Holy Mother Church: Not of this World

I realize that it’s been a while since I posted anything, but life got a little busy. I’m sure many of you can relate. I’ve been at the CMAA Colloquium for the past week. It has been a wonderful and enriching experience! I witnessed Masses offered in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form, and they were all beautifully and faithfully executed. On July 4th, the fourth full day of the Colloquium, we had Mass in the Ordinary Form at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, IN. On this day, lots of people were coming into the city to enjoy some of the local festivities. There were rock bands, event security, all kinds of interesting people, and about 240 participants in this year’s Colloquium. Needless to say, it was an interesting mix!!!

On this day, it sunk in why the Church has to be something not of this world. Outside there was loud music (which could be heard inside the church), the hustle and bustle of this fast paced world, and hundreds (if not thousands) of souls wandering here and there. In the midst of this modern chaos, we who were attending the Colloquium were assembling to take part in Holy Mass. Here, we had stepped out of time and space to be with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. It was not like anything you could find on the streets of Indianapolis at the time.

Everything should remind us of life that is to come: from the music to the architecture. Even though it was Ordinary Form, the responses and prayers were still said in Latin. Even the language was different! These elements come together to teach us a spiritual truth: when we are at Holy Mass, we are no longer on Earth. We are mystically transported to the throneroom of God to worship with the Elders, the Four Living Creatures, and the Multitudes beyond Number. We are taken to that salvific moment in history when Christ gave his life for us, and we receive his sacrifice as he offers himself back to the Father.

While all this was happening inside the church, outside a rock band was beginning to play. You could hear the growls of guitars and the pounding of drums during the quieter parts of the Mass. After the Mass, we had Benediction, and one of the polyphonic choirs sang a lovely contemporary arrangement of “O Saving Victim” by Zachary Wadsworth. The original text was penned by St. Thomas Aquinas. The text is as follows:

O saving victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to us below;
Our foes press on from every side,
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.

All praise and thanks to thee ascend
Forevermore, blest One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end
In our true native land with thee.

It was at this point that the full weight of the text hit me. Not one block from where we were witnessing the love of God was all manner of activity. (I’m not saying that the people that weren’t with us at Mass were evil.) There was all manner of things happening around us that were infinitely less important than what was happening at that moment on the altar.

Our foes are the Devil, all his agents, and the tactics they use to seperate us from the love of God. Outside those church walls, there were any number of distractions and temptations for the occasion of sin. I found out later that week that there was a “Swingers” convention being held at the hotel that most of us for the Colloquium were staying at. Without being too elaborate for any readers out there who don’t know what swingers are, the easiest way to describe it would be people who revel in fornication. The devil had enslaved these people to the sin of lust, and we were right there in their midst offering ourselves to God and praying for healing and the conversion of souls. How very appropriate that we end our time with the Lord with this motet.

Remember, people are not your enemy. As it says in Ephisians 6:12- “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” Fight against the adversary with prayers and supplications. Strengthen yourself by going to Mass and receiving the spiritual nourishment that is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Finally, remember that even though our foes close in on every side, that Jesus said, “and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (the Church)”-Matthew 16:18


Saving Souls Through Beauty

Part of my position in my parish is to write articles for the weekly bulletin. I share this responsibility with a few other individuals to make up the content for the “Jargon”. This is the article that I submitted for last week. I plan to expound on this at a later date. Many times I think we don’t realize that beauty and liturgy go hand in hand with evangelization and conversion. The article is as follows:

I remember several years ago having a conversation with an ex-catholic. They said the reason why they left the Church was because they saw the Vatican. I didn’t understand how this would cause someone to abandon their faith. They further explained that the city was very beautiful! It was adorned with precious metals and stones. It was a masterpiece to behold!

They couldn’t understand why so much money could be used to build these gorgeous basilicas and parishes when there were impoverished people all over the world who could have used that money to buy food. They took this as an act of selfishness that flew right in the face of the Savior’s teachings. With that, they decided to leave the Church for something that “helped the poor more”.

