Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pontifical Vespers from Oxford

As promised, here are photo's from Pontifical Vespers for the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola. Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP pontificated at this beautiful and solemn liturgy.

The Altar prepared with cope and mitres for the bishop to vest after he arrives in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford.

The bishop and clergy entered in procession.

The bishop paused for prayers before being vested.

Watched by the MC, Dr Alcuin Reid and assisted by Fr Tim Finigan and Rev Dr Laurence Hemming, the bishop was vested in pontificals over his rochet.

At this point, with the bishop seated in splendour on the faldstool, the organ sounded an organ voluntary and we paused to pray before the clock struck six to signal the appointed time of Vespers.

The bishop sings Vespers, seated at the faldstool.

Fr Tim Finigan and Deacon Laurence Hemming seated during Vespers, with the cantors behind them. The psalms were intoned by the bishop and 4 prelates in choir.

The bishop intoning the hymn.

Incensing the High Altar during the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The bishop, the prelates in choir and the clergy and then the laity were all incensed.


The bishop had been vested in the gold mitre but during the Gospel canticle, he had changed into the precious mitre. Here, he is seated before the Collect.

The bishop imparted the blessing from the High Altar.


Vespers was followed by a champagne reception and a dinner. Here, the bishop is seen with Fr Benjamin Earl OP whom he had clothed in the habit of St Dominic, when he had been Prior Provincial of the English Dominicans.

Lord, In Your Mercy, Incline Not Your Ear Unto Our Prayer

With apologies to George Weigel, who wrote on this subject some years ago, I feel the need to chime in on what is for me one of the greatest sources of liturgical annoyance possible: the General Intercessions.

What is the source of annoyance, exactly? Well, for one thing I don't like repetitive activities, but that doesn't really account for all of it in this case. I think what really drives me nuts is the fact that the General Intercessions usually do not include the petitions which should be there, but they do include things which do not belong.

Allow me to explain. The General Intercessions are to include prayers for the pope, the local bishop, and the dead, if not some other intentions as well. Moreover, there is a hierarchical order in these petitions which is to be followed. In the typical parish, however, none of this is observed. The one aspect of this which might be employed is the prayer for the dead at the end of the intercessions. Beyond that, nothing.

But it gets worse. What is done instead of what should be done is often downright appalling. The General Intercessions are turned into the "specific intercessions" which are premised in ways that will inevitably exclude the thinking of at least some of the members of the congregation. For example, I have heard petitions that baldy advocate for a "redistribution of the world's resources" on behalf of the poor by national and even world leaders. This is ill-advised, to say the least, because, instead of simply praying for the poor, we're being asked to pray that the poor be helped through particular means, which some (or most) may find to be impractical or even downright reprehensible. It's all quite enough at times to get me to mumble under my breath, "Lord, don't hear our prayer." I'm all for helping the poor, but not through the use of coercion. Leave Robin Hood in the story books.

I could pile on other stories, but they would be unnecessary to make this point: the General Intercessions are not a vehicle for cramming any one particular judgment down the throats of the people in the pews.

What to do about this problem? It is quite apparent that one could write guidelines ad infinitum, but this will do no good: Some will still use this liturgical moment to promote their own agenda--whatever ideological platform it may come from. I've often thought that the General Intercessions should simply be removed from the liturgy, and I still wouldn't be opposed to this. As one priest has pointed out to me, everything that's supposed to be in the General Intercessions is already in the Roman Canon.

A compromise, however, would be enough to get me to sit down and be quiet. Here's what I have in mind: a fixed formula (such as is used in many Anglican churches) which is based upon the form of the Intercessions of Good Friday, which use the form of the Western intercessory prayers from centuries ago. In fact, they've stood the test of time and always been there. (I will delete comments that try to sidetrack us onto the boring subject of the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.)

The Intercessions of Good Friday are solemn, and not just because of the day on which they are said. Much of this solemnity comes from the form employed. This is a vast improvement over the banality which often reigns during the General Intercessions in typical liturgical praxis. Using a fixed form will have the benefits of making sure that all the right intercessions are there, that they are phrased in a way appropriate for a religious rather than a political function, that heightened language is used, and even that a sense of ritual prevails over arbitrariness. Of course, besides all of this, solemnity can be added by singing the intercessions.

And so, for the intention that this may be accomplished, I say, "Lord, hear our prayer."

Classical Architecture on a Budget: It Can Be Done

Many of our readers, and the public in general, continue to assume that traditional architecture is beyond the reach of the average parish. As I have said before, good architecture of any sort is expensive, and a lot of it has to do with the client's priorities. I have seen in the last few days designs for two fairly ordinary parishes, done in a nondescript modern style, that ran well over ten million, and this includes at least some of the grandiose support buildings--parish halls, youth cafes, theaters, that appear to have become compulsory. A large classical church--admittedly, a somewhat simplified one--could be built fairly easily within the confines of such a budget, if perhaps some of the other parish functions were curtailed a bit.

