Recently in Chant Category

Tanto Tempore Vobiscum Sum

| | Comments (1)


May 11
Saints Philip and James, Apostles

Today's Office Antiphons

There is no doubt that the antiphons given in the Divine Office for this feast of Saints Philip and James are among the most beautiful of the Paschaltide liturgy. If you have an Antiphonale, open it and sing them! The Church takes the dialogue of the Gospel and, with an artistry inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents it anew in a series of antiphons interwoven with alleluias:

Domine, Ostende Nobis Patrem

The first antiphon is Philip’s bold request: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8). Philip’s prayer echoes that of Moses in the book of Exodus: “I pray thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18).

Et Non Cognovistis Me?

The second antiphon is a poignant complaint of the Heart of Christ. It is addressed not to Philip alone, but also to each of us: “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

Qui Videt Me

The third antiphon is Our Lord’s astonishing reply. He presents Himself to Philip as the icon of the Father: “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

Et Amodo

The fourth antiphon is a gentle reproach; it ends nonetheless in a triple alleluia. The reproach becomes a promise full of hope: “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).

Si Diligitis Me

The fifth antiphon is an appeal to love. Like the fourth it ends in a triple alleluia: “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).


There are two more antiphons to be considered. At the Benedictus it is Our Lord himself who sings in the midst of His Church: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me, alleluia.” The Church cannot but reply: “Yes, Lord, you are the way, and the truth, and the life. Behold, I come to the Father through You.” There is no better preparation for today’s Holy Mass. The Eucharist is the Church coming to the Father through the Son, united to Him as His Body and His Bride.


The Magnificat at Vespers will be framed by Our Lord's words: “Let not your heart be troubled or afraid. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:1-2). These are words of comfort, words of hope for every situation of fading light and for those moments when darkness descends over the human heart.

[Note: The latest edition of the Antiphonale Monasticum (Solesmes 2007) gives John 1:45 for the Benedictus Antiphon and John 15:7 for the Magnificat. I prefer the ones given in the 1934 edition, probably because they have been my "friends" for lo all these years. One does develop a holy familiarity with certain liturgical texts and melodies. It is always unsettling when they are changed: like getting a letter back marked, "Left no forwarding address."]

Meditatio At Its Best

By means of these antiphons, the various fragments of today’s Gospel are clothed in melodies that make them easier to assimilate and remember. One is gently compelled to linger over each word, holding it in the heart. Today’s liturgy is a perfect example of how the Divine Office spreads the radiance of Holy Mass throughout the day, moving us in the direction of ceaseless prayer. This is meditatio at its best: the repetition of the Gospel, sustained by simple melodies that allow it to be stored up in the secret tabernacle of the heart.

And Then We Shall Be Satisfied

Saint Philip’s request is one that, secretly, we all burn to put to Jesus; “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8). This is the desire that the Finger of God (the Holy Spirit) has inscribed deep within the human heart. We were created to see God. We can be satisfied with nothing less. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Ps 41:2). And to this Philip adds: “and then we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8).

The Yearnings of the Human Heart

Ultimately the Face of God is the only reality that can satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. The eyes of the soul were created to feast upon the Divine Countenance. To see the Face of God is the craving that tormented and delighted the friends of God in every age: from Moses, Elijah, and David to Philip and James; and from the apostles to the saints of every age. I am reminded, in particular, of two holy priests of our own time, both ardent adorers of the Face of Christ: Saint Gaetano Catanoso (1879-1963) and the Servant of God, Benedictine Abbot Ildebrando Gregori (1894-1985). Both priests burned with desire to contemplate the Face of Christ. They found the Face of Christ veiled in the Eucharist. The found the Face of Christ in every human being marked by suffering, especially in needy children, in the poor, and in the sick. Pope John Paul II said that the basic task of every Christian is to become, first and foremost, “one who contemplates the Face of Christ.” Am I that Christian? Are you?

The Icon of the Invisible God

The drama of today’s Gospel is that Philip is face-to-face with Our Lord and doesn’t realize who He is. In the Prologue of Saint John we read: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). To contemplate the Face of Jesus Christ is to know God. Saint Paul says to the Colossians: “He is the image, the icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3).

And Yet You Do Not Know Me

And so, Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? (Jn 14:9). Our Lord addresses the same question to each of us: How long have I been with you? How long have you been baptized? How long have you had the sacraments, the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Mother of God, the friendship of the saints? And not without a divine sadness, Jesus says: “And yet you do not know me?” (Jn 14:9).

The Face of Christ

We know Our Lord when we experience in the bright darkness of faith that to contemplate His Face is to see the Father. Christ would have us gaze upon his Face with the eyes of faith; he would have us experience, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He is in the Father and that the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14:10). One who contemplates the Holy Face here below with the eyes of faith has begun already to participate in the joy of the blessed in heaven.

The Love of the Sacred Heart

To all who seek His Face, to all who gaze upon it through the lattice of the Scriptures, and hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Eucharist, Our Lord makes this promise: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Contemplating the Face of Christ emboldens us to ask, and to ask confidently, in His Name. One cannot look into the Face of Christ, the human Face of God, and remain paralyzed by fear. The contemplation of the Face of Christ is liberating; it is the secret of living in the love that casts out fear, the love of His Sacred Heart.


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the school of all right asking in the name of Christ and in the light of His Face. In response to the Church’s sublime “Eucharistic Asking” the Father will pour forth the Holy Spirit on our gifts of bread and wine, and on all of us. In that Asking-in-the-Name-of-Christ and in the light of His Face the Father will be glorified. “Look upon us, O God, our protector, and behold the Face of your Christ” (Ps 83:9).

Life at Silverstream Priory

| | Comments (3)


Help from Good Neighbours

God has blessed us with wonderful neighbours here in Stamullen. Just today, Colin Whelan and his son Sean were here to help us with an internet installation. Colin is the managing director of a communications company called Omnisys -- Keeping It Simple. He is an extraordinarily capable and generous man. 6 year old Sean told me that he wants to own a pet shop and train dogs when he grows up.


