Here is the talk from yesterday by the executive director of ICEL from the Sacred Music Colloquium. It covers lots of biographical material and concludes with an update on the new translation of the Divine Office.
Life-long learning - personal reflections on the influence of the liturgy
An address to the Church Music Association of America
XXII Colloquium Salt Lake City 18 June 2013
I have been persuaded by Arlene Oost-Zinner to offer you some reflections of a rather personal nature about the place and influence of the Sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church in my life so far. I necessarily begin with a massive disclaimer – I do not in any way want to suggest that my own experience should be regarded as anything other than biographical data. Providence has determined that I was fortunate to have met and known several important figures in Catholic liturgical life whose influence continues to be felt beyond the initial sphere of their activity. It was for that reason alone, that I have agreed to make this presentation to you.
I have two early liturgical memories, my sister Caroline’s baptism in 1964 at which time I was aged 3 and a less specific occasion which I now know to have been the asperges at a Sunday Mass probably sometime around the age of 5. I suppose the baptism is understandable as an early sign-post because it would have taken place in the same Church where I myself had been baptized and I imagine that among the various signs of excitement and celebration which attended that occasion, relatives would have pointed this fact out to me. Anyway, I clearly remember being in the church, and watching the baptism. The asperges is a less obvious early reference but not if you consider that it would be one of the few moments when a small person would actually see the priest at close quarters passing through the church sprinkling holy water!
At the age of five, I began at a preparatory school run by a French order, the Sisters of St Joseph of Tarbes. This was a wonderfully rich experience in which the liturgy and sacred music played a very considerable part. The sisters were decidedly ‘old school’, which meant that in 1965 things were rather more c.1955, they were either Anglo-Indian or French which meant that prayers were learned in both English and French in addition to Latin. They had started the school only a few years earlier at the invitation of a saintly pastor, a priest who was in very many ways to inspire and foster my own vocation to the priesthood, the late Fr Michael McGrath.
I realize now that Fr McGrath was a disciple of the Liturgical Movement and while not resisting the initial developments of the liturgy as a result of the immediate after-math of Vatican II, he remained eager to preserve a sense of the immense importance of tradition in both the liturgy in general and liturgical music in particular. As English became more and more present in our liturgy throughout-out the sixties, he maintained the custom of singing chant at Masses in English and continued to celebrate what we would now call the Extraordinary Form at least once a week (usually on Friday evenings). In Fr McGrath, this refined sense of the importance of the liturgy and its content was wedded to an energetic pastoral style which saw him continually visiting homes in the parish – he was a frequent visitor in our home and in the homes of many families I knew.
I think I was quite young when I realized that the Church was going through a process of discarding many features of the liturgy which had characterized her experience over long centuries. I had an early fascination with old missals and prayer-books and I had quite a collection culled from grandparents, aunts and uncles. This sense of departure from tradition became even more evident on the occasions when I was at Mass elsewhere and even at that stage encountered ‘folk Masses’ and other contemporary styles that were clearly at variance with what I experienced at home.
As my own musical education progressed, I started playing for public worship, first at school where I accompanied the hymn at morning assembly then eventually, at the age of 13 at a small local parish where I played the organ at Mass and eventually formed a small choir. The musical repertoire was limited and included the Missa de Angelis, Dom Gregory Murray’s People’s Mass and the gems of the Westminster Hymnal - a musical diet that had been the constant staple of English Catholic parishes (with the exception of the Gregory Murray Mass) since the early twentieth century. At this stage, Credo III was still sung every Sunday and the congregation still knew quite a lot of plainsong.
At a high school run by the Marist Brothers, I was fortunate to encounter a most wonderful musician who had a profound influence on me. His name was Brother Godric and in addition to teaching us Latin, he was the most wonderful string player. As a boy he had been educated by the Benedictines at Montserrat and sang in their famous Escolania choir. As a result, he knew and loved the chant and eagerly imparted this knowledge to any of us who wanted to learn. My first memory of a piece that took us beyond the repertoire I heard at church, was the solemn setting of the Salve Regina. I still have the duplicated forty-year old hand-written copy from which Brother Godric taught us this sublime chant.
