great architect and father of the Gothic revival, Augustus Welby Pugin, as an endplate for his Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament (which I discovered and commented on a few years ago here). For any new readers, know that this blog is largely dedicated to Pugin, a Catholic convert in 19th century Britain who is most famous for designing the "Big Ben" Clock Tower and the interior of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. But, more important than his contributions to the state were his efforts to rebuild the Catholic Church in England, which had just been emancipated after centuries of suppression. In less than two decades, Pugin raised up dozens of Gothic revival churches for the poor Catholics of Victorian England, including the first Catholic cathedral built in the realm since the Reformation. He also designed countless stained-glass windows, chalices, vestments, and other ecclesiastical furnishings, and wrote several books; including a tract advocating the restoration of Gregorian chant. Augustus Pugin, who effectively worked himself to death at age 40, was a forerunner of the Liturgical Movement and is commemorated by yours truly whenever I get the chance.

Today, I expect to speak with the Poor Clares on their weekly radio program, A Good Habit, later this afternoon on such matters as the Requiem Mass and devotions surrounding prayer for the faithful departed. The program begins at 1pm central time and is broadcast primarily in Texas. See here if your city is listed among the stations on the Guadalupe network. Otherwise, check back later when I post the recording.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"This place is terrible!"

The Introit Terribilis is also used for the feast of the dedication of Saint John Lateran in Rome, the Pope's cathedral and the first church built following Emperor Constantine's Edict of Toleration.
This place is terrible!

This is a translation a friend once gave me for the Introit sung at the beginning of the Mass for consecrating a new church building: Terribilis est locus iste. The fuller antiphon, drawing from Jacob's dream of the ladder, reads:
"Terrible is this place: it is the house of God, and the gate of heaven; and it shall be called the court of God."

The King James translation goes so far as to say, "how dreadful is this place!" Is it not strange how  these terms, once used to refer to the kingdom of God as a place of splendor and majesty, are now devolved into words we'd sooner use when expressing sorrow over someone's dog being run over on the street? 

It seems we've forgotten that the idea of the afterlife is a "terror to behold", and that the images in our churches are not always there to give us warm and fuzzy feelings of security. Sometimes, as with the icons of the East which stare into the depths of your soul, or the mad paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, we ought to feel a bit uneasy about our place in the universe. They invite us to step outside our comfort zones. And so, the liturgy addresses God as "King of awful majesty" (Rex tremendae majestatis from the Dies Irae, or sequence for Masses of the Dead). And it was these words; terrible, dreadful, and awful; which ran through my mind as I watched the following video. It's a re-enactment of a Palm Sunday procession as it have been seen in Chartres in the year 1190. The actual venue is the famous Cloisters of the Met Museum in New York City, and though it's not a true liturgical service, the vested ministers are real Capuchin friars. This may be of special interest to any of my Eastern Christian readers who observed Palm Sunday just yesterday.

My only nitpicks are the ministers' failure to sing the texts, and perhaps the use of female singers, but it's absolutely worth watching in any case.

See the video itself at this link.

(You may also wish to follow along with this program or listen to the opening remarks afterward.)

The spirituality which led to the development of these hallowed rites has long since given way to suffocation and then, ultimately, the total banality which most of us would suffer if we were to walk into any average parish down the street on a Sunday. The holy mysteries are now, for the most part, stumbled through with less grace and solemnity than my family picnics.... and worst of all, no one sees the problem with it.

I can only imagine the millions of keystrokes that have gone into explaining how to dig ourselves out of this cesspool of bad worship. While a return to rubrical authors and older liturgical texts is certainly important, it won't stick unless we allow the old rites; with all their smells, sounds, uneasy sights, and perambulations in and out of the church; to shape our interior dispositions. Good liturgy, should we be open to it, will instill in us the seventh gift of the Holy Ghost: the fear of the Lord, which, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, "fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him".

Then, perhaps one day, we'll be able to genuflect before the Eucharistic Host at Mass, make an examination of conscience on our readiness to worthily receive Communion, and only after that, answer the question, "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" with (like the archbishop of Canterbury to Henry V in Shakespeare's play), "the sin upon my head, dread sovereign..." and then boldly step before the altar of God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Out of the Anglican patrimony: what on earth is "lovingkindness"?

When speaking of the Anglican Use and Personal Ordinariates, we must inevitably come to terms with defining what, exactly, that nebulous expression "Anglican patrimony" is. While I personally like to lump in the pre-Reformation customs and devotions of the English church, the phrase more often refers to those various customs of the post-Reformation Anglican churches which, being in no way contrary to the Catholic faith, are "baptized" and integrated into the life of the Church. A few examples off the top of my head would include Evensong (a sort of conjoined Vespers and Compline), the singing of psalms to harmonized "Anglican chant", and the common praying of the Collect for Purity at the beginning of Mass (a prayer which, before Cranmer, was a private devotion for the priest out of the Sarum Missal while preparing for Mass).

The Introit given for this past Sunday in the Ordinariate's Divine Worship Missal gave me another one to add to the list: "lovingkindness". The Latin original (used for the 2nd Sunday after Easter in the Extraordinary Form, not the 3rd) begins with Psalm 32(33):5..
Misericordia Domini plena est terra, alleluia;
(in most translations: "The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia")
This is in accord with the Douai-Reims Bible, which usually translates the Vulgate's misericordia as "mercy". The Divine Worship Missal, on the other hand, renders it as:
The lovingkindness of the LORD filleth the whole world, alleluia.
What on earth is "lovingkindness", and how did we get to that from "mercy"? From what I can tell, "lovingkindness" was coined by Myles Coverdale (1488-1569). First, some background:

One of the early English Protestants, Coverdale's greatest contribution was in his efforts to translate the Bible into English. While the King James Version later eclipsed most of his Biblical work, Coverdale's translations of the Psalms persisted within the Book of Common Prayer all the way up to the 20th century. Most choral Evensongs sung in the great English cathedrals, therefore, sing the Coverdale psalms. It's sad to say that, like Cranmer, he became a traitor to the Roman faith for which he was ordained, preaching against the Real Presence and dying effectively as a Puritan. There is a delicious irony, then, that Anglican Use and Ordinariate priests around the world regularly pray Coverdale's finest translation of all: his superb rendition of the Roman Canon, made back when he was still an Augustinian canon (or at least, so attributed; there seems to be a bit of debate on the matter). I've never seen another version in any Latin Mass hand missal that matches its perfect balance of beauty and accuracy.

