Miserere: falsifying the drone

The first time the Miserere was sung at the end of the Tenebrae was in the evening of Spy Wednesday, 7 April 1514. Paride de Grassi, ceremoneer of the Sistine Chapel, describes the new method as symphonizando, which we translated here as harmonising. However, the Latin gerund declined in the ablative, encodes a more specific meaning: the technique we now know as falsobordone. We might be led to believe that this technique creates an impression that a note or a chord is continuously sounded. And our perception is more or less correct.


Different regions expressed this technique differently. The French cultivated fauxbourdon, where two voices are added below the melody. The English developed faburden, where the melody is sandwiched between two additional voices. The Spaniards employed fabordón, where voices are added to the melody akin to the French counterpart, a praxis criticised by some Spanish musical authorities as coarse and unschooled, as opposed to the more refined counterpoint. Italians, on the other hand, structured falsobordone in such a way that the first part is a recitation in one chord, and the latter part is a cadence.

In their first incarnations, these etymologically-related techniques, in their varied expressions and executions, were applied to liturgical singing, generally for chanting the psalms, harnessing the voice in such a way as to honour and render sublime the worship celebrated inside every consecrated edifice. In the Tenebrae, the Miserere, which is Psalm 50, is chanted every day as the first psalm of lauds. On Spy Wednesday, it is chanted in 8G; on Maundy Thursday, 7c; on Good Friday, 4c. It is not as the first psalm of lauds that the Mierere obtained its fame; it is as the final psalm before the collect that it did. In this position, the tone that presented naturally was the disarmingly haunting tonus peregrinus, sometimes ranked as the ninth tone of the Gregorian modes. In the Tenebrae, the tonus peregrinus is used mainly in the Lamentations, which are read in the first nocturn on all three days.

Hayez - La distruzione del Tempio di Gerusalemme
La distruzione del Tempio di Gerusalemme | Francesco Hayez | 1867

That first attempt to sing in falsobordone the Miserere unmasked its own nascent shortcomings. Experience of beauty is impermanent if the execution is not simultaneously attended by the so-called excellence of form and by holiness worthy of the liturgy, to borrow terminology from Tra le sollecitudini, if it is marred by an imbalance favouring technique rather intelligibility. The bitter failure kicked off, fortunately, a robust project, a fateful journey, a salutary pilgrimage, to seek after that composition worthy of occupying a lofty niche in the stratosphere of sacromusical achievements. We can say that Allegri’s Miserere is a very important milestone, if not the most fitting culmination, of that pilgrimage.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Petrine drawl

The antiphon at the Magnificat today is quite interesting. Briefly, using Mt. 26, 73, the Office allows us to hear the voice of the high priest’s maidservant calling out Saint Peter.

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria IV Maioris Hebdomadae

The maidservant said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.

Bloch - Verleugnung Jesu durch Petrus (fragment)
Peters fornægtelse | Carl Heinrich Bloch | 1873

Let’s translate it into modern colloquial Tagalog. Imagine a chimay, let’s name her Inday, hearing over the evening news that members of an accused narco-outfit are at large after their boss suffered arrest following a successful but bogus drug buy-bust operation. She even catches a few minutes of an interview of said drug lord, before she goes out, perhaps to buy prepaid load from Aling Bebang, or to meet Dodong at the vacant lot next block. En route she overhears a group of tambay chattering their woes away. Eavesdropping, she hears one tambay joke about another tambay having worked for the drug boss whom the evening news reported arrested; and notices the other tambay firmly, with swearwords and expletives not recordworthy here, denying it, for fear of tokhang. Realising that that tambay speaks with the same drawl as the dubiously arrested drug boss, she calls him out saying:

Isa ka nga talaga sa kanila! Kasi kahit punto mo pa lang buking ka na!

Let us allow this somewhat familiar scene sink in, and then we can perhaps understand the fear welling up in Saint Peter’s heart at the thought of being lynched with the blessing of the authorities. Elsewhere has been expressed the opinion that the Lord was a victim of an extrajudicial killing. Absence of a fair trial, sentence never pronounced, jury tampering, all the kicks were present enough to miscarry justice.

