Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Cathedral of Monza, Italy

Following up on yesterday’s post about the chapel of St Theodelinda in the cathedral of Monza, Italy, here are some photos of the cathedral itself, also taken by Nicola de’ Grandi. Like many Italian cathedrals, it was completely rebuilt on the site of an earlier structure, in this case starting in the mid-14th century, with the work continuing over a period of a few centuries.

The façade by Matteo da Campione dates from the later part of the 14th century. The bell-tower was added between 1592 and 1620, and is just shy of 260 feet tall.
The altar of the Cross, for Requiem Masses.

A New Series on Medieval Liturgy from Canticum Salomonis

Our friends at Canticum Salomonis have just finished up another interesting series, which those who like medieval liturgy will certainly find especially enjoyable, including several recordings of troped liturgical texts. This series describes in detail the reworking of the liturgies for the feast of the Circumcision, both Mass and Office, at the cathedral of Sens in France. Because of the feast’s coincidence with New Year’s Day, and the riotous celebration thereof, special liturgical customs were often introduced to encourage the faithful to come to church. One of the most complete surviving records of such a liturgy is preserved in MS. 46 of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Sens, which contains the music for the entire Office and Mass for the feast, with all of the parts heavily troped, as well as several Latin carols to be sung at various moments during the day.

The cathedral of St Stephen in Sens. (©Raimond Spekking, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)
The manuscript has traditionally been attributed to Peter of Corbeil, bishop of Sens from 1200 to 1221, who was not only a noted theologian and philosopher, but also a poet and musician. A similar pastoral approach to the issue of immoderate celebrations on New Year’s had been taken in Paris in 1198, where he had previously been a canon. In his Office, Peter generally transcribed musical pieces that were already in use and are attested elsewhere, but he also appears to have taken the chance to incorporate songs of his own composition. These are all of paraliturgical character; the canons of Sens would likely not have tolerated innovations in the liturgical offices themselves.

Here are the links to the six articles in the series.
Some highlights, with recordings:

The Benedicamus Domino at the end of each Hour provides the occasion for a final hymn produced by troping both the verse and response; the example here is taken from None. Several such medieval Benedicamus tropes in the form of hymns survive, Puer natus in Bethlehem and O filii et filiæ are two examples which are still used today.

Compline and Prime feature one of the very few examples of a troped Pater noster as part of the preces towards the end of the office. The tropes are short “quotations” borrowed both textually and musically from other liturgical pieces.

Although both the Our Father and Apostles’ Creed at Compline and Prime are normally said silently, on the Circumcision they were sung at Sens; this is the only surviving Gregorian setting of the Apostles’ Creed. The tropes are also musical and textual quotation from other parts of the liturgy.

At the Mass, while the subdeacon prepares to sing the Epistle and the deacon to sing the Gospel, the canons sung a special chant called a “conductus - leading up to” the reading. Here is the one for the Gospel.

The Gospel itself is sung to a special melismatic tone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Chapel of St Theodelinda at Monza Cathedral

Today is the feast of St Theodolinda, queen of the Lombards, who died in the year 627. A daughter of the duke of Bavaria, she was married in 589 to the Lombard King Authari. When he died the following year, she was allowed to choose her own second husband, who would then become the next king. Her choice fell upon Agilulf, the duke of Turin, who at her behest, moved the capital from Pavia to Milan, a move which helped to integrate the Lombards with the Roman population; henceforth, the kings of Lombardy were to be called “Kings of All Italy” instead.

As a fervent Catholic, Theodolinda contributed much to the restoration of the Nicene faith among the many Arian peoples of northern Italy. On the occasion of her son Adaloald’s baptism, Pope St Gregory the Great sent her a precious Gospel book which is still preserved at Monza.

The original covers of the Gospel Book of St Theodelinda.
The foundation of that city, where she kept her summer residence, is traditionally attributed to her; the legend has it that while traveling there, she dreamed of a dove that said to her “modo”, i.e. “here”, to which she answered “etiam.” i.e. “yes!” This is said to be the origin of the Latin “Modœtia”, which became “Monza” in Italian. In her new city, Theodolinda also established a private oratory, dedicated to St John the Baptist, the earliest foundation of the city’s cathedral.

At the death of Agilulf, she ruled for a time as her son’s regent, and in this period, received a second gift from Pope Gregory, the Iron Crown of Monza. This was said to have been made from a helmet of Constantine, and to include within itself one of the Nails of the Crucifixion, given to the latter by his mother St Helena three centuries earlier. This crown would become the symbol of the title “King of Italy.”

However, at the very end of her life, her son was deposed by the Lombard dukes in favor of her son-in-law. She died a few months later, in the year 628, and was originally buried in her oratory in Monza, where she has long been popularly venerated as a Saint. The Iron Crown is preserved in a special chapel of the Cathedral of Monza, dedicated to St Theodelinda, and frescoed with the episodes of her life in the 1440s by the brothers Zavattari. (These pictures, and the text above, are by our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi.)

Her sepulcher
St Theodelinda’s dream, and the construction of the city of Monza and the original oratory. 
In the upper right, next to the stem of the Visconti family (rulers of Milan from 1277 to 1447), Agilulf abjures Arianism and converts to Catholicism; below, first Theodelinda, and then Adaloald, offer various gifts to the cathedral of Monza. (Some of the items represented in these frescoes still exist, and are preserved in the cathedral treasury, of which we will show some photos later this week.)