Apart from my home parish, which still maintained a traditional repertoire of chant and simple polyphony and the two parishes where I regularly played the organ, I began to realize that very few parishes maintained any elements of the Church’s musical patrimony and folk groups proliferated at this stage, almost everywhere. At eighteen, I left home and moved to London to begin my studies at Trinity College of Music, studying voice and piano. The three years of my undergraduate course were the most intense years of music-making, and beyond the operatic, choral and lieder repertoire I studied, there was regular work as a deputy tenor in all of the great churches and cathedrals of London. My experiences as a Catholic were supplemented with Choral Matins and Evensong in Anglican Churches as well as polyphonic and choral settings of the Mass.
One of the most useful experiences of these years, however, was a sight-singing class run by Colin Mawby, the former Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral and the composer of many wonderful pieces for liturgical use. Colin made us work through all thoseChester editions of Henry Washington’s transcriptions of Masses by Palestrina, Victoria and Lassus as the basis for a sound approach to sight-singing. It also meant that this repertoire became very familiar. During these years, I was also fortunate to be one of only two tenors to sing in the College a cappella Vocal Ensemble which numbered only 10 voices and was directed by the countertenor, Geoffrey Mitchell who latterly managed the BBCSingers and directed his own professional chorus which appears on many of the great opera and choral recordings made during the eighties.
During my college years, I came to understand rather more fully the genius of the human voice, its beauty and the wonder of unaccompanied vocal music in a variety of forms. I have a strong recollection of a masterclass given by Sir Peter Pears, in which he asked us “Why do we sing?”. Before anyone could reply, he offered the answer: “We sing because we would be less human if we didn’t!” I think we all instinctively know this to be true and find the greatest expression of this truth when we sing in the liturgy.
My graduate studies moved me in the direction of opera as I studied choral conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and trained as a repetiteur with the English National Opera. During these years, I returned again to thoughts of a possible vocation to the priesthood and felt myself drawn very much more deeply to the study of the chant. It was at this point that a major influence entered my life, someone who is responsible for so much that we take for granted now but was a courageous witness during the dark days of the seventies and eighties – Dr Mary Berry.
Mary, or to give her her proper name in religion, Sister Thomas More, was a Canonness of St Augustine. A highly gifted musician, she had been a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris and had known Igor Stravinsky well. A convert to Catholicism, she had been drawn by the Church’s liturgy and in particular its chant and polyphony. In the wake of Vatican II, as there was a wholesale abandonment of this patrimony, Mary took refuge in academic life and returned to Cambridge for a doctorate. She then remained there essentially for the rest of her life and established her great work: The Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.
The Schola operated in two modes – it ran wonderful weekends inCambridge for all comers, the associates of the Schola who would prepare and sing Mass and Vespers. The Schola proper, is a professional group of cantors which sings together for special functions, liturgical reconstructions, concerts and recordings. I was fortunate to be a member of this latter group and I sang as a soloist in concerts directed by Mary both in England and France and I am the deacon in the Schola’s recordings of the Masses of Christmas Day and the Feast of the Annunciation.
It is hard to adequately convey how important Mary Berry was as a teacher and a practitioner of the chant. I would want to begin by saying that Mary was one of those rare individuals who had the music in her – it was if it was going on in her all the time and at times when she sang or directed the singing of others, it was just like turning up the volume of something which was already going on.
She had an immense grasp of the various different approaches to chant and was very clear to state the parameters whenever we began a performing or recording project – she was equally at home with the Ward method, Old Solesmes, New Solesmes, performances informed by semiology and other forms of scholarly research. Using a linguistic analogy, I think she saw them as dialects of the single language which is chant and taught them as such. She was by nature a generous person and did not issue great judgments about the relative strengths or short-comings of particular approaches, she genuinely enjoyed seeing the impact of varying approaches on performers and listeners alike.
