Wednesday, May 17, 2023

New Chant Propers for St Louis de Montfort

We are very grateful to Mr Steven Merola for sharing with us this explanation of some newly composed chant propers for the Mass of St Louis de Montfort, the patron of the Montfort Academy in Mt Vernon, New York, where he teaches. The new compositions are by Mr David Hughes.

St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) looms large in the minds and spirituality of many Catholics today. His life of self-sacrifice in the spirit of St. Dominic (he was a Dominican tertiary), his fierce opposition to Jansenism, and his tireless efforts to re-evangelize his own nation are both edifying and relevant to those facing the present crisis in the Church. Many find his teachings on the Rosary and on True Devotion to Mary indispensable to their relationship with Our Lady. Many of us - those who belong to a parish, school, or order dedicated to him, Montfortian brothers or sisters, or anyone with a devotion to this great Saint - would be eager to celebrate his feast on April 28th or to offer his votive Mass.
A statue of St Louis in St Peter’s Basilica. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Jordiferrer; CC BY-SA 4.0)
Yet, those who would set out to do so will find a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, at least if they wish to do a Solemn or Sung Mass. For, as I will detail below, although St. Louis has his own proper Mass, no official chants exists for it. That is, until recently, when that musical gap in the Church’s tradition was filled by a local composer for the benefit of the students of The Montfort Academy, a Classical high school in Mt. Vernon, New York. I write this article to offer the fruits of this labor for the benefit of all those who wish to honor this great Saint with the music of his Mass.
Although many Saints’ feasts have their own propers, the majority take theirs, in whole or in part, from one of about a dozen commons. Thus, Catherine of Siena, Martha, and Teresa of Avila all have the Mass Dilexisti from the Common of Virgins, Thomas Aquinas, Anthony of Padua, and Gregory Nazianzus have In medio ecclesiae from the Commons of Doctors, and so on.
However, from the late nineteenth century up to the opening of the Second Vatican Council, there was a movement to write unique propers for recently canonized Saints. An early example of this trend is Benedict Joseph Labré (canonized 1881), whose Mass Reliqui contains unique propers for his Masses within and outside of Paschaltide. They are lengthier than most of those found in the commons, and were chosen to reflect his life as a missionary among the poor. The Introit, for example, from Jeremiah 12 reads: “I have left my home and my inheritance; I am poor and needy; the Lord has taken me up” (reliqui domum meam, dimisi hereditatem meam. Inops et pauper ego sum. Dominus autem assumpsit me).
Some of these Saints with unique propers made it onto the general calendar, such as Anthony Mary Zaccaria, who was canonized in 1897. Most of them, however, can be found in the “Proper of Saints for Certain Places” (proprium Sanctorum pro aliquibus locis), an appendix to the Roman Missal: among them are Peter Claver (1888), Joan of Arc (1920), and Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and Companions (1930), whose Masses are often found in an appendix of the Liber Usualis.
There are several Saints, however, who were Saints canonized in the early twentieth century, and whose Masses were assigned unique texts for the readings and propers, but the propers were never set to music. It seems that before the monks of Solesmes could write the necessary chants, the Second Vatican Council was called and their compositions ground to a halt. One Saint in this category is Maria Goretti (1950), and another is St. Louis-Marie de Montfort (1947).
This situation of having text but no music puts one in a difficult spot. If a church or school named for Louis de Montfort would like to celebrate his titular feast on April 28th, they are required by the rubrics to use his propers. But what if they wish to have a Sung or Solemn Mass? How can one sing chants which have never been written? One option is to sing the propers recto tono or to a psalm tone. A second is to have a skilled chanter improvise based on other chants of a similar length and textual structure. The former is far from ideal, and the latter is largely impractical. A third option, then, is to set the text to one’s own music.
For a special Mass on April 28th of last year, organist and choir director David Hughes composed an original set of chant propers for the feast of St. Louis de Montfort. He drew from his extensive background in the study and singing of plainsong to contrafact some of the chants and compose others that are new, yet in accord with the Church's musical tradition. These were sung for the first time at a Mass of the Patronal Feast of The Montfort Academy. I will examine below some of his approach to composing these original chants.
Introitus (Isa. 52, 7) Quam pulchri
super montes pedes annuntiantis
et praedicantis pacem, annuntiantis
bonum, praedicantis salútem, di-
centis Sion: Regnábit Deus tuus.
(T. P.) Allelúia, allelúia.
℣. (Ps 48, 2) Audíte haec, omnes
gentes: áuribus percípite, omnes
qui habitátis orbem. Gloria Patri.
Quam pulchri…
Introit How beautiful are the feet
upon the mountains of him that
proclaims and preaches peace,
that announces good, that preaches
salvation, that says to Sion: Thy
God shall reign. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. Hear these things, all ye nations:
perk up your ears, all ye who inha-
habit the earth. Glory be to the Father.
How beautiful…
Alleluia, Allelúia. 1 Cor. 1, 23-24
Nos autem prædicámus Christum
crucifixum, Dei virtútem et Dei
Alleluia, Alleluia. We preach Christ
crucified, the power of God and the
wisdom of God.
Alleluia. Eccli. 3, 5-6 Sicut qui
thesaurizat, ita et qui honoríficat
Matrem suam: et in die oratiónis
suae exaudiétur. Allelúia.
Alleluia. As one who collects treasure,
thus is he who honors His Mother;
and on the day of his prayer he will
be heard. Alleluia.
Offertorium, Ps. 115, 16-17 O
Dómine, quia ego servus tuus;
ego servus tuus, et filius ancillae
tuae: dirupisti víncula mea:
tibi sacrificábo hostiam laudis.
(T. P.) Allelúia.
O Lord, I am Thy servant, Thy ser-
vant and the child of Thy handmaid:
Thou hast loosed my bonds; I will
offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise.
Communio, Eccli, 3, 5-6 Sicut
qui thesaurizat, ita et qui hono-
ríficat Matrem suam, et in die
oratiónis suæ exaudiétur.
(T. P.) Allelúia. [3]
As he who collects treasure, thus is
he who honors His Mother; and on
the day of his prayer he will be
heard. Alleluia.