The Gift of Liturgical Tradition Cannot Be Dismissed

This article was originally published yesterday on OnePeterFive, and is here reproduced by the kind permission of the editor, Mr Steve Skojec, with our thanks.

On January 18, Homiletic & Pastoral Review published an article by Dr. Mary Healy entitled “The Gift of the Liturgical Reform.” The author seems oddly unaware of what is known about the history of the liturgy and its governing principles, the genesis of the Novus Ordo Missae, and the scholarly considerations of those who maintain that it does not effect the reforms requested by Vatican II and that it is a seriously flawed invention rather than a legitimate liturgical development. She does not even mention Annibale Bugnini, the Novus Ordo’s architect, who manipulated both his own committees and Pope Paul VI, as Yves Chiron documents with a historian’s acumen. Her failure to acknowledge the highly problematic institution of the Novus Ordo and the tragic, unjust suppression of the traditional Latin Mass is astonishing.

Bugnini’s massive reform project, conducted along simultaneously antiquarian and modernizing lines, has borne highly mixed fruits, some of them rotten and still plentifully in our midst. (To her credit, Dr. Healy seems to concede this.) The reform has been subjected to extensive and penetrating scholarly critique by, among others, Klaus Gamber, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Stratford Caldecott, Thomas Kocik, Martin Mosebach, Lauren Pristas, Alcuin Reid, Andrew Wadsworth, Uwe Michael Lang, Daniel van Slyke, Joseph Shaw, and — perhaps the name will be familiar — Joseph Ratzinger.

From Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 BR
Any article defending the Novus Ordo should surely take into account the shared concerns of such a distinguished group of liturgists and scholars. Of all this ferment, Dr. Healy’s article shows little to no awareness. The content and tone are not at all different from what can be read in any issue of Notitiae or Worship from ca. 1965 to 1975. Her piece is composed of bold assertions rather than careful and precise considerations of the reasons many today advocate for a return of the traditional Latin Mass.

Since the claims Dr. Healy presents have been answered in articles readily available online, my goal here is to furnish an annotated guide to helpful resources, organized under the headings in her article that indicate “improvements” or “gains” the Novus Ordo is said to have brought to us. For starters, these two articles at OnePeterFive briefly respond to nearly all of her arguments:

Twelve Reasons Not to Prefer the Novus Ordo
How the Best Attacks against the Traditional Latin Mass Fail

Those who wish to probe further can follow up the other links below.

The fatal premise of antiquarianism

Before delving into particulars, I want to respond to a major claim of proponents of the Novus Ordo — namely (in Dr. Healy’s words), “[t]he revised liturgy … is in some respects closer to the liturgy as celebrated in the first millennium than is the Tridentine Mass.”

One hears this stated frequently, but it is false on almost every ground, as Gregory DiPippo, editor of the New Liturgical Movement, recently explained in a series of posts on Facebook.

“Depending on how you define ‘early Church,’ nearly all of the common claims about its liturgical practice — the claims upon which the reformed missal is based — are unsubstantiated. Just to give two easy examples, there is not a single shred of hard evidence that the Christian liturgy was ever celebrated versus populum, or that the Roman Rite originally had three readings at all Masses. We have a decent amount of useful and indirect information about the liturgy in the Patristic era, but we have no liturgical books before roughly 700 AD. (The so-called Leonine Sacramentary, which is over 100 years older, is now known not to be a sacramentary.) But once we get to the actual books, what we see in them is essentially and unmistakably very similar to what we have in the later medieval missals and the rite codified by St Pius V. The only substantial development of any real theological importance is the emergence of the Offertory prayers, which begins in the later 9th century, and which carries its own justification as an organic development (in the correct sense expounded by St Vincent of Lérins and St John Henry Newman).

Folio 143v of the Gellone Sacramentary, a Gelasian Sacramentary dated 780-800, and one of the oldest in existence. This folio contains the end of the Preface, the Sanctus (written in Greek letters) and the first words of the Canon, which, as in all Roman sacramentaries, is the only canon. (Bibliothèque National de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
What we do not find any kind of evidence for in the early Church, whether in the early liturgical books, or things that can be reasonably inferred from other stuff, is any of the practices that make the Novus Ordo uniquely itself: multiple canons available ad libitum; the mixing of the rites of read and sung Mass; lots of places where the celebrant and/or his chosen collaborators must make choices about what to say or sing, how to say or sing it, whether to say or sing it — not excluding even the very heart of the rite, the Eucharistic prayer. The list of novelties without ancient parallel, and pseudo-ancient reconstructions, is lengthy.

It was never the policy or intention of the more radical reformers to return to the ‘original rule of the Fathers’ as Vatican II asked, once they got control of the Central Committee. It was always their policy to decide ahead of time what they were going to change, and then fish around in the liturgical books of other rites, or historical iterations of the Roman Rite, for justifications, or putative justifications, for the changes they had already made. This is why the more honest among them — people like Cardinal Antonelli, Fr Bouyer, Msgr Martimort, Dom Bernard Botte — expressed such grave reservations about both the dishonesty of the procedure, and the deleterious results.”

We should also note that the earliest Masses of the Church were said in private homes because of civil persecution from the pagan Roman Empire. When, later on, Christians were free to celebrate Mass in large assembles in basilicas, suitable developments occurred in ceremonial and fine art, expressing with splendor the faith of the Church in the sublime mysteries of her God and Lord.

