Saturday, September 30, 2006

When will it end?

When will the tide turn on bad music at Mass? After years of suffering and pondering this critical question--and I know many people who are so despairing that they see no way out--I am beginning to wonder if we really are in the midst of a international revolt of some sort. Hardly a day goes by when I don't see another public decrying of the state of music in the Catholic Church and a call for a progressive restoration of what we have lost.

Here is another example

The Scotsman
Composer damns happy-clappy din

TRENDY guitar-strumming folk groups are ruining church services by playing "embarrassing, maudlin and sentimental dirges", Scotland's leading classical composer has declared.

James MacMillan, who wrote the fanfare for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, has described modern hymns as "excrescences" and called for a return to traditional chants and organ music.

A devout Catholic, MacMillan uses an article in a religious magazine this weekend to confess his despair of the "screaming microphones" and "incompetently strummed guitars and cringe-making, smiley, cheesy foil groups" which fill churches every Sunday.

He reserves particular venom for two well-known modern hymns, 'Bind Us Together, Lord' and 'Make Me a Channel Of Your Peace', the latter having even been recorded to popular acclaim by Irish singer Daniel O'Donnell.

MacMillan says the hymns amount to "cultural vandalism" and that a backlash against such groups is growing, with more church-goers demanding a return to the traditional music which filled churches before reforms of the 1960s.

He declared: "The church has simply aped the secular West's obsession with 'accessibility', 'inclusiveness', 'democracy' and 'anti-elitism'. The effect of this on liturgy has been a triumph of bad taste and banality and an apparent vacating of the sacred spaces of any palpable sense of the presence of God."

The Glasgow-based composer is one of the country's most celebrated musicians, whose work has long drawn heavily on his own strong religious faith.

He is no stranger to controversy, having most famously launched an attack on anti-Catholic sectarianism, describing it at Scotland's "secret shame".

MacMillan said he was not advocating a ban on all modern hymns, but argued that all church music should be "skilful" and "rooted" in tradition. "What you get more and more is a kind of egotistical band who strum guitars and don't try and engage the rest of the congregation," he said.

The 1960s and 70s, he said, brought a "destructive iconoclasm" into the church "which wilfully brought to an end any remnant of its massive choral tradition and its skilful application to liturgical use. Like most ideas shaped by 1960s Marxist sociology, it has proved an utter failure."

MacMillan's provocative comments drew a mixed response from church figures last night, with many musical leaders arguing that amateur folk groups who played every week should not be mocked for their efforts.

However, others said MacMillan was right to highlight the trend away from choral music. His outburst follows a call by Pope Benedict to ensure that all modern hymns were properly placed in the tradition of the past. The Pope said recently: "An authentic updating of sacred music cannot take place except in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony."

MacMillan said he agreed with the Pope. In his article, which appears in the Catholic magazine Open House this weekend, he declared: "The Pope is presented as a stern-faced, party pooping disciplinarian, stamping out electric guitars, pop-crooning and the sentimental bubble-gum 'folk' used in many of today's Catholic churches. The people attacking him are the very ones who were responsible for the banal excrescences enforced on us in the name of 'democratisation of the liturgy' and 'active participation' over the last few decades."

The Reverend Charles Robertson, the former convener of the committee for the Church Hymnery, said he too personally had little time for many modern hymns. But he said this was not a reason to scrub them from the Kirk's Hymnal.

"Some people are moved by 'Bind us Together'. I don't like it at all but I know many, many people for whom some kind of blessing is given when they sing it and who am I to complain about that?"

Robertson highlighted one hymn for particular criticism. "The chorus is 'Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he? Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he?' And yet there was another minister who said that this his favourite hymn."

Monsignor Gerry Fitzpatrick of the Roman Catholic Glasgow Archdiocese said: "I don't think you can make such a bald statement. There has been some very good music written for the church in recent years. Of course, everything has to be done well but we also have a serious obligation to ensure active participation and people should not be mocked because they have made errors of judgment when their intentions are good."

Former SNP MSP Mike Russell, who has previously come to the defence of the classical hymn 'Jerusalem' after the Kirk removed it from its Hymnal, said: "I think he is more than half right.

"There are some good musical tunes but by and large the desire to escape tradition has weakened quality and we should be looking at the quality and spiritual quality of the music and to that extent he has a point."

CIEL 2006 Clip: Ave! Ave! Sancta Dei Genetrix

I'm continually amazed by Fr. Tim Finigan's blogging proficiency! We have much to thank him for, and I would highly recommend taking a visit to his blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity

Today I noticed Father has done us, and CIEL, the immense favour of having captured a small snippet of video. If I recall this snippet correctly, it was the recessional hymn sung for the Mass celebrated by Fr. Daniel Oppenheimer's Friday Mass of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Here is this short clip which gives you a sense of the organ music that we were treated to for 4 days, as well as to the level of external participation on the part of those gathered at the Colloquium. Enjoy and thank you Father Finigan!

Fr. Tim Finigan and Hermeneutic of Continuity Productions presents... Ave! Ave! Sancta Dei Genetrix at CIEL 2006


I'm always eager to try and make the NLM even more of a resource for people, as well as to continue to increase its readership.

Speaking from an editorial capacity, I'd like it to be a source for not only news, but of course informed, scholarly discussion, articles, etc. I'd also like it to be a place which can be practical and can help people, and in particular priests, in their liturgical efforts.

To that end, I'm putting a call out for a few things:

1) If you do research in the area of traditional liturgics and liturgical theology and would like to submit a piece for a "guest article" please do so to me and I'll look it over.

2) Continue to forward me information about upcoming liturgical events such as I have recently announced in the new "Forthcoming Events" section on this site.

3) For Priests specifically: if there is anything you would like to see here that would help you in your parishes, let me know.

4) If anyone has any suggestions generally that they think would be helpful to the NLM and its mission and vision, do let me know.