This flexibility of approach often expressed itself in a pragmatism that selected the best possible option for a particular situation. For example, in directing a Mass of the Kyriale, she would tend to favor a traditional approach and yet with a body of chants such as those for the Mandatum on Holy Thursday, she would naturally bring the insights of semiology to bear on the performance. When cantors had solos she would enjoy guiding an individual singer towards an interpretation of greater subtlety or beauty and often use the experience to illustrate how a particular convention arose or how a particular group of neumes might be interpreted. We always came away from these sessions feeling that we had really learned something, either about the chant of St Gall or the perennial virtues of pears stewed in red wine or how to solve the problem of jam (or as you would say, jelly) that just will not set. All wisdom was offered in the same generous spirit and was genuinely enriching.
I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, looking back over twenty-five years, how fortunate I was to receive this formation that was accessible to so few. Two or three priests who were students of Mary had this opportunity and it meant that at a time when this tradition and expertise was not being communicated through the usual channels, we were still able to receive it. It means therefore that those of us who benefited from this rich experience have a sense that we have been part of a process of keeping this tradition alive, so that we can hand it on to others as a precious living patrimony.
After two years as a priest, spent in the business of a full-time hospital chaplaincy and living in a parish which had maintained a good liturgical tradition based on a sung Latin Mass on Sunday, I asked Cardinal Hume for permission to try my vocation at the Birmingham Oratory, the community founded by Blessed John Henry Newman in the mid-nineteenth century. The Cardinal agreed and granted me two years’ leave of absence for the Oratorian novitiate. These were highly formative years for me as the Oratory and the splendor of its liturgy was something of a ‘finishing school’ for me, teaching me many skills with which the seminary had not equipped me. The endless procession of Solemn Masses and Vespers, with the chant continually present in the liturgy was like coming to a great oasis as a very thirsty man. I soaked it up.
During these years, I renewed my friendship with Fr Guy Nicholls, a friend from school days, who was already a member of the Birmingham Oratory. Fr Guy (who you will remember from last year’s Colloquium) is probably the brightest and best of Mary Berry’s priest students and certainly gifted with a beautiful voice, perfect for chant and great knowledge of the liturgy and its music. Under his direction there was always much to be learned. He is the founder and director of the Blessed John Henry Newman Institute of Sacred Music, an exciting new initiative in the UK to promote a better understanding of music in the liturgy.
Returning to the Diocese of Westminster in 1994, after two years at the Oratory, I was fortunate to be sent to St James’s, Spanish Place, one of the most spectacularly beautiful of London’s churches. From its origins as an embassy chapel in Penal times,Spanish Place has retained a wonderful musical tradition with a professional choir which sings the chant and polyphonic repertoire at Mass every Sunday. Here much that I had experienced at the Oratory was also to be found in a parish context. Living under the benign rule of Msgr Frederick Miles, who had known Msgr Ronald Knox and had been private secretary to both Cardinal Heenan and Cardinal Hume, every meal provided the opportunity for some reminiscence or interesting fact recalled from the solemn liturgy at Westminster Cathedral. It was at this stage that I became more intensely aware of the unique treasure that the liturgy of Westminster Cathedral is. I think it is probably alone in the Catholic world in continuing to offer Sung Mass and Vespers every day of the year, its choir being considered by many to be among the best in the world.
In 1998, Cardinal Hume appointed me to be chaplain to Harrow School which along with Eton College is one of the best known English boys’ schools, established during the reign of Elizabeth I, the school counts among its former pupils, seven prime ministers, including Sir Winston Churchill. Other notable former pupils include Cardinal Henry Manning (second Archbishop of Westminster) and Father Faber (founder of the London Oratory). The move to Harrowhad the immediate consequence of enabling me to be free during school holidays and particularly during Holy Week, During my thirteen years at Harrow, I was able to frequently visit another place which has exercised an immense influence on me, the Abbaye de Ste-Madeleine, le Barroux.