But even more can be cut from both program and design if the architect is clever. The DC-based classical firm then known as Franck, Lohsen and McCrery (currently Franck and Lohsen) did a handsome combined parish center and 600-seat church for Pope John XXIII Catholic Church at Canal Winchester, Ohio, intended as the future parish hall in a larger master-plan, on a miniscule budget of $2.5 million. While the church proper is quietly fused into the larger complex, rather than standing out above it, as the building is intended to be a social hall in the future, this typology is more logical here than in the more permanent context of the standard suburban parish. Note that while simple, the whole is executed with a fairly elevated canonical classical vocabulary, with Doric pilasters and well-formed moldings. As the parish grows, the campus will presumably expand organically.

In the mean time, rather than settling for a stop-gap gymn-church or a gigantic center that may well turn out to be a monetary black hole, they have a beautiful church to worship in. Compare this to the $11-$14 million that could easily be spent on a monster parish church with attached center in the modern manner. Money is part of the problem, but a lack of vision, planning and design is the real missing puzzle-piece.

Liturgical Art Competition and Exhibition at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, PA - October 28-December 7, 2008

The competition, which will be jurored by Duncan Stroik, includes a pleasantly traditional--and fairly specific--set of requirements:

This juried competition and exhbition primarily seeks to foster the arts of the Western Christian tradition; however, other artistic traditions of Christian subject matter will be considered. [...]

Artworks must be iconographically recognizable and appropriate for liturgical use, public devotion, or private devotion.

Subjects sought (but not limited to) include: scenes from the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; other biblical scenes, stories and characters; depictions of saints and their lives; current and historical events in the life of the Church; depictions of the seven sacraments; and personifications of the corporal works of mercy, virtues and vices. [...] Subjects which will not be considered include: portrayals of non-canonized persons as saints [...].
More can be found here. The competition is open to all amateurs and professionals over 21 years of age. Unfortunately all admission forms must have an August 1 postmark, so anyone who's interested needs to hurry.

Fr. Tim Finigan gives an inside view of the Oxford U.A. Sessions

Fr. Finigan of The hermeneutic of continuity has been recently updating his site with some reports of what is going on at Merton College, Oxford and the training conference for clergy and seminarians interested in learning about the ancient Roman liturgy -- he is there.

The NLM's own Fra Lawrence Lew will also be on the scene again today capturing some photographs, so we hope to bring some of those to you soon.

In the interim, I thought it would be interesting to hear some of Fr. Finigan's reports. Here are some excerpts which come from three posts on Fr. Finigan's blog.

Liturgy at Merton

First place at the Latin Mass Society's training Conference is given to the celebration of the sacred Liturgy. Each day, Lauds and Vespers are sung according to the breviary of 1962. Yesterday we also had Compline in the fading light between 8.30pm and 9pm with the choirstall candles lit. This evening, Vespers will be celebrated more solemnly as Pontifical Vespers with an Abbot presiding.


Wednesday, the Mass was celebrated by Fr Andrew Wadsworth in the more simple form of the Missa Cantata, without incense. Today we have solemn High Mass again, and tomorrow Pontifical High Mass with the Abbot.

Lectures at Merton

On the first three days of the Conference there was a lecture in the afternoon. On Monday, Dr Laurence Hemming spoke on "The Theology of the Liturgy", taking up some of the themes in his recent book "Worship as a Revelation". On Tuesday, I spoke about "Summorum Pontificum in a Parish Context", addressing some of the concerns that parish clergy have about the problems of introducing the usus antiquior into the parish. Yesterday, Dr Alcuin Reid spoke on "Summorum Pontificum one year on", surveying reactions to the Motu Proprio and drawing on his own work on the organic development of the Liturgy.

These lectures are to be published by the Latin Mass Society in due course.

Classes at Merton

The "working" part of the Conference has been carried on through classes adapted to various different needs. The first three days focused on the celebration of Mass. Several of us took small groups of "beginners", going through the Mass carefully, and explaining and demonstrating the rubrics of Low Mass. Another, larger, group has been learning how to sing the various parts of the Mass.

From yesterday afternoon, we began with other sessions, looking at the sacraments, the breviary, Latin, the calendar, funerals, vespers, and benediction. The priests could sign up to whatever they wanted and the various tutors have shared out the classes... Yesterday afternoon, I went through the sacrament of Baptism with a group of about 25 priests.