Indeed, the Church has condemned (as “false antiquarianism”) the view that later developments in liturgy are corruptions to be overcome by reaching back to “pristine origins.” Ironically for a proponent of the Charismatic Movement, Dr. Healy’s position amounts to a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work in leading the Church “into the fullness of truth,” as I explain in my lecture “Beyond ‘Smells and Bells’: Why We Need the Objective Content of the Usus Antiquior.” If Dr. Healy’s arguments were correct, the Church would have been profoundly mistaken or misguided — for periods of 500, 1000, 1,500, or even 2,000 years — about many important aspects of how to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy. This seems difficult to reconcile with the guidance of the Church by Divine Providence.

To read more about this pivotal problem, see:
The remainder of the headings are taken from Dr. Healy’s article.

A Rich Banquet of the Word

Dr. Healy heaps praises upon the new lectionary and faults the old Mass for giving insufficient attention to Scripture. This is hard to sustain in light of the fact that the sacrifice of the Mass was never understood to be the primary place for extended Scripture lessons or catechesis; rather, the readings were chosen above all for their universal moral, dogmatic, and Eucharistic resonances. Their purpose was to prepare the congregation, ascetically, doctrinally, and mystically, for communion with the Lord in adoration and in sacrament. The old approach is also deeply integrated with the cult of the saints, which sees in the saints themselves the living icons to which the letter of the Bible points us. The limited, artful, and memorable selection of biblical pericopes in the ancient one-year recurring lectionary is admirable and much appreciated by those who attend the classical Roman rite. Moreover, the liturgy as a whole is permeated with scriptural citations and allusions in a way foreign to the Novus Ordo, as a side-by-side textual comparison readily demonstrates.

If a need was perceived to incorporate additional Scripture readings into the Mass, there was no need to create a whole new Mass or lectionary; it would have sufficed to enrich the existing lectionary, even drawing upon extant historical models from periods when the missal had more readings than later on.

For detailed critiques of the new lectionary, including its rationalistic principles of composition and its surprising lacunae as compared with the old lectionary that served the Western Church for over 1,000 years:

Ignatian Retreat in Allentown, NJ, Feb. 7-9

On the weekend of Septuagesima Sunday, Fr Hernan Ducci of the Fraternity of Saint Joseph the Guardian will preach a retreat for men based on the Ignatian Exercises, at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, located at 1282 Yardville-Allentown Road, in Allentown, New Jersey. The Spiritual Exercises comprise an ordered series of meditations and contemplations born from the profound spiritual experience St Ignatius, gained from his conversion and his time as the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus. The purpose of these exercises is to help the retreatant discern God’s will for his own life.

The retreat will begin on the early afternoon of Friday, February 7, and finish with lunch on the afternoon of Sunday, February 9. In order to cover the expenses (Fr. Hernan’s travel from France, food, donation to the parish, etc.) we suggest a donation of $60. Also, please bring a sleeping bag. In addition to the meditations, the traditional Mass will be sung each day, as well as parts of the Divine Office; there will also be plenty of opportunities for spiritual direction and Confession. To confirm your attendance please read the following Google doc and fill in the registration form. If you have any questions, please contact Feel free to forward this invitation to anyone else you think would be interested.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ss Fructuosus and Companions, Spanish Martyrs of the Third Century

The feast of St Agnes is one of the oldest and most universal among those of the ancient martyrs; it is kept on this day in the Roman, Byzantine and Ambrosian Rites, and several of the Fathers preached or wrote about her, including Ss Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine. The importance of her cultus is also demonstrated by the presence of her name in the canon of the Roman Mass, and the fact that her church in Rome on the via Nomentana was one of the first six built by the Emperor Constantine in the earliest years of the peace of the Church.
As she does every year, our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese went to the church of her name Saint for the traditional blessing of the lambs this morning, whose wool is shorn to the make the pallia worn by archbishops are part of their liturgical regalia. Tanti auguri!
One of the works in which St Augustine mentions her is a sermon preached on her feast day in the year 396; however, it is titled “On the feast of Ss Fructuosus the bishop, and the deacons Augurius and Eulogius,” which whom it is principally concerned, who were martyred on the same day as Agnes, but roughly forty-five years earlier, at Tarragona in Spain, in the persecution of Valerian and Gallienus. Historically, Spanish liturgical books of the Roman Rite traditionally kept St Agnes on this day, and either transferred or commemorated the martyrs, but in the Mozarabic Rite, the native rite of Spain, they take precedence over Agnes, as a feast which is both older and more proper to the rite. ~ The original account of their martyrdom survives, and is one of a fairly small number of such documents which are universally recognized to be authentic, even by the most skeptical among scholars of hagiography. These acts contain a record of the trial, such as it was, of Fructuosus and his companions before the Roman governor Emilian, who begins the interrogation.

“You have heard what the emperors have commanded?”
“I do not know what they have commanded, but I am a Christian.”
“They have commanded that the gods be worshipped.”
“I worship one God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all the things therein.”
“Do you know that there are (other) gods?”
“I do not.”
“You shall know hereafter.”

This last statement was effectively a threat of torture, at which Fructuosus “looked to the Lord and began to pray.” Emilian declared, “Who will be heard, who will be feared, who will be adored, if the gods are not worshipped, and the images of the emperors are not adored?” He then turned to Augurius and said, “Do not listen to the words of Fructuosus”, at which the latter replied, “I worship the almighty God.” Emilian then asked Eulogius, “Do you also worship Fructuosus”, five words which fully betray a mystified incomprehension of Christianity very typical of the Romans. The answer was, “I do not worship Fructuosus, but the same (God) whom he worships.”

