Sacramento, CA: “Chants of a Lifetime” (and black vestment alert)

A kind reader sent the following:

Father, if you go to Sacramento Bee newspaper for Nov. 7, there is a video called "Chants of a Lifetime." The paper did an article on the schola, choir, choristers at St. Stephen’s in Sacramento. The video has interviews, music and part of the All Souls’ Day Solemn High Requiem Mass. Bishop Soto (briefly seen) attended. Our priests are in beautiful black vestments with purple embroidered embellishment. Fr. Novokowsky also conducted the blessings and incensings of the "bier," draped in black, which was surrounded by six lighted candles.   Gloria Thiele, Grass Valley, CA

Here is the piece.

Chants of a lifetime
An age-old form of vocal worship enhances the liturgy at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church
By Carlos Alcala
Published: Friday, Nov. 07, 2008 | Page 2H

Gregorian chant holds a place in popular imagination as the province of hooded monks intoning monotonous melodies along dim stone corridors.

It’s not like that.

At St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Sacramento, the ancient musical form is sung by children and young men and women, a multiethnic choir of multicolored voices.

Teens sing wearing Vans or boots poking out from beneath cassocks. They sing at Masses where toddlers babble and babies wail and adults walk in and out during services.  [In other words, it’s normal.]

Rehearsal is in a classroom furnished with old pews, the ceiling covered in dull acoustic tiles.

The setting is mundane, but the music is ethereal. It’s ear- pleasing and eye-opening, but difficult to describe.

It resonates when the men’s deeper voices are breathing the Latin phrases.

When the higher voices come in, the music undulates; it flows out like unrhythmic acoustic heat: radiant music.  [I agree that chant by women is ethereal.  I am not much for mixing the voices, however.]

A rarity in modern church

St. Stephen the First Martyr Church – off Fruitridge Road in unincorporated Sacramento – is one of the few parishes in Northern California to incorporate traditional Gregorian chant into Mass.

To hear some tell it, that is very odd. To them, chant and Mass are nearly synonymous.

Gregorian chant ebbed in the decades after the Roman Catholic Mass was opened to vernacular – non-Latin – languages, even though chant was still officially supported[not just "supported"]

"Gregorian chant should have the first place in musical liturgy," said William Mahrt, a professor at Stanford and president of the Church Music Association of America.

"(It’s) the fundamental music," Mahrt said, "the basic music."

In the fourth century, it was how people learned the psalms, said Peter Jeffery, Scheide Professor of Music History at Princeton. [This reporter did some homework!]

Much as popular songs are memorized today, the music of chant conveyed religious precepts to largely illiterate societies.

"The chant is the servant of the text," [YES!]  said Jeffrey Morse, St. Stephen’s choir leader for six years.

Chant is fundamental to more than the church.

A link to modern music

"There wouldn’t have been Elvis Presley if there hadn’t been Gregorian chant," Morse said.

That may be an exaggeration, but musical notation itself was created by monks in the 800s specifically to record chant melodies.

It’s essentially the same notation – the system for writing music – that is used for chant today, though not for other music.

What Morse’s choir sings during St. Stephen’s Masses is largely prescribed by centuries of tradition.

"Choristers were singing the exact same text to the exact same melody in 800 on the same Sunday," Morse said. "It grounds you in history."

Few parishes are grounded like St. Stephen’s.

The parish was set up by Bishop William K. Wiegand to conduct a traditional Latin Mass. The priest who hired Morse recognized the place of chant and Morse’s wealth of knowledge and experience[Excellent priest.]

When asked about the name "Gregorian," he readily recites the dates and nature of Gregory the Great’s papacy . Gregory’s name was appended to the chants that existed before he was made pope in 590.

The music was practically dead in the United States in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Morse had to go to England to study Gregorian music. "No one wanted it, basically," he said.

Things are changing, though.

There’s something of a self-help movement, experts like Mahrt and Jeffery say.

A summer chant gathering four years ago had 40 participants – mostly refugees from failing choirs. This year it had 260 – some from growing choirs, some who seek to seed new ones.

In some cases, politics is behind the growth of chant[Watch how the reporter now ruins the article.]