Hilda Joins the Fun

Colin and Sean joined us in the kitchen for a cup of tea. Hilda provided the craich. Young Sean Whelan took to Hilda instantly, and she to him.

Ora et Labora

The work in the priory is moving forward. I am amazed at how much has been done since we moved in on Monday of Holy Week. We have a brilliant team of workers. Project Manager Frank Brennan (and his wife Mary, an interior designer) fell right out of heaven to take charge of the work and get the job done. "Sparky" (electrician) Peter Sammon from Dublin is keeping our wiring safe and simple. All-around construction worker John Kelly can do just about anything. Now returned to the U.S. is J.B. Kelly, the heroic worker of the first hour. We miss J.B. very much, and look forward to his return. Also from the U.S. came the Pudewa family: Robin, Andrew, Christopher, and Elizabeth. The Pudewas helped us in hundreds of ways; Robin worked culinary wonders in our rather primitive kitchen. Friend Patrick Cullen from Rathkenny continues to come by several times a week.

In addition to the volunteer workers, we are happy to have three men here for a "come and see" experience of monastic life: Mark, an Irishman from the Cooley Peninsula, Kevin from South Carolina, and David from Oklahoma. Each man, with his unique gifts, contributes to the day-to-day life of the monastery.

As things now stand, we are having Matins early in the morning, followed by a time of adoration; Lauds and Prime at 8:00; Tierce and Holy Mass at 11:00; Sext after Mass; None at 3:30; Vespers, Rosary, and adoration at 5:00; and Compline at about 8:00. Brother Benedict has been preparing the main meal (at 1:00) and, as of last Wednesday, we are eating in silence in the refectory, with reading.


The Primacy of Gregorian Chant

The Holy Father's Letter to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (13-5-11) has prompted me to share with the readers of Vultus Christi some of my own impressions of Sacred Music here in Italy. I write, of course, out of my own very limited experience here over the past ten days. The Holy Father writes:

I wish to highlight a fundamental aspect that is particularly dear to me: how the essential continuity of the teaching on sacred music in the Liturgy has been perceived since St. Pius X up til today, despite the natural evolution. In particular, the Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in the light of the conciliar constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium," wished to reaffirm the end of sacred music, namely, "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful" (No. 112), and the fundamental criteria of Tradition, which I limit myself to recall: the sense of prayer, of dignity and of beauty; the full adherence to the texts and to the liturgical gestures; the involvement of the assembly and, finally, the legitimate adaptation to the local culture, preserving at the same time the universality of the language; the primacy of Gregorian chant, as supreme model of sacred music, and the wise appreciation of the other expressive forms which form part of the historical-liturgical patrimony of the Church, especially but not only, polyphony; the importance of the "schola cantorum," in particular in the cathedral churches. They are important criteria, which must be considered carefully also today.
At times, in fact, these elements, which are found in "Sacrosanctum Concilium," such as, in fact, the value of the great ecclesial patrimony of sacred music or the universality that is characteristic of Gregorian chant, were considered expressions of a conception that responded to a past to be overcome and neglected, because it limited the liberty and creativity of the individual and the communities. However, we must always ask ourselves again: Who is the authentic subject of the liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. Not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, it is first of all the action of God through the Church, which has her history, her rich tradition and her creativity.
The liturgy, and consequently sacred music, "lives from a correct and constant relation between healthy 'traditio' and legitimate 'progressio,'" keeping very present that these two concepts -- that the conciliar Fathers clearly underscore -- integrate mutually because "tradition is a living reality that, because of this, includes in itself the principle of development, of progress" (Address to the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, May 6, 2011).

The Mass at San Giuliano Park

A model of what the Second Vatican Council intended was given at the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father on 8 May 2011 in San Giuliano Park on the occasion on his recent visit to Venice. To my edification and delight a schola cantorum sang the complete Proper of the Mass in Gregorian Chant, while the vast crowd of the faithful alternated the Paschaltide Ordinary (Mass I) Lux et Origo with the choir. The organizers of this celebratIon are to be commended and congratulated.

The Beatification Mass in Faicchio

The Mass of Beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Mother Maria Serafina del Sacro Cuore on 28 May 2011 gave me a firsthand experience of what appears to be the norm in most of Italy. As Dom Samuel Weber, O.S.B. is fond of saying, "I'm just reporting."

The Proper of the Mass was completely ignored. The Introit, Offertory, and Communion were replaced by songs composed in the popular style. While these pieces were not entirely devoid of scriptural and theological content they were not "the Mass" itself. Consequently, the faithful were not singing the Mass; they were, rather, singing at Mass.

This, of course, deprives the faithful of the richness of the liturgy itself and, at the same time, deprives the celebrant of the very texts out of which the Church would have him preach the homily.

Low Mass With Hymns

The celebrant of the Mass of Beatification was His Eminence, Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. His Eminence has a fine singing voice. He chose, nonetheless, to speak nearly all those parts of the Mass that, in so solemn and festive occasion, ought to be sung. To my dismay, HIs Eminence recited in a spoken tone of voice even the Preface of the Mass, the most lyrical and solemn element of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, one that, by its very nature cries out to be sung.

The end result was an anomaly: on this most festive occasion there was, in effect, nothing more than a Low Mass with a sung Ordinary (Mass VIII) De Angelis and with hymns. Very disappointing.

Feast of San Marcellino in Piedimonte Matese

On the morning of 2 June 2011, it was again His Eminence, Angelo Cardinal Amato who celebrated a Pontifical Mass in the glorious baroque Church of San Marcellino in Piedimonte Matese.

A deacon, vested in a splendid red dalmatic and surrounded by a magnificent baroque decor read the Gospel in a spoken tone of voice that rendered it banal. The Gospel could have been, and should have been chanted.