We can see from the rich and varied choice of texts how these propers reflect many facets of St Louis de Montfort’s life and spirituality. The Introit, while including a play on his name (Montfort/montes), depicts his role as a preacher to his own people. The First Alleluia, which draws from the lesson of the Mass (1 Corinthians , 17-25), refers to the wisdom of the cross that was so central to his spirituality, however much it may have made him seem a “fool” in the eyes of the world. It may also be a reference to the great calvary he erected at Pontchateau. The remaining propers naturally focus on the centrality of Mary in St. Louis’ spirituality. He advocated we should all become servants of Our Lady and place ourselves under her authority in order to be freed from sin and free to do God’s will – hence the Offertory, “I am the son of Thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds.” The second Alleluia and Communion have the same text. Each refers to how one with True Devotion to Our Lady may be assured of her intercession, as “one who stores up treasure.” These last three propers also make reference to the Gospel of the Mass (John 19, 35-27), in which Our Lord tells St. John from the cross, “behold thy Mother.”
In composing the music for these propers, Mr. Hughes drew from chant formulae and quotations from pieces with similar words or themes. He also considered which of the chant modes would be most suitable for the text and liturgical context of each proper. While he wrote them with great respect and knowledge of the Church’s musical tradition, they are unique compositions that reflect his own style, particularly the Offertory and Communion.
The Introit begins and ends with quotations from the famous mode 1 Gaudeamus chant, which serves as the Introit for several different feasts, including, traditionally, two of Our Lady’s most important ones, the Assumption and the feast of the Holy Rosary. There is text painting on the ascent and descent of the word montes and the step-like motion of pedes, as well as a reference to Dignus est Agnus, the Introit of Christ the King, in that both feature lists connected by polysyndeton.
The next propers are largely formulaic mode 2 and 8 Alleluias, chosen because their melodies are some of the most common and widely known, and thus are easily sung by an experienced chant choir.
The Offertory is in the second mode, whose nature is more pensive and introspective. This chant spends the most time on the dominant note la and as a whole is less florid than, say, a Gradual. It opens with a reference to the Offertory Domine Iesu Christe from the Requiem Mass. There is also a neat reference on the word tibi to the Introit Tibi dixit (2nd Sunday of Lent), which features the same pattern of a tristropha, dotted virga, and another tristropha. The downward cadence on dirupisti has an element of text painting as well.
Communion chants, along with Introits, are often the most colorful and least formulaic of the propers. This Communion is in the sixth mode, which is warm and consoling. An interesting choice was made to rise rather than fall on the cadence of suam; the first part of the chant drives up to that word, after which it descends. The double porrectus on the word orationis is the last bit of text painting, illustrating the sureness of the prayer of him who honors the Mother of God.
The following video contains just the propers given above.

