Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Virtual Reconstruction of the Old St Peter’s Basilica

I just stumbled across this very interesting video, which gives a virtual reconstruction of the Constantinian Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican, as it would have been roughly at the end of the first millenium. What we see here is sort of a “bare-bones” version of the church, which shows very little of the decorations or the innumerable side-chapels and altars (over 120 of them, 27 dedicated to the Virgin  Mary alone!)


By the beginning of the 16th century, when the church was close to twelve centuries old, parts of it were collapsing under the weight of the ceiling, and the north wall had a stretch of about half its full length which was sagging about a meter off the perpendicular. It was therefore torn down in various stages, and after a long series of fits and starts, rebuilt as the church which we know today by the genius of Michelangelo and his successors. In the year 1590, a canon of the church, Tiberio Alfarano, published this famous plan which shows where everything was in the ancient basilica. (Click to enlarge.)


Friday, July 29, 2016

St Martha Kills a Dragon

At that time, there was in a certain grove by the Rhone, between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half beast and half fish, bigger than a cow, longer than a horse, having teeth like swords that were as sharp as horns, and fortified, as it were, with two shields on either side; and it would lay low in the river, and destroy all those who passed along it, and sink the ships. … Besought by the people, Martha came to it, and found it in the grove as it was eating a man. She threw holy water on it, and showed it a cross, and so it was immediately beaten, and stood still like a sheep. Martha tied it up with her belt, and the people at once destroyed it with spears and stone. The dragon was called by the inhabitants “Tarasconus”; wherefore in memory of this, that place is still called “Tarascon”… (From the Golden Legend)
St Martha and the Tarascon, from the Hours of Louis de Laval, 1470-85; Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms Latin 920, folio 317v 
This story from the Golden Legend was included in the Roman Breviary even so late as 1529, in one of the last editions before the Tridientine reform. All trace of it was removed in the revision of Pope St Pius V, but it survives to this day in the folk traditions of southern France. The monster, also called “Tarasque” in French, appears on the shield of the city of Tarascon, where the legend is commemorated in a folk festival held every year, and an effigy of the creature is carried through the city in a parade.


(Image from Wikipedia by Gérard Marin)
He also appears in some of the Corpus Christi festivals in Spain, as seen here in Valencia.

(Image from Wikipedia by Chosovi)

Trucks, Trees, and Missalettes

Infographics from giamusic.com
The suburban parish where I serve has just received renewal notices in the mail for our hymnal-missalette subscription. Would we like to renew for next year, with a 10% early-bird special? Other letters come around the same time, showing trucks, trees, and pollution counts associated with renewables, and suggesting printed hymnals, which feel more solid and convey a message of permanence and respectability in the pews. It’s pretty much the same every year.

In the past few decades, publishers of Catholic hymnals and missalettes in the United States have operated much like land-line telephone companies of yesteryear. There are few choices, and the products are updated slowly and gradually to reflect market interests broadly understood. Bishops, musical experts, liturgists, and other interested parties exercise minimal influence or authority, because the market naturally determines which resources will be the most popular. In other words, market capitalism is the main organizing principle for these products. This is why some really second-rate materials persist, because there is still a strong market for second-rate music. Money talks, and to a certain extent, you’re going to get what you’re going to get.

I’d like to think that the New Liturgical Movement, with its sister site www.musicasacra.com and many other similar sites, is like the cell phone. The cell phone is a totally new way of doing phone communication, one which shook traditional copper communication to its roots. Similarly, through the influence of Jeffrey Tucker from this blog and many others elsewhere, the CMAA has embraced online open-source distribution. It's a totally new way of distributing sacred music for the parish. The stuff we create is usually available for free, and all you need is a printer and Internet connection. For those who would like the convenience of a book in hand, most products are also available in printed versions for minimal cost.

We do things differently because we understand how high quality sacred music is integral to the liturgy. We follow a different organizing principle: as St. Pope Pius X would remind us, “don’t sing at Mass, sing the Mass; don’t pray at Mass, pray the Mass.” These sentiments have been echoed by anyone with common sense for the past century. The printed hymnals and online materials developed through the "reform of the reform" reflect a strong commitment to this goal. Having attended the CMAA Colloquium in St. Louis this past year, I can attest to the curb appeal of these materials and the immediate appeal of the beauty of this sort of liturgy. When you’ve seen and heard what is possible, what in fact ought to be in every parish, you would never want to settle for less. Bravo to the brave entrepreneurs who are developing these materials, and kudos to the brave musicians and pastors who invest the effort to make it happen in real time!

Now that it’s missalette renewal season, I would like to propose a few ways the CMAA and the wider "reform of the reform" might grow its influence and break into the wider market:

1. We still need books. Develop “package deals” for liturgy and music materials, simple enough that a pastor of a small- or medium-sized parish can click once, online, and receive comprehensive printed liturgy and music materials for the year, for the entire parish, at reasonable cost. This means developing printed pew hymnals, cantor and choir resources, accompaniment copies, and--dare I say it!--missalettes (or at least something which has daily and weekly readings) which all fit together into a seamless product. If you know of projects of this sort underway or already available, please share in the comments. 
2. Educate always. If you maintain that the basis of authentic liturgy is not popularity or principles of the market—if your music selections are not based on your parish's “top 40," which, by the way, might just be 1960s and 1970s oldies at this point—you will need to carry on regular and ongoing education within your parish, in a way that is understandable for an outsider. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What does it mean, and why is it valuable? How does it help you and me to have a deeper faith? Without this sort of teaching, the response will be “there’s no disputing of taste.” There’s no need to be stuffy or pedantic. Rather, be cheerful and ready to give an account in simple and ordinary language. 
3. Invite, invite, invite! the wider community to workshops, concerts, and parish feast-day masses, and offer ways for them to participate in their own way. You never know when the local Presbyterian minister’s wife will have a hankering to learn more about Gregorian Chant. You never know when the local plant nursery would be interested to donate the last of this year’s annuals to your parish for the Feast of the Assumption; the owners might even come to Mass to see the flowers if you invite them. From my experience, only ten percent of people I invite to events actually come. If you would like twenty-five people at your workshop, you need to invite 250. Don’t be discouraged: these numbers are normal in any profession. Our mission is not to ourselves, but to the world. Don’t be shy. 
4. Offer something unique and refreshing, and be proud of it. I know little to nothing about game theory or market economics, but what I do know is that both attempt to account for “winning.” And so we might ask, what unique advantages does your product offer? What is your parish’s unique “charism”? What unique gift can you bring? The CMAA and its various resources for sacred music are breaking out of an otherwise stagnant market. Be proud of the unique thing you’re doing, and do it well. Maybe the market is ready for something new, and you are the one offering it.

I’m off to renew our parish’s subscription, and I expect you’re eager to know what we picked. Well, the pastor and I haven’t decided yet. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

“The Sacrifice of Praise and the Ecstatic Orientation of Man” — Lecture at Silverstream Priory

This week my family and I have been visiting Silverstream Priory in Ireland for a time of rest and prayer. At the invitation of the prior, Dom Mark Kirby, I gave a conference to monks, clergy, and seminarians this afternoon, the full text of which is available at Rorate; the audio has also been posted by the monks.

A few excerpts:
We are steeped in a world of pragmatism, utilitarianism, and activism, where we place such a high premium on doing and making, where we ask “what good is it” and “what’s in it for me,” where we look for results, the bottom line, the cash value, the pay-off. ...
In modern times we have lost the sense of sacred liturgy as an activity worth doing for its own sake, as an action whose justification lies in itself rather than in its usefulness as a tool or an instrument. Correctly understood, the liturgy is something we do for God, because He is glorious, deserving of all our love, our adoration, our devotion, our self-forgetful attention. ...
When, and to the extent that, we act as if we were ordering God to ourselves instead [of ordering ourselves to God], He will allow us to suffer the just penalties of restlessness, boredom, dryness, disbelief, and even despair. Nor should we underestimate the perceptiveness of the faithful in the pews, many of whom can readily sense the difference between a liturgy that is done for God’s sake, with His honor and glory as the motivating force, and a liturgy that is designed and conducted for the people, so as to involve, stimulate, affirm, entertain, or otherwise engage them.
Read more here.

Later, I intend to share some photos and impressions of my time at Silverstream. It is a wonderful place, well worth the inquiries of young men who are serious about the Benedictine monastic life, or simply of a visit to share in their richly Eucharistic and Marian liturgical life.

The Sung Liturgy in the Formation of the Human Person - Guest Article by Matthew Roth

Here is another guest article on the liturgical theology by a recent college graduate, Mr Matthew Roth, who just finished his undergraduate studies at Franciscan University. Another positive sign for the future of the Church and Her liturgical life - young people putting serious work and thought into expressing their ideas about the theology of the liturgy.

I recently had the opportunity to participate once again in the Sacred Music Colloquium of the Church Music Association of America, the sponsoring organization of this website.

The week is many things. Firstly, it is liturgical, as the choirs principally prepare for liturgical performance of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. Secondly, it is instructional, as experienced music directors present on theoretical aspects of Gregorian chant, choral technique, playing the organ, history of church music, and working in the church as a musician. Thirdly, it is an event of community. It is the intersection of this point and of the singing of Gregorian chant and the liturgy that I wish to examine in this piece.

The publisher of NLM and the CMAA president, Dr. William Mahrt, always gives a plenary lecture related to some topic anchored to the “musical shape of the liturgy.” Having grown up alongside the Roman Rite, chant is intrinsic to the ritual, not something that is truly optional, even though one may read the Mass texts or choose alternative music, whether it be polyphony, a hymn, or some other style of music. (In fact, with the first of these, one always refers back to the chant repertoire in composition and performance.) It gives expression to the text, as can be seen from a theoretical analysis of the melody, and it is always appropriate for the moment in the ritual. The Introit is perfectly suited for the entrance or the prayers at the foot of the altar, depending on whether the Mass is in the usus recentior or usus antiquior and whether it is a Sunday Mass or not. Singing a congregational hymn in four parts with a descant might be lovely, but it can distract from the ritual, nor is it the historical tradition of the Roman Rite. Another example is the Gregorian Alleluia with its long and intricate melodies which draw the worshiper into contemplation, and the complexity contrasts with the simplicity of the sung Gospel.

Since I have summarized Dr. Mahrt’s point, and having borrowed his own examples in doing so, I now ask: if the liturgy is inherently musical, what does the sung liturgy mean for the Christian? How does that play out in our day-to-day lives?

Pope St John XXIII celebrating Mass in St Peter’s Basilica
The liturgy in all its forms is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed,” and “at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” according to Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10. This is important, for the divine revelation is clear that we can only do good by the grace of God, chiefly found in the sacraments, which are acts of worship of God instituted by Christ for the reception of God’s invisible grace through visible acts instituted by Christ in some cases, and always confirmed and regulated by the church. Sometimes, I have been told that the externals do not necessarily reflect the interior dispositions of the ministers and participants at the liturgy. This is a true statement, though I wonder if it is said in order to justify what is often called the “Low Mass mentality” of minimalism or, indeed, whatever is the preferred practice of the objector. (I apologize for having made something of a straw man in regards to what I assume to be what is really meant, but such is my experience.) In short, such love is given to the singing of Gregorian chant and to the proper celebration of the liturgy in accordance with tradition because it is how we have come to discover Christ, and it is how we are able to share him with others, to invite others to his person and to the almighty Trinity of whom he is the second person.