Everyone has commented on the really good atmosphere of the conference. The priests have enjoyed being together, celebrating the Liturgy, learning more about it, enjoying some good laughs and swapping stories about parishes and dioceses. I have been through Low Mass about a dozen times with different priests either in group or individually. There is a real sense of joy in the priesthood and hope for the future of the Church.

Congratulations should go out to all involved for a very successful, ongoing conference. Priests and seminarians, including those from North America: I would heartily encourage you to begin now saving up your pennies so that should this be offered again next year, that you go to it. You will never regret it and I can assure you that it will be an experience and something you will take with you for the rest of your days.

Pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Fraternity of Christ the Priest

The Fraternity of Christ the Priest and Mary the Queen, a Spanish priestly society dedicated to the usus antiquior, reports to the NLM of their recent pilgimage and Mass in Lourdes.

For the full story and all the images, please visit the link above, but here are a few select photos.

Mass offered in the Crypt of the Basilica

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

St. Michael's, Auburn: A Case-Study in Pseudo-Traditional Architecture

I was more than a little astonished by the proposed Saskatoon Cathedral, not because of its apparent futurity, but because on the whole its layout represents the pure form of a mid-sixties liturgical typology that one hardly sees, even in the more progressive new church designs. Instead, we are witnessing the genesis of another, perhaps less problematic, liturgical crisis, but one that nonetheless deserves redress. I speak of what I call pseudo-traditional architecture, the superficial imposition of conservative liturgical window-dressing over a primarily utilitarian and modernistic framework. It is not a calculated ideological statement, either traditionalist or modern, and in some ways represents a genuine if unconscious movement towards a hermeneutic of continuity. However, it is not enough: It is vaguely "church-y" rather than truly ecclesiastical, and even if sincere, its rapprochement with with tradition often falls short of the mark. One example of this contemporary approach to design is the proposed church and parish complex for St. Michael's in Auburn, Alabama, though it could be anywhere. In an age where every new church has the potential to be a test-case for architectural renewal, such architectural acedia is nothing short of a tragedy. And given the increasing numbers of churches built in this compromise style, some quite significant--Houston and Steubenville Cathedrals come to mind--this is not likely to change unless people seriously pay attention to what they are building.

Churches like St. Michael's are characterized, in varying degrees, by four problem areas in their design:

1. The altar and sanctuary. The sanctuary is insufficiently distinguished from the main volume of the church, and may take the form of a broad, low platform at the end of a short, stubby nave. The altar is small and undistinguished, and the general plan resembles a church-in-the-round that has been massaged into a rectilinear geography. It is important, though, to distinguish between church designs where the architect was forced to adopt a more liturgically modernist approach due to pastoral need or diocesan requirements, and projects where a lightly-adapted status quo became the model due to insufficient exposure to traditional models, or simple inertia. In the case of the former, an architect can use clever compositional tricks to overcome or neutralize such requirements, while the latter simply requires a bit more precedent research.

The plan of the church proper. Note the way the narthex, the threshhold of sacred space, has been replaced by an area which effectively serves as a lobby to other, more mundane functions or as overflow space for the parish hall. While the liturgical planning of the church maintains some traditional directionality, the nave is broad, short and roofed with a low ceiling, creating a distinctly horizontal orientation.

It is important to recall that sanctuaries require careful planning; a whole library could be filled with the books written on the subject during the first Liturgical Movement alone.

Even if diocesan requirements force a a quasi-in-the-round approach, there are numerous ways to overcome this. Architects might have recourse to centralized Baroque or Romanesque plans, or create a sense of directionality by other means. Ethan Anthony's proposed church for St. John Vianney parish in Lafayette, Indiana, overcomes this difficulty by extreme height and length, as well as setting the altar on the axes of the crossing, creating for it a distinct architectural setting. H.H. Menzies, in his beautification of St. Aloysius in New Canaan, Conneticut, added a prominent altar, tabernacle, crucifix and stained-glass reredos to a fan-shaped church, giving focus to an otherwise unfocused fan-shaped church.

In any case, it is important to recall that a church is not an auditorium, and that sacramental objects cannot be placed within it like a box. The architecture itself must enfold them and give them distinct homes within the framework of the design.

2. The dimensions of the nave. Many pseudo-traditional churches have a short, broad nave, sometimes disproportionally small in regards to parochial support spaces. Frequently, the ceiling is quite low, giving a strongly horizontal feeling to the church interior. The new cathedral in Steubenville--a large, low box with Gothic arches pasted onto it--exemplifies the trend, which probably has to do more with cost-effectiveness and packing the people in than any specific ideology. Wide-spaced side-aisles like those at Sir Ninian Comper's St. Philip's, Cosham, might do much to alleviate the dumpiness inherent in such plans. Columns could be slender enough to avoid blocking the altar, but nonetheless convey a sense of structure, plan and shelter to the interior.