Ironically, this is exactly what one of the disciples thought. His name was Judas. When a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster box of ointment, broke it, and anointed Jesus’ feet with it, Judas complained that what she was doing was a waste. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus rebuked him for it, and pointed out that she was ministering to Him. This is a very important thing to keep in mind.

Why are Catholic churches supposed to be beautiful? Why must the sacred vessels used to accommodate our Lord in the Eucharist be made of precious metals? Why must the very best that we have to offer go to the Church? Because it ministers directly to Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that when we do good to the “least of these” we do it to Him, and when we neglect them, that we neglect Him. This does not, however, mean that we can not minister directly to Him. God is beautiful, and knowing Him through the beauty of the Divine Liturgy in the proper place of worship is a powerful sign to any man of any monetary standing in any age.

It is also unjust to think that only the rich deserve to see the Lord in a place of beauty. The poor have every right to witness the beauty of the Lord in His lovely house. May we always be mindful of the fact that beauty is one of God’s tools to soften the hearts of the wayward. May we be ever ready to receive them!



First Solemn High Mass in over 50 Years!!!

Last week, we had our Lenten Parish Mission with Fr. John Zuhlsdorf as our guest speaker. The Mission ended with a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It was the first Solemn High Mass celebrated in over 50 years! It was life changing! Here are some pictures from the Mass.

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For the Propers we did Psalm Tones generated by GABC, except for the Communion Antiphon, which was taken from the Liber Usualis and Psalm verses were added from Communio put out by CMAA. It was a great success! Thanks to all who participated!

Going to the Next Level

It’s been just over three months since I put together a small group of chanters to make up the Schola Cantorum for our 5:00 Traditional Latin Mass. Our little motley crew has been faithful in attendance and enthusiasm. Due to the difficulty of immersing volunteers headfirst into neumes and propers in a “dead” language, we have employed psalm tones to make the sung Propers of the Mass more accessible. This is especially useful when rehearsals are limited to approximately one hour once a week.

We’ve gotten into a groove with our Psalm tones. After I intone the first portion of a Proper, the Schola enters with confidence. It’s almost as if the terminations have become second nature! This is an exciting time!

During Lent, it is most preferable if the organ is silent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Vigil, though it can be used to aid the singing if the Schola is not proficient in singing the chant alone. We are a fledgling Schola, so we’re still getting the hang of it. (This is why we’re using the organ during Lent). The organ’s silence poses several other interesting “difficulties”:

1. There is far more silence in the Mass
This is actually not a difficulty at all. Silence is golden, and should give the faithful a beautiful time to prepare themselves for the Communion they are about to recieve.

2. The difficulty for the Schola is that the Offertory and Communion Antiphon are short, and setting them to Psalm tones typically makes them even shorter. I’m not saying that we have to fill as much time with music as possible, but it is nice to be able to cover the liturgical action carried out by the sacred ministers.

3. What can we do that keeps with the Season of Lent, but still allows us to cover the liturgical action? We are five people in total counting our organist. We don’t have the voices to sing four part motets (yet).

While perusing the MusicaSacra website, I found the answer. In the Latin basic chant resources available, I stumbled upon a wonderful little book entitled “Communio” that contains Psalm verses connected to each communion antiphon used in the TLM. This is a great way to sing during the distribution of Holy Communion and help elevate the prayers of the faithful! There’s only one catch: it uses the actual communion chant found in the Liber Usualis. This means that we have to “step up” a little and learn one authentic chant per Mass.

This is a great opportunity for a beginning schola. We’ve gotten comfortable with seeing a variety of neumes in the Psalm tones, and the next logical step is to “up the difficulty” without completely overwhelming the schola, which is made of volunteers.

We will attempt this approach during Mass for the first time tonight, as Father John Zuhlsdorf, author of the Catholic blog Reading Francis through Benedict (formerly known as What Does The Prayer Really Say), closes our Lenten Mission with a Solemn High Mass (the first one celebrated in our parish in over 50 years). Hopefully, the chant will be a beautiful addition to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I’m also hoping next year to sing the chant unaccompanied for the season of Lent. 😉 We’ll see where we are when that time comes!DCS_2798

Psalm Tones: They’ll Save Your Life!