Turning back to Fructuosus, Emilian asked him “Are you a bishop?”, and to the answer “I am”, replied with a single word in Latin, “Fuisti – you were”, a very curt way of saying “You shall soon be dead.” He then gave the order that they be burnt alive.

The chapel dedicated to Ss Fructuosus, Augurius and Eulogius in the cathedral of Tarragona. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Turol Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0)
As the Saints were taken to the local amphitheater, the ruins of which still stand to this day, not only the Christians, but also the pagans expressed their grief, for they also loved Fructuosus. These acts contain an interesting witness to the antiquity of the Church’s discipline of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, which is also mentioned in one of the very oldest Christian documents outside the New Testament, the Didache. On his way to the amphitheater, Fructuosus was offered a cup of wine, but he would not drink it, saying that “it was not yet the hour to break the fast”, being only mid-morning. And thus, having kept the “statio” [1] of Wednesday in prison, “he hastened to complete that of Friday with the martyrs and prophets in the paradise which the Lord hath prepared for them that love Him.”

Another episode right before the execution, one of several such known to us, bears witness to the great veneration in which the martyrs were held. A man named Felix came forward, took the bishop’s right hand, and asked him to remember him, the clear implication being that the martyr would certainly stand be in God’s presence very shortly, and this able to plead for him. To this Fructuosus replied, “I must keep in remembrance the Catholic Church, spread (through the world) from East to West.” He then addressed his flock as follows: “You will not now lack a shepherd, nor will the Lord’s charity and promise fail, either now or in the future; for what you see now (i.e. their execution) is but the weakness of an hour.”

The remains of the Roman amphitheater at Tarragona, constructed at the end of the 2nd century. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Burning at the stake usually killed more by smoke inhalation than actual burning, and this seems to be the case with these martyrs, since the acts say that the fire loosened the bonds which held them, in such a way that they were able to kneel in prayer before they died, “certain of the resurrection.” The author then reports that “the customary miracles” took place, a standing rebuke to those skeptics who are wont to treat excessive reports of miracles as a sign that the written life of a Saint is not authentic. Two of Emilian’s servants, Babylas and Mygdonius, who were also Christians, as well as his own daughter, saw the heavens open and the Saints ascending with crowns on their heads. Many of the persecutors focused their energies entirely on the clergy, but ignored the laity, and Emilian seems to have been such a one, since the two Christian servants were able to invite him to “come and see those whom you have condemned today, how they are restored to heaven and their hope”, but Emilian “was not worthy to see them.” The faithful then collected the relics, in accordance with the custom also attested in many other ancient accounts of martyrdoms.

In St Augustine’s time, the acts of the Martyrs were often read at Mass on Saints’ days, if they were available, and the sermon mentioned above is one of several that refers to this custom. “When we hear how the martyrs suffered, we rejoice, and glorify God in them. … You heard the persecutors’ interrogation, you heard the answers of those who confessed (Christ), while the passion of the Saints was being read.” Further along, he introduces St Agnes by saying, “Blessed are they whose passion was read. Blessed is Saint Agnes, the day of whose passion is today.” This custom never obtained in the Roman Rite, which had only two readings at the Mass, the Epistle and Gospel; hence the passions of the Saints found their place in the Divine Office instead. In the Ambrosian Rite, on the other hand, which has three readings on Sundays and feasts, the custom is still preserved to this day, even in the post-Conciliar form, by which the life of a Saint (in a fairly succinct version, to be sure) may be read in place of the Old Testament reading on certain feast days.

The following video was taken in 2014 in the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan, on the feast of the Martyrs Ss Protasius and Gervasius; after the Gloria and Prayer, the passion of the two martyrs is read.

The cause and manner of these martyrs’ death naturally suggested to the author of their acts a similarity with the three children in the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel; this was a Biblical story near to the heart of every Christian in antiquity, since the Romans’ principal reason for persecuting them was their refusal to worship the statue of the Emperor, just as the three children would not worship the statue of the Babylonian Emperor. He therefore wrote that “they were like Ananiah, Azariah and Misael, in such wise that the divine Trinity was also seen in them, once they were set in the fire of the world, so that the Father was not far from them, and the Son came to help them, and the Holy Spirit walked in the midst of the fire.”

The Mozarabic liturgy makes many references to this idea in its liturgical texts for their feast day, as in this prayer at Matins. (The great veneration in which these Saints were held is also indicated by the fact that Mozarabic Matins normally has three prayers, but on their feast day, twenty-one, of which this is the sixth.) “Ananiah, Azariah, Misael, the three children tested by the fire of Babylon, were a great sign, o Lord, to Thy holy martyrs, to whom their august victory offered an example. In the case of the former, the fire fled, lest they die; in the case of the latter, it was let in, that they might be crowned. With the former, since also the time of the passion was not yet ripe, the fire of punishment could not touch their holy bodies; with the latter, in the acceptable time, when the way to paradise was opened by the death of Christ, it destroyed the bodies that were touched to the fire, once the door of paradise was now opened to the blessed. Therefore, we bless Thee, o God, who delivered the former from the flames, and crowned the latter after the flames; Who also, to deliver the former, didst sprinkle (dew) upon the fires, but allow them to take the latter up (to heaven). Grant us therefore, by the examples and prayers of them all, that we may so be delivered from the fire of carnal vices, that enkindled by the fiery sweetness of Thy words, we may merit to come to Thee in peace.”