Wide-open, broad spaces can often make the faithful feel small and ant-like, rather than the higher proportions of Gothic cathedrals and classical churches, which imply verticality much more literally, or at the very least, are articulated with a more human sense of proportion. The modern fixation with horizontality and vast broad spans--the result of technical prowess--runs counter to human instinct. Broad, long rectangles remind one of bodies lying down, of sleep or death, while the upright proportions of most traditional doorways and spaces convey the more active, normative quality of a standing man.

Church ceilings must be high, or at the very least convey a sense of upward movement. Whether this is through literal verticality or some more subtle trick, it is not sufficient to simply have a roof over the heads of the faithful.

3. Insufficient or inexpertly-handled historical quotations.. Pseudo-traditional architecture is, in some contexts, a welcome sign, in that it often represents a willingness of the parish or the architect to embrace tradition in some small way. However, this is usually in a highly superficial way. Designed by mainstream firms by architects with only a very hazy notion of classical decorum or traditional design, "churchiness" is conveyed by slapping on a cross, punching Gothic openings through a veneer brick wall, or other jumbled historical references. Such designs can run the gamut from very literal, if mishandled references, such as St. Agnes in New York--which The Classicist panned as "Agnes in agony"--to much more figurative or partial quotations.

A view of the architectural precedents cited for the sanctuary and its furnishings. No precedents from the past have been cited, just other modern work in the same tepid style. Once again, tradition is only encountered at a considerable remove.

Traditional architecture of all sorts is rooted in a systematic vocabulary with its own accompanying rules and grammars; certainly it can be rearranged, shaped and molded much like language can, but once it is removed from that context and treated in a superficial manner, rather like the vaunted "decorated sheds" of the postmodern architect Robert Venturi, it loses much of its seriousness and may almost become a parody rather than a quotation. Most of the precedents shown in the pdf detailing the plan (and available here) are uninteresting spaces with cursory ornamentation; even a simple well-proportioned sanctuary with the barest of details would be more appealing than these, so long as the design made an effort to link organically with the past rather than vaguely copying it.

Parishes must be willing to make good design a priority. The Church has never settled for the merely okay. Most classical designers, especially those away from the big cities, are eager and sometimes even starving for work. They understand budgets are tight and can work around them, though any sort of building is going to be expensive, whatever style is chosen. But it is better to spend money on beauty than waste it on mediocrity. A little bit of legwork in finding a traditional architect--either an autodidact, or someone trained in the classical schools at Notre Dame, Miami or abroad--will pay off in the long run. Alternately, local designers must force themselves to set aside their modernist schooling for a little while and come to grips with traditional architecture not as a historic fact but as a living reality that is more than just a cut-and-paste operation. Only then will good design truly flourish.

The floor-plan of the proposed St. Michael's Catholic Church, Auburn, showing the typical jumbled, hierarchically confused plan of most contemporary parish complexes. Whatever pseudo-traditional windowdressing is applied to the design, it is a veneer stretched over modern spatial planning. Note that the entire plant sits in the middle of a vast parking-lot (not shown, but believe me, it's huge); while a necessary evil, such necessities could be handled far more cleverly.

4. Lack of spatial and design hierarchy. The modernist movement largely destroyed our understanding of spatial and compositional hierarchy by allowing technology and materials to guide aesthetic choice. It is indeed possible to create free-flowing, open plans with multiple uses, but one is faced with a very vicious sort of freedom. The Argentine fantasist Jorge Luis Borges once wrote a very short story about a king condemned to wander in a labyrinth, except the labyrinth was in truth the vast emptiness of a desert. When all spaces are special, nothing is special. This is why, as I have said above, the stubby naves and low sanctuaries of both modern and pseudo-traditional parishes fail to impress their sacrality on the viewer. The differing functions of the church interior are not clearly defined by the architecture, and instead feel a bit like furniture scattered arbitrarily in a room.

The same confusion comes with the overall design of a building. Many new churches also include an extensive range of parochial and social services under the same roof. Certainly a parish hall, some bathrooms, and some relatively simple offices for staff are important, though often they are incorporated into the plan in such a way that they dominate the design. The church building is beating swallowed alive by its dependents.

This happens in two ways. First, the church often has a low ceiling and a broad nave; coupling it with a warren of offices of about the same height and breadth turns it into one amorphous mess. If the church had been given a lofty ceiling and vertical profile, this might have not been such a problem. Secondly, the integrity of the narthex or vestibule is usually compromised. What was for almost 2,000 years a sacred space of preparation, a reflective pause before entering into the nave proper, has been turned into a "gathering space," a sort of ajunct parish hall, that often also serves as circulation space for parish offices. The sacred has become simply the ordinary, or even the social.