Again, absolutely nothing of the Proper of the Mass was sung. The Ordinary was sung in Italian, using a rather sentimental popular setting of the Gloria with a refrain. The Creed was recited: very disappointing on an occasion when the sung Creed would have been marvelously expressive of the faith of the Church and of her martyrs through the ages.

Again, His Eminence recited in a spoken tone of voice all of the parts belong to the celebrant. This was acutely disappointing, given both his ability to sing, and the solemnity of the occasion. And again, the end result was a Low Mass with a sung Ordinary in Italian and popular hymns.

In the Local Parish

We Southern Italians love to sing, and sing we do! The faithful are deprived, nonetheless, of the authentic chants of the Church. Since my arrival here, not once have I heard the Proper of the Mass (even recited) nor anything even remotely related to it.

The Ordinary of the Mass is trivialized by settings in Italian that are sentimental and that have no organic continuity with the musical tradition of the Church. Not once have I heard a priest sing the orations or the Preface of the Mass and this in a culture where to sing is to love, and to love is to sing.

Usquequo Domine

The Motu Proprio of Pope Saint Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini (22 November 1903) has yet to be implemented. In fact, it continues to be transgressed widely and habitually. In conclusion, allow me to say that the situation is, if possible, even worse in the United States. Usquequo Domine?

Remedy? A New "Tra le sollecitudini"?

Would it not be opportune for the Holy Father to issue a Motu Proprio with, if you will pardon the expression, some teeth in it? Such a document might give to the following the force of law:

1. The distinction between a Missa Recitata and a Missa Cantata is to be clarified, restored, and implemented. At every Missa Cantata, the priest celebrant is obliged to sing the salutations and dialogical elements, the orations, the Preface, the Per Ipsum, the Pater Noster, the LIbera nos, the Blessing, and the Dismissal.

2. At every Missa Cantata, the Gospel is to be cantillated according to the traditional tones provided in the Graduale Romanum and in the Missal. It is moreover fitting and praiseworthy that the First Lesson and Epistle also be cantillated according to the tones provided in the same books.

3. The response to the Prayers of the Faithful will be one of those given in the last edition of the Missale Romanum, even when the intentions themselves are cantillated in the vernacular.

4. The Ordinary of the Mass, including the Credo, is to be sung in Latin and in Gregorian Chant as given in the Kyriale of the Graduale Romanum, or in suitable polyphonic settings.

5. The Proper of the Mass, including the Offertorium, is no longer an optional element, nor may it be replaced by any other chant or song. It may be sung in Latin as given in the Graduale Romanum, or in the vernacular, provided that the melodies used for vernacular text are derived from the corresponding Gregorian Chant and preserve its modal character.

6. At the Missa Recitata, the Proper of the Mass must be recited. The Offertorium is to be restored to the Missale Romanum and to all the vernacular editions thereof.

7. The Gradual Chant and the Alleluia are to be included in future editions of the Missale Romanum and the Lectionary, both in Latin and in the vernaculars, and are to be presented henceforth as legitimate and praiseworthy alternatives to the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia of the current Lectionary.

P.S. Some will, of course, object that not every priest is capable of singing the parts of the Mass that belong to him. A curious objection. I distinctly remember that in the former dispensation, when the stipend for High Mass was significantly more than the stipend for a Low Mass, priests seem to have had no difficulty in singing their parts, even when their vocal abilities were not outstanding.


The Lex Orandi

Laetare Sunday reminds us that Catholic culture is shaped by the Sacred Liturgy: not only by the calendar of the Church, but also by the Proper of the Mass. I have long argued that the Proper of the Mass is a constitutive element of the Lex orandi -- not just the text of the Proper, but also the melodic vesture of the Gregorian chant that clothes it and expresses its meaning.

Termites in the House

The option of selecting an alius cantus aptus (another suitable chant) has, in no small measure, contributed to the dismantling of the Roman Liturgy. The Proper of the Mass is not a decorative element, added onto the fundamental structure of the liturgy as a kind of embellishment; it is, rather, a supporting beam of the whole edifice. Move it, and the whole structure is weakened and, with time, will collapse. Is that not what we have seen over the past forty-five years? The alius cantus aptus has, in most places, replaced the Proper of the Mass, and liturgical termites have infested the whole structure.

Recover the Propers

To my mind, one of the most urgent tasks of The Reform of the Reform is the suppression of the provision for an alius cantus aptus, and the restoration of the traditional texts of the Proper of the Mass, taking care, at the same time, that the texts given in the Missale Romanum correspond to those in the Graduale Romanum. (I would also argue for the restoration of the text of the Offertorium [Offertory Antiphon] to the editio typica of the reformed Missale Romanum.) The replacement, in the Missale Romanum of 1970, of the venerable sung texts of the Graduale Romanum with texts destined to be read, was an innovation without precedent, and a mistake with far reaching and deleterious consequences for the Roman Rite.

Père Garrigou-Lagrange on Psalmody

| | Comments (0)


Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's remarkable teaching on liturgical prayer in The Three Ages of the Interior Life is a suitable complement to yesterday's post on psalmody. The subtitles in boldface are my own.

The Psalmody of the Divine Office: The Great Prayer of the Church

One of the greatest means of union with God for the religious soul is the psalmody, which in religious orders is the daily accompaniment of the Mass. The Mass is the great prayer of Christ; it will continue until the end of the world, as long as He does not cease to offer Himself by the ministry of His priests; as long as from His sacerdotal and Eucharistic heart there rises always the theandric act of love and oblation, which has infinite value as adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. The psalmody of the Divine Office is the great prayer of the Church, the spouse of Christ; a day and night prayer, which ought never to cease on the surface of the earth, as the Mass does not.

A School of Contemplation, of Self Oblation, of Holiness.