The Mass at The Montfort Academy that day concluded with a short procession with a relic of St. Louis de Montfort, which was accompanied by an original Latin hymn I wrote for the occasion. It is entitled Serve Reginæ (O Servant of the Queen), and consists of three stanzas written in sapphic strophes, one of the classical poetic meters. This is the same meter as appears in the Office hymn Iste Confessor, and so it can be used with any of the many melodies written for that hymn. To the three stanzas of my hymn is appended the doxology of Iste Confessor. That Thursday of last year was perhaps the first time in recent history (or maybe ever) the Mass of St. Louis de Montfort was sung with all its propers in musical fullness. I have written this article and provided the text and music of these propers here so that anyone who wishes to do a Sung or Solemn Mass of this great Saint may adorn it with fitting chant.
Serve Reginæ, decus Armoricæ,
Prædicans tuo populo demisse,
Et Dei Matri studii Magister
   Optime veri:
O Servant of the Queen,
      glory of Bretons,
Sent as a preacher
      to your own nation,
And greatest teacher
      of true devotion
   To the Mother of God:
Ordinum binum in utroque sexu
Et crucis supra montem es fundator,
Quam levis nobis famulatus Matris
   Tu docuisti.
Two orders you founded,
      brothers and sisters,
And built a great Calvary
      upon the mountain,
You taught how gentle to us is
Servitude to our Mother.
Patris æterni gratia nivalis,
Spiritu Sancto gravis, at intacta:
Exhibe nobis faciem Iesu,
   O! Via, Mater.
By favor of the Eternal Father,
      pure as snow
And, still a virgin, pregnant
      of the Holy Ghost,
Show to us the face of Jesus,
   O Mother and Way.
Sit salus illi, decus, atque virtus,
Qui super cæli solio coruscans,
Totius mundi seriem gubernat
Trinus et unus. Amen.
To him be glory, power,
      and salvation,
Who reigns from
      the throne of heaven,
And directs the course
      of all the world
   Three and one. Amen.

Sancte Ludovice Maria, ora pro nobis!
NOTES: [1] In the Baronius edition of the Roman Missal (pp. 1742-1744), one finds in the “Appendix for Some Places and Congregations” an entirely different set of propers, collect, readings, secret, and postcommunion for Louis de Montfort. My research has found these alternate propers in the supplementum of a French missal, and evidence of the collect as far back as 1892 when St Louis was added to the general Dominican calendar (“Analects of the Dominican Order,” pp. 222-23). It seems there is another Mass proper to France which Baronius erroneously printed in their missal. The texts above are the ones that what appear on pages 135-16 of the Proprium Sanctorum pro aliquibus locis of the 1962 Missale Romanum.
[2] For Votive Masses outside of Paschaltide: The Gradual is Omnes gentes (Liber Usualis p. 104**); the Alleluia is Nos autem praedicamus, as above. For Votives after Septuagesima, the Tract is Beatus vir…cupit nimis (LU p. [8]).
[3] For Communion verses, I recommend Psalm 115.

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