Returning to Coverdale's unique word: as I'm no Biblical scholar, I don't know exactly what led him to develop the term since he was not a scholar of Hebrew (and thus still drew from the Latin Vulgate, as well as Luther's German Bible). In the Hebrew Old Testament, chesed is said to mean "to bend or incline oneself" or "to be merciful". We can easily picture this in God descending from the heavenly to the earthly plane, whether in the Incarnation two thousand years ago or the Eucharist upon our altars every day. We can also see it in the act of a superior bending the knee to wash a subordinate's feet, from the Last Supper on the night the Lord was betrayed, to the medieval king's re-enactment of the Mandatum by washing the feet of beggars on Maundy Thursday. 

Kings and vagabonds
Lovingkindness is kindness proceeding from love. Mercy is certainly an appropriate word, but one that I feel doesn't have quite the same "punch" in our English language; and, I daresay, one that's almost been debased by so many Church leaders; compared to that word which makes you stop and think for a moment at how odd it is. 
"Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old."

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."

"I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name."

"But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."

Monday, April 18, 2016

The tonus solemnior: more solemn tone

Toward the back of the 1962 Missal, there's a section of ad libitum chants including the tonus solemnior, or "more solemn" tone of the Preface. This tone is rather difficult for non-musically inclined priests to learn, but has an outstanding effect when sung by a skilled celebrant (in my opinion; some people hate it and find it too much gilding of the lilly). When you hear it, you might find it reminiscent of the Exsultet tone, which is a sort of ultra-solemn Preface tone in itself.

Since Pentecost is coming up, I thought to record a tutorial video for any adventurous priests who might want to learn this tone and increase the solemnity of their celebration. If I get any requests, I'll see about setting the tone to the words given for the Preface in the Ordinary Form or Divine Worship (Ordinariate) Missals....

This video below has another sample Preface with the matching dialogue versicles as well. I think that, for "pastoral reasons", you can mix and match the regular versicles with the more solemn Preface itself. (In other words, good luck getting a congregation to learn them.)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A World Day of Prayer for Vocations

I didn't know that there even was such a thing as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations until my workplace asked me to write a mass email to its vocations prospects on the matter. The first was assigned by Pope Paul VI in 1963 for Good Shepherd Sunday (which is the 3rd Sunday after Easter in the reformed lectionary, but the 2nd Sunday after Easter in the old): "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest". Earlier today, Pope Francis ordained eleven men to the priesthood.

I have a dim view of Pope Paul, to say the least; but it's always a good idea to pray for vocations, so I share two interesting photos from our wedding that I haven't circulated much before.

The servers, including two diocesan seminarians, pray a devotion before an image of the Sacred Heart in the narthex prior to the start of the nuptial Mass.

The schola chanters, led by a seminarian of the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter), rehearse in the baptistery. Or, by the looks of it, tell jokes in lieu of practicing....
"Lord Jesus, High Priest and universal Shepherd, Thou hast taught us to pray, saying: 'Pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest' (Mattew 9:38). Therefore we beseech Thee graciously to hear our supplications and raise up many generous souls who, inspired by Thy example and supported by Thy grace, may conceive the ardent desire to enter the ranks of Thy sacred ministers in order to continue the office of Thy one true priesthood."
--from a prayer by Pope Pius XII

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Weird Wednesday: Ven. Cornelia Connelly, convert, mother superior... and wife to a priest

From April Fools to hailstorms in Texas, there must be something about this month that brings out the bizarre. Around this time last year, I was moved to write about an eccentric Victorian entitled Weird Wednesday: Montague Summers, vampirologist and priest (maybe).

Perhaps it's time to make a tradition of it. Today I present you a brief sketch of a local treasure in my current area (Philadelphia): the Venerable Cornelia Connelly. In truth, I posted this on my personal Facebook page a few weeks ago, but my thoughts returned to her story and decided to share it on my blog as well, even though it has little to do with medievalism per se (though is perhaps of interest to my brethren who belong to one of the Personal Ordinariates, etc.). If you find her story interesting, I encourage you to do more reading on your own, especially the case of Connelly v. Connelly. I barely scratched the tip of the iceberg with this little post.


This is one of the most colorful, tragic characters I've discovered while digging through the annals of Church history: (Venerable) Cornelia Connelly, foundress of the Society of the Holy Child, local Philadelphia treasure... and one of the only women of the Victorian age who could call herself wife to a Roman Catholic priest.

Cornelia in her youth
Cornelia Peacock was born in 1809 to a wealthy Philadelphian, Presbyterian family. At 22, she married a handsome Episcopalian priest named Pierce Connelly. Pierce was an intelligent, charismatic up-and-comer in the Episcopal Church and was considered by many to be on track from a bishopric. As waves of Irish and other Catholic immigrants poured in, he started reading about the Catholic faith for the purpose of refuting it, but he ended up with a crisis of faith and desired to convert instead. Even at this early stage, he was thinking of becoming a Catholic priest, so he traveled to Rome before being formally received into the Church to "discuss his options", as they were. Cornelia was to meet him there with their children, but she went ahead and was received into the Church on her own in New Orleans while waiting for a ship to Europe.