Many Catholics associate Latin Mass and traditional music with conservative politics, said Princeton’s Jeffery.

Indeed, at St. Stephen’s during a recent Mass, political stickers on cars in the parking lot were all in support of the McCain-Palin ticket or initiatives aligned with a conservative social agenda[grrrr]

Embracing tradition

Many may seek tradition, but few have the experience of Morse and his choir. Even some teens in his group have been in it for six years – six times around the prescribed cycle of the liturgy.

They know the chants. They know the music. Though it’s in Latin, "We definitely try to understand what we’re singing," said Ellen Presley, 20, a music major at California State University, Sacramento.

When the choir takes a break in August, Presley said, "everyone complains about us not being here. The music adds a lot."

In fact, it is choir participation that draws 21-year-old Jonathan Crane to drive two hours from Corning to St. Stephen’s. "It was the sound" that thrilled him, he said.

Crane and Presley are also impressed by the voices of the 8- and 9-year-old choristers who sing with them.  [Of course!  It’s chant, not brain surgery.]

The music is a major part of the service, but not everything. During Mass, the chant’s beauty competes with the rustle of life in the congregation.

It is not like a visit to the symphony, where every cough is frowned upon and babies are unwelcome.

The choir is not the focus. In fact, they sing from a loft, heard but not seen[Contrast that with how many parishes put their "pop group" up front.]

Chant’s most ardent supporters seem to like it that way.

Background, not a concert

"I think that’s very much what music in a sacred context should be," Morse said. "It shouldn’t be a concert at all."  [Back to that point.  You can tell what caught the reporter’s attention.   This was a foreign experience.]

"The object of one’s attention," said Mahrt, "is worship.[Which perhaps the reporter hadn’t experienced too often.]

Still, the music augments the worship, said Father Robert Novokowsky, the parish’s pastor.  [I think this needs to be adjusted.  Music such as chant isn’t really an "add on". It is the liturgical prayer.]

"During the liturgy, the chant is meditative," he said. It’s one thing to have a short psalm read. It’s quite another to experience it sung.

"It takes four minutes to sing that one line," Novokowsky said.

"It’s a way of experiencing the mystery of God."   [Well said.   If music (and everything else in church) doesn’t bring you to an experience of mystery, then the liturgical "experience" has failed.   Listening to chant well sung is like peering through the cleft in the rock with Moses (Exodus 33).]

Call The Bee’s Carlos Alcalá, (916) 321-1987.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The other David says:

    I had always thought the singing in a range of voices was “polyphany” and not properly Gregorian Chant.

    Have I been in error all this time?

  2. Maureen says:

    You can chant all in unison as much as you want, but the tones of low voices will still be low and the high voices high.

    Polyphony starts not when you have different voices, but when voices (even in the same range) sing different parts. With the aid of a recording device, you could sing polyphony all by yourself.

    Now, generally, for beauty and differentiation and so forth, polyphony works better if you put all the high voices on part A and all the low voices on part B. (It’s also nice if the voices can hit all the notes they’re supposed to sing. But that’s a stylistic choice.) ;)

  3. Maureen says:

    Re: politics

    That was disappointing. I mean, honestly, there’s nothing stopping St. Joan of Arc in Minnesota from liking chant; and there probably was some stage of the nineties when they were playing chant albums by the Anonymous 4 to accompany labyrinth walks and reiki, for goodness’ sake.

    You could easily make out a leftist argument for chant. It’s organic. It’s people’s music, not requiring mechanical equipment. It’s radical, constantly calling for justice and change of the current order. There’s probably a Dorothy Day quote. There’s St. Hildegard of Bingen to pull out. And so on.

    Chant belongs to everyone, because the Church is for everyone. :)

    Beyond that, I have to say that it would never occur to me to start detailing the political leanings of a choir, since I live in territory where there’s great diversity of politics, and great encouragement not to talk about them in public.

    Sacramento must not be such a place. So perhaps the reporter was so stunned to see massed McCain stickers that he stuck it into his story.

  4. Virgil says:

    Wow, Father Z. You write, “Watch how the reporter now ruins the article” by linking chant and proper liturgy with Republican Party politics. This is precisely the point that I and some others have been making to you in this election cycle!