For those who have the great honor to take part in the chant, the psalmody should be an admirable school of contemplation, of self oblation, of holiness. That it may produce these abundant fruits, the psalmody should keep what is its very essence; it ought to have not only a body which is well organized according to harmonious rules, but also a soul. If it ceases to be the great contemplative prayer, it gradually loses its soul and, instead of being a soaring, a rising toward God, and a repose, it becomes a burden, a source of fatigue, and no longer produces great fruits. Therefore we shall discuss briefly first of all deformed and materialized chant, then true psalmody, which is a deliverance, like the chant of the Church, above all the noises of earth.


| | Comments (1)


Thanks to Carl Dierschow and Adam Wright, I am able to present to the readers of Vultus Christi recordings of my three lectures at the 2010 Sacred Music Colloquium in Pittsburgh. Here is the link: Scroll down to the bottom of the page until you reach my name under Breakout Sessions.

Sacred Music Colloquium

| | Comments (3)


I am happy indeed to be participating in the Sacred Music Colloquium XX. The week is very promising. Now, if only Jane Fulthorpe were here!

The Church Music Association of America is pleased to extend an open invitation to all liturgies and events scheduled to take place at Pittsburgh's Church of the Epiphany as part of Sacred Music Colloquium XX. The dates are June 21-27, 2010.

This is a unique opportunity to participate actively, internally and externally, in liturgies in which sacred music, Gregorian chant and polyphony (and beyond), resume pride of place in their native setting. Both Ordinary Form (OF) and Extraordinary Form (EF) Masses will be celebrated during the week, as well as Gregorian and polyphonic vespers and night prayer.

Of special note this year: Tuesday's OF Mass in English with propers and ordinary chants newly composed in the Gregorian tradition by Fr. Samuel Weber, Bruce Ford, and Richard Rice; Tuesday evening's organ recital by Montreal's dazzling Isabelle Demers; Saturday's EF Mass consisting in a chanted ordinary (Mass IX) and polyphonic propers by William Byrd, and Sunday's outing of Schubert's Mass in G with organ and orchestra. Other treasures of the week include Palestrian's Missa Brevis, polyphonic vespers with music of the Roman renaissance,and and array of motets by Taverner, Tallis, Lasso, Guerrero, Bruckner and more.

Here all week!

| | Comments (1)


Here are the classes that I will be teaching:

What is Liturgical Theology?

I. What is it? (Tuesday)
This session will approach the Sacred Liturgy as the wellspring and matrix of all
theology, and examine within liturgical chant within this context as the sung
theology of the Church.

II. The Function of Liturgical Chant (Wednesday)
This session will consider liturgical chant as the handmaid of the liturgy in its
ecclesiological, sacramental, and eschatological dimensions.

III. Psalmody (Thursday)
This session will reflect on the unique value of the various forms of psalmody, the
ground and reference of all liturgical chant.

In aeternum cantabo

| | Comments (7)


Ex Oriente Lux

I had the privilege, this past Holy Week, of preaching three times in Tulsa's Maronite Catholic Church of Saint Thérèse. The Good Friday liturgy of the Burial of the Lord, with its procession and veneration of the enshrouded image of the Body of Christ, was profoundly moving. It was a first-hand opportunity to witness the richness of an uninterrupted and continuous tradition of liturgical chant. Unlike Latin Rite Catholics, the Maronites have never suffered a rupture in their musical traditions; they sing today the very same chants sung by their fathers and mothers in the faith a thousand years ago. They know them by heart. The people sing as they have always sung, and the chants proper to their splendid tradition continue to be passed on, in their original language, from one generation to the next.

The experience at Saint Thérèse Church compelled me to reflect on the contrasting situation in Catholic churches of the Latin Rite. In the vast majority of parishes, the rupture of organic continuity with the past continues to have dire consequences. An unending and tiresome reinvention of the liturgy, inspired more often than not by principles other than those set forth in the Church's official documents, dismantles and re-assembles the liturgy over and over again, in a futile attempt to get it right.

An Example

One egregious example: the omission of that precious jewel of the Roman Rite that is the solemn intonation of the Great Paschal Alleluia. Note that the Great Paschal Alleluia is prescribed (not merely suggested!) in Article 352 of the Ceremonial of Bishops. In how many churches across the United States (and elsewhere) was another arbitrarily chosen musical setting of the Alleluia used at the Paschal Vigil?

The First and Indispensable Source of the Christian Spirit

In 1903, in terms that would be taken up and amplified by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Saint Pius X called "active participation in the most sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church . . . the first and indispensable source of the Christian spirit." Hearing the Pope affirm that active participation in the public and solemn prayer of the Church is the first and indispensable source of the Christian spirit caused the pioneers of the last century's classic Liturgical Movement to jubilate.

Sing Alternately With the Clergy or the Choir

In 1928, twenty-five years after the Moto Proprio of Pope Saint Pius X, his successor Pius XI enjoined the Catholic faithful "once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. ... Filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the liturgy," he said, "they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed."

A number of interesting, and still quite relevant, points emerge from Pius XI's Apostolic Constitution, Divini Cultus:

All those who aspire to the priesthood, whether in Seminaries or in religious houses, from their earliest years are to be taught Gregorian Chant and sacred music. At that age they are able more easily to learn to sing, and to modify, if not entirely to overcome, any defects in their voices, which in later years would be quite incurable. Instruction in music and singing must be begun in the elementary, and continued in the higher classes. In this way, those who are about to receive sacred orders, having become gradually experienced in chant, will be able during their theological course quite easily to undertake the higher and "aesthetic" study of plainsong and sacred music, of polyphony and the organ, concerning which the clergy certainly ought to have a thorough knowledge.
In seminaries, and in other houses of study for the formation of the clergy both secular and regular there should be a frequent and almost daily lecture or practice - however short - in Gregorian Chant and sacred music. If this is carried out in the spirit of the liturgy, the students will find it a relief rather than a burden to their minds, after the study of the more exacting subjects. Thus a more complete education of both branches of the clergy in liturgical music will result in the restoration to its former dignity and splendor of the choral Office, a most important part of divine worship; moreover, the scholae and choirs will be invested again with their ancient glory.
Those who are responsible for, and engaged in divine worship in basilicas and cathedrals, in collegiate and conventual churches of religious, should use all their endeavors to see that the choral Office is carried out duly - i.e. in accordance with the prescriptions of the Church. And this, not only as regards the precept of reciting the divine Office "worthily, attentive and devoutly," but also as regards the chant. In singing the psalms attention should be paid to the right tone, with its appropriate mediation and termination, and a suitable pause at the asterisk; so that every verse of the psalms and every strophe of the hymns may be sung by all in perfect time together. If this were rightly observed, then all who worthily sing the psalms would signify their unity of intention in worshipping God and, as one side of the choir sings in answer to the other, would seem to emulate the everlasting praise of the Seraphim who cried one to the other "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Lest anyone in future should invent easy excuses for exempting himself from obedience to the laws of the Church, let every chapter and religious community deal with these matters at meetings held for the purpose; and just as formerly there used to be a "Cantor" or director of the choir, so in future let one be chosen from each chapter or choir of religious, whose duty it will be to see that the rules of the liturgy and of choral chant are observed and, both individually and generally, to correct the faults of the choir. In this connection it should be observed that, according to the ancient discipline of the Church and the constitutions of chapters still in force, all those at least who are bound to office in choir, are obliged to be familiar with Gregorian Chant. And the Gregorian Chant which is to be used in every church of whatever order, is the text which, revised according to the ancient manuscripts, has been authentically published by the Church from the Vatican Press.

Musicam Sacram

Pius XI reaffirmed that Gregorian Chant is to hold the first place in the Catholic liturgy, not just theoretically, but practically. This, of course, was reiterated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. He also assumed that the clergy should be prepared and wiling to sing. One cannot object that Pius XI's vision of a singing clergy was not affirmed by the Second Vatican Council; Musicam Sacram (1967) places the first level of singing at Mass squarely on the shoulders -- not of the choir director, cantor, or organist -- but of the priest and other ministers!

In selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone. (Musicam Sacram, art. 7)

Actual Participation: Both Listening and Singing

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated on 4 December 1963, identified "full and active participation by all the people" as the "aim to be considered above all else in the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy." It is clear that chant fosters "full, conscious, and actual participation" in the liturgy by engaging the assembly in both listening and singing. Abraham Joshua Heschel offers a reflection that is as refreshing as it is realistic: "People may not be able to pray; they are all able to chant. And chant leads to prayer."

The Catholic and Orthodox attribution of various forms of liturgical chant to the priest, deacon, psalmist or cantor, schola, and assembly is neither arbitrary nor optional; it pertains to the essential nature of the liturgy as a corporate action of the whole worshiping Church. Hymn singing, borrowed rather uncritically from Protestant traditions of worship, effectively minimizes, or entirely eliminates, the dialogical and responsorial forms of chant that, in the Catholic tradition, impress and express the hierarchical nature of every liturgical action.

Hymn Singing

I am astonished at the number of clergy and professional musicians in the service of Catholic churches who are ignorant of the proper place of hymnody in the Catholic liturgy. With the exception of the Gloria and the Sanctus (hymns in the very broad sense of the term), and of the Sequences sung for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and Our Lady of Sorrows, hymns, as such, are entirely foreign to the celebration of Holy Mass. In the Divine Office, however, there is a metrical hymn at every Hour. Hymns, then, properly belong to the Liturgy of the Hours, while sung dialogues, antiphons, psalmody, and acclamations belong to the Mass.

The standard hymn singing that characterizes Protestant (or protestantized) worship is performed in a relatively uniform and congregational manner. The liturgical chant of our Catholic tradition, on the other hand, privileges the responsorial, dialogical, antiphonal and acclamatory modes of performance. These, being among the most effective forms of actual sung participation, manifest more adequately the mystery of the Church as a Eucharistic organism of different members, characterized by "the order of symphony, an order in liberty and in love." The way we sing at Mass effectively shapes one's understanding -- or misunderstanding -- of the Church, of the priesthood, and of the hierarchical ordering of the liturgical assembly. A protestantized approach to music at Mass will inevitably engender a protestantized ecclesiology.

Sing the Liturgy Itself

A composition that does not belong to the liturgy and lead more deeply into the mystery celebrated, even though it be sung with full-voiced enthusiasm by all, cannot be qualified a true expression of conscious and active participation in the liturgical action. Active participation implies that the assembly is singing the liturgy itself, beginning with the dialogical chants, acclamations and refrains.

The Fully Sung Liturgy Is Normative

Musìcam Sacram presents the sung celebration as normative. Contrary to a widely-held misconception, the fully sung celebration is not a solemnization of the spoken form of the liturgy; on the contrary, the spoken form is derived from the fully sung celebration which is normative.

Chants for the People

The chants of the assembly require a cantilena that springs from the liturgical texts themselves and expresses their natural verbal inflections by means of simple musical formulae adapted to the specific liturgical function of each piece. Examples from the Roman liturgy abound: the various dialogues and acclamations, the simple tone of the Te Deum, the brief responsories of Lauds and Vespers, Gloria XV, Credo I, and Sanctus XVIII.

Where Do We Begin

1. Priests, learn to sing your parts: the dialogical elements, salutations, Preface Dialogue, Preface, Words of Consecration, etc. The official melodies are laid out in the Sacramentary. It may be laborious in the beginning, but repeat it until it becomes "secod nature." Do not reserve your sung parts for so-called special occasions or solemnities. They belong to the very first level of singing at Mass. If you sing your parts, the people will sing theirs.

2. Sing the Ordinary (i.e., unchanging parts) of the Mass. The repertory can be built up by learning one Ordinary at a time. Privilege the Ordinaries of the Roman Kyriale or simple Plainchant Ordinaries in English, such as those available from Musica Sacra.

3. Sing the Propers. The "law" governing the Propers is laid out in the GIRM, art. 48. Let's look at it carefully. Comments in italics are my own.

48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.