The endless parade of student outreach centers, cafes, parish halls, meeting rooms, adult ministries, multiple children's theaters, children's welcome centers, youth theaters, resource rooms, children's classrooms, that attach themselves to the church building in such designs are astonishing. In most cases, such parishes don't even include a school. It would seem to me a better use would be a few simple multi-purpose spaces that could be added to as necessary, unless this is a particularly active parish.

Better to spend the ten to fourteen million slated for this church, and others like it, on a beautiful edifice that will stand the test of time than redundant multiple theaters and assembly rooms which may well stand empty for great stretches of the week. How many auditoria do you need? And why two separate theaters for youth and children? Surely they will not be in use at the same time. A parish could get a very nice classical church for the same price, if you were willing to concentrate on the essential features of the church proper than auxiliary features which will not fire the imagination in the same way a beautiful church will. Even if simplifications in the ornamentation are required, an architect immersed in the past will be able to undertake such alterations with greater sensitivity than someone who has not been exposed to traditional design.

Another view, showing the belltower, which combines Romanesque and Gothic forms in a way that is less than harmonious. The design gives vent to a laudable, if semi-conscious impulse towards tradition, but does not follow through successfully.

Priorities must be re-examined if any progress is to be made.

The solution here is easy--range the parochial buildings around a courtyard in front of the church, or place the parish hall in the basement, down a discrete but easily accessible staircase. Study the past in great detail. Simplify, but only after you have grasped the substance of traditional design. Look beyond modern prototypes. Prioritize the beautiful, and be willing to build something that will stir hearts in 1,000 years. Build the church first and put the staff in temporary housing, reversing the stereotyped paradigm of building the gymn first. So many parishes that did that are, fifty years later, still lacking a real church and holding the holy mass in a place better suited to shooting baskets. The Catholic Church is not a social club--certainly all those functions are good and well and useful, but they are not the reason we come on Sunday, which is to worship the living God. We can do better than this.

DVD of a Solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite

As many of you know, one of the great interests of the NLM is found within the other Western rites and uses of the Latin rite. So it is we have contributors, pieces, news and information on rites such as the Ambrosian or Dominican to name a few.

Our resident Dominican rite expert is, of course, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., and we have a second Dominican in our midst in the person of Brother Lawrence Lew, O.P., resident at Blackfriars, Oxford.

I mention all of this because I wish to draw your attention to something which should be of great interest, not only to our Dominicans and to those who have adopted a particular attachment to the richness of the Dominican spirituality, but to any and all interested in the liturgical traditions of the Catholic West.

It was in January of 2006 that I first drew NLM readers attention to a video that had been put out by the Rosary Center -- attached to the Portland Dominicans -- of a Solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite. At the time, only a VHS was available, which was rather unfortunate given that not all have the ability to play VHS videos.

I was therefore delighted when I learnt that a DVD of this Dominican Rite recording had been produced, which not only afforded the opportunity for more viewers to purchase and watch the recording of a Solemn Mass in the Dominican rite, it also afforded the NLM an opportunity to provide a better review, complete with screen shots.

(Incidentally, the subdeacon for this Mass is none other than the NLM's own Fr. Augustine Thompson.)

(The Mass was celebrated in the presence of then Archbishop Levada)

(The procession. Note the use of the amice instead of the biretta.)

(In the Dominican rite, the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar do not include the Judica Me or its corresponding Introibo antiphon. Instead there is a versicle and response and the priest proceeds into the Confiteor.)

(The chalice placed upon the altar by the subdeacon, Fr. Thompson, during the Gloria.)

(You will also note that the deacon, subdeacon and servers line up in a different fashion than in the Roman rite)

(The feast day was that of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican and Angelic Doctor)

(While I am not showing it in any of the stills here, when seated, the priest, as well as deacon and subdeacon use the gremial.)

(In the Solemn form of the Dominican rite, the chalice is brought over in the humeral veil and the water and wine is put into the chalice at the sedilia; it is then taken back to the altar.)

(Following the gospel and homily, the incensation of the altar.)

(You'll note the location of the subdeacon which is different from the Roman rite.)

(The use of the Pax instrument. Fr. Thompson posted on this just the other day.)

Musically, a professional choir was used for the liturgy, which sung a polyphonic Mass setting with precision.

