Filipinos and the Corpus Christi sequence

Last Thursday was the feast of Corpus Christi.

Blessed Sacrament

Musically, from Office to Mass, the feast is decorated with theologically rich pieces penned by the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas. All four, in fact, used as hymns in various Hours of the Office, and as Sequence of the Mass, are of his authorship: Pange, lingua, gloriosi for Vespers; Sacris sollemniis for Matins; Verbum supernum prodiens for Lauds; and Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem for Mass. A fifth hymn, Adoro te devote, he composed for private devotion, and is often used today as a fitting Communion hymn.

Did we ever wonder how these were sung in the Philippines before? Yes, we did! We know that prior to the so-called Gregorian Restoration of the 19th century (which spawned universal approved editions of the official chant books, new chant methodologies, and several editions of the Liber usualis), churches in the Philippines, whenever the occasion for a misa cantada arose, used the resources available to them.

Lauda, Sion, SalvatoremThis (click on the image to access the file) is an example of how Corpus Christi sounded in the Philippines in the 19th century. What we have here is the Sequence Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem from the Introitale Baclaianum, a collection of Mass parts set to plainchant and figured chant, dated 1827, from the parish of Baclayón in the island province Bohol. It is one of the four sets of cantorals, large format chant books that were propped on a specially-engineered rotating lectern called facistolium, used in the said parish during the Spanish era.

The first thing we must notice is the length of the Sequence. It is not complete. Only selected verses are included, grouped into twos. In the manuscript itself, the last verse itself alone uses the sixth melody. We only added the penultimate verse to keep the number even. Also, in the manuscript, there is no melody for the Amen. The music sidles directly to Alleluia. We picked the Amen melody from the Sequence of Saint Augustine (found in the same manuscript) which employs a similar melodic pattern.

Why was this Sequence truncated, we venture to ask. If it was not a case of general ignorance of or indifference to matters liturgical and choral, then it was probably a case of temporal and vocal economy. Indeed, the length of the hymns written by Saint Thomas, particularly, that of Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem can be very daunting, whose structure and melody were modelled after Laudes Crucis, itself composed by Adam of Saint Victor, precentor of the cathedral of Paris from 1107 until roughly 1134. The Parisian character of the authentic Gregorian melody easily comes out even at one glance, considering the very wide ambit of the chant.

We know that altering the text of the Mass, or of the parts that constitute it, is a power that does not reside in the ordinary cantor, or his choirmaster, or the scribe who copied the books for them. It was, and is, therefore, an abuse. In due time, with the 1903 motu proprio by Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini, and the decrees of the First Provincial Council of Manila (which quoted generously from the 1749 encyclical by Benedict XIV, Annus qui hunc), the practice was abandoned.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

One thought on “Filipinos and the Corpus Christi sequence

  1. Pingback: Filipinos and the Christmas Midnight Mass introit – Cappella Gregoriana Sanctæ Cæciliæ olim Xicatunensis

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