Finally, please continue to email me with your events, new book releases, news stories, etc. I am not always able (especially recently) to respond quickly, or to each and everyone, but know that I rely on this and appreciate it greatly. Those who do this provide a very necessary service to this site and its readership and I thank you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Sarum Use at Merton

In email I've been speaking to Fr. Sean Finnegan who is a priest who has celebrated liturgies according ot the Sarum use in Merton College, Oxford. Over on his blog, Valle Adurni, he gives six separate posts with pictures and discussions of this.

Here are Father's posts, and further below are a few samples of the photographs:

Sarum: Processional

Sarum: Blessing of Candles at Candlemas

Sarum: The Beginning of Mass and the Veni Creator

Sarum: Gospel

Sarum: Canon of the Mass

Sarum: Communion

The Holy See on the SSPX

Don Capisco over at musicasacra has posted a very interesting statement on the SSPX which has come directly from the Holy See. Be sure to check it out.

CIEL 2006, Part 1: The Oxford Experience, The Liturgies, The Fellowship

[The following is part one of two or three parts on the CIEL 2006 Colloquium hosted at Merton College, Oxford University this past September 13th-16th. Part one will focus upon the Colloquium experience from a liturgical and social perspective. Part two will focus upon the papers delivered at the Colloquium. Please note, a more formal report will be created out of these pieces, but for the purposes of the NLM, some personal anecdotal information is included here that will not be included there.

Further, I will have more photographs coming, including those professionally done, but in an effort to get a report out sooner than later, I will use what has been made available to me, which I have received from a few individuals, including Fr. Finigan of the Hermeneutic of Continuity whose pictures I have "stolen" in part. Thanks to those individuals. When I receive the other photos, I will put some of them up separately.]

I. The Oxford Setting of the Colloquium

In the English speaking world, one can ask for little better venue for an academic colloquium than storied Oxford University. Without question it is one of the world's most famous academic institutions, with an unquestioned international reputation for scholarship and academic excellence. Further to this setting is Merton College, one of the oldest colleges at Oxford, reaching back to the 1200's, founded by Catholic bishop, Walter de Merton. While Oxford is no longer a Catholic institution, nonetheless its Catholic roots and foundations are still quite evident as one walks its cobbled courtyards, visits its chapels and is looked upon by countless saints in their architectural niches. This foundation became a little clearer for 4 days as the Centre International d'Etudes Liturgiques “took over” (in the friendliest manner possible, and with great assistance and cordiality from its chaplain) Merton College, and hosted some of the brightest Catholic liturgical minds of our day, surrounded as well by classical liturgy of the highest calibre.

A view of Merton College's Tower from the "Mob Quad". This was the lovely view which I was treated to from my own room.

As the delegates began arriving for the colloquium on a beautiful late summer day, it did not take long before informal visiting began in the front quadrangle of Merton College, overshadowed by the glorious central stained-glass window of the chapel. As the bells tolled the quarter-hours, various laymen and women, as well as cassocked priests and religious in their habits became more and more numerous – so too did the languages being spoken. In such moments does the international character and appeal of CIEL become most evident.

After registering, there were a couple of hours available to us. A few of us, including Fr. Neil Roy of the Research Institute for Catholic Liturgy and editor of the liturgical journal Antiphon, determined to take advantage of this time to stroll about the University. Within just a few short minutes walk, we were able to see such sites as the Bodleian library and Newman's Oxford-Movement church of St. Mary the Virgin and the pulpit from which he delivered so many sermons, including most of his Parochial and Plain Sermons. Turning each corner, one was met with yet another spectacular view of Oxford's mediaeval gothic architecture.

During Newman's time in the Oxford Movement in the Oxford Church of St. Mary the Virgin, this is the pulpit he preached from.

II. The Liturgies of the Colloquium

The conference began in the relaxed atmosphere of the quadrangle and moved into the solemnity of Vespers. Merton's chapel is organized with traditional antiphonal seating, and its brass lectern served well for the schola which sung at each of the liturgical services.

The setting was indeed very mediaeval, very monastic and very much in a Catholic spirit and origin. As such, it provided a most fitting environment for the celebration of the classical Roman liturgical offices and Mass alike. One indeed had a sense of reclaiming this chapel to the divine worship of the Catholic Church which had characterized its daily services for centuries and for which it had been built.

Each day of the colloquium was slated with the primary liturgical offices of Lauds, Vespers and Compline. As some have commented, this moved the CIEL colloquium into the domain of not simply an academic liturgical colloquium, but also that of a liturgical retreat. Kudos must be given to the colloquium organizers whom saw fit to introduce this level of liturgical life into the colloquium. In so doing, it continually put forward the tangible reality for which CIEL exists, and upon which the colloquium was based: the sacred liturgy. In addition to these offices, each day was also characterized by the celebration of the Solemn High Mass.

All of these liturgies where celebrated with due solemnity and excellence – and it should be noted, with the eager and quite vocal contributions of the gathered clergy and laity. From the splendid sacred vesture, the excellent schola and glorious organ, to the reverent care of the sacred ministers in the sanctuary. Surrounded by the imposing, original mediaeval stained glass windows of the chapel, one indeed could only walk away with a sense of “cosmic liturgy” -- of the tangible reality of the earthly liturgy as an icon of the heavenly liturgy – not to mention the value and worth of that which brought us there: the treasure that is the Roman liturgical inheritance.

Lauds and Vespers were often celebrated in their solemn form. In addition, the office of Compline was sung to candlelight each evening using the candles which adorned the chapel's antiphonal pews. Needless to say, chanting the Nunc Dimittis and Salve Regina in such circumstances was nothing short of moving and a profound experience of prayer.

The Office of Vespers

As for the Mass, the colloquium was blessed to have two important feast days which to celebrate: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first Solemn High Mass celebrated on the Exaltation of the Cross was celebrated by Fr. John Emerson, FSSP and the homily preached by Fr. Armand de Malleray, Secretary General of the FSSP.

(The above photographs are courtesy of the FSSP)

On the Friday of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, Mass was celebrated by Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, the prior of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem. This liturgy was particularly monastic in feel and certainly brought back echoes of Catholic Oxford of past and what must have been a regular sight at one time.