    Both of my TLM parishes (in Milwaukee USA and in Turin Italy) are attended by a hodge-podge of political stripes. Yet, people on the outside forever assume that we are all a bunch of right-wing nutcases.

    It is sometimes amusing, but often just makes evangelization difficult. It’s always tough to work a conversation in the direction of solemnity and worship when the other person only wants to rant against Bush’s torture regime or Berlusconi’s persecution of migrants.

    Your earlier observation is a good one: many of the very bishops who support traditional liturgy also tend to be perceived as wanting to make their Churches into political entities.

    Until this post, I always assumed that you liked it that way, as you have had a habit of heaping bravos on right-wing politicians, even as you try to maintain a blog devoted to prayer and worship (and good food!).

    Why do you think the writer of this article mentions the McCain/Palin boosting in Saint Stephen’s parking lot? Is it because he associates Republicans with RadTrads, to support the comments of Prof Jeffrey? Or is it just a simple observation?

    In your opinion… Does it ruin the article because it distracts from the focus on the schola? Or is it because it doesn’t get political enough? Ot is it because it never really answers the question, “Are RadTrads more likely to be Republicans or Democrats?”

  5. Central Valley Catholic says:

    This was a wonderfull article by the Sacramento Bee. If you are ever in Sacramento, St, Stephens is a must visit. As for the MCcain stickers. This comes as no surprise. I attend the EF in my community and although many were not strong supporters of MCcain they still voted for him. It is not the party agenda, it is the life agenda. And I think this is the point the few brave american bishops were making in recent letters that we as Catholics need to vote not with a formed conscience but with a formed CATHOLIC conscience. How could anyone with a formed Catholic conscience vote for a man like Obama, who stated one of the first things he would do in the White House is restore the Fredom of Choice Act(abortion on demand). St. Stephen’s is a holy place staffed by very holy priests. Bishops should look at St. stephen’s and see all the wonderful things happening there. I had to stay in Sacramento for three weeks of training not long ago and I was at St. Stephens almost every evening for Mass. In meeting people there it was wonderful to meet so many converts. Almost all the converts I met attributed their conversion to Jesus Christ, the Blesed Mother and Fr. Berg, now superior of the FSSP. The success of the FSSP or ICK in parishes might even scare some bishops but they should not be afraid, they should welcome these priests and faithful. When is Sacramento stop in at St. Stephen’s you will come away a better Catholic.

  6. Gloria says:

    Thank you, Father, for putting the article on your blog. Of course, Father Novokowsky does not consider the chant just an “add on.” We are all well aware that it IS the liturgical prayer and an integral part of our public worship at Mass. It does augment the experience, as he said, lifting one’s thoughts and spirit more intensely to what is happening at the altar. When the schola sings the gradual and alleluia, with all the coloratura, and as Father says, taking four minutes to sing one line, the congregation and the celebrant sit in silence, meditating and preparing to hear the Word of God. The chant also slows the pace of the Mass, helping us to realize, I think, that we are not now in the hurrying world, but experiencing something of the eternal. No one seems in a rush to leave the church after Mass, either. There is time for thanksgiving, more meditation, and the pull to remain in the presence of God. The soul has been lifted by the whole experience of the sung Mass, the humility of the priest and his visible witness to his awesome responsibility, and is loathe to come down to earth.

  7. Virgil: The political interjection added nothing and was entirely gratuitous.

  8. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for this piece!
    We are going to begin chant in my parish choir after Christmas and I am so excited. I’m thinking about sending this to my fellow choirmates to get them pumped up!

  9. Daum says:

    “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”. I have nothing against the use of Gregorian Chant but I have no liking for it. If people wish to chant, they should feel free to do so. Each man to his own! This is matter of taste and Catholics can legitimately disagree with each other. I will show perfect tolerance to Catholics who want Gregorian Chant in the mass (I simply won’t attend) but they should be prepared to reciprocate. Catholics are under no obligation to like Chant and indeed are at perfect liberty to be partial to, and prefer the use of, more modern types of music.

  10. Piers-the-Ploughman says:


    Except that Gregorian chant from highest Church documents and traditions has pride of place in our liturgies. I myself am one who does not fully appreciate all forms of chant but I do trust it as best for worship and best for my soul. Maybe with time I will understand more what those less modern-friendly chant modes are trying to express.