Founded by the late saintly Dom Gérard Calvet OSB, a pupil of André Charlier, founder of the Atelier de Sainte Esperance, the abbey of Le Barroux presents a powerful synthesis of the glories of the traditional Catholic liturgy wedded to a vision of beauty in which every aesthetic detail is the object of great care. The result is very engaging and thousands of Catholics have been influenced by this flowering of Catholic liturgical culture which is so vibrant and once again is to be found in the great monastic communities of France and increasingly, through their influence, elsewhere. Many people in the church suffer from that classically modern misery of feeling alone and not part of an authentic family or community in the Church, the growth of new communities which address this debilitating characteristic of the modern Church, enable all of us to find a context of stability in which we can come to a deeper experience of what it means to be Catholic. Seven Holy Weeks at Le Barroux and an annual retreat there every year for the past eighteen years have given me a great sense of the fundamental truth that the liturgy is not just what we do – it is ultimately who and what we are. It is that important – perhaps it is no surprise therefore that we feel so strongly about it!
As most of you will know, four years’ ago, my priestly journey brought me to the US to become the Executive Director of ICEL in the last phase of the preparation of the new translation of the Roman Missal and in the process of its implementation. One happy consequence of that appointment for me has been the opportunity to travel widely throughout the world and to experience many of the good initiatives which are underway to improve our experience of the Sacred Liturgy. Among them, I would cite the CMAA as an organization that punches way above its weight by uniting musicians throughout the Church who have a sincere desire to maintain and promote the Church’s rich patrimony of liturgical music in our communities and parishes today and to ensure that the skills necessary to achieve this flourish in our midst. It is for that reason that I am delighted to be here, for the third year in a row, to share with you this special grace which we call the Colloquium and to add my voice to others in the Church who seek to encourage and mentor you in this seriously important work.
In concluding this very personal reflection, which is no more than me thinking aloud in the presence of friends, I would like to bring you up to date on a number of more recent developments in my life and work which I hope will bring you joy and motivate you to persevere in your own work of service to our community. In the time since the implementation of the new translation of the Missal, ICEL has taken up its work of continuing to translate the liturgical texts in conformity with the new guidelines, of which the Missal is the first fruit. We have consequently released in recent months, final drafts of the Rites of Marriage and Confirmation and first drafts of the Rite of the Dedication of a Church and Altar, the Rite of Exorcism and the Supplement to the Liturgy of Hours, containing the proper texts of those feasts which have entered the universal calendar since the Liturgy of the Hours was published.
We have also begun our work on the new revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours to be published by the USCCB. This is not an entirely new translation but a new edition that includes the following new elements:
translations of the 285 hymns of the office, many of them not previously seen in English.
New translations of the Intercessions, the 3-year cycle of Benedictus
Magnificat antiphons for Sundays and Solemnities, the Te Deum and the Marian antiphons
This is an epic project and will probably take some five years or so before it reaches publication. The first fascicle of material will be sent to the conferences for their consultation in Spring of next year. Much of the material of the Liturgy of the Hours is intended for singing and it is envisaged that the hymns of the office will all be presented with their proper plainsong melodies as well as suggestions for standard metrical hymn tunes.
On a more personal level, I am happy to announce to you that I have received permission to found a community in Washington DC and from July 10th, together with another priest, Fr Richard Mullins of the Diocese of Arlington, I shall begin the Community of St Philip Neri, a community-in-formation for the Oratory in the Archdiocese of Washington. Cardinal Wuerl has welcomed us with open arms and has assigned to us a beautiful parish, St Thomas, Apostle,Woodley Park in central DC as the home for our nascent Oratorian community.
I see this latest development as something of a consolidation of the journey so far. It is our hope in time to be a community of four or five priests and brothers. The liturgy will be our very particular apostolate and the Cardinal has specifically asked us to have a special concern for adult formation and for the spiritual care of his priests. Please pray for us in this new endeavor and if you are ever in DC, do come and look us up.
The genius of the sacramental life of the Catholic Church is that it follows us through life in all its seasons, its high points, its low points – the liturgy is so often the God-given means by which we can make sense of this life that otherwise would so often be confusing and perplexing. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities that I have had so far to learn from men and women who are distinguished by their skill, their learning and their holiness. I encourage you all to persevere on this same journey which brings us to a greater experience of the Church’s greatest treasure, the Sacred Liturgy, instrument of grace and consolation of beauty and of truth.