The final Mass of the colloquium was a Solemn High Pontifical Mass celebrated by His Excellency, Bishop David McGough. I was privileged to attend the Bishop as his Mitre-bearer during this Mass. Many will be pleased to know that a video recording was made of much of this solemn liturgy, thus making available some of the sights and sounds of the 11th International colloquium in a more tangible way.

The Bishop prays the Preparatory Prayers prior to the Mass

Besides these official CIEL masses, I was also blessed to have the opportunity to go to the Oxford Oratory early each morning where priests where celebrating their private Masses – for Father Thomas Kocik had asked if I might serve his own Mass. I was only too happy to oblige of course.

The outside of the Oxford Oratory church

It was an impressive site to see as each side altar and the main high altar of this beautiful church was inhabited by a priest, quietly saying their Mass. (It also afforded me an opportunity to serve not only at one of the beautiful side altars and main high altar of the Oxford Oratory, but also the private house chapel of the Oratorians; which also took me by part of their splendid library.)

The Relic Chapel where Fr. Kocik offered Mass on Day 2 of the Colloquium

The High Altar of the Oratory

Further to that, it was also a moment wherein one could witness the growing communion of the classical liturgical movement and the reform of the reform, for while the majority of the masses were said in accordance with the 1962 Missal, there were also Masses said in accordance with the 1970 Missal, in Latin and, of course, ad orientem. This sight was a testimony to the breadth of relevance of CIEL's work.

III. The Comraderie of the Colloquium

Before moving on to a discussion of the academic work which brought together the colloquium, it would be well to speak about another important aspect of a CIEL colloquium: visiting and time for discussion. Between papers and liturgies there was time in the dining hall of Merton, during the evening reception, or in the walks between venues for such. The college dining hall in particular became a central point for conversation, friendly debate and conviviality generally. Besides the splendid atmosphere of a Tudor style hall, surrounded by dark wood, heraldry and large oil paintings of College founders and figures, there was splendid company and splendid food, wine, cheeses, and even the appearance of a particularly fine Port, which couldn't but help this along.

Not the dining hall at Merton but very similar

Just a small few of the over 160 delegates that attended the Colloquium gathering in the front quadrangle beside the great window of the Chapel and directly in front of the dining hall.

Fr. Thomas Kocik, author of Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate and Brian Mershon of The Wanderer strolling through one of the many courtyard's of Merton College.

Fr. John Emerson, FSSP, and Fr. Joseph Santos speak in the front quadrangle.

In many cases there were opportunities for sharing information and ideas, exchanging contact information, or delving deeper into the topics at hand. In other cases, it was just a time to meet new people from different countries, or put faces to names that one might have heard of before and thus to further cement friendships.

All of these things have their own value in the building up of this new liturgical movement and which extend the fruits of the colloquium long after it has finished.

Part II of the CIEL Colloquuim Report will focus on the papers given at the conference.

Traditional Carmelites, building and recording

The Archdiocesan paper of Kansas City, The Leaven has news of a CD, The Mystical Chants of Carmel of a group of approved Tridentine rite Carmelites, as well as their continuing growth and plans for expansion.

Here is part of the story:

Wyoming Carmelite monks release new CD honoring Mary

By Joseph O’Brien
Catholic News Service

LA CROSSE, Wis. (CNS) — The few lonely highways stretching toward the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in northwest Wyoming used to be the only way to reach the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and hear their beautiful chants.

But now, thanks to modern technology and the release of their new CD, “Mystical Chants of Carmel,” the monks have opened up their cloister in Clark, Wyo., with 14 chants dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

“I figured that since the people couldn’t come to our Mass, we could share our liturgy with the world,” said Father Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified, prior of the monastery, told The Catholic Times, newspaper of the La Crosse Diocese.

“The wonderful thing about chant is that it is a mystical form of music — many authorities believe it is directly inspired by God,” he added. “Its primary purpose is to help people go deeper into the life of prayer. It settles in your soul and allows you to focus directly on God.”

At the moment, the monks — seven in all — live in a four-bedroom farmhouse tucked away in the hills near Clark, a small town just a few miles south of the Montana border.

“We added an enclosure,” said Father Daniel Mary. “It is a wall with big double gates so we can live a cloistered life. We have a little chapel where we say our offices and Mass. We’ve basically transformed this house into a working monastery.”

This may be the only Carmelite monastery with its own makeshift recording studio. With soundproofed walls and an engineering booth, they recorded their CD and then had a professional production team work on mixing the music and mastering it in surround sound.

[To read the rest of the story click the link above.]

Thursday, September 28, 2006

26th Sunday B

Here is our program for Sunday. We let the Introit go this week for lack of rehearsal time (real life!) but we will do the commmunion, which is just lovely. Otherwise, the prelude is by Josquin, as is the Offertory. (By the way, the "Ave Christe" has been years in the making; it is exceedingly tricky, not the least because I had a difficult time conducting the natural pauses, a problem I eventually worked through). The post-communion is by T. Tallis. The processional ("Let All Mortal Flesh") might strike someone as unusual, but this week we've been promised a homily on liturgical decorum, and we are expecting a focus on meditative prayer.

Into Great Silence - closer to a theatre near you?

Most will remember the sensational documentary of Carthursian life made by German director, Philip Groning, Into Great Silence.

The chance to see this film is hopefully getting much closer for the English speaking world as the official site details sales to Australia, Canada, and the U.K.

(Though apparently this film was shown last year at the Toronto international film festival. I wish I had known at the time.)

Peter Phillips on How To Conduct and Sing Polyphony

I'm very please to draw your attention to the online publication of a new article by Peter Phillips (Tallis Scholars) that appears in the new issue of Sacred Music. Its title is: The Cult of the Conductor. Provocative doesn't quite describe it. He takes on the most of the common assumptions made about choral music and says that they do not apply to polyphony.