Cornelia and Pierce (both to the rear). What a jolly-looking couple!
Pierce apparently pleaded so artfully that he moved Pope Gregory XVI to tears and was received into the Church by the Holy Father himself. Priesthood, however, would not be conferred so easily. Today, former Episcopal clergy can be dispensed by the Pope to become Catholic priests even while married through the Pastoral Provision and Personal Ordinariates, etc. In the 19th century, though, a married man could only become a priest in the Latin Rite if he and his wife mutually agreed to take perpetual vows of chastity and live separately. Pierce was advised to consider becoming an Eastern Rite priest instead, but as there were no Eastern Rite parishes in the United States to serve at the time, he pressed on with a vocation to orders in the Latin Rite. 

Cornelia was still pregnant with their fifth child when he announced his intention to become a priest and break up the family. She urged him to reconsider, but said that if God was asking this of her, she would conform to His will. It's a wonder that Rome agreed to any of it, but Pierce was a skilled orator. The Pope even gave him the gift of a large fish to signify what a great "catch" he was for the Church... or so it seemed at the time. Meanwhile, Cornelia discerned a call to religious life and entered a convent in Rome that gave her special permission to bring her children with her. (It should be noted here that Cornelia was never at any point obliged to become a nun as a condition of Pierce becoming a priest. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome said as much and told Cornelia her first duty was to her children, but he didn't dissuade her from religious life, either.)

John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury
In 1845, Pierce was ordained a priest in Cornelia's convent's chapel with their children present. Shortly after, Cornelia was sent by Pope Gregory to England to establish a new religious house and educate Catholic schoolchildren there. The Society of the Holy Child soon took on schools, parish apostolates, night classes for young factory workers, and more. Pierce went to England as well to take up a post as Lord Shrewsbury's personal chaplain; the very same Earl of Shrewsbury who patronized the building of Saint Giles, Cheadle and many other of Augustus Pugin's works. As for the children, Bishop Wiseman ordered them to be sent to boarding schools to avoid the appearance of scandal.

After a year of total separation, Pierce traveled to Derby and showed up at Cornelia's convent unannounced. Personal visits of this kind between the two were, if not strictly forbidden, at least seriously frowned upon; and Cornelia reproached Pierce for it. Pierce started writing letters to her, confessing his continued physical desire for her. Cornelia took solemn vows in 1847, but Pierce refused to attend. A month later, he took the children out of boarding school without telling Cornelia, putting the youngest in a secret home and taking the rest with him back to Italy in the hope that Cornelia would abandon her vows and return to him. 

To make a long story short, after falsely claiming to be the founder and superior of the Society of the Holy Child before Roman authorities (in an attempt to thereby become Cornelia's religious superior!), as well as an apparent failed bid to earn a cardinal's hat (though he was only a priest for three years), Pierce renounced his priesthood and the Catholic faith entirely. He sued Cornelia in court to get her to return to his bed, conveniently omitting all mention of his conversion to Catholicism and priestly ordination to the Protestant judges and juries. The case grew notorious in England, with Cornelia's effigy featuring in Guy Fawkes Day parades and some pressure from the English Catholic hierarchy to Cornelia to move back to America, but she persevered and eventually won the case. She lost, however, all custody over her children and suffered a strained relationship with them for the rest of her life. Only one returned to the faith later on.

Pierce apparently spent the next thirty years making a living off of writing salacious anti-Catholic tracts, some directed against his own wife, which caused Cornelia even greater suffering. But whatever acclaim Pierce may have enjoyed in his lifetime, history has judged him to be a petty and insignificant soul. He is now remembered solely in relation to his wife, whose legacy and Society continues to this day, in Philadelphia and around the world. Although the Sisters of the Holy Child themselves were once embarrassed to speak of their foundress's personal history, she has been called Venerable since 1992 and may, one day, be a saint... if we can ever get over the sheer strangeness of her life story.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Propers: striking terror into choristers' hearts since (at least) the 1920's

"Contrary to a fast-growing error, High Mass is the Mass which the Church would have us hear. Many Catholics ignorantly believe that Low Mass is the proper Mass, which has been expanded and embroidered into High Mass by Catholics who are too pious. On the contrary, the truth is rather that Low Mass is High Mass bleached and shorn for the sake of Catholics who are not pious enough. High Mass is Mass par excellence, and the singing of the Proper is part of it, by inexorable ordinance. Therefore, when the Proper is so dull or bungling as to hinder devotion, and to make people frequent Low instead of High Mass harm is done not only to the cause of the Liturgy but also to Catholic piety."
--fighting words from a column in The Tablet on November 22, 1924

Maestro Jeff Ostrowski has, once again, pointed his readers to the next great fascinating find from the annals of obscure publications from ages past (see his post on April 5 in Views From the Choir Loft). This latest offering is from a series of essays on how voluntary (i.e. volunteer or unpaid) choirs ought to approach and execute the Proper of the Mass. In the early 20th century, The Tablet was a premier journal in the British Catholic world and beyond for all kinds of scholarship. Today, it's... rather the opposite, with the archives being no doubt a source of embarrassment to any of their present-day editors who could be bothered to read any back-issues from the 1920's.

This particular series was the fruit of a contest that The Tablet held, which would give a modest monetary prize to whoever could present the best solution to a very real problem facing churches of the time: that most parishes frankly ignored the singing of the Mass Propers altogether. About twenty years prior, Pope Saint Pius X issued forth his monumental directive on sacred music, Tra le sollecitudini. Its chief aim, to restore Gregorian chant as the normative form of music in the western Church and cull profane, secular, or overly operatic pieces from church around the world, was met with a respectable degree of success; certainly with magnitudes more obedience than any papal document to come from Rome since Vatican II.