Saint Peter was a Galilean. He was from Galilee. He spoke Galilean. What gave Saint Peter away, therefore, was his speech, his drawl, his twang, his accent. In the same speech he had used to assure Christ that he would not abandon Him, Saint Peter denied that he knew the Man being led to trial. He even swore. He even cursed. Our Lord knew that Peter would deny Him. He prophesied it. Saint Peter saw Christ robed in glory atop Mount Tabor. Abandoned, in chains, meek as a lamb led to slaughter, the Lord’s appearance that evening could not be reconciled by Peter with His glory in the Transfiguration. Peter did not recognise the state to which the Lord had allowed Himself to be cast. He could not accept it. And so he denied knowing Him. And so he repented these three denials when he remembered the words of the Lord.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Power and obedience

Yesterday, we heard at Vespers, at the Magnificat, our Lord politely putting Pilate in his place, with a rephrasing of Jn. 19, 11.

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria II Maioris Hebdomadae

Thou shouldst have no power over Me, unless it had been given thee from above.

Today, we heard the following quotation from Jn. 10, 18:

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria III Maioris Hebdomadae

Power have I to lay down my soul, and to take it up again.

On Monday, our Lord responded to Pilate’s absurd and naive claim that he had the power to crucify Him. That power was not granted to Pilate from God; rather, that power was given to Pilate from the Roman emperor. Today, the Office tells us why, having told Pilate point blank he had no power to crucify Him, He eventually died on the Cross. No man takes away the Lord’s life; only He can lay it down, for He has the power to take it up again.

Ciseri - Ecce homo
Ecce homo | Antonio Ciseri | 1871

Pilate willed to give the Son of God up to the Jews to be crucified. And so he did. The Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, Who is the first begotten of all creation, the first begotten from among the dead, could have easily nullified the decree of an earthly authority whose power proceeded from a superior, but ultimately another merely earthly, authority. But He did not. What made it possible for the most perfect sacrifice to take place on Calvary was the Lord’s obedience to the Father, Whose love for His Son manifested in the Lord’s power to to lay down His life and to take it up again.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

To Galilee

At Vespers yesterday, at the Magnificat, we chanted a short pericope from Matthew (26, 32, 32):

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Dominica in Palmis

For it is written: I shall strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered away: for after I shall have risen again I shall go before you into Galilee: thither shall you see Me, saith the Lord.

Christ calling the apostled James and John
Christ calling the apostles James and John | Edward Armitage | 1869

On Palm Sunday, the Lord speaketh. On Easter Sunday, when we chant the sequence, we hear the latter part of the pericope above restated by Mary.

I have seen the tomb of the living Christ, and the glory of the risen Christ; the angelic witnesses, the shroud, and the linens. Christ my hope hath risen again: He shall go before His own into Galilee.

Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis : angelicos testes, sudarium, et vestes. Surrexit Christus spes mea : praecedet suos in Galileam.

The Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday culminates in the triumph of the Cross when our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died on the cross on Good Friday. The Lord’s earthly ministry started in Galilee and ended in Jerusalem. He brought His disciples into this city, but when He had risen up again, He told them to meet Him in Galilee, the homeland of His apostles, where He can appear before all His disciples, and where He had first preached and performed miracles.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus,

Schedule: Tenebrae 2018

The Office of Darkness, the Officium Tenebrarum in Latin, comprises the offices of matins and lauds traditionally sung or recited in the evening for the last three days of Holy Week, what we call the Sacred Triduum. In the Philippines, this office is often called in its Spanish name, tinieblas, which has also lent its name, at least in some localities, to the large wooden clapper installed in the belfries of those times, more widely known as matracas, apparently because when the time of the customary noise was come, the belfry clapper was also sounded.

Schedule - Tenebrae

We are in the week that changed the world, Holy Week, and its last three days, the Sacred Triduum, are the holiest days of Christendom. Let us honour the Lord, contemplating on His holy Passion, in fervent prayer, in that natural darkness that recalls the spiritual darkness that once enveloped the world awash in sin, that we may rejoice in the light of His resurrection, having reconciled the world unto Himself when He died on the Cross.