Here is a sample:

Many of the assumptions which underlie so much traditional music-making will not do for polyphony. The participating voices may be trained these days—if they are to survive the schedules the Tallis Scholars undertake they have to know how their voices work—but not in the operatic tradition of the individual above everything. Polyphony is a cooperative effort for everyone involved, and the first responsibility of the singer is to learn to blend with whoever else may be on the same line: this is not a place for the hero mentality....

Obviously this means singing in tune. Once a good blend between all the voices has been achieved, the contributors to each line will need to learn how to listen to the other lines, which should be done in a spirit of respect. The role of the conductor is to act as a kind of aesthetic umpire. His usefulness resides in the fact that he is the only person who can hear the whole texture at once: a singer in the line will not be able to do this nearly so well. The conductor's first responsibility in rehearsal is not to impose his "interpretation" of the chosen music on a body of people who have not yet been taught how to shape their sound, but to work on the basics of that sound and so create the conditions in which the final performance will be a living event. This way every performance of that piece by that group of people can be different.

Conferences of this September

Quite recently there has been a plethora of liturgical conferences, such as Pride of Place: Gregorian Chant in the Liturgy at the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein.

Recently as well the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars hosted a liturgical conference.

If anyone has any information on these, either a written report, photographs, etc. or any knowledge of "books forthcoming" from them, do let me know so that the information can be made available.

(And indeed yes, some of you have likely been wondering, but I am still working on my own report from CIEL, which will include a number of photographs that are not out there, and you aren't likely to see much anywhere else.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

SCL Conference: Worth noting...

“The Sacraments of Healing” was the theme of the annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, held at the beautiful Mary Immaculate Center (a former Vincentian seminary) in Northampton, Pennsylvania, September 21-24. I will not comment at length about the Society or the conference. Those wanting to know more can visit the Society’s website, which will soon feature photos of the event. However, I think the following observations are of general interest:

Lauds, Vespers, and the Holy Sacrifice were celebrated daily in the magnificent, un-wreckovated Queen of All Saints Chapel, constructed in the late-1930s. It is no exaggeration to describe the chapel as an artistic marvel: ornate wood and stone carvings (as one architect observed, the saints are literally woven into the fabric of the church: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex aedificandi); brilliantly colored and elaborate stained glass windows; magnificent stone altars. The conference ended, fittingly enough, with a solemn Mass offered by Father Paul Keller, O.P., of Providence College in Rhode Island. The liturgy was, in a word, exemplary. Both Latin and English were used. Everything but the homily was sung, from the Sign of the Cross to the dismissal (yes, everything – even the Old Testament reading, the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Roman Canon in its entirety). A schola chanted the proper antiphons from the Roman Gradual. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was carried out ad orientem, an orientation with which Fr. Keller and the concelebrating priests seemed quite at ease. Incense was used at the Entrance, Gospel, Offertory, and Consecration. Two obviously well trained brothers (as in siblings) served with great reverence and comportment. All knew their proper roles and carried them out well, with (if you’ll pardon the wearisome phrase) “full, conscious and active participation.” It was the modern Roman-rite Mass at its finest. And with the forthcoming English translation of the new Missale Romanum, it can get even better. Speaking of which…

Monsignor Bruce Harbert, executive secretary for ICEL and a member of the Society, announced that he hopes the new-and-improved ICEL translation of the Latin Missale will first be used by the Holy Father at World Youth Day 2008 (Sydney, Australia). That, he said, is not beyond the realm of possibility, since ICEL has finished its work on the Ordinary of the Mass and is expected to complete the translation of the propers by this time next year (leaving sufficient time for Rome’s final approval of the work).

Unfortunately, the Society’s conference coincided with the annual convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars in Kansas City, Missouri (September 22-24), the topic of which was – any guesses? – Vatican II and the reform of the sacred liturgy. Consequently, the possibility of attending both conferences was limited to those gifted with an ability to bilocate. Which brings me to my final point…

(No, not bilocation.) There seems to be some measure of redundancy, or what management jargon terms “duplication of effort,” among those groups interested in authentic liturgical renewal. There’s the Adoremus Society. Then there’s the Society for Catholic Liturgy, founded in the same year as Adoremus (1995) and not to be confused with the Research Institute for Catholic Liturgy (2004), whose board of directors includes SCL members. Even if we consider only the pro-Latin organizations, there's the Latin Liturgy Association (1975; Novus Ordo and Tridentine) but also the St. Gregory Foundation for Latin Liturgy (1989; Novus Ordo only), the latter being distinct from the St. Gregory Society (1985; Tridentine only). In terms of mission, they all seem to be saying and doing pretty much the same things, and sometimes at the same time. Granted, some groups are geared toward scholars while others have a more popular membership. Still, I cannot help wondering what a difference it could make if there were greater coordination among these groups and, in some cases, amalgamation. But that's for another day.

Oriental Christian liturgy: The Syrian traditions

I thought some of you might be interested in the following titles published by Gorgias Press pertaining to Oriental Christian liturgy:

East Syrian Daily Offices

Description: An English translation of the Daily Offices of the East Syriac right, used today by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Church, and the Syro-Malabar Church.

The Book of Common Prayer [shhimo] of the Syrian Church

Description: In The Book of Common Prayer of the Syrian Church, Bede Griffiths, a monk of the Kurisumala Ashram in Kerala, India, presents a rich tradition of biblically based theology articulated through “a wealth of poetic beauty which has never been equaled.” Providing an English translation of the daily prayers based on the West Syrian liturgy and approved for use in the Syrian Orthodox and the Catholic Syro-Malankara Churches of South India, Griffiths carefully attends to the rich complexity of the Syriac liturgical tradition. The result is unparalleled access to a distinctively Asian tradition of Christian prayer and theology, prayer and practice, suffused with awe and wonder before the divine mysteries.

The Eucharist Service of the Syrian Orthodox Church: Meaning and Interpretation

Description: An illustrated commentary on the Qurbono (Eucharist Service), its text, meaning, and interpretation, including a discussion of all vestments and church parts, written by a leading bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church from India.