Nonetheless, while most parishes in England had succeeded in at least implementing something the Missa de Angelis for Sundays, they were overwhelmed with the demands of Rome that the Propers (the variable sung portions of Mass, such as the Introit and Offertory antiphons; sometimes called the "minor propers" to distinguish them from the variable parts used by the celebrating priest alone, such as the Collect and Preface) be sung from its approved Vatican Gradual: the primary source for the Proper chants which are found in the Liber Usualis and sung in many Latin Mass communities today. Musicians trained in the reading and interpretation of Gregorian chant were as few and far between in those days as now, but they also had no Internet to make up the difference, nor even chant CD's to know what plainsong might authentically sound like. The more faithful directors arranged to have the Propers sung according to psalm tones or in a monotone, but the rest just ignored them altogether.

At the end of the submission period, The Tablet determined that the received entries were all so unhelpful, off-topic, or downright bad that the title and prize simply could not be given out without diminishing the paper's good name. Still, the essays printed give a glimpse at the worries of the early 20th century church choir and the remedies they chose, and a few are amusing. One essay in particular is outstandingly funny and will be reposted in full at the bottom of this entry. But as you read through these, you see that the choirs' concerns from ages past are not so different from those who sing at Latin Masses today. Anyone who's sung in an intermediate or advanced schola knows well the "weekly grind": the hour, two hours, or even more required to rehearse the Propers for that Sunday alone, only to forget them until the same Sunday next year. Once your schola upgrades to full Propers, you find yourself with little time to ever learn new Ordinaries or anything else. But, do you dare revert to the bad old days of psalm-toning? Once you attain mastery of the full cycle of Propers, it's hard to go back to anything less.

On whether hired choristers are less devout than volunteers

"It must not be taken for granted that volunteers are necessarily and invariably more unselfish and high-minded than paid singers. Many a recipient of a quarterly cheque, which rarely covers more than his out-of-pocket expenses, is truly anxious that Almighty God shall be worthily praised in His temple. On the other hand, many a volunteer joins a choir because he takes pleasure in hearing himself sing; or because the choir-gallery is an informal part of the church, where you can be inattentive during the sermon ; or even (according to credible report) to dodge the collection." [MM: guilty as charged on this one. I remember a slight sense of indignation once when I sang at a church and saw an usher come up to pass the collection plate around the organ loft]

On the importance of training grown men to sing chant

"The difficulty of inducing certain grown-up Catholics, who describe themselves as 'passionately fond of music,' to content themselves with truly ecclesiastical music, even in Advent and Lent, has caused some earnest priests to drop ordinary mixed choirs of adults altogether, and to rely on picked bodies of children, who sing sweetly and chastely the Missa de Angelis and a plainchant Credo. This is good as far as it goes. [MM: Indeed, though I prefer adult or mixed boys'/men's voices, have sung the Missa de Angelis enough for a lifetime, and am rather skeptical of all the pre-conciliar romanticism around photos of "sweet altar boys", it's hard to picture a children's choir singing these chants as anything other than heavenly.] But although 'praise is perfected out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,' it is clearly fitting that the voices of grown-up persons should swell the song. 
"We must not encourage the scoffer who says that Catholicism is mainly soprano—a religion for women and children and not for men in the fullness of their manhood." [MM: What a relief to hear someone saying this almost one hundred years ago.]

Choirmastering: an age-old balancing act

"It is extremely difficult to be level-headed on the subject of music; and when a question of ecclesiastical music and propriety is touched, the fire of controversy leaps high. A member of a church congregation tells you the choir is all awry and the music too operatic, while his friend in the next pew gives as many reasons as to why the music is too gloomy and lifeless, and so on. 
"In fact, I suppose the ideal musical director would be the man who could satisfy both extremes and who could steer his course without offence to either party. Indeed, since 'operatics' in church were authoritatively discouraged, and since the entrance of plainchant as a rival to modern musical tendencies, the choirmaster's task has been a severe and unenviable one. Popular prejudices in favour of the operatic style, hard and unwise insistence on the omission of anything except Gregorian chant, have greyed the hair of many a man before his time." 
--by H.W.R. Lillie, S.J. (Saint Mary's Hall, Stonyhurst)
October 18, 1924

Needed: a professor of plainchant

"Very often he [the choirmaster] is at a disadvantage on account of his business occupations, or else his knowledge of music is so scanty that it will not bear presuming upon. No one, too, will deny that to render the chant well demands great skill and patience both in those who undertake to sing it and in the conducting of it. 
"A possible solution would be the institution of summer schools in central districts where those Who are keen to begin could attend. This seems quite a practical way out of the difficulty. Self-sacrificing teachers would, I am sure, lend their assistance to the furtherance of the cause. If summer (or vacation) schools were formed in each diocese, the standard would assuredly be raised. 
"Another plan would be the setting aside in each diocese of a competent musician who could travel round and give instruction where it was needed. A time would come when the appointment of choirmasters could he regulated, and those only who had sufficient experience and knowledge would be appointed. 
"Perhaps we shall see the day when a 'Professor of Plainchant' will have a chair in our larger seminaries and colleges—to say nothing of a Catholic college of music!" 
--from the same column by Lillie above