Cantemus, psallamus, atque oremus.

Superpelliceum nostrum aligerum (1)

Our choristers sometimes receive quizzical looks, ultimately resolved by bolder souls with a direct question, when we sing in the Liturgy vested in a surplice that looks like a blouse with scandalously long side trains sewn at the sleeves. As doubtless we will once again be seen in this indumentary peculiarity, let this be an answer to the collective question of an inquisitive public: what we are wearing is called the Mozarabic surplice. The long trains at the sides are called wings, for which reason it is also called the winged surplice. These can be either pleated or left plain as is; if pleated, the surplice is then called the pleated surplice or the folded surplice.


This terminology is set forth in chapter III of title IV of this Choir’s draft Enchiridion Consuetudinum Praecipuarum et Morum, which is just a fancy way of calling a handbook of our customs.

Amongst the choristers of the Choir, the winged surplice, known elsewhere as the pleated surplice, and generally as the Mozarabic surplice, enjoys pride of place amongst other surplices and similar vestments used by the Latin Church.

Superpelliceum aligerum, denominatum alibi superpelliceum plicatum, plerumque superpelliceum mozarabicum, apud choristas Cappellae primo loco inter alia superpellicea similiaque indumenta Ecclesia Latina usitata gaudet.

Now, let us go to the more important questions: Why on earth do we wear something that is Mozarabic? Aren’t we of the Roman Rite? The simple answer is, of course, precedence: Its use in the Philippines has been established not only circumstantially (we were a colony of an empire with Mozarabic connections; we had to have used that surplice in the past) but substantially (Filipino churchmen indeed wore that surplice). Chronologically, below was how we established precedence:

1. Guam used the Mozarabic surplice. Since Guam once belonged to the then Diocese of Cebu, then that surplice must have been used in the Diocese of Cebu.

Procession in Guam
A procession in Guam with servers in Mozarabic surplices with shortened sleeves. Notice the characteristic triangular opening of the neckline, which happens when the sleeves are parted.

2. Priests attending the First Provincial Council of Manila wore the Mozarabic surplice. Since this Council encompassed the entire Philippine archipelago (it was only called provincial and not plenary due to the fact that at that time Manila was the only ecclesiastical province), then that surplice must have been used throughout the archipelago.

Padres del Primer Concilio Provincial de Manila
At the foreground are seated the prelates Msgr. Thomas Augustine Hendrick of Cebu, Msgr. Jeremiah James Harty of Manila, Dom Ambrose Agius, O. S. B. (Apostolic Delegate), Msgr. Dennis Joseph Dougherty of Nueva Segovia, and Don Jorge Barlín Imperial of Nueva Cáceres. Behind Barlín is Don Juan Gorordo y Perfecto who would later become the first Filipino bishop of Cebu. At the left stand the canons of the metropolitan cathedral of Manila, among which are Don Eulogio Sánchez and Don Silvino López Tuñón. The rest are the theologians and the synodal fathers in full-lace Mozarabic surplices. Notice again the triangular opening of the neckline and the clearer seam separating the sleeves and the bodice.

3. Philippine art attests to the use of the Mozarabic surplice. If the Mozarabic surplice appeared in a work of art featuring a moment in Philippine history, albeit portrayed in a biased manner, then the depiction of the Mozarabic surplice had to have a basis in real life.

Resurrección Hidalgo - El asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante y su hijo
In this fragment from El asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante y su hijo by Félix Resurreccion Hidalgo y Padilla in 1884, the crucifer at the extreme right is wearing full-lace Mozarabic surplice.

4. Aglipayans continued to use the Mozarabic surplice. While their nativist leadership criticised, lampooned, maligned, condemned, and scorned the Roman Catholic Church for the foreignness of Her hierarchy, and the alleged unscriptural-ness of Her doctrines, it looks like they nevertheless had no qualms copying Her customs, even those more intimately linked to Spain (the collarpieces and the Mozarabic surplice) than to Christendom in general.