  11. John Enright says:

    Sorry, Father, but I think the observation that conservative bumper stickers were on the cars of the people at Mass is relevant. Cafeteria Catholics apparently ignore their Sunday obligation as seen by the absence of Obama-Biden stickers.

  12. Daum says:

    I fully recognize that Gregorian Chant has pride of place within the liturgy but it is not for everyone, and indeed, Catholics are well within their rights to dislike it. I myself could not listen to it without becoming severely irritated and would definitely to refuse to attend Mass where it was used (other than for fulling Sunday obligation), but I respect the music itself and have nothing against others liking it. I am partial to more modern music, which is of course perfectly legitimate. I would hate to think others would consider me somehow less Catholic because I did not share their musical tastes.

  13. Virgil says:

    Wow, Father Z, I actually find myself agreeing with you on a political note! I agree that such political interjection in the article is entirely gratuitous.

    My point, of course, is that we all suffer these kind of interjections ad nauseum, especially during election cycles, and it interferes with the ministry.

    When I tell colleagues or acquantances that I attend Latin Mass, they are not usually ready to say, “Cool. Tell me about the liturgy. Tell me about the Church.”

    Instead, I hear, “How horrible that the Church supports torture. How can you associate yourself with those people.” or “The Church is so anti-immigrant.”

    Then, I find myself explaining that the Church is not equal to Bush and Berlusconi. Then they mention some bishop who is actively pushing the McCain or Bossi campaigns, and my point is entirely lost by the smell of their red herring argument.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    I fully recognize that Gregorian Chant has pride of place within the liturgy but it is not for everyone

    But, of course, what’s sung at Mass is not for “everyone”, but for God. I trust you can find the music you like somewhere else, without insisting that He like it also. It was precisely when people started imposing their personal preferences on the Mass — and perniciously arguing that liturgy is a matter of individual taste — that our church music and sacred liturgy went into the ditch.

  15. TJM says:

    Daum, as a matter of fact I do consider you less Catholic when you apparently have no affinity for the Church’s mother tongue, the language proper to the Latin Rite and Gregorian Chant which is indigenous to the Rite itself. Like so many “Catholics” today, you are blissful in your ignorance. Sacred Music, as evidenced by countless papal documents, is not a matter of “personal taste.” Modern music is not “in pari passu” with Chant or sacred polpyhony. Instead of wallowing in your glorious ignorance, please take the trouble to see what the Church actually teaches on the subject. It’s “Thy will, not my will be done.” Tom

  16. nw says:


    Gregorian chant is the form of music proper to the Roman Rite. It is not a question of anyone’s preference…

  17. nw says:

    Anyone know what chant books the choir uses? They seem to be some kind of “triplex” editions.

  18. Daum says:

    “Daum, as a matter of fact I do consider you less Catholic when you apparently have no affinity for […] Gregorian Chant which is indigenous to the Rite itself”

    I know of no church document which mandates people to like Gregorian Chant. I find it quite irritating, and I will refuse to listen to it. To be made sit in a church with Gregorian Chant would cause me unspeakable distress. It certainly would not “elevate my soul” or help me worship. And as for the less Catholic accusation: (1)Christian Liberty and (2)Judge not, lest…

    “it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things… [Chant is not listed]”

    “Now him that is weak in faith, take unto you: not in disputes about thoughts. For one believeth that he may eat all things: but he that is weak, let him eat herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not: and he that eateth not, let him not judge him that eateth. For God hath taken him to him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own lord he standeth or falleth. And he shall stand: for God is able to make him stand. For one judgeth between day and day: and another judgeth every day. Let every man abound in his own senses. He that regardeth the day regardeth it unto the Lord. And he that eateth eateth to the Lord: for he giveth thanks to God. And he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not and giveth thanks to God. For none of us liveth to himself: and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord: or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose again: that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? Or thou, why dost thou despise thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me and every tongue shall confess to God. Therefore every one of us shall render account to God for himself.