In a similar vein, the preface of their Mass (which like many Mozarabic prefaces, is exceedingly long) ends with the words “Full worthy was it, that a divine voice should mark them, like unto that which marked the Hebrew children, Azariah and his companions, who walked in the furnace of the king of Babylon safe and sound, singing Thy praises with a new song, and in the heavenly office of the Angels cried out and said: Holy, holy, holy…”

Each year since 1990, a cultural association based in Tarragon and named for St Fructuosus has performed a passion play by Andreu Muñoz Melgar in honor of the three martyrs, in conjunction with the schola cantorum of the city cathedral. The story sticks very closely to that of the ancient passion, and in 2018, it was staged in the very amphitheater where the actual martyrdom took place, and at the same time of day. Here are two videos of the performance of it, the first from 2014 in Catalan, and the second from 2015 in Castilian.

[1] “Statio” meant the keeping of a fast until the mid-afternoon, which would later become the time for the canonical hour of None. This reference from 259AD shows us as an early form of the custom, later developed more fully, by which the Mass on penitential days was celebrated after None, and followed by Vespers, and the breaking of the fast.

Notes from the Underground - Icon Graffiti in the Subways of Moscow

Is graffiti legitimate if it is beautiful? These Russians are spray painting icons onto the otherwise drab concrete walls and fascias of Moscow. I don’t know what the government or the people of Moscow make of them, but it is a novel way to bear witness to the Faith.
I wonder what the response would be if such a project took place in the New York subway or in LA? I can imagine the secular elites hating them, while the people who actually live around them enjoying them, regardless of whether or not they are Christian. If the paintings are beautiful - and I would say these are - then people will like them. If that were the case, then it would undermine the value of the dreadful installations and public art that our town governments typically commission.
I personally would love to see such work brightening up the streets around me. What do you think?

Monday, January 20, 2020

New NLM Series: Interviews with Catholic Composers (1) — Nicholas Lemme

No one needs to be told that the Catholic Church on earth is experiencing a paradoxical simultaneous crucifixion and resurrection that would be impossible for anything other than a mystical body. Bad governance, bad theology, bad preaching, bad liturgy all continue apace and statistically dominate. On the other hand, we see the slow and steady spread of the traditional Latin liturgy on all continents, especially in the Anglosphere; we see the new youth movement, viz., traditionalism, establishing itself in many places; we see genuinely beautiful churches being built, magnificent renovations, new vestments, new sacred paintings and icons, new pipe organs, new children’s choirs, and a host of other signs of a vibrant renewal at the “grass roots” level. It does not dominate the news cycle, and it is certainly not tilting the scale in a worldly sense, but it is nonetheless real, and possesses the kind of dynamism that intensifies under opposition.

In recent years I have noticed, in my travels and correspondence, in reading articles online, in listening to recordings, that there is a notable uptick in the number of Catholic composers of “classical” music, especially sacred music. For a long time it seemed as if Kevin Allen was the only one people talked about, and his music is, indeed, a splendid treasure and a great gift to choirs. Frank La Rocca has also gained notoriety, especially with his ambitious Mass of the Americas (reviewed, e.g., here at NLM, in Dappled Things, and at OnePeterFive).

The idea grew in me of doing interviews with other serious Catholic composers whose work, though not (yet) as well known as that of Allen or La Rocca, deserves more attention and more performances. I decided to start with four composers — two Americans, Nicholas Lemme and Mark Nowakowski; a Canadian, Tate Pumfrey; and an Australian, Ronan Reilly. Each has been asked the same set of questions, but their answers really bear out the differences in their personalities, training, experiences, and aspirations, while testifying to their unanimous Catholic commitment. I will also insert, between questions, links to audio or video examples of their work.

We will start today with Nicholas Lemme (website).

Interview with Composer Nicholas Lemme

Tell us about your musical background: when and how you began singing or playing instruments, your most influential teacher...

I’m a late bloomer in this regard. I didn’t have any formal training until I was eighteen years old. As a kid I tinkered around on an old upright piano at our house. In my teenage years I began to write poetry and that eventually blossomed into writing songs on the guitar. Aside from various musicals, such as The Fiddler on the Roof, my earliest influences were from songwriters like The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead. My only exposure to Western classical music before college was a bit of Mozart we’d sung in our high school choir, and a CD of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (which I still love to listen to) that we had at our house. “Sacred music” in my early years was the “One Bread, One Body” Breaking Bread classic variety at our local diocesan church.

My journey to the Western classical tradition, hence sacred music, actually started when I’d fallen away from any serious practice of the faith. My first year of college I’d discovered Debussy’s Nuages from his Trois Nocturnes for orchestra. I’d never heard music like that before and was very moved by it.

My college years and thereafter were filled with exploring new music. My professors and the musicians I played with from then on were very integral to my musical discoveries and education. My voice teachers taught me a true love of art song, and our concert choir sang many of the classics from each period’s composers: Palestrina, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Poulenc, Britten, etc… My tastes have changed quite a bit since then, but I must say that without those experimental years of learning about other types of music from Perotin to Steve Reich and even music outside the Classical tradition like Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, and Balinese Gamelan, my tastes would somehow be deficient today.