Thus the liturgy is the place to which the Great Commission is principally aimed in this life, and it is the source of our preaching, of our sharing the faith, and of our becoming holy. That the liturgy and the works of mercy and of the mission increase the virtues in us, that is to say, make us holy and partakers of God’s grace, could not be clearer than in the collect of the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Almighty, eternal God, grant unto us an increase of faith, hope and charity; and make us love what You command so that we may be made worthy to attain what You promise.
The fulfillment of the Great Commission by worshiping well and by linking this worship to the works of mercy is one part of the exercise of the virtue of religion, which is giving God his due. This falls under the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. What comes in our own lives falls under the second commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

St. Athanasius, the great defender of the Nicaean doctrine of the Trinity, wrote in On the Incarnation that God “became incarnate so that we might be made god, and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father…” That Christ was incarnate is no small matter. Man is a body-soul union, so in this life we use our senses in order to know. Increasingly I hold to the position that there is nothing in the intellect which is not first in the senses. The liturgy takes this by giving all sorts of sensory stimulation, from chant to bells to incense to images to processions. The sacraments do this and also make perfect that which is natural; for example, the bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of Christ while retaining the accidents of bread and wine. That they do so helps us to know, for bread is nourishing physically, just as Christ spiritually nourishes and is the source of physical nourishment. Christ also never loses his body, which is physically in heaven, but through the Eucharist he fulfills his promise to be with us until the end of the ages, and it is in the Holy Mass that we become united to him and to his church.

The Adoration of the Lamb, from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck
Christ took on flesh as the only one “able to recreate the universe” and thus was “worthy to suffer on behalf of the world and intercede for all before the Father.” How do we do this in imitation of him? We must follow his commandment to offer the Eucharistic liturgy in memory of him, and we must follow the moral commandments united to our liturgical observances. Only then can we offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, our spiritual worship” and “not conform to the spirit of this world but be transformed by the renewal of our minds”

I often speak of living liturgically. It is not the case that one must necessarily have a fountain of liturgical knowledge, for St. Paul warns, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” This is where I would say the objection to ritual comes in: if you do not clearly want to be holy, or even to believe in the Gospel, then liturgical knowledge and liturgical practice do not mean much, if anything. To live liturgically is to direct everything towards God and from God to neighbor with a life of prayer rooted in the Holy Mass and the Divine Office, especially in their sung forms, for “it is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we always and everywhere give thanks to (the) Lord, the holy Father, the everlasting God.”

As Joseph Ratzinger says in Introduction to Christianity, the “essential form of worship,” which he later shows is also sacrificial in nature, for a Christian is that of thanksgiving, and the Mass is the one sacrifice made by Christ the true and eternal high priest. We offer the Mass not as the priest does in persona Christi, but in virtue of our baptism, by which we were brought into Christ’s death to have new life in him. By this, the moral life is a sacrifice; only when it is offered to God can it be considered as such, and it is thus connected to the Eucharist, which is the explicit blessing of God and offering to him not just anything or even our lives on their own, which is good, but we offer to him his beloved Son.

It took another theological controversy, namely the Nestorian heresy, to establish that not only is Christ equal in substance (homoousios) to the Father, but that he is a divine person. God is a communion of persons who share complete and perfect love and who out of that love gratuitously created, redeemed, and continue to sanctify the world. The only distinction is that one is Father and the unbegotten eternal generator, the second is the begotten Son, and the third is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who is the first principle, and from the Son. This relational aspect is what makes the persons of the Trinity persons, and not different modalities of God.

From this, we must look at the human person, who is in the image and likeness of God, chiefly by having been created by a God who is all-good and by possessing reason, having been given it as a gift by God, who is rational. God makes a human a someone, a unique and unrepeatable person who has a soul united to the body. This soul and this material composition (more or less: contemporary understandings of matter somewhat complicate this point) are distinct from every other soul and composition. Further, the soul gives the person the capacity to freely know, love, and serve God and from there, to do the same to one’s neighbor.

The Creation of Man, by Michelangelo
This is opposed to a something, such as a rock, which is only material, and although one might speak of having rockiness, and of this rock versus that rock, it is nevertheless a rock. It does not possess the dignity of the individual human person. It also contrasts to any dystopian distortion of the distinction between each human person.

The person’s nature is perfected by grace at baptism, where original sin and any personal sins are removed, in order that the person can enter into communion with Christ and his body the church, especially via Holy Communion in this life. Now, the Fathers and medieval theologians tend to emphasize the corporate unity, but I think it is good to emphasize the union between one man and another rooted in the union between Christ and each particular person, for one does not lose his individual identity upon entering the church.

Hannah Bruckner, a good friend from Franciscan University, wrote for the “Truth from the Heart” blog (especially dedicated to the philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand) that a lived personalism is “the ability to intuitively see the importance of an individual infinity within every human person” and that “there is truly nothing in this world more powerful than being seen by another.” I think the most efficacious way for this to come about is to sing the Mass and Office on a regular basis, for everything flows from the liturgy and must return to the liturgy, since in this life this is how everything comes back to the Trinity, the source of all which in the end will take all things up into itself. Chant teaches one to contemplate God, which allows one to be of better service to others and to be more generous of all that one has: time, abilities, material resources, etc. It makes one a better friend, one who is able to be genuinely interested in the smallest matters of a person’s life and to meet more people, seeing them as unique persons. I would also say that it makes one a better example as a Christian, not only in living an upright and moral life by God’s grace, but by being able to take one part of Christianity and of life and dwell on it for some time, sharing that plus 10% more each time.