The real Propers: too hard to even bother with

"Our Holy Mother the Church has most wisely decreed that Whenever a Mass is sung, then the choir shall not only sing those portions of the Mass called the Ordinary, but also the Proper parts which vary according to the feasts. By a large and well-trained choir, such a task as singing the Proper in the official melodies of the Church, i.e., the Vatican chant, can be easily and gracefully performed, and we all know how delightful it is to hear the Proper of the Mass as sung, for instance, at Westminster Cathedral, whilst there are numerous other churches in London and the Provinces where the Vatican proper is very meritoriously rendered. But for a small and voluntary choir to do likewise would be entirely out of the question and should not even be attempted."  
--by the Rev. R.J. Simpson (Domodossola, Italy)
October 25, 1924

Volunteer choirs are destroying the liturgy

"To begin with, the writer cannot help uttering a protest against the very existence of the volunteer choir, viewing it as a form of musical frightfulness which has done more than any other agency to relegate the splendour of the Catholic liturgy to a state of innocuous abeyance and wellnigh oblivion. Let me state with all possible emphasis that if our clergy desire singing which will be a fitting concomitant to the descent of our Divine Lord upon our altars, it must be bought and paid for just the same as are magnificent edifices, golden chalices, costly vestments, and indeed all the other appurtenances of the Divine Sacrifice." 
--by James P. Dunn, U.S.A.
November 8, 1924

Comments from a musically literate outsider looking in

"I am not a Catholic—not even an Anglo—but I frequently attend Catholic churches, and can find my place in the book better than some of the faithful. It may interest you to know that many choirs settle the problem of the Proper of the Mass by leaving it severely alone. Some of them give creditable performances of those parts of the Mass which are sung in the same words every Sunday, but they simply pass over the variable Proper. Perhaps there is a special dispensation for Great Britain, but nobody can refer inquirers to its date and scope. You, Sir, have stated without qualification that the Proper must never be omitted from a sung Mass. I could name the defaulting choirs but I don't want to play the informer—to have it on my conscience that choirmasters have been dragged in chains to Rome. Besides, I admit that the Proper, in a majority of churches, is a trial to musical hearers, and that, more often than not, I am glad when it is skipped. Excuse a heretic's intrusion." 
-by T.T.W.
November 8, 1924

No one cares about liturgy

"I think most priests will agree with me that the laity, taken as a whole, are not much interested in the Liturgy as such. Suggestions from the pulpit that the laity should follow the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the missal in the vernacular—opportunities for which are by no means lacking at the present day—are listened to but seldom acted upon. For some reason or other the beautiful simplicity and grandeur of the liturgical prayers is set aside, and the exaggerated complexity of most of our devotional books is preferred. After all, truth in all its beauty is to be found in the simple and straightforward. 
"This is a pity. An interest in the Liturgy leads to investigation and, eventually, to a correct interpretation of the mind of the Church. To give an example, the Introit of Midnight Mass at Christmas speaks of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, and, be it noted, the chant corresponds perfectly with that idea. Compare with this the Introit of the third Mass, a few hours later, and note the contrast. In other words, the Proper of the Mass when understood in the vernacular by the laity reconciles them to the style of chant employed for a particular Sunday or feast. How often have we heard the remark: 'What an uninteresting Introit for Christmas!' It is clear that what is lacking is a true interpretation of the Liturgical Mind of the Church. Given an interest in and a fair grasp of the meaning of the liturgical words, the rendering of the Proper would be vastly different from what it has been."  
-by the Rev. Richard Arscott, Southsea
November 15, 1924

They've used psalm-tones so exclusively that the youngsters think this is all Gregorian chant really is

"On making inquiry, our colleague was informed that this method of executing the Proper [MM: that is, of psalm-toning everything, even the Easter and Pentecost sequences] had obtained at the church in question for very many years, without variation. Indeed, he computed that the same chant had been used over two thousand times, and he found that some of the younger people in the congregation regarded it as 'official' music, equal in authority to the strains associated with Sursum corda and the Paternoster. In short, this kind of Proper was looked upon as the thorns besetting the mystical roses of Holy Mass. A discreet investigation revealed the lamentable fact that, although the case above described was an exceptionally bad one, the Proper is not in a good way. There are many churches where, in flat disobedience to the command of the Church, the Proper was quietly dropped so long ago that hardly anyone remembers a time when it was sung. In certain other places it is voted a nuisance by choir and congregation alike, and is perfunctorily rattled off (monotone or chanted) at express speed. Where more conscientiousness prevails, the week-night preparation of the Proper is often a bugbear to the choir, and its Sunday execution is a torture to the congregation."
--from the "Summing Up" conclusion, leading up to the first excerpt I posted
November 22, 1924

One essay by a certain Canon Reginald Vaughan stands out for its sheer delightful absurdity. Vaughan was apparently a liturgical purist of the highest sort: if an all-male choir can't be had, then it's low Mass for you. (Though strangely, it's equally acceptable to use a gramophone for music at low Mass as it is to use female singers.) It's a textbook case of letting the great become the enemy of the good, but he argues so effectively and hilariously for it that you almost want to believe.