After college in Wyoming I moved to Minneapolis, MN. There, I continued to write songs, but it was at that time that I started to put music to paper more often. I started playing mandolin and writing for and performing with an instrumental group of cello, clarinet, banjo, and mandolin. I composed for theater, film, and dance. I also sang with professional choirs during this time, most notably The Dale Warland Singers, as well as The Singers. I learned more about choral music in those professional settings than my previous college years combined. Dale Warland and the musicians in those ensembles taught me a great deal about the choral arts. Another advantage of singing in those choirs was the amount of new music we’d premier. I learned a lot by being a part of the process of making new music. New music has no precedent, so it takes a patient, generously thoughtful, and artful group of musicians to make it work for the first time.

Magnificat Fauxbourdon | 2018 | 3 voices | 3’

How was your interest in composing sacred music enkindled?

Those choirs sang plenty of sacred texts (e.g. Allegri’s Miserere) and in some very sacred spaces, but never for a liturgy. It wasn’t until I discovered the Latin Mass and the CMAA that I found that Palestrina could still be sung for a Mass, just as I had read in my history books! Unfortunately, the music being sung at some of the Latin Masses I was attending at that time was very substandard. I remember asking a choir member once if he’d like to start a small schola to sing the Gregorian chant Introits for the coming weeks. His response, “I don’t like that kind of music.”

Eventually, I found myself singing good repertoire (Gregorian chant and the classical sacred polyphony that was birthed from it) for the Latin Mass with competent musicians. It was here that I realized that I could write music for the liturgy. It was here that I realized I could contribute.

It took some time to start writing sacred music. In fact, I wrote very little for about six years. Since much of my background was in writing songs and instrumental music in a more secular realm, I had to drink deeply from the well of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony before I could conceive of composing it. The total immersion into chant seemed to give me a fresh approach to melody, and especially rhythm, in a drastically different way. I began to respect the unison melodic line with its linear harmony with fresh regard.

Is there a sacred music composer — or are there several composers — whose work you find most captivating, either as a source of delight (however different in style from your own compositions), or as direct inspirations and models for your own work?

If we’re considering sacred music to be the music that is “set apart” for a specific liturgical function, I would have to say that the anonymous composers of the chant melodies are the most impressive to me. I’m also in awe of the composers that followed them like Josquin, Dufay, Dunstable, Byrd, Palestrina, etc… They used so little and created so profoundly!

Interpreting sacred music composers more loosely, I would have to say J.S. Bach is a composer I hold in the highest regard. I also admire a lot of 20th-century composers. I’ve always found Benjamin Britten’s compositions for choir and voice so masterful and unique. There are so many fresh compositional voices out there today; it seems I discover a composer to esteem every month.

A living composer that never ceases to move me, however, is Arvo Pärt.  His music captures the mystery that is lacking from so many artistic pursuits of artists today. His music seems to purge the pain of life by allowing the listener to experience it so that true joy can be felt in its aftermath. It causes weeping to flow deep from within, only to leave a smile on the tear-stained cheeks of the listener. If I could write but one piece in life that does this for someone, I would consider my compositional work successful.  

A Solis Ortus Cárdine | 2017 | SATB a cappella | 3’
The language of sacred music, as of Catholic worship in general, remains a controversial subject. What are your thoughts about the place of Latin in vernacular liturgy and the place of the vernacular in Latin liturgy?

While I’m thankful for the many great English translations we have for the texts of our liturgy, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great beauty, reverence, and mystery that comes when sacred music is set to Latin.

Again, if we are to take the word “sacred” literally, we are then referring to a musical language that is set apart for a certain liturgical action, and whose first purpose is for the “glorification of God and the sanctification and edification of his people.” I’ve come to realize that the use of Latin enhances in a special way the aura of mystery in liturgical music. It is like a veil, and veils cover sacred things.  As listeners we ask, “What is behind that veil?”

This mystery is most apparently lacking when the Gregorian melodies are set to the vernacular English. Something in their artistry, piety, and mystery is lost. I have heard the melodies set to Spanish with a less jarring affect, however. But, to this point, think of the absurdity of a music conservatory that would have their students singing Franz Schubert Lieder in English. Preposterous! Why should one treat the ars celebrandi of the Church with any less respect?

Additionally, I would say that Latin is a language that is no longer used colloquially, and therefore it has an “otherness” to it. It is intrinsically sacred to those in the Latin Church. When we hear it, we know we are in a sacred space. Latin is sometimes criticized for not allowing a full and “active participation,” but we must remember that the Church has taught in these past two centuries that participation must first be interior, and then exterior, and sacramental (see Pius X, Pius XII, JP II). Without interiority, the rest is just a show. Because Latin creates a sense of the sacred by being mysterious, it lends itself to recollection and piety, which are vital to a proper interior participation.

Of course, I do think that English sacred music can possess many of these positive qualities such as beauty and mystery — e.g. Tallis’ “If Ye Love Me,” Howell’s Requiem, but for me it seems a more difficult language to use for sacred music, and it seems to be a slippery slope into making music that smacks of the banal.

“Da Virtutibus” for organ and men’s voices (audio only)

Can you say more specifically what you see as the qualities of Latin that make it apt for sacred music?

This is difficult to explain briefly, but I’ve noticed several characteristics that are inherent in the Latin text that make Gregorian chant so suitable for prayer. Its flowing legato unison lines are easily executed with the five pure vowels of Latin, contrasted with the complex vowel pronunciation of English. The accent in Latin is something that is light and lifted, and it is one of a lengthening of time. This comes out in the Gregorian melodies; the heights of these melodies are never sung with the greatest emphasis in volume, but are rather lightened and lengthened. The English accent is more Germanic in nature and therefore does not call for this type of setting. One last point is that all of these Gregorian melodies end on the tonic note of the mode in a state of repose. This rise and fall (repose) is observed in the spondees (Dé-us) and dactyls (Dóminus), the smallest rhythms in Latin, that make up the greater phraseological lines. Thus, the words, when they are well set, are to rise like incense to God and return to the recollected heart of the singer. Perhaps these reasons are not convincing to everyone, but they have been revelations to me in how I set text to music.