The Liturgy of the Holy Apostles Adai and Mari

Description: Together with two additional liturgies to be said on certain feasts and other days; and The Order of Baptism.

Altar Frontals and the modern and post-mediaeval Western liturgical understanding

[The NLM is delighted to have this interesting and challenging contribution to the discussion of the antependium/altar frontal by Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, Prior of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem. Fr. Oppenheimer challenges us to think about modern, even post-mediaeval, understanding of the liturgy -- inclusive of both the Tridentine rite and the modern rite. While bound to stir up some debate, the issues are well worth discussing and considering and they go well beyond the issue of the antependium. I thus thought it best to post it as a primary post. - SRT]

by Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, CRNJ
Prior, Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem

From Christian antiquity the altar has always been understood as symbolic of Christ Himself. In both the eastern and western Churches the altar has been the object of artistic embellishment for the sake of increasing faith regarding its holiness.

The antependium is an essential liturgical accoutrement whose absence form churches now is but one more sign of liturgical ignorance. I refer readers to Monsignor Gamber's book, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, for a variety of references to the altar and its appointments as a starter for understanding the value of the antependium. In the English edition (Una Voce Press, San Juan Capistrano, CA, 1993), Chapter XIII, "The Altar and the Sanctuary: Then and Now", page 121-135, appears a brief treatment of the cancelli (choir curtains) and vela (altar hangings) which developed at the very start of Christianity from the innate sense that "the mystery occuring on the altar had to be shielded from the eyes of men." The reason for this early development was that faith would be deepened by the mystery of "seeing" by the faithful's presence to what is veiled. In the west the use of these forms of veils in the sanctuary were largely discontinued in the face of the Baroque developments. The English Church had a particularly rich tradition of altar hangings resulting in such things as dossal curtains, riddle posts and their curtains, as well as antependia and pulpit hangings.

(Altar in the guest house attic at Ealing Abbey, London, England. The placement of this chapel -- in the attic -- dedicated to the English martyrs is deliberately reminiscent of hidden recusant Mass sites of English penal times. Note the posts and angels supporting three sides of curtains as well as the hanging pyx or ciborium, particular features of Sarum liturgical practise.)

On page 145 of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy Gamber comments, "While in the early Church the altar was intentionally shielded from view, albeit it with precious cloths and antependia, in today's church the altar is situated in the middle of the room, undecorated, exposed to the view of everybody." On page 150 he says, "In the early Church large mensa altars were uncommon. But even the mensa altars [small square altars - my comment], like the so-called modern block altars, were always covered with richly decorated covers extending over all sides and reaching down to the floor so that the altar's table shape was not readily discernible. During later times a decorated antependium made of wood or metal or other material was attached to the front side of the altar."

Historically, the altar was never been left unveiled until the corruption of liturgical understanding which yielded itself more and more in the Counter Reformation period. One of the depressing characteristics of modern liturgical ignorance is the counterproductive transparency of modern liturgical devices: the music, texts, patchwork ritual, but certainly the architecture and ecclesiastical decor in general. Not only are modern churches and their altars often ugly, their very nakedness invites one to disfaith, if I can be permitted the neologism.

(Modern Altar Missal illustration -- based on the manner of illustration appearing in medieval lay primers [prayer books] discussed at length in Eamon Duffey's book, The Stripping of the Altars)

Historically and liturgically, the altar is representative of Christ Himself, the reason it is perfumed at various points in the liturgy. Many persons attached to the "old Mass" are as lacking in liturgical formation and understanding as those who positively favor the new rites. The Christian Mysteries should be celebrated in more than an atmosphere of "holiness" - they should be experienced within a culture of a deepened Christian understanding of the liturgy, its history, its constituent parts, the unity of faith with faith's liturgical culture.

(A typically English altar in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham. This is an example of noble simplicity)

In a word, I am happy after returning from CIEL 2006 to discover serious notice being taken of antependia.

In closing my commentary I would like to add a parenthetical comment made by Msgr. Gamber on page 123 of his book on the liturgical reforms: "The future will see only simple new church buildings, relatively small in size, buildings that from the outside will not be very prominent, while the interior will be well crafted and designed entirely for liturgical purposes. This building style will be similar to the basilicas of early Christianity, structures which from the street level did not stand out as buildings serving a special purpose, yet buildings with interiors that in a splendor of curtains and lamps, but above all through the precious decoration of the altar and sanctuary, created a suitable environment for the celebration of Mystery regularly taking place there."

The members of our Augustinian canonry in the suburbs of Saint Louis have built a place of authentic Christian worship by converting something as unimposing as a large suburban garage into a sacred place conforming perfectly to Msgr. Gamber's description.

(Altar of the CRNJ Oratory in St. Louis)

I ask the readers of this blogsite to make known our religious and priestly foundation where the classic Roman Liturgy is celebrated in full, with great respect for a holistic understanding of its tradtion. We are not merely concerned with Latin and the rubrics of the classic Roman rite, we are aware and sensitive to the culture of asceticism, the font for the spiritual and contemplative heart of true Catholic faith.

Support Your Local Schola

Amy Wellborn blogs about her experience in a Legatus conference where the music provided by the Schola Cantorum San Francisco was spectacular. Her comments are very interesting, and so are the comments on her comments.

What struck me about reading her post is just how much in its infancy this movement is, how much energy there is behind it, how many good hearts and prayer are backing it, and what a massive difference a new musical movement is already making in Catholic liturgy.

You want to know the future? Look for the passion, the desire to discover and create, the fresh and energetic ideas, and the willingess to work extremely hard for no pay. Look for dedication and conviction. Functionaries don't stand a chance when faced with all that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York City

A Hypothetical Project by Matthew Alderman

Matthew Alderman. A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York. Principal Elevation.

St. Agnes Parish on 43rd Street, just one block east and one block up from the great pediment of Grand Central, is one of the comparative disappointments of the new classicism. While serving as a beacon of Christ in the city, architecturally it lacks the grasp of classical ornament displayed by similar projects by the likes of a Stroik, a Smith, a Marcantonio or a Mayernik, who might have cooked up an inviting little bit of Rome in the shadow of the Chrysler Building.