"A voluntary choir is, I presume, the same as an amateur choir of people who sing, not because they are paid, but because they like it. A professional choir sings because other people like it, or they would not pay. Sometimes the other people like the singing of the amateur choir, but that is when they do not think they could do better themselves, and that is when time and trouble have been spent on music. Yet the choir must not sing to please. The people's likes and dislikes can be an indication of good and bad, but only when the people are musically wise. Nor should the choir sing to edify; that will take care of itself if they sing for the love of God and music, because He is honoured when they give their best. To offer one's best means taking trouble and spending time. It also means spending money for copies—not home-made copies of copyright music, for that is an injustice to composer and publisher, and cannot rightly be offered to God. Some schools and even convents seem to be without conscience in this matter. It would be a good thing to have one or two of the richer ones well prosecuted and heavily fined. [MM: perhaps GIA Publications should start up a canonization cause for this guy.] 
"Now where sung Mass is concerned, these amateurs must be men or boys, or both. I say must, because the Pope says so. 'Women cannot be admitted,' he says. [MM: Vaughan is merely quoting from Pius X's Tra le sollecitudini directly here.] The choir must be composed of clerics, or of those who are capable of being clerics. This has been perfectly clear for twenty-one years, and yet I believe there are places where Mass is sung, Proper and all, by 'mixed' choirs, in open defiance of the law. They plead 'necessity'; but, surely, a place where there are not enough men or boys is a place where 'necessity' should compel them to keep the law, and do without a sung Mass. 'Low Mass with music' is another thing; this music is not liturgical, and may perhaps be performed by women or gramophones.  [MM: or, in our century, perhaps chant played through an iPhone connected to speakers? I once visited an historic downtown church with just such an arrangement. I also heard the phone's ringtone echo throughout the nave when it started to receive an incoming call.] The matter rests with the celebrant. If he sings 'Dominus vobiscum,' the women must keep silence, for it is a Missa Cantata, and they are liturgically 'incapable' of singing 'Et cum spiritu tuo.' I do not know how nuns manage; but then, they are not voluntary choirs in the sense of this discussion. 
Besides, women almost invariably wobble. They have been spoken to very seriously by the highest authorities about this disgusting vice, and they have heard Dame Clara Butt. And yet, where there are women who profess to sing, you shall be driven half crazy by their everlasting 'vibrato' as they call it. And worse, they do it in church, and you cannot get away. They take an unfair advantage of your compulsory presence, and scarify your long-suffering ears with their horrible accomplishment, till you begin to think the deafness of Beethoven would be a blessing. Pius X knew a thing or two. This prohibition is the clearest thing in the whole 'Motu Proprio.' [MM: I read that Rome was issuing dispensations to allow female singers within days of the motu proprio's release.]
If sopranos are wanted, we must have boys. Now your boy, at his best, is peerless. But short of his best—even when he is not a mere squalling infant—is he worth the trouble? For he is the most difficult of all wind-instruments, and you have to get a new one every three years, and begin all over again. To get the best results out of boys, and perhaps the only results really worth having, you must run a choir-school--and then the choir is not voluntary. [MM: I don't understand why every Catholic cathedral on earth doesn't have a choir school attached to it. Actually, never mind; I do know why. I just don't like the answer.]
Singing is natural in men and birds. The man who cannot sing is defective, physically, mentally, or morally. [MM: Amen. Alleluia. It is written.]
He has no mouth, or is feeble in his wits, or is wanting in courage. Ask a man if he sings, and the answer is usually in the negative. But his wife has heard him in the bath room, and knows better. He means that he is not a drawingroom warbler—and a good thing, too. Your drawing-room warbler squeezes his wind-pipe and blocks his nose and does several other pachycephalous things under the delusion that it sounds nice. Sometimes he is so monumental an idiot that he tries to wobble. We do not want the drawing room voice in church. We want the bath-room voice. A man cannot add a cubit to his stature, an octave to his compass, or a Caruso-quality to his top note. But he can be a good man of his inches, and can use the voice God gave him without affectation, which is idolatry. An ugly voice, honestly used, is better for church-singing than a pretty one faked up to show off. However, very few men's voices are ugly, when they are allowed to work in their own natural simple unsophisticated way. [MM: All true. When your average American "dude" protests that he can't sing a lick, it's more of a cultural barrier or a lack of actually trying. I apply this to myself as well. I believe if I earnestly tried to study maths like my life depended on it, I could probably, eventually figure it out.]
Take the man who says he has never sung in his life, tell him to take a deep-sea diver's breath, open his mouth wide, and, while you play the chord of G major with all the stops out, let rip whatever comes. He will probably yell G or B or D, and be surprised at the music there is in him. He will soon learn, unless he be defective, to handle the joy-sticks of his vocal machinery, and let out notes of any pitch within his range, loud or soft. The less he thinks about quality of tone the better. Teach him to open his mouth, to avoid all sensation of tightness in the muscles of his head, to pronounce his vowels correctly and his consonants distinctly; warn him solemnly against Reginarangelorum and Hosannarinexcelsis, and the quality will take care of itself. As for reading, anyone who has mastered the mystery of deciphering The Tablet can learn to read a line of diatonic melody. It is not easy at first, of course, especially when others are singing different tunes, but few things are that are worth doing. 
Of accompaniment, the great thing is to be able to do without it. Who was the criminal lunatic who first said the organ was to 'lead the singing'? Surely he was a Protestant—probably a Lutheran. Yet God brings good out of evil, and we have the Big Organ and J. S. B. (By the way, cannot some one of our historical pundits put in some good work and find out that Bach was a Catholic? They have nearly done it for Shakespeare.) [MM: See Joseph Pearce's many recent books on this subject, such as The Quest for Shakespeare.] And I suppose that, as for this people that knoweth not the law, the Holy Instrument must condescend to lead their artless hymns. Most of them sing the 'treble'; women and children at correct pitch (when in tune), men an octave lower, as is natural and not wrong. Sometimes a woman, or a boy who thinks he is clever, will sing 'seconds,' which, I understand, is the tune three notes down the scale. Or a woman with a music-book (and a wobble) executes the tenor part higher up. The deeper-voiced men supply what they call 'bass,' instinctively following the progression of roots where it is obvious, and doing any old thing where it is not. Some, I have observed, reverting to the Hucbald type, sing in fourths or fifths, while others are like the late Dr. Benson, as recorded by his son: 'He produced a buzzing noise that bore no relation to any known melody.' And occasions are not unknown when three versions of the same tune, each with its own set of variations as above, may be heard simultaneously. Under such conditions it is not a sin to try to bring unity out of multiplicity, order out of chaos, by using the organ for a purpose for which it was not originally intended. But popular hymn-roaring is not Liturgy. The choir that cannot sing without its organ is not worthy to be called a choir. At certain times the organ is supposed to be silent. If the Church allows it then to be played softly to 'support the voices' it is a concession to human weakness of which Englishmen should be ashamed to avail themselves. A pitch-pipe is all the organ they should need. 
But so wedded are we to the organ and so dependent upon it that, if on a Sunday the wind should fail, either the choir goes all to pieces, or, if it has been properly taught and continues as if nothing had happened, the people gape with astonishment at the marvel.
In places where they cannot afford an organ there is never any question but they must spend good money on some nasty substitute, perhaps one of the things called harmoniums—a dismal piece of furniture from the interior of which one squeezes gruesome sounds suggestive of pain in the abdomen. Unclean though it is, however, there is a certain blatant honesty about the thing that renders it less utterly loathsome than the horrible contraption known as 'American organ.' [MM: Many Americans have come to terms with these abominations by simply allowing them to fall into disrepair and disuse permanently. In Philadelphia, we have churches whose organs have been busted for decades! Unfortunately, they've done just the same to the good organs, too.] One of the mysteries of our complex life is to account for the unblushing presence in Catholic churches of this meretricious abomination, that pretends to be a big thing on a small scale, and panders to corrupt taste with its vulgar 'grand' effects, and flaunts its painted pipe-top in front of an altar built of soap-boxes. Were I a Bishop-----! [MM: God knows how many times I've said "were I a bishop" in my short lifetime.] One row of good diapasons is better for all church purposes than the largest 'reed-organ' ever made, and would cost less. 
Now what Proper of the Mass shall our men sing? I will say at once and boldly—not the Vatican Gradual. They will inevitably spoil it. It is much too difficult for any but experts in that style. It is a wonderful collection of oneline songs, and this kind of music, perhaps more than any other, is either very good or very bad, according to the way it is done—Corruptio optimi pessima. Compare 'Home, Sweet Home,' as Patti used to sing it, with the same simple melody rendered by a gang of Chinese coolies. Most Englishmen, though able to sing modern 'figured' music very well, would extract a din quite as hideous out of the Vatican Gradual. I have heard plainchant that, if it were broadcasted without introduction, might be taken for steers waiting to be bulldogged. And we wonder why there are people to whom plainchant 'does not appeal,' and why England does not get converted. Is it a great wonder, when we show them the noise of a cow-yard, and say, 'This, my brethren, is the Church's own music'? There is a vulgar notion that plainchant is easy, because it is in unison. Of course, it is easier to read one line than two, but you might as well say that, for this reason, it is easy to play the cello. Try I can well believe that it takes ten years to train a monk to sing, though he may practise every day. But our men are business men with families in potentia if not in actu, and it means much to come out of an evening after a day's work. 
They will, however, if they are interested. And they will be interested if something worth singing is put before them, something not too foreign to their taste, something that needs work to make it go well. Also, if their attention is not distracted, and their valuable time wasted by the presence of a bevy of ladies or a cage of boys. 
And they will be more than interested if they realize the dignity of their office, which places them next in official importance to the clergy themselves. 
We must, then, find something worth singing well that can be got up in a short time. It would do many choirs a great deal of good to practise monotone. A 'reciting note' is by no means easy to do neatly. You get this kind of thing :—Dodomiminominussssfofortitityoudoodopleplebississyouay. 
Your men may be excellent as individuals, but they are not a good choir till they can sing all together on one note :— Dominus fortitudo plebis suae, like one large man. 
The Proper can be set to the conventional psalm-tunes. It is not very interesting, but quite good when well done, i.e., when they 'recite' as above, when every man knows what tune is going to be sung, where the inflexions are to occur, and which commas are to be observed.