The Divine Office also teaches charity, for not only does one have to teach another to sing the office, but the rubrics also teach charity in the alternation of the psalmody to save the voice and in the courtesy extended to the cantors in waiting for them to return to their place before sitting (or for them to sit before continuing the verse). Finally, the life of chant redirects us to the Trinity, for we as friends are now excited to share this life with one another and to draw others into the worship of God.

Pontifical Vespers at the 2015 Fota Conference
One might argue that the focus should be on the sacraments, namely the Eucharist, which effect an increase in the theological virtues, but I argue that the rites contribute to this increase by properly disposing us and orienting us (quite literally when worshiping ad orientem) towards that personal encounter with God that comes about through the sacraments.

We ought to heed the words said to St John the Baptist by his father Zechariah, which are said every day at Lauds. We ought to serve, as John was called to do so, as “the prophet of the Highest,” to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways,” and to “give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins,” in relation to his life, death, and resurrection and of his second coming, and to “direct our feet into the way of peace.” By worshiping according to the tradition of the Church and by taking its spirit into every aspect of our daily lives, we will truly live liturgically.

Dominican Missa Cantata for the Feast of St. Dominic

The Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena in New York City will have a Missa Cantata for the Feast of St. Dominic (EF calendar) on August 4, 2016 at 7 pm. The Missa Sacerdotes Domini by Palestrina and Dominican Chant for the Feast of St. Dominic will be sung. All are welcome to celebrate the patronal feast of the Order of Friars Preachers during this 800th Anniversary of their foundation. The church of St. Vincent Ferrer is located at 869 Lexington Avenue.


(Isn’t it great to see how many Dominican Masses are being celebrated these days?!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More Medieval Frescoes from Milan

We have written about the Greater Monastery of Milan a few times recently, often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Milan, since the comprehensive restoration, completed just over a year ago, of its 16th century church. The monastery as a foundation was far older than the church, however, going back to the Carolingian era, and partly incorporating structures which were even older. One of these is a tower which was originally part of the walls built around Milan in the very late 3rd or very early 4th century by the Emperor Maximilian. The tower was on the western side of the ancient city walls, part of the section that included the city’s charity racing circus, and very close to the imperial palace.


The interior of the tower was transformed into a chapel in the Middle Ages; the frescoes preserved therein today are from the 14th century. These photos come to us, of course, from our Milanese and Ambrosian Rite correspondent, Nicola de’ Grandi.

The tower built ca. 300 A.D.
On the left, St Francis receives the stigmata; the identification of the other Saints is not altogether clear, but the Dominican will certainly be Saint Peter the Martyr, whose relics are kept in Milan.

A medieval document refers to an altar within the complex of the Greater Monastery dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, where Masses for the dead were celebrated, “since the Saints in the resurrection do not marry, nor are they given in marriage, but they will be like the angels in heaven.” The more elaborate decoration around St Michael indicates that this was likely the location of said altar.
The identity of the three Saints shown here in prison is also disputed. They may be one of two groups of Milanese Saints either Vitalis and his sons Protasius and Gervasius, or Saints Victor, Nabor and Felix. They may also be Saint Maurice, to whom the church of monastery was dedicated, along with two other members of the Theban Legion, Ss Exsuperius and Candidus.

OF Mass in Croatia “Ad Orientem” (and Nobody Died!)

A reader of NLM requested that I post some photos of an Ordinary Form Mass celebrated ad orientem (with generous use of Latin) on Sunday, July 3rd, at the parish of St Nicholas Tavelić in Županja, Croatia. As it didn’t seem particularly newsworthy to me, I was going to decline the request. On second thought, perhaps the publicity will encourage and embolden Latin-rite priests in that part of the world who desire properly oriented worship, but feel intimidated by the panicked reaction to what one learned commentator dubs the Sarah Appeal. Be not afraid! (Photos courtesy of Marko Cunjo Ivančičević)



Beautiful Lectionaries in the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Since we recently highlighted a very ugly lectionary, and the general lack of beauty in modern liturgical books, I thought it would be nice to share some images of beautiful lectionaries of various kinds and periods from the endlessly useful website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Some of the most famous liturgical manuscripts in the world are kept there, and can be downloaded for free in pdf format; here is just a tiny selection of their many treasures.

Greek Evangeliary, date unspecified, (Supplément grec 27, folio 1r) - St John the Evangelist is shown dictating his Gospel to his amanuensis St Prochoros, who was one of the first seven deacons. As can be seen from the folio number, this is at the very beginning of the manuscript; Byzantine Gospel books are traditionally arranged according to the order of their liturgical use, starting with Easter, on which the Gospel is John 1, 1-17.
The cover of a Latin Evangeliary from the last quarter of the 9th century. (ms. Latin 9453)
St Matthew Writing His Gospel, from the 9th century Evangeliary of Ebon (folio 18v)
Evangeliary of the Court of Charlemagne, also known as the Golden Evangeliary (Évangéliaire dor) of Evangeliary of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. 8th century, folio 61 r. - The beginning of the Gospel of St Mark.
Evangeliary according to the Use of Paris, 1345-1350, folio 1 r. - The Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent in many medieval Uses, including those of Paris and Sarum, was that which the traditional Roman use reads on Palm Sunday, St Matthew, 21, 1-9.
Lectionary for Mass and Office from the Monastery of Mont-Majeur, 1075-1200 (ms. Latin 889, folio 7v) - The Vision of St John the Evangelist 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Feast of St Anne

Justly does Anne, filled with the divine Spirit, with joyful and jubilant spirit sing aloud: “Rejoice with me, who of my barren womb I have borne the bud of promise, and, as I had longed, nourish at my breasts the fruit of blessing. I have laid aside the mournfulness of barrenness, and put on the joyful raiment of fruitfulness. Let that other Anna, the adversary of Peninnah, (1 Kings 1) rejoice with me, and with me celebrate this new and unhoped-for wonder that is wrought in me.

