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Revolutionary appointments

Today at room noon, the Holy Father appointed the new International Theological Commission. Its members include 5 women, bringing the total representation of women on the theological commission to 16 percent.As a longtime theology student, I find this …

The Holy Father at Vespers in Albania

There are many problems that you encounter every day. These problems compel you to immerse yourselves with fervour and generosity in apostolic work. And yet, we know that by ourselves we can do nothing: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). This awareness calls us to give due space for the Lord every day, to dedicate our time to him, open our hearts to him, so that he may work in our lives and in our mission. That which the Lord promises for the prayer made with trust and perseverance goes beyond what we can imagine (cf Lk 11:11-12): beyond that which we ask for, God sends us also the Holy Spirit. The contemplative dimension of our lives becomes indispensable even in the midst of the most urgent and difficult tasks we encounter. The more our mission calls us to go out into the peripheries of life, the more our hearts feel the intimate need to be united to the heart of Christ, which is full of mercy and love.

Two Very Different Futures

There seem to be two very different ideas in the air about the goals of parish ministry. One idea, which we might call the St. John Vianney school or the St. John Chrysostom school, or the Pope St. John Paul the Great school, is the conviction that God calls each person to be holy-to be a saint.

The other idea, and we should probably call it both the dominant and competing model, rests on an apparent conviction that God wants each person to have “just enough Catholicism” to not lose contact with the Church entirely.

This “just enough Catholicism” model is minimalist and inadequate for a number of reasons. And it is not the fault of the people. Almost everyone comes into the Church with a “just enough”attitude towards belonging in a parish. Frankly it is a lot to ask, in our culture, that a person crosses the threshold of a parish church on any given Sunday, much less wakes up an entire family, including children and fathers with many opportunities to be elsewhere, organizes dressing and grooming, packs everyone into the SUV, turns off all the cell phones, and gets to church on time. There is something heroic about a family’s presence in church on Sunday morning and we don’t say that enough.

The aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10)

But the Catholic life does not end there. Getting in the door is just the beginning. Getting everyone in the door is the beginning. And from that point, everything can soar-or not. And it truly must soar.

It is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity. (Lumen Gentium 40-41)

“Just enough” Catholicism has goals that stop at a certain fairly low level of the life of faith. In some cases, pastors do not even challenge the faithful regarding matters of serious sin. But what is particularly wonderful about Catholicism, as seen from the above quotation from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is that the level to which we are to aspire is not that set by the limits of our imaginations but by the model of Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, the sky is the limit. The Holy Spirit, active in the lives of the faithful, blows freely, and not by measure. Freedom from sin is only the beginning. Pastors who wish to cooperate with the Holy Spirit will foster an open-air, open-ceiling atmosphere in which ever-increasing prayer and charity can have room to grow.

“Just enough” Catholicism has a soundtrack. Somewhere between John Denver and Enya and the Kingston Trio, this music calms and soothes without fostering recollection. Its message can be summed up by the catchphrase, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” It is far too moderate for the Christian life, which ought to be a life for heroes. Young people in particular seek to live meaningful lives. Should our music then be meaningless?

 Rather our music ought to be inherently rational and breathtakingly beautiful, like the beauty of a soul that is even now beginning to participate in glory.

The Saint Benet Schola

I’m sort of amazed at the rapid development of a fantastic new initiative I’m delighted to be involved with, the Saint Benet Schola, named in honor of our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict.

This group of 12 (and growing) women sang the proper chants in English for the opening Mass of the Ordinariate parish of St. Luke’s in its new location, in the heart of downtown Washington DC. There are actually 2 choirs, and the other group is singing wonderful polyphonic motets and ordinaries while we take care of the propers.

Here is the plan for this Sunday’s feast day, Sunday September 14:

After last Sunday’s Mass I ran into Skip West, who runs the Suspicious Cheese Lords:

Me: So, how did the schola sound?
Skip: You sounded like nuns!
Me: Um, what kind of nuns?
Skip: Benedictines! French Benedictine nuns!

It felt pretty good too, the way music is supposed to feel when a singing group is doing well. The church that hosts the Ordinariate parish is a large and beautiful church called Immaculate Conception, and takes a certain amount of vocal power to fill it.

This is what the National Catholic Register had to say:

The St. Benet Schola, named in honor of the Benedictine tradition with a nod to Pope Emeritus Benedict, is composed of women and specializes in plainchant.