Note the four ways of executing the Entrance Chant. On solemn diocesan and parochial occasions I recommend having the people sing a metrical version of the day's Introit in English during the procession, followed by the Chant version of the same Introit from the Graduale during the incensation of the altar.

In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

The choices are given in order of preference! The first choices (not found in the Editio Typica 2002 of the Roman Missal) are the antiphon from the Roman Missal -- the American "adaptors" are assuming that these texts have been put to music -- then the antiphon and psalm in the Roman Gradual, either in the chant setting or in another musical setting.

The second choice is the Simple Gradual, rendered in English under the title By Flowing Waters by Dr. Paul Ford.

The third choice, a collection of psalms and antiphons approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop, does not, to my knowledge, exist anywhere in the U.S.

The fourth choice -- clearly the last resort -- is a suitable liturgical song (here, there is a departure from the psalms and antiphons found in choices 1 through 4) similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop. Nowhere is there a blanket authorization to replace the chants of the Proper with "a hymn" making abstraction of all other liturgical criteria.

48. If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).

The Entrance Antiphon is, in many places, routinely omitted even at "spoken" Masses.

It's interesting that this American "adaptation" differs from what is found in the GIRM of the Editio Typica Tertia (2002) of the Roman Missal. Compare:

48. Peragitur autem a schola et populo alternatim, vel simili modo a cantore et populo, vel totus a populo vel a schola sola. Adhiberi potest sive antiphona cum suo psalmo in Graduali Romano vel in Graduali simplici exstans, sive alius cantus, actioni sacrae, diei vel temporis indoli congruus [55], cuius textus a Conferentia Episcoporum sit approbatus.

The Graduale Romanum and the Graduale Simplex are given as the primary references. The American accomodation of the text gives the antiphon from the Roman Missal as the first reference; this is very odd, as those antiphons were composed to be recited, not to be sung.

The infamous "alius cantus" (other chant) is very carefully circumscribed. It must be, (1) suited to the action, (2) to the day or season being celebrated, and (3) its text must be approved by the Conference of Bishops.

Si ad introitum non habetur cantus, antiphona in Missali proposita recitatur sive a fidelibus, sive ab aliquibus ex ipsis, sive a lectore, sin aliter ab ipso sacerdote, qui potest etiam in modum monitionis initialis (cf. n. 31) eam aptare.

I don't have time to pursue this entry today, but wanted to offer some modest contribution to the ongoing discussion.

Singing Priests

| | Comments (4)


Singing Priests

Yesterday, here at the Cenacle, we held the first meeting of the Diocesan Priests' Schola Cantorum, a group of nine priests who have decided to come together weekly to study the chants of the Graduale Romanum, and to sing them at various liturgical celebrations of the Diocese of Tulsa. We will sing for the first time in Holy Family Cathedral at the Mass of Chrism during Holy Week.

Our first session began with a presentation of certain characteristics of the Lenten Propers in the Graduale Romanum, followed by some simple vocalizations (warm-up exercises). We worked on two pieces; the Introit, Dilexisti, and the hymn, O Redemptor. Given that it was the very first time the group of us had sung together, the effect was not at all displeasing. A suitably Lenten luncheon followed.

An Indispensable Element of the Roman Rite

One of things that emerged in our discussion is the spiritual value of the Propers of the Mass. (The Propers, by the way, are a constitutive element of the Mass of the Roman Rite. A Mass without them is truncated, deformed, and theologically impoverished. To replace the Propers with "something else" is, effectively, to dismantle the spiritual architecture of the Roman Rite.

As I sang through the Gradual of this morning's Mass, I was once again seized by an inner awareness of the "sacramental" potential of the Chant. Nothing conveys the Word of God as efficaciously as the Chant of the Church:

Cast the burden of thy cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain thee.
V. Still I will call upon the Lord; He will not be deaf to my appeal when many take part against me. (Psalm 54: 23. V. 17a, 18b, 19a)

Parce, Domine

| | Comments (2)


Quaerere Deum

| | Comments (0)

Pope Benedict XVI
Collège des Bernardins, Paris
12 September 2008

The Holy Father's discourse today at the Collège des Bernardins (a familiar way of referring to monks of the Order of Cîteaux) in Paris, must be read in relationship to the equally masterful discourse he gave on September 9, 2007 at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The Holy Father's presentation of the monastic culture of The Word, and of the role it played in the development of letters and of learning in Europe, is simply brilliant. I was particularly taken by His Holiness' treatment of the birth of Christian liturgical chant: a music whose worthiness of God resounds in purity.

Built by the Sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


Dear friends, we are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. In particular, I greet the Minister of Culture, who is here representing the Government, together with Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Jacques Chirac. I likewise greet all the Ministers present, the Representatives of UNESCO, the Mayor of Paris, and all other Authorities in attendance. I do not want to forget my colleagues from the French Institute, who are well aware of my regard for them. I thank the Prince of Broglie for his cordial words. We shall see each other again tomorrow morning. I thank the delegates of the French Islamic community for having accepted the invitation to participate in this meeting: I convey to them by best wishes for the holy season of Ramadan already underway. Of course, I extend warm greetings to the entire, multifaceted world of culture, which you, dear guests, so worthily represent.

The Culture of Monasticism

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism's historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?

Searching for God

First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: "quaerere Deum". Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential - to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were "eschatologically" oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

The Culture of the Word

"Quaerere Deum": because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or - as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. "L'amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu"). The longing for God, the "désir de Dieu," includes "amour des lettres," love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a "dominici servitii schola." The monastery serves "eruditio," the formation and education of man - a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason - education - through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.


Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37). Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. "But if "legere" and "lectio" are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit", says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).

At the Origin of Liturgical Chant

And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him. The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the "Gloria", which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the "Sanctus", which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject: "The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates. The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes" (cf. ibid. p. 229).