There was evidently a slight recording problem of some sort since you can see even in the stills above a slight distortion at the bottom of the screen, but it is not enough to distract you from the liturgy itself and really is only mentionable since this is a review and it seems I would be remiss to not mention it. Despite that one technical flaw, the video is well worth acquiring and I would encourage you all to do so, not only to support the Fathers who produced it, but also to show your support and interest in the Dominican Rite liturgy.

The video is priced extremely reasonably at $15.00 USD for the DVD and $10.00 USD for those who still might prefer the VHS recording.

To order the video, click here and go to the Audio/Video tab. There you will see listed: Solemn High Mass, Dominican Rite.

A great opportunity to see the Dominican rite liturgy in action.

Paul Jacobs to Perform Unpublished Work of Samuel Barber in Philadelphia

One of America's greatest organists is taking on a work of one of America's greatest composers. How appropriate that this should occur in Philadelphia, which claims Samuel Barber--composer of the famous Adagio for Strings which was also arranged as an Agnus Dei--as its own. I don't know if this new Barber piece will be appropriate in a liturgical context. I suppose I'll just find out at the concert!

The press release:



An unpublished prelude and fugue for organ by Samuel Barber, which received its only performance in 1928 by organist Carl Weinrich at The Curtis Institute of Music, will be performed by Paul Jacobs on Friday, September 12, at 8 p.m. at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Music historian Barbara Heyman discovered the Barber work at the Library of Congress in 1984, as part of the research for her award-winning biography-Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music. Impressed by a recent performance by Mr. Jacobs, Dr. Heyman asked whether he would be interested in performing it.

On September 12 Mr. Jacobs will reintroduce Barber's Prelude and Fugue in B Minor in his dedication program for Tenth Presbyterian Church's new four-manual Walker digital organ, a gift from former U.S. Surgeon-General and former church elder, C. Everett Koop. About the prelude and fugue, Mr. Jacobs comments, “Through this richly chromatic work, Barber seems to carry the listener beyond Brahms and Reger, into a new, personal realm of expression.” Mr. Jacobs will also include Barber’s Prelude and Fugue in his upcoming performances in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and San Francisco.

Samuel Barber, an organist himself, wrote the prelude and fugue in 1927 when he was a Curtis student studying composition with Rosario Scalero. Carl Weinrich was a fellow student who went on to become well known as a leader in a U.S. revival of Baroque organ music in the 1930’s. Mr. Barber began studying the pipe organ at age 11 and the following year was hired as an organist for Westminster Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where according to Dr. Heyman, he earned $100 a month but was fired shortly thereafter for "refusing to hold fermatas in hymns and responses."

At 31, Paul Jacobs is widely acknowledged for reinvigorating today's organ scene with a fresh performance style and an "unbridled joy of music-making" in performances throughout America, as well as in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia. In 2003 he became one of Juilliard's youngest faculty appointments and the following year was named chairman of the Juilliard organ department. Mr. Jacobs studied at The Curtis Institute of Music, where he doubled-majored in organ with John Weaver and harpsichord with Lionel Party, and subsequently at Yale University, where he studied with Thomas Murray.

Among the highlights of Mr. Jacobs's 2008-09 season are debuts with The Philadelphia Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas in November and the San Francisco Symphony under Yan Pascal Tortelier in April. Mr. Jacobs also dedicates the new Fisk pipe organ at Segerstrom Concert Hall in his Pacific Symphony debut with a program that features the world premiere of a new work for organ, brass and percussion by Masterprize and Grammy-winning composer Christopher Theofanidis. On December 10, the 100th birthday of Olivier Messiaen, he will mark the occasion with a performance of the composer's Livre du Saint Sacrement in Woolsey Hall at Yale University, Mr. Jacobs's alma mater.

Friday, September 12, at 8:00 p.m.

Tenth Presbyterian Church, 1700 Spruce St.

Philadelphia, PA

Paul Jacobs, organist

Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7 Marcel Dupre (1886-1971)

Trio Sonata in E Minor, BWV 528 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Prelude and Fugue in B Minor (1928) Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Pageant Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)

Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

More information and tickets are available by calling 215-735-7688

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Firsthand Report from the New Traditional Benedictine House in Italy

Last week, we heard about a new traditional monastic foundation in Italy. Now, an Italian friend of the NLM actually went there last Sunday and sends in some impressions and pictures.

Villatalla, the village where the new house is situated, is perched halfway up a mountain at 550 m amid a sea of olive trees. The small village of only a few dozen inhabitants in this peaceful surruonding seems perfect for a moanstery.

From there, one has a breathtaking view that sweeps down to the Mediterranean:

Our friend had the opportunity to talk to the monks coming from Le Barroux who have settled there, including dom Jehan de Belleville, an early companion of the recently deceased dom Gérard Calvet, the founder of Le Barroux. While their new house is a new, seperate foundation (i.e. not a filial foundation of Le Barroux), dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, the monks do not want their new undertaking seen or interpreted as a division or a form of dissent with respect to the current abbot of Le Barroux. Instead, they stress the positive aspect of extending the traditional Benedictine charism also into Italy.