I would say that Latin’s unifying power is also observed in the pre-Gregorian centuries of the Church when many styles of chant existed. Contrast this with the entrance of the vernacular into the liturgy and one can see the effects and the importance of the language of musical worship.

Auróra Solis Núntia | 2016 | TB or SA a cappella | 3’

In recent years many have been pointing out the strong generational dynamics in the Catholic Church: older people seem to want the popular or secular styles of art, while at least some younger people are intrigued by traditional forms that have an archaic feel to them. Have you encountered such dynamics in your own life and work?

In my short life I’ve witnessed that people are attracted to what is authentic and done well. Even when I was playing rock music or composing in more secular styles, I noticed that if the music was “artful” or done to the highest standard it was respected and enjoyed. Most connoisseurs of rock simply laugh at the genre of Christian rock for this reason. They see it as a cheap imitation of the real thing.

With sacred music, I think the younger generations are looking for something authentic, something that really speaks of the mystery of God, His “otherness.” Our culture seems to be hyper-sensualized and its music, art, and movies represent this. I’m not saying that sensual music does not have its place, but I am saying that I think the younger generations are intuitively recognizing that the older styles have an immanent mystery and speak to something deeper, both intellectually, and even more importantly, spiritually. They are saying, “Mom, can we have something else for dinner besides candy bars and Fruit Loops?”

If you have experience with the “traditionalist” movement, what are some strengths and weaknesses you see in it, particularly from a musical point of view?

I suppose all movements have their strengths and weaknesses, but one strength I see the traditional movement having is that it provides a platform of continuity for the Church and her composers to use to grow organically from what has been slowly developing throughout the previous millennia by preserving the liturgical tradition. Just as chant was born from the Jewish temple and then birthed Renaissance polyphony and the rest of the Western musical tradition, so does it now continue to influence composers to breathe fresh air into the Western tradition. To me, the more ancient forms of Western music, and the the newer forms that are like it, seem to find a happy home in the traditional Latin Mass. I’ve also noticed that the traditional liturgy and its accompanying art forms, such as Gregorian chant, have a great influence on modern composers who are seeking to express the mystery of God.

If there were a weakness to point out, it would be that of the “low Mass” culture. This is the culture that seems to prefer that the public liturgy be a private and meditative devotion. I understand our need for silence in this noisy world, but I do think that this attitude permeates into the greater celebrations of the Church, causing great harm to the beauty that is integral to the celebration of the Mass. In many places it seems that music has become just another volunteer side job at the parish, like mowing the lawn or buying and setting out donuts after Mass. (By the by, I’m very grateful for the hospitality crews after Mass.) As a result, few places seek out real artists to run their music programs. I realize that many factors are at play with budgets, and that most places are just trying to do the best with what they have, and I don’t mean to downplay those efforts, but until we start to devote our resources to the arts we cannot expect any type of change in the way of beauty in our liturgies or in our culture. By this, I do not mean orchestral masses with choirs of 50. A well-trained schola singing Gregorian chant all by itself adds a noble beauty to the liturgy.

Non Veni Vocáre Justos | 2016 | SATB a cappella | 2’ 15’’

What are you doing now in the field of sacred music?

Sacred music has been my full-time job for the last eight years, working as the music director and professor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, NE, and directing a parish choir in Lincoln. I’m very grateful for this work and have learned a great deal from it. Many of my compositions recently have been written with my students or choirs in mind. I’ve been very blessed to have talented and dedicated individuals to collaborate with in these settings.

What are some of your future plans as a composer?

My goal as a composer is to keep writing and learning each day. I have so much to learn from the greats in our tradition and from those who are composing in our midst today! I’m currently working on a few sacred choral commissions up through March and then I’ll see what comes next. This past spring I wrote some instrumental miniatures for cello and violin, which was a great challenge for me, but a lot of fun. It would be fun to take on a one-act opera, if there are any librettists reading this...

How can people get in touch with you?

My website features more information and additional recordings, including of my secular works. My email is

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Treasures of the Diocesan Museum of Treviso

Here are some pictures from the diocesan museum of the city of Treviso in the Veneto region of Italy, which contains many very beautiful objects. These were taken by Nicola during a recent visit; normally, he also photographs all the didactic panels as well, but in this case, a lot of items don’t have one displayed, so we don’t have ant detailed information.

The cover of a Gospel book made of embossed silver on wood, from the end of the 13th century, or beginning of the 14th.
The matching Epistolary
Two really nice croziers.
A gilded silver pyx made to hold the ashes used on Ash Wednesday, 1474.
A monstrance in the commonly used pre-Tridentine form, made of gilded silver and enamel at the end of the 15th century.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Life of St Anthony the Abbot in a Sienese Altarpiece

One of the most beautiful depictions of episodes from the life of St Anthony the Abbot, whose feast is kept today, is a series of eight panels from an altarpiece painted in Siena sometime between 1425-50. The anonymous artist, to whom many other paintings are attributed, is referred to as the Master of the Osservanza, the name of a church on the outskirts of the city where he worked. (“Osservanza” was the common term for a group of Franciscans who sought to return to the observance of the most primitive and austere form of the Rule of St Francis.) Various theories have been proposed as to the altarpiece’s commission and destination; the depiction of St Anthony in a black habit may suggest that it was originally made for an Augustinian church, an hypothesis supported by the fact that the reading of St Athanasius’ Life of Anthony was a decisive moment in St Augustine’s conversion. The altarpiece was later broken up, and the different panels are now scattered through various museums, which will be noted in the individual explanations of each one. (All images are in the public domain in the United States; taken from this Wikimedia Commons page unless otherwise noted.)