The Madonna and Child with St Anne, by Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone), ca 1424. Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence
Let Sarah be glad that was joyfully pregnant in her old age, and prefigured my own conception in barrenness. Let all the barren and fruitless sing together of my wondrous visitation from heaven.” Let all mothers likewise, that like Anne are gifted with fruitfulness, say, “Blessed be He That bestowed on those who prayed Him what they asked, and gave fruitfulness unto her that was barren, and granted to her that most happy blossom, the Virgin, who was the Mother of God according to the flesh; whose womb was a heaven wherein He dwelt Whom no place can contain. - St John Damascene, Second Oration on the Birth of the Virgin; from the Roman Breviary.

Dominican Mass This Sunday in Quezon City in the Philippines

This coming Sunday, July 31st, the Parish of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Quezon City, The Philippines, will host our own Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., for the celebration of a Missa Cantata in the Dominican Use, beginning at 2 p.m. The organizers, the Societas Ecclesia Dei - Sancti Joseph, wish to express their gratitude to the curé of the parish, Rev. Fr. Michel Joe Zerrudo. Click here to for the Facebook event page; directions to the church are given in the map below.



A Model Review - Br Brad Elliot OP on the Music of Frank La Rocca

Here is a review of a selection of Frank La Rocca’s compositions called In This Place, written by Br Brad T. Elliot OP; it appeared first, in slightly altered form, on page 49 of the Fall 2015 edition of Sacred Music, the journal of the CMAA.


I have only just seen this, but I thought to bring it to your attention for a couple of reasons, the first being that I think that Frank La Rocca’s work deserves to get more attention.

The second reason is that the principles by which the reviewer judges the merit of La Rocca’s works are themselves worthy of study. Br Brad Elliot, who is a Dominican of the Western Province of the United States, has a good grasp of music theory (way beyond my own) and of the principles of sacred music. He brings his knowledge of both into the discussion. As such, in this short piece, I feel he outlines succinctly a guide for patrons, composers, and for the judgment of such compositions, in accord with general principles are applicable in all the creative arts.

Br Brad explains very well why it is imperative that we always have new compositions to breathe life into any artistic tradition. No tradition can rely on a canon of past works alone; without continuing creativity, it will cease to engage new people and become dead. As he puts it:
Simply put, the giving over or tradere of the past into the future must pass through the present as a necessary middle term; the present is where the real tradition takes place.
He stresses also the importance of exploring modern forms of music, as he says:
...modern harmony should not be feared as a threat to sacred beauty.  
But he is quick to point out that such exploration can never be used as a reason for compromising the essential principles of sacred music.

Is Frank La Rocca’s music doing this? Perhaps. I think so, and Br Brad thinks so. But we must be clear that fulfillment of the criteria that Br Brad lays down is not the only requirement. In the end, it has to appeal at a natural level to many people as well. This is the great challenge to the artist in any field, and the mark of true creativity. Neither Br Brad nor myself are the final arbiters of taste and so the final test of its goodness is not if he or I like it, but its popularity. If it is good, it will be performed, and congregations will be drawn to it. And only time can tell us this in regard to Frank La Rocca’s or any other composer’s music. You can decide for your self by listening to his work. Here is his O Magnum Mysterium.


We ought to encourage the continued creativity of people who understand the principles of sacred music and modern music, and are prepared to take that great risk in looking for ways of combining the two. Frank La Rocca looks to the incorporation of modern classical forms. This is not the only area of modern music in which people can look for inspiration, but whatever approach is taken, it has to be done with the dedication and respect for tradition with which we see from Frank and a few others. (Another example is my colleague on this blog, Peter Kwasniewski). The more people who are doing so, the more likely it is that the sacred musical form of today will break out of the esoteric circle of those who are deeply interested in such things and emerge as a new, popular and noble form. The music that does this will characterize our age when future generations look back at the early 21st century.

Someone once tried to persuade me that I should appreciate the highly dissonant classical music of the 20th century with the absurd opening argument that “modern music isn’t as bad as it sounds.” While there is always a place for guiding people into an appreciation of what is good, if we have to persuade people that they ought to like something, we have failed.

Thoughtful criticism that highlights what is good is as necessary to the process of cultural transformation as the work of the creative artist. I think both Br Brad Elliot and Frank La Rocca are showing us the path by which we can succeed (not forgetting Sacred Music which prints the review of course!)

The Fall edition of Sacred Music has just appeared online, so you can read the review in the journal, here. Alternatively, I reproduce it here with permission:

Composers of sacred music are in a precarious position in today’s world; in many ways, they are a dying breed. On the one hand, they find themselves competing with an aesthetic of the past, as so many in their audience are driven by a nostalgia for a form and harmony indicative of music centuries-old. On the other hand, they are immersed in a post-modern world that has all but forgotten the very natural laws of beauty, the very symmetry, proportion, and order imbued in creation that any authentic imitation of that creation – the ancient notion of art – should reflect. The contemporary composer of sacred music seems to be straddling two incommensurable worlds. How is he to be faithful to the tradition by assimilating its rich vocabulary, and yet express this vocabulary and pass it on to a post-modern world that has all but revolted against that language?