St. Agnes Church, New York, opened in 1998.

Perhaps I speak too harshly. I don't intend my comments to reflect on the congregation of this notable parish, with its fine Tridentine liturgies and enjoyable bookshop, and which several good friends of mine attend. The new building is not beyond help. I believe the current pastor wants to brighten up the place. The inside could be tidied up by inserting a few columns and half-columns into the gaps, a bit of color on the walls, a hanging baldachin, and doing something about the very obvious joints along the cornice, and the outside could be refaced. The fact they were able to put up anything at all in the wake of the infamous 1992 fire is astounding.

Otto Wagner. Kirche am Steinhof, Vienna.

The classic cruciform plan is continually worthy of reworking and adaption, but proved less successful on the relatively shallow site. Exploring other, less conventional precedents from the late Renaissance and early Baroque era might have resulted in something quite spectacular given that era's ability to squeeze the nave into the most wonderfully improbable ovals, circles and even hotdog-shaped crescents depending on the constraints of the site. Still, in age where liturgical orthodoxy is under fire, perhaps we architects must rein in our more extravagant flights of fancy for the greater good. Still, a suitable compromise might have been that of the Greek cross plan, preserving the processional aspect but providing it with a great central dome to mark the little church's place along the street and allowing a deeper sanctuary to set off the altar.

Borromini, the Rainaldis and others. Sant' Agnese, Rome. View from Piazza Navona.

While I dislike the way the classical language was used in the existing project, some reference to seventeenth century Rome seems very apt for a church dedicated to St. Agnes. Borromini was responsible in part for the church which marks the site of the little saint's martyrdom. (The whole thing was a group effort--Borromini planned out a good bit of the facade but the Rainaldis, father and son, also played important roles in the design, and I never can quite keep straight who did what.) Sant' Agnese in Agone is also apt to consider as it occupies an equally long, shallow and amazingly awkward site. Like several New York churches, the Roman Sant' Agnese is actually broader than it is wide, a fact carefully and cleverly disguised by the baroque modulation of its forms. Furthermore, St. Agnes's odd, broad facade with its stumpy towers is strongly reminiscent of the volumes of the lower register of its Roman cousin, and could be easily beautified using lessons learned from that splendid frontage. Baroque could offer us much to learn from, even in a comparatively simple classical design.

The former church, 1877-1992, with its baffling towers.

So, naturally, I decided to sketch up a hypothetical design inspired by Viennese art nouveau, which is a whole other can of worms. I'm being slightly flip here, but that's what I did. I think a budget baroque project, either from scratch or as a redesign of the existing conditions would make perfect sense and I may someday take a stab at it myself, but so far, I'd never had the opportunity to take on Otto Wagner and his pals before, and the mixture of muscular volumes and ornamental, vegetal delicacy that marks the Sezession struck me as equally able to represent the strength of little Agnes without forgetting her essential girlishness, and without lapsing into sentimentality. She was a virginal thirteen-year-old, which makes her perserverance even more astonishing, and that is worth recalling here.

Matthew Alderman. A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York. Principal Elevation.

The facade freely reimagines Borromini's Sant' Agnese along the lines of two Wagner works, his chapel at the Steinhof mental hospital and a proposed cathedral for Patras in Greece. The language is a classicized Austrian Art Nouveau inspired by the bold composition of his later works and the more traditional details of his earlier projects. The narthex consists of a single-story porch with glazed bronze-and-stained-glass openings brought forward between the two low towers; by pushing the main body of the nave back between them, it enlivens the oblique view visitors experience approaching the church from either side of the street, especially the view from the steps of the side entrances to Grand Central terminal and the subway. The front elevation is principally white stone, with the cornice, metalwork balustrades, triumphal palm-leaf crowns, and the images of St. Peter and St. Paul crowning the towers of verdigrissed copper; the upper portions of the facade are colored mosaic, predominantly gold and blue on the towers and the upper portions of the arch, with lighter shades predominating on the lower part of the arch. In addition to Sts. Peter and Paul, a large medallion of the Agnus Dei surrounded by angels decorates the top of the mosaic arch. Above the narthex is St. Agnes flanked by angels in the form of a polychrome statue.

Matthew Alderman. A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York. Section towards Altar.

The interior is a Greek cross plan with seating for 400. Its sail-vaulted dome is decorated in martyrial red and gold Art Nouveau motives recalling the cascading hair that miraculously and modestly covered the stripped martyr Agnes, with an oculus opening up into the dome's upper shell, lit by a stained-glass skylight of the Holy Ghost at its apex. I have been even freer in my interpretation here of Wagner's style, instead choosing an adapted Baroque with Sezession elements, though eschewing columns or pilasters in favor of paneling. The high altar is partially inset into a large arched liturgical east window, allowing for a slight dramatic backlighting without dazzling priest or congregants. Two transept doors lead (left) into the sacristy and (right) into the chapel of St. Emerentiana, St. Agnes's adoptive sister.

Matthew Alderman. A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York. Section towards transept.

The north and south transepts are occupied by side-altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Agnes's chronicler, St. Ambrose, while the inward-facing tribunes flanking the sanctuary house a small choirloft and organ chamber; while not the optimum arrangement, the comparatively small size of the church and the parish choir make such an arrangement, not unknown in liturgical history, workable in this context.

Matthew Alderman. A New Church for St. Agnes Parish, New York. Plan.

Most of the church's other functions would be housed in the existing parish house, which communicates with the church interior via the sacristy. A parish hall could be fitted into the church's lower level, and within the church interior, the baptistery stands in a chapel on the liturgical north side of the church, with confessionals built into the nave walls, while the parish bookstore is accessible via the narthex.