[MM: I've removed some of Vaughan's more technical commentary here on method, but you can see it, with the musical notation, in the original scan of the article on The Tablet's website.] 
But we can do better. Dr. Tozer published a book of Propers for mixed voices. He has used the 'recitingnote' freely, and, especially at the ends of phrases, divided the text into regular measures. The result is often pleasing, not unlike an 'Anglican Chant' without its woodenness. For men's voices, of course, these pieces have to be adapted. And here, if space permit, I would digress a little on the surprising ignorance of many who 'do the singing' in church. They do not seem to know that when a man sings 'treble' he sings an octave below what is written. Consequently, if two tenor-men and two bass-men sing something written for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, the tenor will frequently get above the soprano, and the bass above the alto. Chords get inverted, and there may be consecutive fifths. Thus: the most practical Propers for voluntary choirs will probably be on lines somewhat similar to those followed by Dr. Tozer. [MM: Jeff Ostrowski posted a scan of the Tozer Propers online for the first time ever, I believe, in 2014. They were first published in 1905, a couple years after Pius X's motu proprio, to allow choirs unfamiliar with chant to comply with the requirement of singing the Propers by setting them to harmony, sort of like Anglican chant. You can view them here.] 
Some of the texts are very refractory, but art thrives under restriction. It is an opportunity for our musicians to show their mettle, a test of musicianship worthy of the greatest composers. What, for example, would Sir Edward Elgar make of the Offertory for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost? 
These pieces must be less difficult to sing well than the Vatican Gradual. They may be with or without accompaniment, for 'mixed' (boys' and men's) or for 'equal' voices; for one voice, or two, or more. There must be no undue repetitions, and, as the Frog tactlessly remarked when asking Mrs. Mouse to sing (did she wobble?), 'Let it be something that's not very long.' Let our music-makers, then, get first to prayer, and then to work and compose Propers. The monks of St. Gall did it, and we also have gifts of music by the same Spirit, together with larger resources and more science. Let them design musical miniatures, joyous vignettes of contrapuntal tracery, or strong gems of harmony, like the chasing and the jewels that adorn the chalice. With prayer and work, perseverance and a pure intention, our Parochial High Mass will become a source of interest and reasonable pride for choir and people, and a joy in Heaven." 
--by the Rev. Reginald Vaughan, C.R.L.
October 11, 1924

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Annunciation and the cycles of life

Window of the Annunciation, designed by Augustus Welby Pugin for Bolton Priory, 1851.