“Alongside our polyphonic choir, who sang a Mass by Hans Leo Hassler and a motet by Victoria during Holy Communion, the schola sang the Propers,” said Father James Bradley, an ordinariate priest from England, who has been involved in establishing the schola, referring to the parts of the Sept. 7 liturgy that were specific to that day’s Mass. Father Bradley added, “The Propers are integral parts of the liturgy, and we are using the ancient chants of the Roman Gradual as set to English by the sisters of Wantage, who are now part of the Ordinariate in England. The result is music that is at once Catholic in origin and Anglican in flavor; [it is] universal and particular.”

The rest of the article is here, and if you are in the DC area, the Mass is sung each Sunday morning at 8:30 am. Immaculate Conception is just 2 blocks north of the Mount Vernon Square metro stop at 1315 8th Street NW.

"The first problem, was the intelligibility of the text." Msgr. Charles Pope reflects on the historical reception of new forms of sacred music.

I’d forgotten about this fantastic essay until yesterday. Msgr. Pope thinks about the modern musical controversies by looking backwards over the centuries.This controversy took place during the years of the Council of Trent, and though some scholars a…

What Hymns Do We Have in Common?

As an Assistant Editor of the forthcoming Lumen Christi Hymnal, my main responsibility was the initial “build” of the hymnal: choosing those hymns that would best serve the needs of the hymnal’s projected constituents.As any Music Director knows, this …

Just what is the new evangelization, anyway? (Where is it going, this nouvelle évangélisation?)

I’m sitting at my desk before beginning the day’s work, looking out the window and watching a man in a suit who is reading the flyer I put on the door of our meeting rooms building. This happens all day long. It’s a regular sheet of white typing paper …

Let the Rumor Mills Begin

This morning the Holy Father appointed the former Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship to a cardinalate see in his home country of Spain.Personally I would be happy to see the Congregation’s Secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche, take the Congr…

Washington Post: "Christopher Candela dispels the notion that all organ music sounds the same."

Together, these M.P. Möller organs (dedicated in 1965 and updated in 2001) house 9,393 pipes ranging from a 64-footer to one foot, four keyboards and 157 stops, each providing a specific sound. Candela took full advantage of these far-reaching sonic resources, playing works from different eras by Naji Hakim, Richard K. Fitzgerald, J.S. Bach (two wondrous chorale preludes), Jean Langlais and Marcel Dupré. Hakim’s exciting “The Embrace of Fire” thrashed about with conflicting and echoing layers of sonorities. But most of Sunday’s music was based on ancient church hymns.

 Full review here.

Children’s Chant Camps-in the News

Warmest congratulations to Chant Cafe blogger Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, CMAA board member David Hughes, and our colleague at the Cathedral of the Madeleine Gregory Glenn for this wonderful article, and for the groundbreaking accomplishments it celebrates.

Catholic Kids Love Summer ‘Chant Camp’

Flagship “chant camps” on both coasts and in Utah are proving popular.

by Joseph Pronechen, Staff Writer Friday, Aug 22 How do kids feel about participating in a weeklong camp on Gregorian chant?

Flagship “chant camps” on both coasts and in Utah are proving popular.

The summer camp that started in 2010 at St. Anne Church in San Diego has become so popular that this year it had to be held twice.

“The first year, we had 64 kids; last year, 84 children; and this year, 120 between two camps,” said a very pleased Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, the parish’s director of music.
“Word got around, and families got excited about it. It’s formative, beautiful and fun.”

The results inspired filmmakers and parishioners Kristen Von Berg and Daniel diSilva to make a short video called, appropriately, Chant Camp (available on YouTube).

“We were like one big wave, singing in unison for the greater glory of God,” said seventh-grader Sarah Kuss, describing the outcome after the five-day camp.

Wilson, a former opera singer, got the idea after attending an intensive chant workshop presented by the Church Music Association of America (CMAA) and later adapted the idea for children.

As a home-schooling mother of four boys, she also knew that if she asked children “to work hard over the summer, it had to be really fun, too.”

Each day, the children not only learned Gregorian chant in a really enjoyable way, but during the two-hour lunch break, they got to play games and soccer with the priests and seminarians from St. Anne’s and make new friends.

With help from some assistant directors and parent volunteers, clear leadership, and support from the church’s pastor, Father Carl Gismondi of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Wilson became their coach and cheerleader.

“If you want to make something beautiful for God, it involves the effort of all your mind, heart, soul and strength,” she told the children. “And the kids rise to the occasion. I can’t tell you how much they surprise people.”

