Saturday, February 11, 2006

DVD Review: Summi et Aeterni Sacerdoti

The First Mass of Father James Fryar, FSSP

Reviewed by Shawn Tribe

There are videos of the Tridentine Mass, and then there are videos of the Tridentine Mass.

Some videos of the classical Roman liturgy present us with clips of the sacred liturgy, giving a general sense of things. Still others present to us the liturgy in its entirety, often with professionally produced footage, professional choirs, and so forth. The strains of familiar classics like Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli sound out from the choir lofts, or the enchanting strains of a Gregorian High Mass. This is the typical presentation and there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. In fact, they are all quite inspiring, each having their own merits.

If I might be permitted to speak in the first person, I have seen many videos of the classical Roman liturgy but Fr. Fryar's video is in my mind, and to date, unique. It is unique for a variety of reasons. This presentation is quite obviously a labour of love. It is the fruits of a priest, of a composer, and of a group of the faithful who have a genuine sense of what the liturgy ought to be. It puts a new spin on liturgical "creativity". It is creativity as it ought to be: in the vein of the classical masters, and not in the sense of make-shift productions or the fruits of pseudo-liturgical principles which no one except a certain sort of professional liturgist can understand – or at least pretends to. Of this creativity I will say more in a bit.

There is something very powerful about this presentation. It may not have the expensive equipment that some Latin Mass video presentations have been able to muster, yet at the same time, it is very well done and a pleasure to watch. What makes this particular Mass video different is one comes away with the tangible impression of having really been there. One sees the liturgy in its beauty and in its sublime perfections, close to the altar and from the perspective of the servers and also from afar as the choir director works to muster his 40-odd voice choir to their heights so that the sacred music of the liturgy would be fitting for the worship of the Most Holy Trinity. Of this music, again, more shall be said in a bit.

The Church itself is glorious and fit to be called a Cathedral with its high altar, penetrated by niches of saints who stare out upon the Church Militant. In the centre Our Lord is crucified with Our Blessed Mother and the Beloved Apostle, John, standing in mournful adoration. Angels kneel in adoration toward the Tabernacle. In the background, one glimpses the beautiful stations of the cross, the carved confessionals. This was a church which retained its pre-conciliar glory. The golden Roman vestments shine on Fr. Fryar, his Master of Ceremonies, Deacon and Sub-deacon. The pressed cassocks and surplices, down to that of a 5 year old boy with a custom made cassock, fill the sanctuary even as angels fill the heavenly sanctuary.

But I remind you again, this is a Latin Mass video truly like no other. There are a few reasons for that. I spoke earlier of creativity. There are two DVD's in this set. The first DVD is the Mass itself, without commentary and just as it is: heavenly liturgy. The second DVD, however, includes some interesting features, the best being the Mass from the perspective of Fr. Fryar. In this presentation, Fr. Fryar comments on his first Mass which becomes nothing less than a profound meditation upon the classical Roman liturgy and the sacrifice of the Mass. Father's commentary is alone worth buying, as he gives pertinent insights into the history, depth, beauty and spirituality of the classical Roman liturgy in particular, and the Mass in general. It is in the context of this presentation that the depth of the creative process comes to bear. Here we learn how the beautiful chalice used by Fr. Fryar at this his first Mass was hand crafted by he, himself; a two year long process than can be thought of us nothing less than an act of love and offering to God. Moreover, we learn how the sublime Mass setting which was sung, was composed specifically by Mr. Jeff Ostrowski, the choir director, for this Mass. Mr. Ostrowski does a spectacular job and has given a great gift to the Church. He clearly shows himself to be a liturgical composer to be watched out for and we can hope and pray this won't be his last gift to the Church. We are even treated to his own commentary on this process, including his insights on choosing liturgical music.

It is in this second DVD as well that we learn that the Deacon at this Mass is Fr. Fryar's own brother, ordained a priest forever on the very same day as he. As you can see, this video is not only a liturgical video, it is also the story of a pilgrimage of one man and of many men. In my mind, this DVD sets itself apart as one of the best overall Tridentine Mass DVD's out there. It merits this designation for all the reasons listed above. More than that however, I believe the commentary portion of the DVD in particular can serve to inspire young men, and is probably an excellent resource to present to men considering a vocation to the priesthood. Finally, I cannot stress enough that it is truly unique in its capacity to bring to us a sense of the kind of offering we can bring to God, even still today, when it comes to the classical liturgical arts. Excellence and craftmanship are not absent gifts, only too often unexplored.

I'd highly recommend you purchase a copy of this DVD for yourself, for others, and particularly for men considering the priesthood. The website, which is also extremely well produced I would like to add, gives a trailer you may look at. Please take a look at the website, bookmark it, and send it to all your friends:

Thank you Father Fryar, Mr. Jeff Ostrowski, and for all others involved in this, for your love of the sacred liturgy, for you evident sense of excellence, and for a unique and inspiring DVD and Mass setting.

Pictures worth seeing:

The Clerics Vested before the Altar

Introibo ad Altare Dei: The High Altar

The Consecration

Please take a moment as well to visit Jeff Ostrowski's website.

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