The tension between purist and progressive is deeply felt by the sacred music composer. The Christian audience in today’s world inevitably defaults to equating a sacred aesthetic with an ancient or an old aesthetic, and this antiquity tends to become more and more idealized as it fades into a past known only through the frozen images of paintings or the archaic prose of worn books. Yet if the tradition of sacred music is to be handed on at all, if it is to be a true tradition –tradere – or giving over of something, it cannot remain in the idealized past. After all, sacred music is not a mere platonic universal floating in a world of ideas; it must be instantiated in a present particular work, that is, a piece of music that contains all the individuality and unrepeatable character of any other. If the tradition of sacred music is to be known, it must be incarnated in the here-and-now, given flesh and matter through some distinct composition. Simply put, the giving over or tradere of the past into the future must pass through the present as a necessary middle term; the present is where the real tradition takes place.

But here is precisely the dilemma; if any particular composition is to be a true giving over of something and not a mere replica of the past, than this work will naturally embody the character of the present time. The harmony, feel, texture, and aesthetic of the contemporary world will serve as the matter out of which the tradition again takes flesh. But can contemporary music actually provide a sufficient matter for a true expression of the sacred? Has the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, provided a musical language with which the tradition can again be spoken? Or would not modern harmony, with its dissonance and atonality, compromise the sacred to an unrecognizable degree? Unfortunately, many answer this last question with a simple “yes.” This is the nature of the tension that composers know all too well.

For the past twenty years I have been a lover of sacred music, both its history and contemporary trends, and I have grown accustomed to this tension. I confess that, for much of my life I would have, like the many mentioned above, simply denied that the modern aesthetic could ever express the transcendence which is the hallmark of sacred music. As easy as it may be to succumb to this doubt given the pervasive banality of so much contemporary music, every so often a composer emerges who provides the needed exception to this presumed distrust, a composer who fully embraces contemporary forms of structure and harmony and yet still remains rooted in the sacred tradition. The composer Frank La Rocca has again provided this welcomed exception and the album In This Place is proof that an artist fully immersed in twentieth-century music can again speak the language of the sacred musical tradition to contemporary ears in a way that is understandable and attractive.

The album In This Place is unquestionably a work born from Catholic Christian spirituality with six of the eight compositions as settings of biblical or liturgical texts. From the opening, O Magnum Mysterium, a setting of the responsorial chant of Matins of Christmas, to the closing Credo, a setting of the Latin text of the Nicene Creed, the album is an explicit expression, in music, of the faith of the historic Christian Church. There is Expectavi Dominum with text from Psalm 40, Miserere with text of King David’s great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51, the Pentecost Sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus, and the famous prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, O Sacrum Convivium. In addition to these vocal works, there is a piano work entitled Meditation, and an instrumental chamber work, In This Place, from which the album gets its name.

The entire album is a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and moods where, like the psalms and liturgical prayers themselves, the full spectrum of human emotion is embraced and felt. La Rocca is undoubtedly adept at composing with the dissonance and set-harmony of twentieth-century music fully playing with all its qualities, and yet the album touches tonal harmony at every turn. As one listens from start to finish, the composer takes the listener on a journey through both the traditional narrative-like tension/release of tonal harmony and the persistent chromatics of the modern era. In a sense, La Rocca pulls the best from both worlds and weaves them together into his own distinctive voice. While the influence of Renaissance composers like Orlande de Lassus and William Byrd may be heard, particularly in the choral works, the influence of twentieth-century composers is evident. One can hear the harmonic sharpness and rhythmic agility of Stravinsky as well as the mystical naturalism of Mahler. Far from being a patch-like jumble of the old and the new, it is an authentic blending in the truest sense of the word. Any lover of twentieth-century music will find in La Rocca a composer who fully understands his taste. Nonetheless, through these works, the lover of traditional sacred music will also hear, echoing as from the past into the present, a true icon of holy transcendence once again instantiated in the present.

The blending of old and new elements is best seen in La Rocca’s use of old church modes. Traditional modal harmony is present in much of the album yet the composer never compromises its contemporary feel. For example, Veni Sancte Spiritus, for soprano voice and chamber ensemble, is composed in the Aeolian mode. The piece remains rooted in the church mode from beginning to end and yet, by exploring the range of intervals imbedded therein, La Rocca is able to extract gradations of dissonance and consonance that one would not expect. In modern fashion, the composition is held together by an angular motif, a succession of open ascending intervals that is heard from both voice and instrument. While a calm melancholic feel pervades, there is also expressed a subtle note of hope and expectancy so appropriate for the text of the Veni Sancte Spiritus which begins, “Come, Holy Spirit, and from your celestial home radiate divine light.”

Similarly, the title track of the album, In This Place is also composed in the Aeolian mode. The composition, a solely instrumental work, is passionately mournful with an interplay between reed and string that is eerily prayer-like. La Rocca creates this mood, not only through harmonic dissonance, but also through taking advantage of the biting tambour of string and reed. There is a deep introspective element to the work reminiscent of the art songs of Mahler.

The Credo is, as one might expect, most reflective of traditional forms. The influence of Gregorian chant can be heard in the opening phrase yet the music quickly expands to the use of counterpoint indicative of Renaissance polyphony. It is an experiment in the balance and contrast that may be achieved when music suitable for liturgy is combined with more modern concert forms. The settings of the psalms, Expectavi Dominum and Miserere, likewise harken back to an earlier polyphonic style but utilize modern harmonic colors to punctuate the biblical text. For example, Expectavi Dominum, the text of Psalm 40 which begins “I waited patiently for the Lord,” highlights the ache of this waiting by opening with the unconventional dissonance of a minor second. Miserere is, like the text of Psalm 51 itself, a musical journey from the bitterness of contrition, through the pain of repentance, and finally to the tranquility that accompanies faith in the Lord’s mercy. The music first expresses, through minor modes and dissonance, the sadness and gravity of King David’s confrontation with the horror of his own sin. But then as the text “cor mundum crea in me, Deus” is sung (create in me a clean heart O God), the music transforms into a joyful, restful praise of God. Following the biblical text, the music begins with mourning and anguish but ends in a musical Sabbath-rest.