The monks celebrate Holy Mass in the usus antiquior at 9:30 am on weekdays and 10 am on Sundays in the little parish church. The OF Mass is said at 3 pm ad orientem by the young parish priest, who resides in the neighbouring village of Dolcedo, where he himself celebrates the EF every Sunday - not bad for a little valley in the Ligurian hinterland.

Here we see dom Jehan celebrating last Sunday. Our correspondent was particularly touched by the Gregorian chant sung to perfection by the monks:

Our friend ends by saying that it was quite edifying to see how even the rather reserved Ligurians of the village have, in the bare month that they have been there, come to have an affection for these foreign monks, and he has observed how they bring them olive oil and vegetables as gifts.

Should a Parish Impose Uniformity in Music?

The issue confronts every parish. Should parishioners experience different music at different Masses or the same at every Mass? I will tell you my view upfront: the attempt to create uniformity sounds good in theory but it nearly always leads to disaster in the present context. To see why, we need to understand the background.

This background concerns an issue that has emerged in the last thirty or so years. Sometime in the 1970s or 1980s a pastor set aside one Mass that was called the folk Mass or the youth Mass to experiment with all the new material being sold by the big publishing companies. Usually, this was prompted by a pilgrimage that some song leader took to a conventional or workshop somewhere and came away impressed by how the jazzy stuff seemed to energize people in some way.

Meanwhile, not everyone in the parish agreed. They held on to their traditional hymns. In many parishes, two hymnals eventually populated the pew racks. Their different colors and styles symbolized everything. It seemed like two churches in one parish, but everyone more-or-less lived in peace. The "divisions" in the parish make people feel uncomfortable but no one had the strong desire to do anything about it since, after all, most people were rather happy with the "divided parish" model.

At some point, disaster strikes. A new pastor arrives with a new musician or liturgy director in tow. They look at these hymnals and see how the parish is split and think: this has to go! How can we lead a parish without unity among the people of God? So they call all the musicians together and announce a new plan. There will be a single Mass setting in all Masses. We will all sing the same hymns each week. We will gather in committee to make decisions. The various choirs can do different music for offertory but otherwise, the central plan must prevail!

And what is this plan? It is to have some traditional hymns, some contemporary hymns, a standard Mass setting that splits the difference between styles, and each Mass will have a bit of piano, a bit of organ, a bit of guitar, and so on. This is what is called an eclectic approach. The musical results are not impressive of course: it produces a mish-mash of styles that might be uniform across the parish but is un-united within each Mass. All channels for experimentation and progress are now closed. That's the musical and liturgical cost.

The human cost is far greater. No one will be happy: not the traditionalists, not the contemporary-music people, and, in fact, none of the musicians. In fact, it will break their hearts, and that goes for both the people who love chant and the people who love to strum to the latest offerings from the commercial publishers. In the committee meetings, they might arrive at consensus but no one tells the truth in a committee meeting. The appearance of consensus is an illusion that evaporates minutes after it is over.

It might seem viable for a few weeks or months, and then the dam breaks. Musicians leave the parish. Choir members stop attending because no one wants to sing music he or she hates. The talented organist quits. The guitar players take off too. All that remain in the end are the unprincipled people with moderate talents who will do anything for a small paycheck. They lead a handful of undiscriminating singers. If this situation persists, the meltdown can become total and spread through the entire parish, so that people no longer know which Mass to attend to escape the music they hate. The parish is united only in its seething anger at the interlopers who upset their ways.

People can theorize all they want about united parishes and bringing everyone together, but this is an apodictic truth that no one can change: Catholics are attached to particular Mass times and have absolutely zero interest in what happens at the Mass before or after. Each Mass time is associated with a specific demographic and culture. It was always true before the council (Low Mass, High Mass) and it remains true now. These modern-day Robespierres who attempt to change this might as well try to reverse the flow of the Mississippi.

What is the right approach? Diversity. This permits progress to occur in increments, peacefully. Each Mass time learns from the other. This allows for experimentation and when something doesn't work, it affects only one Mass so the damage is limited. Also, inevitably, competition develops between the crews of people working in specific times. This is a good thing actually, not a bad thing. Pastors who permit this to develop normally and naturally are wise indeed.

This is particularly important for young pastors who desire a change toward sacred music. Such a transition absolutely requires at least one safety-valve Mass that permits people who hate chant and plainsong, not to mention traditional hymnody, a chance to do their thing. People vote with their feet and their dollars, and the patterns of Mass attendance do not go unnoticed. Not to worry: change will come in time.