    Let us not therefore judge one another any more. But judge this rather, that you put not a stumbling block or a scandal in your brother’s way. I know, and am confident in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if, because of thy meat, thy brother be grieved, thou walkest not now according to charity. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then our good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink: but justice and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in this serveth Christ pleaseth God and is approved of men. Therefore, let us follow after the things that are of peace and keep the things that are of edification, one towards another. Destroy not the work of God for meat. All things indeed are clean: but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good not to eat flesh and not to drink wine: nor any thing whereby thy brother is offended or scandalized or made weak. Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Blessed is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. But he that discerneth, if he eat, is condemned; because not of faith. For all that is not of faith is sin.

    Fr Scott SSPX, with whom I hardly ever agree with, takes an enlightened approach. According to him, even Gospel music could be a legitimate means by which one could propogate the faith, and presumably it would even be licit to enjoy it.

    “It is perfectly permissible to adapt the medium of “Gospel” music, that is the style, to Catholic use, and to write Catholic lyrics yourself, to go with commonly known Gospel style tunes. The popular medium could then be used to popularize and propagate the Catholic Faith. Under these conditions you could sing publicly in a nursing home, or on Christian TV, even if the producers or organizers were not aware of the fact that the music that you are singing, actually expresses Catholicism and not Protestantism. To do so would be to perform a good deed, for the salvation of souls.”

  19. mwa says:

    the volume they were singing from in the video shot is the Graduale Triplex, described in the GIA catalog: “A reproduction of the Graduale Romanum with the neums from the Laon manuscript printed above the modern square notes in black, and the neums of the manuscript of the St. Gall family beneath in red. Correct interpretation of the neums is the singer’s basis for developing adequate performance of the Gregorian melodies. 918 pages.”
    You can see a little more about it here:

  20. Sam Schmitt says:


    Perhaps you could rethink your personal preferences, at least for a little while, and allow the tradition of the Church to be your guide, as it has been for countless saints? Worshipping God is not about what we like or dislike, but giving him glory and about participating in the way the whole Church (in this case the Latin church) worships. Gregorian chant is a part of this, whether we like it or not.

    What if I said: “I understand that going to church every week is what the Church wants, but it’s not for everyone.” Isn’t what the Church wants more important than the opinion that it’s “not for everyone” – in fact, it contradicts it? So saying that the chant is “not for everyone” seems to contradict your previous admission that Gregorian chant is what the Church desires for her worship.

  21. nw says:


    You misconstrue Fr. Scott’s comment about gospel music. He does not say you should sing gospel at Mass, much less use it in place of Gregorian chant. Your use of the quote reveals you subscribe to a misunderstanding of the role of music in Christian worship in a way that is unfortunately quite common within Roman Catholicism nowadays.

    Music in Christian worship has primarily to do with singing the prayers of the liturgy, in the Roman Rite the Mass and the Divine Office…singing *the* Mass as opposed to singing *at* Mass, if you will. Other forms of music may be used, such as psalm tones, other plainchant (esp. for the OF in the vernacular), sacred polyphony, or other adaptations. All these must, however, be measured against Gregorian chant, which is the music proper to the Roman Rite in this sense.


  22. nw says:

    Thanks, mwa. Do you know if the Sacramento choir actually makes use of the rhythmic information found in the other codices?

  23. Daum says:

    Hi Sam,

    Gregorian Chant is specially suited to the Roman liturgy and is given ‘pride of place’. That I wholeheartedly conceed. However V2 also stated that “other kinds of sacred music” are “by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations”.

    Secondly, Mass attendance and Chant aren’t analogous. Sunday Mass is mandatory for Catholics; Chant is manifestly not. St Augustine said “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”. Mass attendance is one of those ‘essentials’; Chant isn’t. I am confused as to why the liking for Gregorian Chant is being elevated into some sort of superdogma. The Catholic Right, including many who post on WDTPRS, often dissent on papal teaching on ecumenism, immigration, the environment, and the need for social protection and regulation in economic matters.