A particularly noteworthy piece is the sixth track on the album, O Sacrum Convivium. This is a setting of the prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in praise of the Holy Eucharist and, like the rest of the album, it is a hauntingly beautiful blend of classic and contemporary elements. The work most reveals the influence that English Renaissance polyphony, particularly that of William Byrd, has had on La Rocca’s choral style. Of all the compositions, it contains the most triadic harmony and best represents traditional polyphonic structure. A classical yet unexpected opening occurs when the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano each respectively state the opening melody in ascending sequence. However, these ascending statements are not removed by a perfect fifth as one would traditionally expect, rather, they are each removed by a perfect fourth giving the opening a suspended and otherworldly feel most fitting for the text of the prayer. The polyphonic chant is interrupted by a recurring motif, arresting of the attention with its dense chromatic clusters, that emphasizes the theologically rich texts “in quo Christus sumitur” (in which Christ is received) and “mens impletur gratia” (the mind is filled with grace).

The album as a whole is a courageous blend of styles and genres that is atypical for the fractioned world of modern music. Thus, it bears a confidence that is only born of years of artistic maturity. The sheer variety of the album pays testament to the diversity of influences that have shaped the composer’s ear and, what is more, pays greater testament to a composer who has himself wrestled with the interplay between these influences and has emerged from the battle. All lovers of sacred music wearied by the divide between the traditional and modern aesthetic will find happy repose in the album In This Place. Its varied collection hints that La Rocca has gone before us through this divide and is now giving to others the fruits of his own musical and spiritual journey.

Indeed, modern harmony should not be feared as a threat to sacred beauty. In This Place is proof of this. For sacred beauty, like God Himself, is timeless; no age can claim Him as its own. Beauty, wherever it is found, may be used as an icon of God’s holy presence, and the composer Frank La Rocca has again given the world a fresh example of this truth. The album In This Place, far from being a mere restatement of the old, is a new instantiation of the tradition of sacred music in our own time. Far from re-creating the past, La Rocca speaks the tradition with his own musical voice. I encourage all lovers of music to invest time in listening to his work. It is time well spent.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Award for the Most Hideous Lectionary Ever

In an article entitled "Books That Cry Out the Unique Richness and Holiness of God's Word," I argued that somewhere along the line, we decided to forego the expense and trouble of creating beautiful artifacts for the sacred liturgy, and settled for a combination of aesthetic mediocrity and repellent modern ugliness. Sometimes it seems as if intentions are good but artistic ability is totally lacking; other times it seems that the intentions are actually modernist and the goal is to repudiate past tradition in favor of a newly-fashioned religion of the future. Whatever the case may be, in my article I provided photos of exquisite historic lectionaries and modern imitations in a similar vein, as well as of some unremarkable contemporary lectionaries.

Recently, I came across a set of lectionaries that struck me as the most hideous I'd ever seen. Since there may come a day when our children and grandchildren do not believe us when we regale them with stories of such things -- they will protest that we are surely exaggerating like a bunch of tippling fishermen -- I thought it worthwhile to reproduce some images here, followed by the palate cleansing contrast of several books in my library that enshrine the Word of God and the rite of the liturgy in a beauty that befits them.

First, the books published in 1999:




Saturday, July 23, 2016

“In Mei Memoriam Facietis”; Liturgical Externals and Memory - Guest Article by Veronica Arntz

We are pleased to share with our readers this guest article by Veronica Arntz, a recent graduate of Wyoming Catholic College who will begin graduate studies in theology this fall at the Augustine Institute.

The heated debate surrounding Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call to celebrate the liturgy ad orientem shows deep division within the Church. If the liturgy is the “source and summit of the whole Christian life,” as Lumen gentium 11 proclaims, then it is essential for Catholics to celebrate it in unity of heart and mind. If we wish to accomplish anything within the fields of social justice, morality, and catechesis, we must approach the liturgy as a gift from God and as an organic whole, meant to unify the universal Church, not divide her. The question of ad orientem worship is extremely important for this unity of the Church and cannot be dismissed lightly. It is necessary, therefore, to understand how the external aspects of the liturgy are important to its celebration, for they assist in forming how we know, love, and serve God. In particular, our memories, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, are formed and shaped by the externals of the liturgy, which means that we cannot ignore them or disregard them as unimportant.

Solemn High Mass in Notre-Dame de Paris
When St. Thomas Aquinas is discussing whether memory is part of prudence in the Summa Theologiae, he lists four ways by which man perfects his memory. The first of these, which shall be our focus, is the following: “When a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind.” Aquinas gives the following reason for why we need illustrations: “Simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects.” (II-II Q. 49, art. 1, ad 1) In other words, a man’s mind works best by connecting spiritual or invisible realities to a sensible image, for sensible realities are more knowable by him. When he tries to understand a spiritual reality, therefore, it is more likely to remain in his memory if he connects it with a sensible reality.