Music Whose Worthiness Resounds in Purity

For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: "coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine" - in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) - are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the "zone of dissimilarity" - the "regio dissimilitudinis". Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God's likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the "zone of dissimilarity" - into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man's falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter.

The Culture of Singing is the Culture of Being

It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private "creativity", in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the "ears of the heart" the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

The Scriptures and the Journey Toward Christ

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply one book but a collection of literature, which came into being in the course of more than a thousand years and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately recognizeable. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as "the Scripture" but as "the Scriptures", which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that God's word only comes to us here through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the mediation of human agents, their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: "littera gesta docet - quid credas allegoria ..." (cf. Augustine of Dacia, "Rotulus pugillaris", I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.

A New Challenge to Every Generation

We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. God's word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings.

Christ the Lord Shows Us the Way

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). And he continues: "Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: "The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete's own idea, the exegete's own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. It presents itself anew as a task for our generation too, vis-à-vis the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today's European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

Monastic Culture of Work

Thus far in our consideration of the "school of God's service", as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word - towards the "ora". Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life. But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the "labora". In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit. The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate. Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. Benedict in his "Rule" does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen. He does, however, speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus's saying in Saint John's Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: "My Father is working still, and I am working" (5:17). The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The "making" of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history. In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. "My Father is working still, and I am working." God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God is working. Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God's activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.

The Monastic Journey

We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was "quaerere Deum" - setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him. So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks' seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God's word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith's intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have" (Logos must become Apo-logia, word must become answer - 3:15). In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation--indeed, the obligation--to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The Incarnation

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" - towards searching and questioning mankind - is seen in Saint Paul's address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know - the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason - not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence in our flesh of eternal reason. "Verbum caro factum est" (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man's humility, which responds to God's humility.

The Search for God and the Readiness to Listen to Him

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. "Quaerere Deum" - to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe's culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

In manibus tuis tempora mea

| | Comments (2)


In te speravi, Domine:
dixi: Tu es Deus meus,
in manibus tuis tempora mea.

The Offertory Antiphon for the Mass of the Nineteenth Sunday Per Annum is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful of the year. The text, Psalm 30, 15-16, is a familiar one; in this particular context -- the Offertory of the Mass -- it becomes extraordinarily poignant. It is an act of self-offering, of surrender, of what Dom Léhodey calls "holy abandonment."

Monsignor Knox translates it: "And still, Lord, my trust in thee is not shaken; still I cry, Thou art my God, my fate is in thy hand." I would be more inclined to render it thus: "In thee, O Lord, have I put my hope, saying, Thou art my God. In thy hands are the seasons and the days of my life."

The melody begins (like that other magnificent 2nd Mode Offertory, De Profundis) in the depths, on la, and then, over spe-ra-vi ascends to the fa and, without a breath, comes to rest in Domine. An energetic profession of faith, climbing to the summit of the melody, follows: "I have said, Thou art my God." Then, there is an act of abandonment into the hands of God; the melody lingers over the tem of tempora. "In thy hands are the seasons of my life, my days and my nights, my closures, and my new beginnings."

Aures habent et non audient

| | Comments (1)


What is Useless

"A Church which only makes use of 'utility music' has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She too becomes ineffectual. For her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of 'glory', and as such, too, the place where mankind's cry of distress is brought to the ear of God.

The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved.

To Turn One's Back on Beauty

Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real 'apologia' for her history. It is this glory which witness to the Lord, not theology's clever explanations for all the terrible things which, lamentably, fill the pages of her history. The Church is to transform, improve, 'humanize' the world — but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.

High Standards

The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that 'spiritualization' without which the world becomes 'the first circle of hell'. Thus to ask what is 'suitable' must always be the same as asking what is 'worthy': it must constantly challenge us to seek what is worthy of the Church's worship."

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
On the Theological Basis of Music
The Feast of Faith

Mercy Has the First Word

| | Comments (1)


Misericordia Domini

It is curious (and praiseworthy!) that Lutherans have, for the most part, conserved the Catholic practice of referring to a given Sunday by the incipit, or first words, of the Introit of the Mass. I noticed this not along ago while perusing The Brotherhood Prayerbook edited by The Reverend Benjamin T. G. Mayes, an American Lutheran pastor. Catholics are still accustomed to hearing the Third Sunday of Advent referred to as Gaudete Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent as Laetare Sunday and, perhaps, the Second Sunday of Easter as Quasimodo Sunday, but the custom has largely disappeared.

A Triumphal Arch

The Introit of the Mass is, according to Father Maurice Zundel, like a triumphal arch through which we pass into the Holy Mysteries. Each Sunday has its own name derived from the Introit. Today, therefore, is Misericordia Domini Sunday. Mercy has the first word in today's Mass.

The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia:
by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia.
V. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous:
praise is comely for the upright. (Ps 32:5-6)

The Wound of Mercy

The death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ has bathed the whole world in mercy. The Mass, being the sacramental renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, remains for all time the wellspring of the inexhaustible torrent of mercy that ever flows from the wound opened by the soldier's lance in Jesus' Sacred Side.

The Lex Orandi

Catholic culture is shaped by the Sacred Liturgy: not only by the calendar of the Church, but also by the Proper of the Mass. I have long argued that the Proper of the Mass is a constitutive element of the Lex orandi — not just the text of the Proper, but also the melodic vesture of the Gregorian chant that clothes it and expresses its meaning.

Termites in the House

The option of selecting an alius cantus aptus (another suitable chant) has, in no small measure, contributed to the dismantling of the Roman Liturgy. The Proper of the Mass is not a decorative element, added onto the fundamental structure of the liturgy as a kind of embellishment; it is, rather, a supporting beam of the whole edifice. Move it, and the whole structure is weakened and, with time, will collapse. Is that not what we have seen over the past forty-five years? The alius cantus aptus has, in most places, replaced the Proper of the Mass, and liturgical termites have infested the whole structure.