  24. Ben Trovato says:

    Regarding the impact of chant on subsequent music, I wonder how many people know that Doh Re Mi Fa So La Ti Doh originates in a specific piece of chant (I can elaborate if anyone is interested…)

  25. TJM says:

    Daum, it isn’t about “liking” Gregorian Chant. Chant is indigenous to the Rite and is the preferred music for the Mass, period. End of discussion. But for you, it sounds like “it’s all about me, me, me.” The liturgy isn’t about your preferences or tastes. Your mind is closed like a trap and therefore, I’m not wasting another key on this keyboard for you. Tom

  26. Charivari Rob says:

    A few observations:

    1. Perhaps we should take care that we do not confuse the rite with the Rite. Nor should we allow ourselves to think that ‘rite’ has an exclusive claim on ‘right’.

    2. “Tradition” also includes the last 40 years, not just everything prior to that.

    3. The suitability of Gospel music to Catholic liturgy is not hypothetical. It is established.

  27. Piers-the-Ploughman says:

    Your point is about chant is not the same as observance of Sunday is valid but still I think the documents support other non-traditional music as a concession, which I expect the Church would always give in appropriate circumstances.

  28. G.F says:

    Thank you for you comment TJM (Tom). I could not have said it better.G.F

  29. Brian says:

    There is an interesting post by Deborah Morlani entitled “The Sacred Liturgy: The Neglected Foundation to Building the Culture of Life” over at The New Liturgical Moment.

    Here are a few quotes from the piece:

    “The Church teaches us that the sacred liturgy is the centre, or font, from which all else flows within the Church; it refers to it as her source and summit.”

    “it would not seem a stretch to suggest that an implication of this very centrality is that the culture of life itself also stands and falls with the liturgy.”

    “In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II taught that the root cause of the culture of death is a loss of the sense of God and, in the same vein, one will note that Pope Benedict XVI has been working quite intently to bring back the sense of transcendence and God-centredness within our liturgies; in short, to bring back a sense of God. . . . The Holy Father knows well that if God is obscured within the sacred liturgy – the very place that is not only the source and summit of the Church, but also the heart, soul and primary point of contact for the faithful — then it is likely to follow that God will be absent or obscured in the lives of the faithful as well. .”

    “the sacred liturgy, when celebrated well and focused on God, is where the building of the culture of life begins for within the liturgy one experiences and encounters the perfection of the culture of life from the giver of life Himself, God our Creator.”

    “if we are to build a culture of life within our parishes and serve as leaven for our culture, the sacred liturgy must be oriented to God in all things, both interiorly and exteriorly. The liturgy must be celebrated in accord with the authorized texts and rubrics so that we might avoid obscuring Catholic doctrine or falling into a subjectivist mentality.”

    “The Pope has consistently written of and witnessed to the importance of both interior and exterior dimensions which orient the sacred liturgy toward God. He has led by example in directing how certain exterior forms contribute to a God-centered liturgy, such as through the “Benedictine altar arrangement” with a central Crucifix; his celebration of Mass ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel; the use of beautiful sacred music and vestments within the liturgy; and finally, by re-introducing kneeling for Holy Communion in his own liturgies.”

    Go can read it at It was posted on 11/6/08.

  30. Patrick says:

    Daum – Hello!

    It would seem others are “piling on” and I want to avoid that.

    There is much to say along these lines. I have been involved professionally with Catholic music in various churches for twenty five years, as a director, accompanist, cantor etc. It hit me like a ton of bricks in the last couple of years or so – the oddity of the situation in which our music directors, including myself, have not been having to produce or know much about traditional (the pre VII) church music, of which chant is just one style, albeit the main one, and the same can be said about Latin and its employment in holy Mass, (at whatever level or percent) and I can tell you, the church suffers a great impoverishment because of this cutoff, and this is exactly what has been done, a cutting off.

    Now, please allow me to make a couple of points to expound on this idea. Most younger persons in the church have not even a solid grasp of what chant is in its exact meaning, and I hear often times ascribed the word “chant” to various “old” or “traditional sounding” styles and many just lump all of those together and call them chant. I think I detect something of this in your writing, but I could be mistaken here, and do forgive me for this if this is not the case.

    Unaccompanied singing (acapella) has ALWAYS been a central part of the music for worship in the church,(even the word acapella, as used today to allude to unnacompanied singing, literally means ‘of the chapel’). i.e., the Last Supper, first century church, and so on, it is there and it is central. There are more than one strain of chant, and there still exist in the Western church non Gregorian plainsong, or chant – for example – Ambrosian chant around Milan Italy (Ambrosian Rite) as well as some others. The Eastern churches have retained the practice of unaccompanied singing, which would include, depending on the rite, both plainsong and harmonized styles, exclusively.