Another major benefit of letting different Masses do different things is that this approach takes power away from committees. Actually, the goal should be to never permit another committee meeting to take place. Such committees accomplish nothing. They should all be abolished and immediately. This saves time too. Everyone will be relieved.

Remember that it does no good at all to drive the strummers out of the parish. It is their parish too. They have made a contribution over the years and don't believe they have any less right to be there than anyone else. They need to be brought slowly and surely into the current environment in which sacred music is making great advances. Moving too fast and too comprehensively risks losing a chance to do wonderful things over the long term.

That still leaves the problem of Holy Week liturgy of course. What do you do about that? There is no final answer, but many parishes have found peace in specialization here too. Let the contemporary group do Holy Thursday and the chant group do Good Friday. That leaves only the Vigil but surely something can be worked out here year to year with gradual change toward the good.

Parishes are a bit like families in which change occurs steadily and even unnoticeably as people grow up and become older and wiser, and new young lives emerge to remind us that time moves forward and that we will must all eventually leave the faith in the hands of the next generation.

More New Paintings at La Crosse, Wisconsin

Color study of the La Crosse narthex fresco. Click to enlarge.

The dedication of the new shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at La Crosse, Wisconsin, is only a few days away, on July 31st, this coming Thursday. The dedication mass and other associated rites, in and of themselves, should be of considerable interest given the personalities involved in their planning, but certainly one of the more permanent gifts of the project to the liturgical renewal is its ambitious cycle of paintings by Anthony Visco and a number of other artists working in concert with him. The most newsworthy element of the program is surely the illusionistic ceiling painting that will grace the narthex. True illusionistic ceilings in the Baroque manner--full of floating angels and fanciful architecture--are almost wholly unknown in America; the closest thing I can think of are a few rather sad whisps of cloud on late-nineteenth-century church ceilings and the sanctoral figures lining the dome of St. Hyacinth in Chicago, pleasant and detailed if not terribly dynamic. There is nothing to compare with the gloriously explosive, dizzyingly acrobatic ceilings so common to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Roman churches, exemplified by Jesuit perspectivalist Andrea Pozzo's work at Sant' Ignazio in Rome.

Black and white study of the La Crosse narthex fresco. Click to enlarge.

Until now, that is. Mr. Visco is currently completing his work with a team of assistants, and a few months back was kind enough to pass onto us a number of photos of the project as it stood. The painting will show, episodically, the history of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, interspersed within a fanciful interpretation of the architecture of the Shrine's own nave and dome, thus subtly tying narthex and church together. It is probably nearly complete by now. When it does reach completion, like the shrine itself, it will be a true first for both the Catholic revival, and for the American church in general.

Sights from Merton College, Oxford

Below are some exclusive photos from the first day of the LMS Summer School 2008 currently under way in Merton College, Oxford. The day began with a Procession and a beautiful Solemn Mass, lunch in the College Hall, and a talk by Rev Dr Laurence Paul Hemming on 'The Theology of the Liturgy'.

Merton High Altar
The High Altar in Merton College's medieval chapel is prepared for Solemn Mass. Incidentally, the altarpiece is 16th-century, of the school of Tintoretto, and the surround, c.1923 is by Sir Ninian Comper.

Entrance Procession
The Procession enters the Quire. Behind the Crucifer are the cantors of the Schola Sainte Cecile who once again sang the most sublime chant and fauxbourdon at the Solemn Mass. There are more photos on their blog too.

At the foot of the Altar
Prayers at the foot of the Altar, followed by the Confiteor:


The Altar is incensed:
Incensing the Altar Cross

Sacred Hierarchy

Reverencing the Holy Name

The Gloria and the Collect for the feast of Ss Nazarius & Celsus & Popes Ss Victor I & Innocent I.

The sub-deacon, Fr Andrew Wadsworth during the Offertory.

Incense at the Offertory
Mgr Anthony Conlon, assisted by the deacon, incenses the Altar and the Oblata. Mgr Conlon is chaplain of the Latin Mass Society.

Incensing the sub-deacon
The deacon, Laurence Paul Hemming, incenses the sub-deacon.

Procession from chapel

Gathered in Merton Quad
After Mass is offered, the clergy process to the 13th-century Front Quad of Merton College.

Lunch in Merton Hall
A convivial lunch in the College Hall at Merton.

Dr Hemming's talk
Rev Dr Hemming speaks to the assembled clergy and guests followed by a coffee break:

Tea break

This was a beautiful start to a five-day event. Our next posting will be after Pontifical Vespers on Thursday. Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP of Nottingham will pontificate at this.

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