Those familiar with my previous work will notice some parallels with my last hypothetical city church project, Chicago's Our Lady Queen of the English Martyrs, and to some degree this is a tightening-up and shrinking down of a similar liturgical and practical parish program into a much more constrained site that nonetheless shared many of the same practical defects and similar solutions. While most suburban parishes sprawl on enormous campuses at present, the problem of the city church remains a potent challenge for would-be church architects, and as the real St. Agnes in New York has shown, constitutes a parochial and architectural issue which may well be as relevant today and in the future as our cities slowly reclaim the cultural, and, dare we hope spiritual, pre-eminence that they once possessed.

Liturgical Conference in Kansas City

Dr. Philip Blosser blogs tonight about his visit to a liturgical conference in Kansas City. It seems that more and more of these things are popping up.

By the way, I highly recommend his blog; it regularly features fascinating subjects about philosophy, liturgy, and many other things.

Scriptural Basis of the Mass as Sacrifice

[From ZENIT today...]

ROME, SEPT. 26, 2006 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Where are we commanded to have a sacrifice in our formal worship of God? Protestants, for the most part, worship with singing, some collective prayers and long sermons. Where in the Bible does it say that proper worship contains a sacrifice? Also a review of where in the Bible the Mass parts come from and why we include them in Mass would be useful. Again, it will come down to convincing a "sola scriptura" believer that Scripture says we must do it. Any help would be appreciated. -- J.C., Leavenworth, Kansas

A: A full answer to this question exceeds the possibilities of this column. There are, however, many worthy resources available online. Web sites such as Catholic Answers contain, among other elements, Father Mitch Pacwa's "Is the Mass a Sacrifice?"

The Old Testament contains many divine commands to perform sacrifices. All of the complex liturgical rituals described in Leviticus, for example, are ostensibly commanded by God through Moses.

Perhaps the most important sacrifices commanded by God in the Old Testament were those in which the Almighty sealed a covenant. This includes the one with Noah after the flood, the pact made with Abraham, and above all the sacrifice of the paschal lamb in Egypt, a covenant that was completed 50 days later with another sacrifice at Sinai.

It was this covenant that was renewed each year at the Passover by means of a sacrificial ritual that was a "memorial" ("zikkaron" in Hebrew). It was not a mere recalling but rather one that ritually made present and ratified and renewed the saving events that had occurred so many years before.

For Catholics, the central divine command to worship, using a sacrifice, came from the lips of Christ when he told the apostles at the Last Supper, "Do this as in memory of me."

In doing so, he specifically recalled the Jewish Passover as a memorial and applied it to himself and his upcoming sacrifice on the cross, with a totally new and definitive meaning.

In this context Our Lord's words "This is my body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19) correspond to those of Exodus 12:27: "[This ritual] is the sacrifice of the Passover in honor of Yahweh" when he freed Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The words "For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28) echo those of Exodus 24:8 when Moses says: "This … is the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you."

We are thus before a unique sacrifice, the memorial sacrament of Christ's paschal sacrifice. Through it he has brought salvation to all mankind and sealed a new and eternal covenant in his blood.

Although the apostles probably did not immediately grasp the full meaning of Christ's gesture in the cenacle, their reflection on his words and actions and their familiarity with the Passover as a memorial quickly led them to understand that Our Lord had commanded them to repeat the ritual that he had established.

They understood that this ritual was the definitive paschal sacrifice which made present Christ's unique sacrifice on Calvary and in doing so ratified and renewed the new and eternal covenant.

Therefore, God has commanded us to worship with a sacrifice, his own unique sacrifice.

All other forms of ritual sacrifice have fallen by the wayside as Christ's sacrifice has an infinite worth that absorbs all the values and intentions expressed in the ancient sacrifices.

The Mass is a sacrifice insofar as it is the memorial that ritually renews and makes present to us, in time, Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

The personal prayers and sacrifices of Christians reach their fulfillment when they are united to Christ's sacrifice through full, devout and active participation at Mass.

As to where in the Bible the various parts of the Mass are found, the answer is less clear. In a way it is everywhere and nowhere.

Everywhere, because the entire Mass is animated by Scripture. Almost all of the prayers and texts have a scriptural background and the entire rite is developed as a fruit of Christ's command to continue his actions.

Nowhere, in the sense that we will not find explicit commands to say, "Sing the Sanctus after the preface." Rather, the ritual has developed over time as a response to the scriptural exhortation to pray, to repeat the sacrifice, etc.

In this case even a Protestant would have to accept that the details of his worship (songs, psalms and long sermons, etc.) are found in the Bible only in very general terms.

Copyright 2006

Training for Polyphony

The most difficult task facing singers who aspire to sing polyphony is learning to sing without the support of instruments. A whole range of skills that have been in the background must emerge to the foreground, such as the ability to sing an independent part, stay on pitch without outside help, count and render rhythms in a variety of tempos, blend sound and words with others, and other factors. Half the battle is working through the psychological realization that you must produce the music itself and not merely attach your voice to the percussion instrument nearby. Singing polyphony can be an completely new challenge even for experienced singers of modern music.

Fortunately, Orlando Di Lasso came to our assistance in the 16th century with a series of duets designed to teach all these skills. They are wonderful pieces of music in their own right, even useful for liturgy.

Many of these "Bicinia" are available here. You can download them and practice them with one other person. You will amazed at how challenging such seemingly simple music can be.

Another set is available here but because the software used to create the files is no longer supported, these 7 duets are available in a single download from

Prepare to spend the next six months perfecting them, and, at the end, finding that you are a much better singer and reader. Thank you Di Lasso!

By the way, if anyone knows a source that discusses these treasures and the circumstances that lead to their creation, please email me.

WYD and the Liturgy

The Catholic Weekly of Sydney, Australia has an article on the liturgical preparations for World Youth Day, 2008.

Some are concerned with the direction that the liturgy might go, given past experience. This is one of the reasons why the presence of Juventutem can be a very positive influence, particularly if they can be apostles to bring others into their own WYD pilgrimage, and invite others along to join in their worship. Such experiences can result in liturgical epiphanies as people are confronted with the Roman liturgical tradition in all its power. Others may not have that epiphany, but seeds might be planted.