The first panel is set inside the cathedral of Siena. On the right side, St Anthony is shown very young, kneeling in prayer at the high altar. (The artist gives us a glimpse of one of the crown jewels of Sienese art, the famous Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna.) On the left side, an older Anthony, richly dressed like a wealthy man of the 15th century, is attending Mass; as recounted by St Athanasius, his decision to become a monk was inspired by hearing at Mass the words of the Gospel (Matt. 19, 21), as if they were being spoken to himself, “If thou would be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and come, follow me.” (We cannot assume that every depiction of the liturgy in the art of this period is attempting to be strictly accurate, but note the blue chasuble and the single candle on the altar. – This panel is now in the Berlin Gemälde-Gallerie.)
St Anthony sells his possessions and distributes the money to the poor. The building which dominates the composition is typical of Sienese Gothic architecture; many similar structures can still be seen there to this day. Over the Saint’s head, in the tympanum of the building’s door, is the crest of a prominent family, the Martinozzi; a member of this family, a Franciscan named Giovanni, was martyred for the Faith in 1345 in Egypt, St Anthony’s native country. This would seem to suggest that it was commissioned by them, but there are strong arguments to the contrary. (See Painting in Renaissance Siena, by Christiansen, Kanter and Strehlke, the catalog of a show held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, p. 105. – This panel and the following one are now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)
After living in a monastery for several years, and overcoming many temptations, St Anthony decides to depart to a more isolated place in the desert, and live as a hermit; here, he is seen receiving the blessing of one of the monks. One of the responsories of his proper Office describes this first phase of his monastic life as follows: R. The most blessed man went to the cells of the monks, paying close attention of the lives of the fathers, and the virtues of each one, * and he bore great fruit, like the bees who bring forth honey after tasting (many) flowers) V. Eagerly did he follow the temperance of this fellow, the humility of that one, the patience of another. And he bore...
St Anthony is tempted by a devil, who appears to him in the guise of a woman. Note that the Saint is now considerably older than he was in the previous panel; the devil is identified as such by the bat wings on its back. (This panel and the following one are now in the Yale Univ. Art Gallery; the first image of these two was downloaded from their website.)
St Athanasius tells of the many times when St Anthony struggled against devils, not only by resisting temptations, but also suffering bodily harm that they were permitted to inflict upon him. On one such occasion, “a multitude of demons … so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain.” He was discovered unconscious by the local villagers, who thought him dead, and brought him to their church, here depicted in the background. (Life of Anthony 8 and 9) 
On another occasion, St Anthony was tempted by a heap of gold which the devil left by the side of the road where he was passing. This was originally painted in real gold leaf that was later scraped off, leaving the Saint to confront a completely harmless-looking rabbit. (This panel is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.)
The seventh panel shows St Anthony’s dealings with St Paul the First Hermit, which I described two days ago in an article for the feast day of the latter. At the upper left, St Anthony sets out to find St Paul; on the right, slightly lower, he is guided on his way by a centaur; and at the bottom, the two Saints embrace. At the very top in the middle is depicted the same rose-colored church seen in the previous panel, to indicate that Anthony has journeyed far into the desert to find Paul. (This panel and the following are now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from which this image was downloaded.)
The final panel depicts St Anthony’s funeral, specifically, the Absolution at the catafalque, which is being done exactly as in the traditional Roman Rite. The catalog cited above notes that the arrangement of the scene, with one person kneeling on one side of the bier, and the rest gathered around in a semi-circle, is reminiscent of several Renaissance depictions of the funeral of St Francis. The pink and black stripes on the church’s walls are very typically Sienese.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

First Solemn Mass in Zagreb, Croatia Since 1969

Our thanks to Mr Igor Jurić for sharing with us some very good news from his home town of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and to Mr Hrvoje Miličević for these photographs - nice use of the filters! A video of the ceremony is included below. Let us remember in this New Year to prayer for the continued growth of burgeoning traditional Mass apostolates throughout the world.

On the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a traditional Solemn High Mass was celebrated in one of the churches of Zagreb, Croatia for the first time since the introduction of the post-Conciliar reform in 1969. The Mass was celebrated in the church of St Catherine of Alexandria, filled mostly with young people and families with children; the average age of the members of the schola was around 20. Since the origin of this feast is connected to the Franciscan Order, it was quite fitting to have a Franciscan friar as the celebrant. (In God’s providence, this was a last minute substitute due to the illness of the regular diocesan priest who celebrates Mass there). The Mass was celebrated according to the Missale Romano-Seraphicum, which includes a Sequence for this feast (see picture below).

Most of the beautiful vestments used for the occasion were from the church treasury; fortunately, they hae been preserved in very good condition. A few weeks earlier, the Society for the Promotion of Traditional Mass “Benedictus” (the Una Voce chapter in Croatia) successfully completed a fundraiser for the purchase of a new Solemn High Mass vestment set, which will be tailored in Rome, so we can hope that this will enable more such Masses in the future.

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