Imagine this scenario: you’re a freshly hired Director of Sacred Liturgy. You’ve been handed the task of coordinating Lectors, Altar Boys, EMHC’S, and establish new choirs for the parish (in addition to its already existing 3 choirs). One choir provides music for Holy Days of Obligation and special feasts, and the other is a Schola for the Traditional Latin Mass.

Also imagine that with regards to a Schola, you’ve gone to one Chant Intensive hosted by the wonderful folks of CMAA, and the rest of your chant knowledge was gleaned from internet sources from the wonderful people at MusicaSacra.com, CorpusChristiWatershed, and the ChantCafe.com. (Links here, here and here) Are there enough tools at your disposal here to successfully get the Schola off the ground? Even if you teach your people solfege, will they be able to navigate the melismatic medieval chants compiled by Saint Gregory the Great? Will you be able to learn the Propers of the Mass fast enough for each Sunday along with a Mass Ordinary and proper responses?

Gregorio Sample

The answer is “yes”. It has been my experience over the pastfive months that teaching volunteers the proper chants from the Liber Usualis is probably too much for people with little experience with chant. The good news is there is a way to be faithful to the text of the Propers, and present them in a way that is singable! The answer to the problem is using Psalm tones!

If constructing Psalm tones is not in your tool set yet, it’s fine. There is a wonderful internet resource out there that can help! GABC is a gregorian chant software that is free online. If you’re a Google Chrome user, you can download the app for free in their app store. If you prefer a different web browser, you can go to http://gabc.romanliturgy.org/.

This is a game changer. Any Mass that is needed for Sundays and major feasts is here. It will transcribe the propers in their original melodies, and if they are too difficult for your group to sing, you can click the option for Psalm toned propers. This option can be done for all of the propers in a feast, or for specific ones. Now if a certain chant is too difficult for your schola to tackle at the time, you can make it a Psalm tone that is accessible and singable!

I’ve employed this method with my Schola since its conception in Advent. It is an incredibly successful way to get people started singing the Propers of the Traditional Latin Mass. If you’re thinking about starting a Schola at your parish, I highly recommend checking this out!


On the Job

July 14th 2013 I began my new assignment as Director of Sacred Liturgy for a Minor Basilica. I didn’t realize how much was expected of a Minor Basilica until I took the job. The Rector gave me the general job description which may be “subject to some changes” after the first year.

In my little experience, the only real difference between a Director of Sacred Liturgy (DOSL) and a Director of Music (DOM) is that I have the added responsibilty of managing the Altar Boys, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and the Lectors. There may become more differences later since we’re still working through the first year.

Along with coordinating the apostolates that assist with Mass, it also became my responsibility to form two new choirs for the Basilica: the Schola Cantorum and the Basilican Choir. The schola’s responsibility would be the Traditional Latin Mass that was added to the weekend schedule. The Basilican Choir would be responsible for the “Basilican Feast Day” Liturgies. These were the most interesting Liturgies to plan in those first eight months.

For those who may not be familiar to what makes a Basilica different from a Cathedral or other Diocesan parish, it is the Pope’s church in the diocese. A basilica is directly connected to Rome and its bishop. There are certain indulgences dispensed to minor basilicas from the four major basilicas in Rome. As a minor basilica, there are certain Feasts that must be celebrated throughout the liturgical year. They are not Holy Days of Obligation, but they are offered in unity with the basilicas of Rome.

I was encouraged to use the Propers of the Mass instead of replacing them with hymns. The interesting part of this for Basilican Days are that there are not any resources that combine these propers in the vernacular. This meant that I had to go to the Latin Missal, find the propers for the feast, and find the English translation. Luckily, the Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett had the Latin incipits for a translation. This made my work much faster since I do not yet fluently read Latin.

I am hoping to get the hang of this within this first year! I’m also hopeful to begin adding more and more beauty to our Liturgies as more people become interested in participating in the choirs. Here’s looking forward to a great year!