Wilson pointed out that, last year, San Diego Bishop Cirilo Flores joined the children for the final Mass, sat with them in the choir in the sanctuary and encouraged the children during his homily.

“When the week culminates in the breathtaking, solemn high Mass, and I know that my children’s voices are part of that glorious hymn rising up to heaven. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for chant camp and even happy for the sacrifices it demands of our family,” observed Katie Walsh, whose five children have attended the last four years.

At the lunch break, the children run around, play football with the priests and laugh like the normal kids they are, Walsh said, “but when they return to the business of learning chant, somehow, in spite of their youth and high-spiritedness, they rise to the challenge.”

Wilson tells the chanters at the start that they are not there to sing for her or their parents, though that’s wonderful, but to sing for Jesus.

“Singing beautifully is not the final goal,” she explained. “Jesus has to be at the center and at the final end of our efforts. We want to encounter him and worship him in singing; and in so doing, we want to build up the Church.”

Wilson has the children learn difficult chants, and she is so proud of their good effort.
“One of the neatest things about the camp is to see the teens helping the younger ones, singing right next to them, so they have a voice to guide them,” Wilson said.

She finds that children want to be taken seriously and recognized for how much they appreciate the music. Wilson wants the children to see that what they are learning can remain part of their devotional life.

Whether it’s Ave Maria or other sacred songs, “these are very powerful prayers our ancestors have sung for hundreds of years,” she tells the participants. “Your patron saints have sung these prayers you are singing.”

She provides translations of everything so they know what they are singing about. This helps them to learn they can be evangelizers through the beauty of the Church’s sacred music.

Nancy Jurkoic found that St. Anne’s Chant Camp gave her three sons “a true love and appreciation for sacred music, even though at the time they were only 8, 10 and 13 years old. They will carry this love in their hearts for the rest of their lives.”

In Salt Lake City, at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which has 360 students in the choir at the parish school, 87 students attended this year’s camp; the camp is nearly 25 years old.

It’s a bit different than choir during the academic year, according to Gregory Glenn, director for liturgy and music. The camp gives the children a chance to have fun, build up the group’s spirit and learn the chant and polyphony motets and Masses for the coming year.

On the East Coast, David Hughes, choirmaster at St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk, Conn., is pleased with his camp’s turnout.

For the daily sessions of the weeklong camp, children rehearse, sing for Mass daily and play games outside — but not always.

To his great surprise, he walked through the door of the first chant camp in 2008 to find 35 kids ready and eager.

After an hour of practicing Gregorian chant basics, he said they could take a short break, get water and play some basketball.

What happened next surprised him.

“They all got a drink of water and all sat down again,” Hughes said. He asked them, “Don’t you want to go play?”

He explained the response he received: “One little boy answered, ‘Mr. Hughes, we’re here to learn chant.’”

“The kids were so enthusiastic about singing beautifully and singing to the Lord it seemed a perfectly natural thing to turn this into a full-fledged student schola program that would meet every week,” Hughes said.

Hughes finds the children have “a tremendous enthusiasm for Gregorian chant because they readily perceive both its beauty and its eminent suitability for the sacred liturgy. I believe very strongly that Gregorian chant should be the foundation of any musical education, not only in a theological sense, but also in a pedagogical sense.”

Time and again, he sees “that beauty speaks for itself and that children especially are thirsting for this beauty. When you give them a taste of something truly beautiful, they only want more and more.”

He talks with them about St. Augustine’s maxim: “He who sings well prays twice.”
“I always underline the adverb well (bene),” he said.

St. Mary’s Chant Camp also includes older students who act as counselors, helping with vocal modeling for the younger students.

From older to younger, the children cannot imagine not coming.

“Singing chant helps me lift my heart and mind to God,” said Regina Kelley, who is 12 years old. “The instruction we get at chant camp is amazing.”

Her 8-year-old brother, Ted, added, “I love the singing; I love to see my friends.”

Brother Gus, 10 years old, agreed: “I really like seeing my friends and singing at Mass every day.”

Their mother, Amy Kelley, who is mom to seven current and former chant-campers, sees positive results.

“Too often, we assume children can’t appreciate the true and the beautiful, so we settle for giving them less,” she observed. “That’s a huge mistake. Kids naturally love beauty and gravitate toward it, if given the chance, and the traditional music of the Church is truly good and beautiful. Why shouldn’t learning it in preparation for singing at Mass be a fun summer activity?”

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