    From the beginning in the Bible, there are accounts of God instructing man how it is He is to be worshiped, and never initiating from man himself. We say that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s not. Think of the first Passover and that same Passover meal celebrated every year to remember God’s saving Israel, even until today in Judaism and which was the backdrop to the Last Supper, and how the Last Supper becomes an extension of, and not an accidental one, of that ancient rite, and this is our Mass. We see that the “Holy of Holies” was restricted to only select members of the priest caste, and we see the Temple laid out in minute detail by God Himself for Solomon; we see that those approaching the Ark of the Covenant unauthorized are stuck dead, that David, a man of war, and with blood on his hands, though a man after God’s own heart, was not allowed the privilege of building the temple because of that fact. We are given models also of the ‘Heavenly worship’ in the book of Revelations. So, the point is, the worship proper of Almighty God is not a matter of whim and personal taste but it is of His direction and for His purposes and aims.

    We find with the elimination of chant from our liturgies, usually (almost universally) the elimination of the Propers of the Mass, and those would be the prayers specific to the day, and again, to contrast this, you would still find that these are sung in traditional liturgies, (they are supposed to be in all liturgies). In other words, you find the Introit with specific versus for the day – ideally chanted, or fittingly set to another musical setting – now replaced by an ‘Entrance’ Hymn, which 99% of the time is not related to the Introit of that day. People want “hits” and so we find that the several other propers of the Mass are treated in the same way, i.e., ignored, and so the result is that the “sung Mass” is replaced by “singing at Mass” and this can be pretty good to horrific in execution, but the Mass is not sung for the most part, and thus not prayed completely (I am not a theologian, so don’t hit me with “how complete, what are you saying here, etc. .. “) a fact that is just not understood by the vast numbers of Catholics, unless they be beyond a certain age, and you find this state of affairs in “liturgy committees,” among paid liturgists, and priest even, seemlingly oblivious to these concerns.

    So chant was, as it was mentioned, music subordinated to and at the service of the verses of the Scriptures, which is that which constitutes the majority of the Propers. (It is ironic how the “New Mass” was supposed to elevate and broaden the use and appreciation and depth of understanding of Scripture). It was also the music of the Divine office and was thus part and parcel of monastic life and from monastic life comes its greatest development and the amount of truly great music, and the artistry depth of which is staggering, and I think a person would be hard pressed to make a statement like ‘I don’t like chant’ as much as a person might say ‘I don’t like pop music.’ IOW, some you like and some you don’t is more typically how it goes. If you had only heard marginal or bad performances of a style, or only a slice, then it would be premature to venture such an opinion, and I think this fits our church today, as the style is much broader and deeper than people are exposed, as well as the employment of other, i.e., polyphonic, traditional styles and repertoire. The greatness of the music must be acknowleged, but you need to be familiar with it in a more the cursory way. I mean, talking about the ‘best of the best’ there is just no comparing this music artistically with a Bob Hurd ditty, or Haugen dirge. They just pale by comparison, not that those composers can’t put our something good as well, once in a while, but they won’t be sung a hundred years from now, not music for the ages…So it seems like I am getting into taste here, but this really goes more to having the best china available for a special guest on a special occasion, and breaking out the paper plates and cups and plastic forks, cause our little brother likes red.

    I hope this does not come across as dismissive of all arguments to the contrary, but until you have had a good rib eye, MacDonald’s can seem pretty good, and that is the case with most of our US churchgoers today. Even if one knows there is a better mode of worship available, one cannot always access it, which adds to the consternation of this age. So, please, don’t try to make up your mind on this yet, let it marinate, go out and explore. I suggest also some Eastern rite churches. They have preserved better tradition, so experience it, and do it more than once or twice, to be fair, and then see if you feel the same.

    Church music did not need V2 to ‘OK’ non chant for church use, this had been going on for centuries. This gives me a clue as to you grasp of the subject. Yes, V2 reaffirmed chant and gave it “pride of place” with the caveat that other musics were not verboten. That was just to be careful not to be misunderstood and not a pronouncement of some new principal.