As you may know, the feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the conception of the Lord in the Virgin's womb, was transferred to the first day after Easter week because its usual date; the 25th of March, precisely nine months before Christmas; happened to be Good Friday this year. It will not happen again until we are all but ashes and dust: AD 2157.

The Annunciation, like most other feast days, enjoyed a much higher degree of observance in the medieval world and remained a holy day of obligation until the 1800's. In England, it was Mary Day, reckoned as the first day of the civil year all the way up until Great Britain (and the American colonies) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Though we in the West moved the feast to the first available day so it wouldn't conflict with Holy Week and the octave of Easter, I'm told that the Eastern churches observe both Good Friday and the Annunciation together whenever they coincide. There is a beauty to this: the Lord's earthly life beginning the same day it ends. To the modern imagination, it's another piece of medieval macabre, but I like to think it enforces our teaching that life begins at conception. Furthermore, it was long part of our tradition, extending even before the Middle Ages, that March 25 was the "historical" date of the Crucifixion. I don't care to test the truth of the claim now because the message is more important: Christ is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. The poet John Donne knew as much and wrote, on this phenomenon in 1609:

"All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est."

I was privileged to observe yesterday's feast by attending and singing some of the proper chants at a solemn high Mass in the traditional Latin rite last night. (The Communion antiphon, Ecce virgo concipiet, has been stuck in my head for years thanks to its appearance in a chant CD that I listened to in my car for years.) 

There's a special significance I just realized about the venue chosen for this Mass. This parish hosted one of the "Anglican" Ordinariate communities for some time following their exodus out of the Episcopal Church. Though they merged with another Ordinariate community closer to Philadelphia and acquired a church property to call their own this past Advent (and of which I'm now a member), that fledgling group of converts used this church as a refuge, "baking" like the infant Jesus in Mary's womb following the angel's annunciation, until they were ready to come forth and take their place as a proper parish in the life of the greater Church. And now, the pastor who celebrated this Annunciation Mass pictured above will be attending our Ordinariate community's first solemn Evensong with Bishop Lopes when he arrives this Friday for a visitation.

It seems this life is a pilgrimage in which the liturgical year allows us to live over and over again in cycles, but not in an infinite circle like that imagined by the pagans of old; rather, loops in a spiral that extends ever higher until, we may hope, we find peace in the everlasting kingdom upon which the sun never sets.

Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium: et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel. (tempore Paschali) Alleluia.  
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son: and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (in Eastertide) Alleluia.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Quasimodo Sunday and the eyes of Notre-Dame

I have a semi-frequently observed tradition of watching Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame every year on the first Sunday after Easter (also called Low Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, the Octave Day of Easter, Dominica in albis, etc., etc.). What on earth does Easter have to do with a Disney cartoon, you may ask? The answer lies in the traditional Introit chant for this day, also called Quasimodo Sunday:

Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 
As newborn babes, alleluia: desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (1 Peter 2:2)

Today's header picture, featuring the text of today's Introit in a finely illuminated form on a manuscript, was taken from the video recording below.

That incipit, a compound of the Latin quasi and modo, has been reduced to as mere "as" in the English translation; but a more literal take might be "as if, in a way" or "almost the standard of measure". Thus, in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), when Claude Frollo discovers a misshapen baby abandoned on the steps of the cathedral, he bestows the name Quasimodo with a twofold meaning: first for having been found on the Sunday after Easter, but also for appearing "as if, in a way", a human being...

The opening sequence of the Disney version, like the rest of the film, is so different from the book that there's barely any resemblance, but that in no way stops it from being a masterpiece of song and animation. In the movie, Frollo is not the archdeacon but a secular magistrate, while the archdeacon is made into a separate, more benevolent character. This Frollo slays a Gypsy woman on the steps of the cathedral in pursuit and is about to toss her baby into a nearby well until:
"for one time in his life of power and control,
Frollo felt a twinge of fear for his immortal soul."
When Hugo wrote the novel, his readers, unless they were very old, had to imagine what the "eyes of Notre Dame" looked like because most of the statues had been destroyed by the plebeian vandals of the French Revolution. Indeed, this was precisely the reason the book was written in the first place: to bring a sense of cultural awareness to Notre-Dame's value at a time when the civil authorities were thinking of having the grand old (disrepaired) edifice torn down entirely. The statues we see resting on the western facade today are, thanks in part to Hugo's efforts, restorations made by Viollet-le-Duc, the famed restorer of the Sainte-Chapelle.

Some of the statues, refashioned in the mid-19th century by Gothic revivalist Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, will be shown in Disneyfied form below....

"You can lie to yourself and your minions; you can claim that you haven't a qualm.
But you never can run from nor hide what you've done from the eyes: the very eyes of Notre Dame" (Kyrie eleison)

These are from the Gallery of Kings: 28 kings of Israel and Judah, representing Christ's and our Lady's royal ancestors through the line of David. They were commonly assumed by the people, however, to be ancient kings of France, so they were all decapitated and buried during the Revolution.

One of many representations of the Virgin and Child throughout the cathedral. This one stands outside in front of the rose window.
An excellent photo of the Viollet-le-Duc restoration as found on this site.

And, of course, you owe this post a viewing of the film's opening sequence, if you've never seen it before....