Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chant Pilgrimage: A report

Anyone who doubts the vibrancy and growth of sacred music in our time should consider the events related to the Chant Pilgrimage of 2009, held at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., September 25-26. It was organized to provide a two-day chant tutorial in the Year of Jubilee of the Basilica.

It was sponsored by the Church Music Association of America and co-sponsored by the John Paul II Cultural Center and St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. Events took place in the Center and the crypt of the Shrine.

Attendance was well above what any of the organizers had expected. More than 160 people came to hear a lecture by William Mahrt, editor of Sacred Music, and learn to read and sing chant under chant master Scott Turkington of St. John Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut. Attendees came from seminaries, parishes, convents, and from cities and towns all over the country.

The diversity of the attending group was so vast as to be impossible to characterize. There were young people, older people, and everyone in between; some of whom had been singing chant for years and others for whom this was a completely new art. Many of the teens attending had already decided to take on the task in preparation for singing in their college and university chapels and preparing for a future starting parish scholas at home.

The pilgrims worked to prepare the ordinary chants for the Mass in the extraordinary form at the Shrine on Saturday evening. The choice was for Mass IX, a setting traditional for the Common of the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A chant schola sang the propers of the Mass so that pilgrims could focus on the main chants for the Mass.

What was most remarkable was the surprise that greeted everyone at the Mass. It was not the first extraordinary form Solemn Mass in the crypt in decades but it might have been the most well attended. The organizers had made 250 programs, thinking that this would surely be enough. Not only did they run out; the number of attendees including pilgrims might have exceeded 300 or even 350 or more. And this was without any real promotion.

The Mass itself was an unforgettable experience. It was celebrated by Rev. Franklin M. McAfee, D.D., Pastor Emeritus, St. John the Beloved Church. The deacon was Rev. Paul D. Scalia, Pastor, St. John the Beloved Church. The subdeacon was Rev. John Fritz, S.T.L.. The organist for the day was David Lang of St. John the Beloved. The role of the master of ceremonies was assumed by David Alexander.

Included in the liturgy was the choir of the Basilica under the direction of Peter Latona. His unaccompanied choir sang Marian motets by both Palestrina and Byrd. The homily on the centrality of beauty in Catholic aesthetics was offered by Fr. McAfree, who was flooded with requests for printed copies following the Mass.

It is remarkable to consider the role that Pope Benedict XVI's moto proprio Summorum Pontificum plays in this drama. This is the 2007 document that provided a full liberalization of the last Missal used before the end of the Second Vatican Council. It is this structure that provided the creative tableau for the whole of the Gregorian musical repertoire, and it continues to be beautiful home for chant and the complex rubrics of the traditional Roman Rite. But as the speakers reminded everyone, this music is also normative and preferred in the ordinary form as well.

Two years ago, it might have been difficult to obtain permission for this form of the rite to be said in a place like the Shrine. Today, it is being used around the country and even in such central and prominent places at the National Shrine, without controversy or difficulty, and even with the full support of the Bishops. In this particular case, the rector of the Shrine, Monsignor Walter Rossi was especially encouraging and supportive of these efforts.

The propers of the Mass were as follows: Savle, sancta Parens (Introit), Benedcita et venerabilis (Gradual), Post partum Virgo (Alleluia), Ave Maria (Offertory), and Beata viscera (Communion). In addition to Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus from Mass IX, the choir sang the Gloria from Mass XV.

The conference itself was organized by the CMAA's director of programs Arlene Oost-Zinner with the assistance of Elizabeth Poel, the D.C. pilgrimage coordinator. This is one of many programs put together by the CMAA, which is seeing increases of up to 50% in all of its program attendance. The much larger-scale Sacred Music Colloquium is at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 21-27, 2010.

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