  31. RML says:

    Fr. Z

    That “excellent priest” is the Very Rev. Fr. John Berg FSSP

  32. Sandra in Severn says:

    I noticed that the women in the choir DID not wear anything resembling “vestments.” And many women were wearing a veil as well.

    The comments on the politics and TLM are interesting to follow. Most of those that I know who go out of their way to participate in a TLM are staunch “pro-Life” but that is all they have in common with Conservatives, Libertarians and Republicans.

  33. Mary Ann, Singing Mum says:

    One of your statements truly intrigued me- “To be made sit in a church with Gregorian Chant would cause me unspeakable distress.” With all the terror and suffering in the world, do you really mean to say this about something as innocuous, albeit penetrating, as Gregorian chant?

    You are fond of referencing Scripture. Perhaps it would help you to appreciate sung prayer if you knew (as you may know already) that much of chant is pure Scripture, painted as it were with musical elaboration..

    There are numerous teachings about Gregorian chant (of course not on the level of a ‘superdogma’) in recent Church documents. Maybe you have read these, I don’t know.

    One principle comes to mind, reiterated by JPII in 2003, ‘With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple”

    Some food for thought as you consider the aim of the Sacred Liturgy.

  34. jasmine tea says:

    I just want to add that I too was blessed enough to be able to attend St. Stephen the First Martyr for a few months earlier this year while looking for work in Sacramento! Beautiful parish.

  35. brendon says:

    “Tradition” also includes the last 40 years, not just everything prior to that.

    This statement strikes me as fundamentally false.

    Tradition is not properly defined as “all the stuff we do.” Tradition is a gradual and organic growth that flows from the nature of the thing or institution from which the tradition stems. That means that the tradition surrounding the Sacred Liturgy of the Roman Rite develops gradually and organically both from the fact that it is sacred, i.e. focused on God and what is fittingly set apart for His honor, and from the fact that it is Roman, i.e. originating in the linguistic and cultural milieu of Rome. Any attempt to ignore either or these facts is non-traditional by definition. And something cannot be both non-traditional and traditional, as this would violate the law on non-contradiction.

    Generally speaking, the last 40 years has ignored both the fact that the Sacred Liturgy of the Roman Rite is sacred–best exemplified by focusing on what we prefer rather than what is set apart and most fitting for the worship of God–and the fact that it is Roman–exemplified by such things as ignoring the fact that Latin is the language proper to the Roman Rite and making the Roman Canon optional. Thus the last 40 years have generally been non-traditional. And thus the last 40 years cannot be included as part of the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite without violating the principle of non-contradiction.

    “Forty years I endured that generation. I said they are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know My ways. So I swore in my anger, ‘They shall not enter into my rest.'”

  36. Charivari Rob says:

    Tradition is not properly defined as “all the stuff we do.”

    I didn’t claim it was.

    If you’re asking me to clarify or expand upon my statement…

    There is much of what has been new (more particularly – the same unchanging Truth taught, recognized, praised, prayed, etc… in new forms) in the last 40 years that the Church teaches is valid and licit and is part of the Roman Catholic tradition.

  37. brendon says:

    There is much of what has been new (more particularly – the same unchanging Truth taught, recognized, praised, prayed, etc… in new forms) in the last 40 years that the Church teaches is valid and licit and is part of the Roman Catholic tradition.

    I knew that this is what you meant. My point was that it is false. The fact that things are allowed under the law does not necessarily make them a valid part of tradition as it is properly understood.

    So, again, tradition is not simply “all the stuff we do.” This is true even if all the stuff we do is licit under the laws of the Church. Altar girls are licit. Altar girls are still contrary to tradition, not a valid part of it.

  38. Ohio Annie says:

    On politics: around here even the every-Sunday Catholics had Obama stickers. Grr.

    On chant: love it, wish we could worship this way at other times than just during Lent and Advent.

    On the “rustle of life”: sometimes our rustle of life is so loud one can’t hear the choir. I wish there were a little more responsible parenting going on. Of course if you say that you are accused of being anti-life.

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