Fr. Peter Williams is the director of liturgy for WYD2008 and comments that the liturgical music must "touch the hearts of the young". This could of course mean almost anything. But let us hope and pray that, with the guidance of the Holy See and Cardinal Pell, that there might be a shift away from a sense that having one's youthful heart and mind moved by sacred music is about modernity or pop-culture. Study after study is demonstrating the thirst for something deeper and more traditional amongst the young. Ultimately we need remember that how one is moved is more important than that one is moved any which way. Our movement must be the movement of worship and sanctification that is characterized by the objective worship and praise of the Church.

One should not expect liturgical miracles of course. We are in a rebuilding phase, but at very least the shoots might be planted.

It is encouraging to see Fr. Williams acknowledge that “Music is such an extraordinary vehicle and has great power in being able to move people emotionally and spiritually,” ... “And from that point of view as Catholics we have a 2000-year treasury of music that we can draw upon.”

Let us hope and pray indeed that it is drawn upon, as the Church would have it be.

Fr. Williams goes on to note that “Cardinal Pell has already identified a number of times and Bishop Fisher has reinforced that World Youth Day is not about what happens in 2008,” ... “Therefore it is critical that we get this right so that we can engage our existing Catholic youth and enthuse them to take up the challenge to be part of the Church as it moves forward in this century."

Amen to that. The principles here are correct. Now we must pray for the faithful application of those principles formed by the mind of the Church, rooted in her tradition and faithful to her decrees.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A too-forgotten ornament of the altar: the altar frontal

When one thinks of ornamenting the altar I would daresay most would think of the candlesticks on the altar, the altar cross, flowers used for solemnities, or one might even think of the materials used in constructing the altar and so on. These are all very important things that should be taken seriously.

However, it seems to me that there is a particularly liturgical and edifying ornament which is too often forgotten: that of the altar frontal, or antependium as it is also known.

I say this is a particularly liturgical ornament because such frontals are typically changed to match the liturgical colour of the feast or time in the cycle of liturgical seasons. In that sense, the altar frontal might be thought of as the vesture of the altar, just as the chasuble or dalmatic is for the priest or deacon, which, of course, likewise change in accordance with our liturgical cycle.

The origins of the antependium were described in the Catholic Encyclopedia as follows:

"Its origin may probably be traced to the curtains or veils of silk, or of other precious material, which hung over the open space under the altar, to preserve the shrines of the saints usually deposited there. Later, these curtains were converted into one piece of drapery which covered the whole front of the altar and was suspended from the table of the altar."

There is of course an entire theology behind that which is veiled. We veil that which is sacred and holy. This aspect was not absent from the old covenant, and in the Christian liturgy we see the veiling of the paten and chalice, of the tabernacle and hanging pyx's, of the ciboria within the tabernacle and of course even the priest himself in his "casula". So too then do we see the altar and the relics there also veiled, not only by canopies but by these frontals.

From a practical dimension, priests and parishioners who find their altars less than edifying will find this a simple and fairly cost effective manner in giving their altars that traditional sense of dignity and form that they might otherwise lack. Such frontals needn't be masterworks of embroidery. Even the simplest brocade with gold trim can make a most edifying ornament that draws us further into the liturgical cycle and which highlights the altar to its proper dignity and centrality in our parishes.

Let me qualify that I am most certainly thinking of traditional altar frontals in this regard.

But to give you a case in point, allow me to show you an altar frontal used in an Anglican Church in Canada, whose altar of wood is not of itself without some edification in design. But consider the altar with and without the frontal:

Without frontal:

With Altar Frontal:

There is a dignity to this ornament of the altar which I hope and pray will be rediscovered in more of our churches, both Tridentine and Reform of the Reform. Recent pictures from the high altar at Chiesa Nuova and from Merton College Chapel also, I think, demonstrate the beauty and propriety of this ornament.

Spem Spem Spem Spem

The Schola Cantorum San Francisco is singing the Spem in Alium in three different venues this fall:

  • Oct. 13, 8 PM, Ss. Peter and Paul Church, North Beach
  • Oct. 14, 8 PM, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley
  • Oct. 15, 4 PM, Mercy Center, Burlingame
Their "liturgy" page provides a bit of pedagogy:

Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that "music and song are more than an embellishment of worship; they are themselves part of the liturgical action which makes us more capable of transforming the world.” We hope that our voices have been so for you.

We would like to take a moment to introduce ourselves. ScholaSF has a special mission: to promote, in the words of Vatican II, the "inestimable treasure of sacred music", and to provide a living link from the rich traditions of the past to the creative possibilities of the present.

In line with this mission, ScholaSF has created an ambitious program – Laudate Dominum - designed to bring the centuries old canon of the sacred music of the Roman Catholic Church to our modern world. Our hope is that by exposing the faithful to this great art, we will develop a greater demand for excellence in the music of the liturgy, and truly contribute to transforming the world.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley at the Chiesa Nuova Church

A couple of individuals have sent me links to fairly new Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley's blogging of his Fall trip to Rome wherein the Cardinal celebrates Mass at the Oratorian Chiesa Nuova Church, ad orientem.

Now indeed, the chapel he celebrated Mass in has no free-standing altar, which would of course pretty well ensure this much. Nonetheless, while I do not know the Cardinal's views on such liturgical matters, at very least a positive can be that having such opportunities to celebrate Mass ad orientem can bring about an epiphany of sorts to its manifest strengths and ability for the priest to focus upon the sacrificial and priestly act upon the altar, and the faithful to join with that act in rendering due worship to God.

These can be seeds. (I realize the rubrical question of the vesture of the attendant priest is likely to come up, but I'm choosing to focus in on the issue of the orientation of the priest at the altar.)

Here is also a shot of the main high altar of the Church:

Another shot will show that there is another free-standing altar which has taken the place of the high altar, though perhaps someone can comment whether this is permanent or if it is a removable altar used for certain masses only, while the original high altar is used for others?

One thing that impressed me about the Brompton Oratory in London is that all of its Masses are said ad orientem and that the original high altar is the only altar in the sanctuary. This is a refreshing sight.

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