Recover the Propers

To my mind, one of the most urgent tasks of The Reform of the Reform is the suppression of the provision for an alius cantus aptus, and the restoration of the traditional texts of the Proper of the Mass, taking care, at the same time, that the texts given in the Missale Romanum correspond to those in the Graduale Romanum. The replacement, in the Missale Romanum of 1970, of the venerable sung texts of the Graduale Romanum with texts destined to be read, was an innovation without precedent, and a mistake with far reaching and deleterious consequences for the Roman Rite.


My doctoral dissertation — it seems so long ago — focused on the Proper Chants of the Paschal Triduum in the Graduale Romanum. The chants of the Church are, in effect, nothing less than sung theology. Among the chants of the Triduum is the Pange Lingua of Venantius Fortunatus (different from the Pange Lingua composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas); it is sung at the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, but also sung at the Divine Office beginning with the Fifth Sunday of Lent. I thought I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi, something of what I learned in singing, praying, and pondering this monument of Catholic hymnody.

The Pange Lingua of Passiontide

The hymn Pange lingua gloriosi, like the Holy Week Vespers hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt, is the work of Saint Venantius Fortunatus (530-600). Friend and secretary of the Queen Saint Radegonde (518-587), Fortunatus composed the hymns at her request to celebrate the arrival of a relic of the True Cross at the monastery she had founded at Poitiers. A gift of Emperor Justin II, the relic was solemnly received by Saint Radegonde on November 19, 569.

In the Divine Office

In the Divine Office of the 5th Week of Lent and Holy Week (Passiontide), the Pange lingua is divided into equal sections, the first being sung at Matins (The Office of Readings) and the second at Lauds.

On Good Friday

At the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, the hymn is sung with the refrain Crux fidelis, which appears for the first time in the seventh century. In the Romano-Germanic Pontifical of the Tenth Century Crux fidelis and Pange lingua are the last chants sung during the adoratio Crucis. In the reformed liturgy they occupy the same place. Like Gloria laus on Palm Sunday and Ubi caritas est vera on Maundy Thursday, Pange lingua has a refrain between each strophe.

Struggle and Triumph

1. Sing, my tongue,
the Savior's glory;
tell His triumph far and wide;
tell aloud the famous story
of His body crucified;
how upon the cross a victim,
vanquishing in death, He died.

In the first strophe Venantius Fortunatus introduces his theme: a combat to the death, a great struggle in which Christ will triumph over death by death. In like manner, the sequence Victimae paschali laudes will trumpet on Easter Day:

Spes Mea

| | Comments (0)


Monday of Holy Week

Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 26:1, 2, 3, 13-14 (R. v. 1a)

But After I Shall Be Risen

The bright eighth mode intervals of last evening’s Magnificat Antiphon still echo in our hearts: “It is therefore written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed; but after I shall be risen, I will go before you into Galilee. There you shall see me, says Lord.” Over the words, postquam autem resurrexero — “but after I shall be risen” the melody leaped upward in an uncontainable burst of paschal triumph, ringing out an irrepressible joy.

You Shall See Me

Yesterday, we were in Jerusalem, the holy city of the sufferings of Christ, but the Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers already promised us a reunion with the risen Lord in Galilee. “There you shall see me.” Through the text and melody of the antiphon one hears that other promise of the Lord in Saint John’s gospel: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

Says the Lord

The cadence over the words, dicit Dominus — “says the Lord,” is strong and full of hope, leaving us utterly certain of the outcome of this Great Week’s bitter agony and sufferings. “This is our comfort,” writes Dame Aemiliana, “we shall see Him again. First Judea and Jerusalem, judgment, death, the tomb. Then Galilee, life and sight. . . . Life hangs on the issue of death; whoever goes with the Lord to die, goes with Him to live and rule; whoever dares to go the way to Jerusalem will not miss the way to Galilee.”

Pascha Est Cor Liturgiae

| | Comments (0)


The Pasch of the Lord: Heart of the Liturgy

The heart of the liturgy is the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension, accomplished once and for all in Christ the Head and extended by means of the liturgy to all His members throughout history. All Christian worship is but a continuous celebration of the Pasch of the Lord: the sun, dawning each day, draws in its course an uninterrupted train of Eucharists; every celebration of Holy Mass makes present the Paschal Sacrifice of the Lamb. Each day of the liturgical year, and within each day, every instant of the Church’s sleepless vigil, continues and renews the Pasch of Christ.

The Heart of Theology and of Piety

In repeating the enactment of the liturgy, the Church has access to the “unique, unrepeatable mystery of Christ”; day after day, week after week and year after year, the Church is caught up in the transforming glory of the Paschal Mystery. Through the sacred liturgy, the Paschal Mystery irrigates and transforms all of human life, healing those who partake of the sacraments and drawing the Church, already here and now, into the communion of the risen and ascended Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because it is the heart of the liturgy, the Pasch of the Lord is the heart of theology, and the heart of Christian piety as well.

The Sacred Triduum

The annual celebration of “the most sacred triduum of the crucified, buried and risen Lord” is the liturgical, theological and spiritual center of the Church’s life and “the culmination of the entire liturgical year.” The Paschal Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, continues through the Friday of the Lord’s Passion, reaches its summit in the Solemn Paschal Vigil, and comes to a close with Sunday Vespers of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Gregorian Chant

As an integral element of the Sacred Triduum, Gregorian Chant takes its place in the complexus of sacred signs by which the Paschal Mystery is rendered present to the Church and the Church drawn into the Paschal Mystery. The chant of the Church is thus essentially related to the Paschal Mystery and to the new life which it imparts. The transcendant value of liturgical chant, especially during the annual celebration of the Paschal Triduum, is properly theological and spiritual. The chants of the Paschal Triduum constitute therefore a point of reconciliation and unity “between theology and liturgy, liturgy and spirituality.” What Father Alexander Schmemann wrote concerning the Paschal Triduum of the Byzantine liturgy and its hymnography is also true, mutatis mutandis, of the liturgy of the Roman Rite and of its proper chants:

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory