Monday, May 31, 2010

Pilgrimage in Tuscany

The Italian blog Rinascimento Sacro have notified us that they have put up a story and photo album of the third pilgrimage in Tuscany to Montenero's Sanctuary. The pilgrimage saw the celebration of a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the usus antiquior by Mgr. Ennio Appignanesi, Archbishop Emeritus of Potenza.

Read the full story: Pellegrinaggio Toscano

Pentecost and the Reform of the Reform in France

A note came in from France today, pointing to a group whom we haven't mentioned for a few years now, the Schola Saint Maur. On the schola's site, they share some images of some of the reform of the reform activities taking place in France.

Specifically, they share images from Pentecost in Villars, where Gregorian chant featured prominently, ad orientem and, wonderfully as well, Sung Vespers.

Mass of Pentecost

Second Vespers of Pentecost

Monday after Pentecost: Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit

For more information: Pentecôte à Villars

Rome Procession with Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe

John Sonnen shares news and photos from a Rome Procession with Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Lyceum in Cleveland Host Symposium on Sacred Art, Architecture and Music

Recently, I received a note from the Headmaster at The Lyceum, a Catholic school which pursues a classical liberal arts curriculum in the Cleveland, Ohio area, about a symposium that will be offered there one week from today, Monday, June 7th, on Sacred Art, Architecture and Music.

The speakers for the symposium will include none other than Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, the Director of the Institute of Sacred Music in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and William Heyer, a classical architect who also teaches at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, a local art historian, Dr. Sarah Smith, will also be speaking. These will be presented at the school, which is located at 2062 Murray Hill Road. For times, please inquire with the school.

Mass will also be offered at beautiful St. Stephen's Church (which we recently featured, showing some of their splendid collection of vestments) at 10:00am. The church is located at 1930 W. 54th St. in Cleveland.

I would encourage those in the Cleveland, Ohio, are to take this opportunity to attend.

* * *

About the Lyceum: "The Lyceum is a coeducational, college preparatory school dedicated to providing a classical Catholic education to students in grades seven through twelve.
Our unique program combines academic standards that can compete with other prestigious private schools, along with a serious emphasis on knowing, loving, and living the Catholic faith and culture.

"We believe that every student deserves a one-on-one encounter with the greatest minds that have ever lived. From the study of Euclid's Elements to the Federalist Papers, Lyceum students are immersed in the perennial ideas at the very core of western civilization."

The Lyceum, incidentally, has their own Schola Cantorum with sample tracks online from a CD they have released. Do take a moment to listen to what the students are doing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


This coming Sunday, June 6, at St. Albert the Great Priory, 5890 Birch Court, Oakland CA, at 9:30 a.m., I will celebrate a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving (Ordinary Form) on the occasion of my Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If any readers happen to be in the Bay Area, I invite them to this occasion and ask them to introduce themselves after Mass. Should you not be in the area, I ask for your prayers as I thank God for the totally unmerited gift of his priesthood.

Trinity Sunday and the Hospitality of Abraham

Being Trinity Sunday, my mind turned to the fact that, within the Byzantine church particularly, the scene of the "Hospitality of Abraham" is particularly associated with the Holy Trinity. The reason for this, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Leonid Ouspensky notes in The Meaning of Icons, is that "many Church Fathers understood the visitation of Abraham by the three men as either an appearance, however indirect, of the entire Trinity; or as the appearance of the second Person of the Holy Trinity, accompanied by two angels."

The most famous iconographic depiction of this is, without doubt, Andrei Rublev's icon, though it should be noted this particular icon varies somewhat from the more classic iconographic depictions, which includes the figures of Abraham and Sarah.

Rublev's icon to the right. Another depiction to the left, which includes Abraham and Sarah

Evidently, we are predominantly familiar with this scene from such icons, but while looking into the symbolism of this icon today, I noted that both Ouspensky and other Eastern Christian writers make reference to a 5th century mosaic of the Hospitality of Abraham in Rome's papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. I sourced out this mosaic and thought some of our readers would be interested in seeing it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

That Beatification Mass

I'm with Damian Thompson that the music proposed for the Newman Beatification Mass is much improved. But look at the lineup. It has some bad apples amidst mostly beautiful music but, at the same time, it is regrettable that this entire spat has devolved into a war over style, as important as that subject is. What is really striking is the complete absence of Mass propers. Perhaps not everything sung is mentioned here. That's always a possibility. Even so, a Papal Mass without Mass propers indicates a serious problem, no matter how great the motets are.

More from the Archbishop of Westminster at the London Oratory on St. Philip's Day

As promised, further photos from St. Philip's Day at the London Oratory where Archbishop Vincent Nichols celebrated Mass alongside the Oratorians for the feast day of their founder.

The Archbishop arrives at the Oratory

The Archbishop prays before the Blessed Sacrament

Photos courtesy of David Bradfield

Daniel Varholy Explains the Issue of Sacred and Secular Music

Secular Music at the Holy Mass from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Items of Interest in the May and June 2010 Adoremus Bulletin

The June 2010 edition of the Adoremus Bulletin is now online.

Two articles in particular struck me, the first, A Living Presence… Symposium on the Development of Catholic Church Architecture by Michael Patrick which gives a detailed report on the recent conference on sacred architecture given at the Catholic University of America.

Design by Daniel DeGreve, first-place winner in the symposium’s design competition.

The second article which I would make note of is a translation of interview responses given by the Prefect of the CDW, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, Cardinal Cañizares on the New Missal Translation, which are taken from a DVD being produced by Midwest Theological Forum, A New Translation for a New Roman Missal -- a DVD meant to help explain the reasons and prepare for the new translation, featuring Msgr. James Moroney, Executive Secretary of the Vox Clara Committee (and of course, Cardinal Cañizares).

While we are on the topic of the Adoremus Bulletin, there were also two items from the May 2010 issue which I had wanted to draw readers attention to.

The first is a book review by Helen Hull Hitchcock of Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition edited by Fr. Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering and published by Oxford University Press. That particular book, published in 2008 (which I have not myself had an opportunity to read sadly, and can therefore offer little in the way of personal thoughts) sets out to examine the documents of the Second Vatican Council in view of the Holy Father's hermeneutic of continuity, and contrary to the "rupture thesis" that can be promoted by some progressivists and some traditionalists.

The second pertains to the matter of the Divine Office. Adoremus Bulletin pursued a survey of its readership in the autumn 2009, and one of the questions pertained to the Divine Office: "Readers were asked if they regularly pray any of the Hours, and if the parish offers regular opportunities for group prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours."

Here are the results they reported [with NLM emphases]:

A majority of respondents (65%) pray at least some part of the Liturgy of the Hours, most frequently Morning (36%) and/or Evening (30%) Prayer. Most (64%) said they pray the Hours privately only, 11% only with a group and 25% both privately and with a group.

Those who pray with a group are most likely to do this in their own parish (48%). But only 32% of respondents report that such a group exists in their parish, and only 61% of these groups are regularly scheduled. A group outside the parish is most likely to be at a monastery or convent (22%), though 14% are at another parish. A little more than 5% mentioned specifically that they pray the Liturgy of the Hours with a third order group associated with a religious order. Carmelites were mentioned most frequently.

Sung celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours in parishes is uncommon — reported by only 11% of respondents. Of those reporting sung celebrations in their parish, 65% indicated that Vespers (evening prayer) was the Hour celebrated.

Several of those surveyed commented that they had some interest in praying the Liturgy of he Hours, but that they needed instruction on how to do this.

A very large majority of those who responded to the survey wanted more opportunity for ... Liturgy of the Hours (91%) in their parishes.

The entire survey results are available for reading here.

Six New Priests for the FSSP in North America

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in North America recently saw six new priests ordained in the Cathedral of Lincoln, Nebraska by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.

Read the whole story here. A full photo gallery has also been made available.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fra Angelico and the Gothic

When I first decided that I’d like to try to paint in the service of the Church I decided I wanted to paint like Fra Angelic (or perhaps Duccio). I suppose you might as well aim high! Fra Angelico, who worked in the 15th century, had the balance of naturalism and idealism for me. It seemed just right for prayer. It’s just an anecdotal observation, but when I meet people who have the same outlook in regard to the liturgy and orthodoxy in the Church, it seems that invariably they feel the same about him; and John Paul II described him in his Letter to Artists as one whose painting is ‘an eloquent example of aesthetic contemplation sublimated in faith’.

Unfortunately, the late-gothic style of Fra Angelico is not a living tradition and I couldn’t find anyone who painted that way who could teach me. I decided that as it appeared to sit stylistically between the Romanesque (which is an iconographic form) and the baroque and these were forms that are taught today, to some degree, I would learn both and try to work out how to combine the two. I am still working on that now!

What is it that characterizes gothic figurative art? We start to see a change in figurative art around 1200AD. The departure from the iconographic prototype occurred due to a different sense of the reliability of human experience. Information received through the senses was seen much more as a possible means of the grasping of truth. Tied in with this is the belief that the world we live in, although fallen and imperfect, is nevertheless good, ordered and beautiful. So there may be evil and suffering in the world, and it may not be as good and beautiful as it ought to be, but it is nevertheless God’s creation and still good and beautiful.

This change caused both the rise of naturalism in art and the development of science fostered by the Church. I have read of two main reasons for this. One is the incorporation of the philosophy of re-discovered works of Aristotle (who trusted the senses more than his teacher, Plato) into Christian thinking, by figures such as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. This provided the intellectual basis for the development. Second is the spirituality of St Francis of Assisi. He loved nature as the work of God and as Franciscan ideas spread so did an enthusiasm for, and curiosity about, nature.

I have mentioned elsewhere (see articles Way of Beauty at TMC and Make the Form Conform in my blog) how the traditional training of artist based upon a combination of direct observation of nature, and the imitation of the works of masters. It is through this latter aspect of the training that the stylistic elements are transmitted. So as the Old Masters that preceded these new artists were iconographic, the greater naturalism of the new artists was fused onto a substrate of the iconographic style. As a result, artists introduced less rigid poses and saints would now be portrayed in profile rather than being restricted to either full face or three-quarter profile. We also see greater portrayal of emotion (although still muted in comparison with the baroque). Crucifixions have a greater emphasis on the suffering Christ for example. We also see, under certain circumstances, the portrayal of cast shadow.

Let’s look at a very famous fresco by Fra Angelico of the Annunciation on the walls of a cell at San Marco in Florence. He consciously employs some of the developments of the new naturalism: there is cast shadow, there is single-point perspective creating a sense of depth in the covered cloister; the archangel is in profile. But there are also stylistic aspects that we are accustomed to seeing in iconography: the figures are painted in the middle distance, the edges of each shape are all sharply defined and the colour is evenly applied (unlike the baroque which has selectively blurred or sharp edges and selective use of colour or monochrome, usually sepia, rendering).

If we examine the further, we can see that the light source that is casting shadow is from the left. If cast light were the only source, the face of the Archangel would be dark, yet it is bright. Fra Angelico is showing the face of the Archangel glowing with the uncreated light of holiness, which is what we are used to seeing in the Byzantine iconographic form.

I was giving a lecture once about this painting and a student asked me about the shadow. He pointed out that Our Lady is a saint, he could see that her face wasn’t in shadow and there was strong halo, representing he uncreated light coming from her. But also pointed out that there is a strong cast shadow on the wall behind her. Wouldn’t you expect her radiance to obliterate that, he asked? I agreed with him, you would. But I couldn’t say why Fra Anglelico had painted it like this. I speculated that perhaps it was due to the fact that there were two light sources from the left – the natural light and the uncreated light from the angel and that the combined intensity of light would cause the shadow against the wall. I had to admit even as I said it that my answer sounded contrived. Nevertheless, it did seem deliberate. Another Annunciation, shown below, has the same shadows.

He suggested an answer: Fra Angelico was a Dominican, and not a Franciscan. At this time the question of her Immaculate Conception had not been decided and the Dominicans did not accept the Immaculate Conception and were in dispute with the Franciscans over the issue. Perhaps Fra Angelico was making a theological point to the Franciscans, he suggested by dimming her light ever-so slightly. This was an ingenious suggestion, and I couldn’t say that it wasn’t what Fra Angelico had in mind. I certainly preferred it to my answer!

Winnipeg Residents Establish Society of St. Gregory II and Coordinate Solemn Vespers

A couple of months back, readers may recall a call being put out here on the NLM to those in the Winnipeg area who were interested in either the reform of the reform or the usus antiquior (or ideally both -- but I digress).

I am pleased to report that I was recently contacted by the group of individuals who had made themselves known to one another through the NLM -- which included laity and seminarians. Through their initiative, they have established a local society, the Society of St. Gregory II, but more to the point, they have succeeded in organizing their first liturgical event in that city, Sung Vespers in the usus antiquior:

From their website:
To mark the closure of the Year for Priests, Solemn Vespers for the Feast of the Sacred Heart will be sung according to the 1961 Breviarium Romanum at St. Andrew Bobola Church on Friday, June 11th, at 7:00 P.M.

Vespers will be sung in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and followed by Solemn Benediction. The celebrant, Fr. David Brabant, p.s.s., will also be hearing confessions beforehand.

Please join us in praying the official prayer of the Church Universal!

Oftentimes when liturgical groups (in either form) are think about organizing liturgies locally, their thoughts naturally turn to the Mass of course -- which is perfectly understandable and sensible as a first and primary goal. But if that is not possible at first, for one or another reason, groups should not resign themselves, but should indeed not neglect to give consideration to the public, sung celebration of the Divine Office -- and Sung Vespers in particular.

Of course, in so saying, I would not wish to be misunderstood as suggesting that be done only in such circumstances. Far from it. Too often the sung, public celebration of the Divine Office is generally neglected as a consideration, even by more established reform of the reform and usus antiquior communities, and this is something which -- as I have said time and again -- I believe we should seek to remedy as part of a new liturgical movement.

Marian Festival at St. John Cantius Church

This past Pentecost Sunday, St. John Cantius church in Chicago "hosted its first annual Marian Festival honoring the Blessed Mother..."

The festival included a Solemn Mass in the usus antiquior with choral music by the St. Cecilia Choir, and also included a Holy Hour, rosary procession and enrollment in the brown scapular. A spiritual conference was given by Fr. Rocky Hoffman of Opus Dei on the topic of “Mary, Mother of the Church.”

A photo gallery has been made available of the days events.

Sing a New Song, Please

The decision to rewrite the translation of the English version of Roman Missal was a double-edged sword for Catholic music publishers. On the one hand, it might seem to offer an opportunity. Parishes will have to replace the pew books with all new books. The music editions used by choirs since the 1970s will have to be thrown away and replaced.

On the other hand, bureaucracy always means delays. During the long period of waiting, sales of existing material have seriously slumped, imposing difficult financial pressures on publishers. The costs of delays have been worsened by the strict rules imposed by the U.S. Bishops, namely that the new texts cannot be used before a certain date and music for the texts cannot be distributed until authorities approve.

Well, the long period of waiting is nearly at an end. The restrictions are still in place and no publisher is permitted to actually sell its new materials just yet. At the same time, publishers are doing their best to start marketing their materials in hopes that parishes will start planning their budgets for large purchases in the year ahead. In these marketing efforts, we can see where this is headed.

Publishers are not planning new directions in their music toward solemn and dignified settings that match the much better translations. Instead, they have tapped their old-line up of authors, singers, strummers, and music writers to refurbish existing styles and settings.

Let's see what they are offering, beginning with everyone's favorites, the Oregon Catholic Press and the GIA. There are revised versions of all the staples of American parish life, including the "Celtic Mass" by Christopher Walker, the Heritage Mass by Owen Alstott, the Misa del Pueblo Inmigrante by Bob Hurd, the Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen, the Mass of Light by David Haas, and so on.

Listening to these settings online, I'm reminded that many make slight textual changes in the existing Mass translation, replacing "his" with gender neutral words, piling words on top of each other in several translations, and otherwise manipulating texts in small ways. Some turn prose into litanies and repeat phrases in ways that permit the publisher to claim that it is not using the ICEL text and thereby does not owe royalties for what is under copyright. One wonders about the point of revisions when faithfulness to the existing texts has not been a feature of existing settings.

In any case, to the casual listener in the pews, the changes in the translation with new renderings of old musical settings will be barely noticeable, which raises questions about the entire decade-old enterprise.

But of course there will also be new works of music.

Dan Schutte, whose songs over the last forty years dominates the missalettes in the pews, gives us the Mass of Christ the Savior. OCP says "the overarching musical elements that unify this setting are the common chord progression and the similar musical motifs. Even though the various Mass parts are different in tempo, meter, mood and purpose, these unifying elements help to hold the entire setting together." If you know something about this oeuvre, you can just imagine the result.

Estela Garcia-Lopez gives us "a Latin-American flavored Mass with varied colors and lively rhythms intended to express the 'fiesta' experience of liberation in the Risen Lord.... The Lord, Have Mercy, Penitential Act and Lamb of God are more reflective and mellow, in 6/8, while the other parts of the Mass are lively and syncopated, in 4/4. This Mass is fully bilingual and can be performed in either language." Listening to her music online, we can hear sampling from just about any light rock radio station on the dial.

Meanwhile, jazz/rock musician Curtis Stephan offers the Mass of Renewal, "an assembly-friendly setting with a modern feel, this Mass helps congregations celebrate with an ever–increasing vigor.... Composed with the contemporary ensemble in mind, this flexible setting evokes a sense of joy, triumph and majesty (as in the Gloria and Holy)..." Listening to his other music online, I can see why people like it. He offers pious renderings of entrenched pop styles heard in the top-forty milieu since the early 1980s. What this has to do with the liturgy is unclear.

The Mass of Plenty by Rob Glover offers the "infectious joy of the spiritual 'Plenty Good Room'... The writing is upbeat and contains a lot of syncopation." The Unity Mass of Norah Duncan gives us a "calypso feel" in its Gloria. The setting by Sally Ann Morris gives us "dance-like writing" that captures the "warm and comfortable feeling" of the black mountains of North Carolina. Or you can select instead the Glendalough Mass of Liam Lawson to produce a "resplendent emerald landscape," especially with its "upbeat lilt in the Gloria."

I'm restraining my criticism here because I know some of these song writers, and I know that they are not entirely pleased by what they are doing here. None of them consider these settings to be their best work. Some are just embarrassed by the whole enterprise but feel that they are doing faithful service. From a musical point of view, they quickly distance themselves from the results, while pointing out that they must work within constraints.

It is true, of course, that all liturgical composers have worked within constraints. But in the past, these constraints have inspired astonishing creativity such as we hear in the work of Josquin or Byrd, and breathtaking beauty given to use by Palestrina and Tallis. The constraints in the past were that the music must service the liturgy and the text, and bear the marks of truly sacred music (holy, beautiful, universal).

What are the constraints today? Many of them are dictated by the marketplace. The music must be "upbeat." It must be catchy. It must sound like something experienced in the world outside of liturgy, such as rock or jazz or calypso. Above all else, there is the core principle, said to be derived from "the documents," which must never be violated and which must serve as the guiding force: it must inspire vigorous singing among the people.

Now, there is something remarkable about this doctrine. It has been elevated above all other considerations for some forty years now. And yet, if you saunter into nearly any parish on Sunday morning and observe what is going on, you will come away with an impression of people barely engaged at all, and certainly not singing with vigor. Most stare blankly ahead, enduring it all with pious patience. It reminds of some version of the old joke about the Soviet economy that the workers pretend to work and the party pretends to pay. In the case of Catholic liturgy, the musicians pretend to inspire participation and the people pretend to participate.

In contrast, parishes where Gregorian and plainsong Mass settings are used, people do tend to sing, provided that the settings have been in place for some duration. One of the reasons is precisely that it is not instantly accessible music anymore then the faith itself is instantly accessible. It requires some learning and work. Liturgy is frequently describe as the "work of the people" but it seems that the common interpretation of this phrase focuses entirely on the people part while leaving the work part out completely.

That is not to say that the Gregorian ordinaries require specialization. One look at their musical structure as compared with the proper chants and you can see the wisdom of tradition at work. The ordinary chants are more accessible and singable by non-specialists. This is the music of the people.

The architects of the new translation and new Missal have worked very hard themselves to prepare music that has the sound and feel in Gregorian chant but in English. The music is dignified and solemn. It is accessible without being stupid. It is Church music, not music drawn from the rest of the world. Thus, at bare minimum, it complies with the fundamental dictate that has been a central principle of sacred music from the first century to our own: it must be distinct from popular styles.

Interestingly, the US Bishops have required that all materials produced for Mass include the chants from the Missal directly. This has never been done before. To me, this suggests some impatience at the top with the domination of Catholic liturgy by commercial publishers. They are trying to take the liturgy back. It might not work and there have already been many missteps but at least the mandate suggests that someone knows there is a problem.

My advice to all pastors and directors of music is this. When the new Missal appears, do not replicate the mistakes of the past. Use the occasion to make progress toward doing what the Church is asking, which is not always the same as what the Catholic music publishers are asking.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What is Dignified Music

Here is an interesting and thought provoking talk by Jeffrey Ostrowski. It deals with the quality and style of music that is truly suitable for liturgy.

St. Philip's Day from the London Oratory -- A Preview

As mentioned yesterday, the NLM is expecting some photos from a couple of the churches of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, showing their festal celebrations of the feast of their founder. One of those churches is the justly renowned London Oratory -- or the "Brompton Oratory" as it is sometimes referred.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, celebrated Mass in the Oratory church for this occasion. Here is a taste of what is to come, with more forthcoming by the weekend.

Photos by David Bradfield.

Please note: the last photo is a detail from one of David Bradfield's photographs.

The Reform of the Reform in Evidence at St. Gabriel's, Stamford, on the Feast of St. Philip Neri

The parish of Saint Gabriel in Stamford, Connecticut, sent in photos of a Mass offered in the Ordinary Form for the Feast of St. Philip Neri -- who happens to be the patron of the chapel in which daily Mass is offered there.

Their choir sang Palestrina's Missa Aeterna Christi Munera with motets by Tallis and Vaughn Williams.

The vestments used where designed by Granda in Madrid.

Lecture series on Tridentine Mass, Los Angeles

As listed on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles site, Lecture series on the Tridentine Mass, Sunday, June 13, 2010 through Tuesday, June 15, 2010, 7:00 p.m., Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, CA. Edward Foley, O. Cap., noted liturgist will conduct a lecture series highlighting the historical development of the Liturgy over time.

Usus Antiquior Conference in Portugal Sees Presence of Bragan Rite

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius are going to be offering a liturgical conference in Fatima, Portugal, this coming September 8-11th, “Restoring the Sacred with the Traditional Latin Mass”, and what particularly struck me was the presence of the Bragan rite -- or use -- at this conference, offered by Fr. Joseph Santos.

From the Canons Regular:

LITURGICAL CONFERENCE: “Restoring the Sacred with the Traditional Latin Mass”

Join the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius from September 8-11, 2010, in Fatima, Portugal, for a liturgical conference on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Priests, deacons, seminarians are encouraged to attend. Conferences will also be open to religious brothers and sisters as well as the laity from all over the world. The conferences will be given in the Hotel de Fatima.

Conferences will explain the rubrics of the Traditional Latin Mass, the spirituality and history of this ancient form of the Roman Rite, a treasury of grace, which Pope Benedict XVI has restored to the entire Church. Additionally, we will explain the symbolism of the ceremonies of the Mass and the hermeneutic of continuity. A special feature of the conference will be an introduction to the ancient form of the Latin Rite Mass known as the Rite of Braga Portugal by Fr. Joseph Santos. Lectures will be given in English and Portuguese; translators will be provided at the conference.

For more information: Extraordinary Form Conference in Portugal

New Images at the CMAA Image Archive

They are all free for you to use.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Byrd Festival and the Greatness of Byrd

The Byrd Festival assembles again this year. One of the leading art events of the entire year, this one is very special for anyone interested liturgy because the focus of the entire event is to experience the music of Byrd and others within its liturgical context.

To honor and document the event and the history of Byrd's music, the CMAA produced A Byrd Celebration as a book to treasure.

William Mahrt reviewed the book in the Winter 2009 issue of Early Music:

A Byrd Celebration: Lectures at the William Byrd Festival, Portland, Oregon 1998–2008, ed. Richard Turbet (Richmond, VA: Church Music Association of America, 2008), £26.13 hardback, £18.53 paperback

Whilst the Pacific Northwest might seem an unlikely home for a festival dedicated to an early English composer, the William Byrd Festival held annually since 1998 at Portland, Oregon, continues to go from strength to strength. Each August sees a two-week period devoted to a stimulating combination of lectures, concerts and liturgical performances held in tribute of the composer and his music. The festival is the brainchild of Dean Applegate, director of local choir Cantores in Ecclesia, whose liturgical performances, under guest conductor Richard Marlow, provide the foundation upon which the festival is built each year.

For those of us who have not yet made the trip over to Portland, this publication provides the next best thing, offering a selection of 15 lectures delivered at the festival during the last decade. Several of the leading authorities on Byrd have attended over the years, with the result that A Byrd celebration provides a useful general introduction to Byrd studies as well as a flavour of the academic content underpinning the festival's programme. Lectures are presented under thematic headings; the opening section, ‘Biography’, sets the scene with a brief biographical sketch by Kerry McCarthy, taken from the festival's programme notes. The same author's more substantial discussion of the composer's patrons and Jesuit associates (‘Byrd and friends’) is accompanied by ‘William Byrd, Catholic and careerist’, Joseph Kerman's authoritative account of the relationship between the composer's religious life and his more worldly concerns as a professional musician.

Lectures covering Latin sacred music are grouped under headings of ‘Masses’, ‘Cantiones’, ‘Gradualia’ and ‘Unpublished motets’. William Mahrt, Professor at Stanford University, has contributed regularly to the festival since its inception and is represented here by four lectures that illuminate different aspects of Byrd's approach to these genres. ‘William Byrd's art of melody’ is a particularly instructive take on an often-neglected topic, whilst in ‘Grave and merrie, major and minor: expressive paradoxes in Byrd's Cantiones Sacrae, 1589’ the author shows how Byrd exploits interaction between distinctive modal characteristics, or commixtio, in order to achieve his expressive ends. (These two essays are erroneously listed in reverse order in the book's Table of Contents, perhaps the most glaring of one or two typos in the volume that have escaped proof-reading.)

Inevitably, given the festival's focus on liturgical performance of Byrd's sacred vocal music, there is a bias in this volume towards the composer's Masses and motets. This is redressed to some extent by a section dedicated to ‘English music’. In ‘Byrd the Anglican?’ David Trendell presents a comparative study of the composer's English-texted music in the Reformed style and the recusant motets from the 1589 Cantiones, raising the intriguing question of whether his penchant for expressive homophonic declamation might have been inspired by the stylistic requirements of the English anthem. Richard Turbet's discussion of the Great Service (‘Byrd's Great Service: the jewel in the crown of Anglican music’), presented at the festival in 2007, considers the sublime nature of the composer's word-setting in this work and concludes by suggesting that the service may have been composed in honour of the 40th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1598.

The high standard of scholarship on offer, and the time-span covered, means that some of the lectures presented here have subsequently appeared in print as journal articles or book chapters. David Trendell's ‘Byrd's musical recusancy’, from 2003, represents an early manifestation of research aimed at explicating the musical devices employed by the composer to convey the sentiments of the texts in the ‘political’ motets of the 1589 Cantiones. The topic has since received more comprehensive treatment in the author's ‘Aspects of William Byrd's musical recusancy’ (Musical Times, cxviii (2007), pp.27–50). Conversely, Philip Brett's 2001 lecture, ‘"Blame not the printer": William Byrd's publishing drive 1588-1591’, appears in what is presumably its full-length original version. The same essay, springing from a comparison of Byrd with the poet Edmund Spenser, has recently been published in abridged form as ‘William Byrd: new reflections’ in the retrospective volume of Brett's writings (William Byrd and his contemporaries (Berkeley, 2007); reviewed in Early Music, xxxv (2007), pp.291–3). It is good to see the full text restored here, complete with copious musical examples, although 40 pages of score appended to a ten-page essay does produce a rather unbalanced effect, particularly as this is the only chapter in the volume to receive such treatment.

The first of two appendixes provides a complete record of choral works performed at the festival, compiled by Mark Williams, resident organist at the festival since 2000. It is revealing that whilst the three Masses are each performed annually, the Portland Festival has witnessed performances of only three English-texted anthems in its ten-year history. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Great Service have made more consistent appearances, along with the Preces and Responses, but there is evidently plenty of scope for performance of this repertory at future festivals. Also noticeable is the complete absence of the English-texted part-songs contained in the composer's printed collections of 1588, 1589 and 1611. These pieces constitute a substantial proportion of the composer's output, notwithstanding those that were originally designed as consort songs, and several set sacred texts suitable for performance in church. It is true that there is no established tradition of choral performance for the majority of these songs (in contrast to the Masses and motets), but in terms of original performance context they are no more or less ‘choral’ than their Latin counterparts, and are deserving of more attention than they currently receive. As Kerry McCarthy intimates in her informative and wide-ranging lecture ‘Rose garlands and gunpowder: Byrd's musical world in 1605’: ‘It's easy to underestimate the sheer scope of his music ... Byrd, even when he was at his most sectarian, had a certain broad-mindedness and musical curiosity that makes him stand out amongst his contemporaries.’ Hopefully the recent completion of the Byrd Edition will encourage similar curiosity amongst performers in the future.

The origin of the essays in this collection as lectures gives them an accessible feel, and the content remains thoroughly readable without becoming too informal. On the whole the text is light on citations but replete with references to musical examples: for added value some of the lectures will be best read with one's CD collection at the ready in order to re-create the festival atmosphere at the points marked in the text. The editor Richard Turbet has succeeded in delivering a collection of essays that serves both as a fitting commemoration of the festival and as a stimulating survey of recent Byrd scholarship. More information on the Portland William Byrd Festival is available online at:

Music for Liturgy for 5 voices

This nice book is from 1927 and includes a large quantity of liturgical music for 4 and 5 parts. Before you say that this music is dated and dusty, consider whether or not this music is more or less likely to elicit a solemn and prayerful aesthetic than the material being distributed by mainstream publishers today.

A Cistercian Visits the Toronto Oratory on the Feast of St. Philip

For the Oratorians, today is a very special day for it is the feast day of their founder and spiritual father, St. Philip Neri. The NLM is hoping to be able to provide some further liturgical coverage of this day coming from some of the English oratories -- who have, in particular, been leaders in liturgical regards these past decades.

Until then, I am pleased to report that Br. Stephen of the Cistercians of Sparta, Wisconsin happens to be in Toronto for the next few weeks, and he took the opportunity to visit the Toronto Oratory where he partook in the First Vespers of St. Philip yesterday evening.

Br. Stephen captured both a video excerpt from Vespers as well as his impressions of the Toronto Oratory. I am delighted to share both.

Having visited the Toronto Oratory many times myself, I cannot but recommend it, both for men who may be considering a vocation, and generally as a place of liturgical and spiritual excellence.

Here are Br. Stephen's impressions of the Toronto Oratory:
Forty-eight hours after my visit to the apogee of Prayer Book Anglicanism at St. Thomas, I found myself deep in the ethos of the Counter-Reformation for First Vespers of the Feast of St. Philip at the Toronto Oratory. The Apostle of Rome and Father of the Oratorians said that “a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.” I came away from the evening believing that regular visits to the Oratory’s Church of the Holy Family on King Street could do much to perfect the heart.

This was an encounter with the Roman Rite in all of its sobriety. I had seen photos of the restrained classical church completed in 2001, but found that the photos did not do it justice. By the time the office began, there were around 70 people were in the nave, including several Missionaries of Charity. The Oratorians entered in cassock and surplus at an appropriately reverent pace. Two assistants in copes preceded Fr. Jonathan Robinson, superior of the Oratory and author of The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backwards. Between the sanctuary, gallery, and nave there must have been well over 100 people present.

The ministers entered as the schola sang William Sewell’s Respice de Coelo, Sancte Pater. I could not see the choir gallery from where I was sitting without some very blatant rubber-necking, but I was told afterward that there were eight or nine singers. The psalms and antiphons were in English supported by the organ with the assistants intoning the antiphons with the proper reverences and the fathers and congregation alternating the verses with the schola.

The Magnificat, Benediction motet, and Salve Regina were all by Victoria, especially fitting since he is believed to have been a participant in the musical life of the Oratory in St. Philip’s day. The performance standard was high, as was the singers’ perch in the particularly lofty west gallery, which contributed wonderfully to the sound.

Like the church, the ceremonies were classical, sober, and clean. The thurifer had particularly good dispatch; the assistants were musically confident; and Fr. Robinson officiated with a command equal to his learning. If there is less specific commentary on Vespers at the Oratory than at St. Thomas it is because the Oratory is of the same school as one of my mentors who is fond of saying, "We open the book and we do what the book says." If a photo from the evening were given to St. Philip, he would only wonder where the birettas were. Most everything else would look quite familiar.

Afterward, I was given a tour of the house and seminary. The house chapel and library were particularly fine, but I was probably most impressed with the refectory, which is arranged in the traditional manner and includes a proper reader’s pulpit. Between the growth of the community and the growth of the seminary it is clear that this wonderful new facility is already bursting at the seams. I look forward to joining them again this evening for the St. Philip’s Day Mass.

A very blessed feast day to all the Oratorians.

Sung Ordo for the New Texts

Fr. Samuel F. Weber has emailed me a complete sung ordo for the newly translated Mass texts. It's my understanding from ICEL that we are not to be posting this music just yet - though it is true that other publishers have already done so. I've agreed to comply here, so I can't post the music. The permissions to post should be forthcoming in the months ahead. I just wanted you to know that this music will be available completely free of charge, by many different composers. Stayed tuned.

What is Beautiful? Stile Antico's new CD

They say that there is no accounting for taste, but surely one can take that slogan too far to the point that you no longer expect any interpersonal sharing of standards for what is truly beautiful. If I were to pick a genre of music that holds out the capacity for universal agreement of what constitutes beauty, it would be the polyphonic tradition of the Renaissance - an elaboration of chant that was composed with the hope of capturing some sounds of heaven. To me, it is not surprising that this music has earned a high place in Church documents. It is particularly suited to liturgy, and I'm pleased that technology has made it possible for this music to be shared with the world.

My favorite CD of this music right now is this new discovery: Song of Songs performed by Stile Antico of the UK. It is a beautifully edited collection of pieces written for some of the most engaging texts of scripture. It almost seems that the composers reserved their most inspired ideas for these texts. The composers represented include Palestrina, Guerrero, Gombert, Victoria, Lheritier, Ceballos, Clemens non Papa, and Lassus.

Here is a video of the group performing.

A Duty of the Diaconate

From Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, promulgated by Paul VI, June 18, 1967.

10. To this moreover should be added practice and training in teaching the elements of the Christian religion to children and other faithful, in familiarizing the people with sacred chant and in directing it, in reading the sacred books of Scripture at gatherings of the faithful, in addressing and exhorting the people, in administering the sacraments which pertain to them, in visiting the sick, and in general in fulfilling the ministries which can be entrusted to them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Solemn Requiem Mass in the Dominican Rite

A reader notified us of the following "trailer" of the Solemn Requiem Mass in the Dominican rite taken in Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle, Washington -- and some readers may recognize our own Fr. Augustine Thompson in the video.

It is a beautiful liturgical tradition. May it ever more find a place in our midst, along with the other Western liturgical books of the primatial sees and religious orders.

Antiphon lately

Renewal within tradition. The new English translation of the Mass. The "mystic meaning" of the Roman rite. Kisses sacred and profane. The concept of salus in the Roman Missal. Wedding rites, old and new. Canonical perspectives on Summorum Pontificum. Religious sacrifice turned on its head. When to confirm? Sacred music and the "hermeneutic of continuity." The four processions of the Mass. The role of the ars celebrandi in "reforming the reform." When is a fast not a fast? ---

These are just some of the matters taken up recently in Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal, the thrice-yearly publication of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Regular visitors to NLM are likely to find much of interest in its pages, so why not consider a subscription? ($20 U.S., $26 Canada, $28 elsewhere.) Antiphon is free to SCL members, by the way. Scholarly contributions and book/music reviews are always welcome. For more information, click here.

Carl Olson and Moyra Doorly Engage in Friendly Debate on Ignatius Insight

Many will be familiar with the series of discussions on the Second Vatican Council that authors Moyra Doorly and Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P, have been publicly having in the Catholic Herald. Now, via the blog of the editor of the same, Luke Coppen, we are introduced to the fact that this conversation has been expanded, appearing over on the Ignatius Insight blog between Carl Olson and Moyra Doorly.

Here is an excerpt:

Doorly: Your comments about the 'hierarchy of truths' were helpful but raised problems for me. Taken at face value, and without a philosophical training, the term surely opens the door to the sidelining of traditional Catholic doctrines, which is what has happened after all.

Olson: We should be careful, I think, to distinguish between what the documents of Vatican II actually say and how they have been misused or misunderstood. If someone wishes to sideline traditional Catholic doctrine, as many dissenters did and do, they could, of course, employ a misuse of the hierarchy of truths. But, then, this is the way of heresy always and everywhere: to take something that is true and to skew it, taking it out of context or using it incorrectly. As long as this world exists, people will fall or jump into heresy. There was concern at the Council of Nicaea that the use of a term such as homoousion to express and defend the divinity of Christ could lead to misunderstandings or further errors. And, in fact, the next few councils had to keep addressing further Christological errors. As you know, following the Council in A.D. 325, there was a long period when a large number (a majority, according to many scholars) of bishops adhered to the errors of Arianism and "semi-Arianism." In short, while there should be an awareness of how a term might be misused or misunderstood, the essential issue is that of truth.

Doorly: The current position is to focus on the misinterpretation and misapplication of Vatican II documents.

Olson: There is much truth to that, I think, and it is because there has been such a huge amount of misinterpretation and misapplication. It is something like responding to The Da Vinci Code: you must address all of the falsehoods in order to clear the way for truth to be seen and appreciated. Yet it is also very much the case that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have positively articulated and "unpacked" the documents of Vatican II. In fact, their pontificates are, in so many ways, continuations of the Council, as can be seen especially in their encyclicals and other major writings.

Doorly: But the SSPX argues that this has been made easy by the inclusion of new teachings and abiguous statements in the documents themselves.

Olson: I can hardly begin to address this here (and I know Fr. Nichols has addressed it to some degree), but this, of course, is the point of Benedict's insistence on a "hermeneutic of continuity," which rejects the notion (embraced by many "progressives"/dissenters) that Vatican II is a (positive, in their eyes) rupture from the past. Ironically, the SSPX seems to also see the Council as a rupture from the past. But the Council did not happen in a vacuum, nor were its documents ever meant to be read apart from the Church's unbroken Tradition.

Read the entire discussion here: More conversation about the "hierarchy of truths"

Official Photos from 2010 Pèlerinage de Chartres Pentecôte

Various photos, unofficial and official are coming in from the 2010 Pentecost pilgrimage of Chartres, organized by Notre-Dame de Chrétienté.

The first official photos have now been made available. Here is a selection.

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