In Book 10 of The Confessions, St. Augustine gives us an interesting perspective on how our memories are connected with God. Augustine is in awe over the immense power of his memory: “Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me. Who can reach its uttermost depth? Yet it is a faculty of my soul and belongs to my nature. In fact I cannot totally grasp all that I am.” We here find testimony to the fact that this faculty of his human nature, which exists in time, is also something beyond him. Even within his own memory, he finds it impossible to grasp his identity and his role in the world. The crux of the treatise, however, occurs when he realizes that God is within his memory, which is why his memory is beyond himself. “See now how great a space I have covered in my memory, in search of Thee, O Lord; and I have not found Thee outside it…From the time I learned of Thee, Thou hast remained in my memory, and there do I find Thee, when I turn my mind to Thee and find delight in Thee.” Thus, even though his memory knows things within time, it is still capable of holding within itself God, who is outside of time.

For Augustine, memory makes present the things of the past, for time is measured in his mind. How then can God come to be in his mind, if He is eternal and exists outside of time? As Augustine explains, “You are before all the past by the eminence of Your ever-present eternity: and You dominate all the future in as much as it is still to be: and once it has come it will be past: but ‘Thou art always the Selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail.’ ” Thus, it is because God is the “eternal Creator of minds” that he is able to dwell in the mind, and specifically, in the memory. Augustine believes that, given how much our memory is able to hold and understand, then so much more God’s memory, which holds all knowledge, because He is eternal.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI argues that time and eternity meet in the Incarnation and in the liturgy. He writes, “All time is God’s time. When the eternal Word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, he also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity. Christ is himself the bridge between time and eternity.” Thus, because the Word took flesh, God has a connection with man, and indeed, with his memory. “In the Word incarnate, who remains man forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete.” We thus see a connection to Aquinas’s remarks on memory. God, who is the most intelligible reality and thereby the most difficult for man to understand, took on human form, and now man has a concrete way to understand and know Him. Because Christ entered into time, He is likewise able to transform man’s memory, which exists in time, but is also beyond time, since it is ultimately united with God’s eternity.

For Pope Benedict, liturgy is man’s window into Heaven, the place where heaven touches earth, and we are able to receive Christ daily in the Eucharist. In the liturgy, man experiences the Beatific Vision for a brief moment of time while still on earth. “The historical liturgy of Christendom is and always will be cosmic, without separation and without confusion, and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur.” Liturgy, although an action occurring within time, is ultimately cosmic, for it expands beyond the present time and points man toward his future life in Heaven. The cosmic time of the liturgy “becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward the union of God and world, of history and universe, of matter and spirit—in a word, toward the New City whose light is God Himself.” This union of God and world achieved in the liturgy also occurs within the memory, which is an interior power of the soul. A man’s memory is united with the knowledge of eternity and God in the liturgy, and thereby becomes more like God’s own mind.

Thus, the liturgy is not merely a spiritual reality; it is the place where God and man unite, which means that it is necessary to worship in a bodily way. Furthermore, we cannot merely reduce liturgy to the structure of a meal, which many do when simplifying the essence of the liturgy to the Consecration of the Body and Blood, for this removes those externals that remind man of God’s presence in the liturgy. Because Christ’s presence is manifest in the liturgy, which occurs within man’s history, the externals of the liturgy are important for forming man’s memory. As we saw in Aquinas, the memory is formed through connections made between sensible and spiritual realities, which explain the rich external signs within the liturgy that help man become more united to God. The gestures of the priest, the beautiful vestments, the scent of incense, the detailed artwork, the ethereal music: all these external signs are meant to point to God.

Moreover, because these signs are so intimately connected with the liturgy, they form man’s memory about the liturgy and about God. When a man remembers a beautifully celebrated Mass, he often remembers the corporeal signs he experienced, and we see this evident in the Pope-Emeritus’ memory of his Bavarian hometown celebration of Corpus Christi. “I can still smell those carpets of flowers and the freshness of the birch trees; I can see all the houses decorated, the banners, the singing; I can still hear the village band, which indeed sometimes dared more, on this occasion, than it was able!” All of the sights and smells of Corpus Christi are still deeply engraved within the memory; the liturgical life of the community created a beautiful memory for him, which he still connects with the glory of God. We are losing so much in our liturgical tradition with the loss of Corpus Christi celebrations; how many have such vivid memories of that feast? How many can say that Christ has entered deeply into their memories because of Corpus Christi processions and celebrations?

Corpus Christ Procession, Madison Wisconsin (from one of our 2015 photoposts)
This connection of memory and liturgy is one of the reasons that Cardinal Sarah is calling for liturgies to be celebrated ad orientem once again. Since Vatican II, our memories of the liturgy have been shaped by the priest facing versus populum. But, as Pope Benedict explains regarding this orientation, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.” Thus, our memories of the liturgy are not, generally, connected with God (as they should be), but rather, they are connected with a humanistic, self-centered sort of liturgy. We expect the priest to face us, so we can see him and understand his personality. We expect the priest to put on a show for us, so that we can be entertained for an hour and feel good about ourselves. The corporeal image we have connected with the liturgy in our mind is that of the priest himself. Our memories, however, have been trained with the wrong expectations. We ought to be turned together toward the Lord—our minds and our memories should be oriented toward God in the liturgy, for the liturgy is the anticipation of the coming Christ. This is the purpose of the priest celebrating ad orientem: all who are part of the Mass, including the priest, are meant to be awaiting the Lord’s return. The sacrifice of the Mass is an offering to the Lord, not to the people.

If we humbly follow Cardinal Sarah’s request, we shall retrain our memories to turn toward the Lord in the liturgy. Our memories will once again reconnect with God, who is present within us, not only in our minds, but most especially in the Eucharist. We cannot simply toss aside the liturgical traditions that have formed 1500 years of Saints: in doing so, we lose our connection with the Church and with God. If we refocus our minds and memories on God, “we will go out to meet the Lord who has already been coming all along, we will enter into his coming—and so we will allow ourselves to be fitted into a greater reality, beyond the everyday.”

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