The dignity holding what looks like a staff is wearing a full-lace Mozarabic surplice. Aglipay in chasuble and mitre is seated in the middle flanked by ministers, one in tunicle, another in dalmatic, both with collarpieces.

For now, let us content ourselves with this exposition.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Schedule: Holy Week 2018

Holy Week starts today, 25 March, Palm Sunday, nudging the Annunciation to 9 April, the first unimpeded day after Low Sunday. We are now nearing the summit, the pinnacle, the climax of Lent. Hopefully, we have used Forelent to dispose ourselves to the rigours of this holy season.

Schedule - Holy Week
May the sacrifices that we offer, and the discipline to which we submit our bodies, the devotions that year after year we revisit, the alms that we give, redouble our joy and mirth on that gladsome Sunday when the women discovered the tomb of the Lord empty.

Ieiunemus, oremus, eleemosynam et demus.

Shifting notions and the feast of Saint Pedro Calungsod

San Pedro Calungsod

Saint Pedro Calungsod died on 2 April 1672. If we check the liturgical calendar for the year 1672, we will find out that 2 April 1672 is the Saturday before Passion Sunday. Passion Sunday, in the reckoning of the Hispanic world, is domingo de Lázaro, a term we Hispanics appropriated from the Mozarabic Rite, which calls the Fifth Sunday of Lent exactly that way, Dominica de Lazaro (something which also persists in the Ambrosian Rite). This birthday almost always falls either within Lent or during the Easter Octave. As such, it is accordingly transferred. If we following the rule of thumb in the Extraordinary Form, we will be transferring the feast to the first unimpeded day after Low Sunday. In the Ordinary Form, however, the memorial of Saint Pedro Calungsod observed today, having been made transferable to the Saturday before Palm Sunday, for praiseworthy reasons slightly marred by a notional shift.

This translation of the memorial of Saint Pedro Calungsod obtains its force, or at least it is enshrined, in a 2013 circular of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission of Manila. In this circular, the memorial, when 2 April is impeded, is transferred to the Saturday before Palm Sunday. The intention, in its pure form, is very honourable. To celebrate our second saint on the liturgical day he died is indeed laudable. The aftereffects, however, of the liturgical reforms in the past forty years, which unsurprisingly allotted considerable effort towards restructuring terminology, a semantic reform, if the term pleases, have unfortunately conflated Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday in present liturgical thought.

Which is why this is a thorny question. In 1672, Dominica Passionis had no other namesake. In 1960, the original Dominica Passionis became Dominica I Passionis, and received a sibling in the person of the original Dominica in Palmis, now the Dominica II Passionis seu in Palmis. Eventually, when they pruned out Prelent, Dominica I Passionis evaporated, and the new Dominica II Passionis conflated itself with Dominica in Palmis to the point of synonymity. And so in 1970, Palm Sunday became Dominica in Palmis de Passione Domini.

When the decision to transfer the memorial of Saint Pedro Calungsod was being deliberated, it seems that this notional shift was not taken into account. And so, in 2013, Filipinos were advised to transfer the memorial to the Saturday before Palm Sunday. Or perhaps this was ignored, being obviously outdated and latently dangerous in the established worldview, because we have to get on with the times. Either way, knowing that this is the tip of a bigger question, let us ask Saint Pedro Calungsod to intercede for us, that we may endure with forbearance the vicissitudes of the world to which we are consigned, and grant us the same youthful fortitude that enabled him to submit to martyrdom.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


Miserere: singing the final psalm

We are a week away from Holy Week. Jitterbugs we become. A lot of things are to look forward to during Holy Week, so much so that some of us experience that obscene sensation called excitement in the preceding days. Solemn and ancient liturgies often coax out a rare species of dedication to prepare and rehearse that the saner of our lot would call cramming. Left and right issue forth the trousseaus of damask and brocade earmarked for the hallowed days. Ceremoneers inventory all their servers and assign days for service, and rescue Holy Week ceremony books gathering dust in the sacristy drawer. Santeros and camameros fret about the missing accessory of their gerenciales. And choirs delve into their repertoire, vast or not, handpicking the de rigueur and rethinking the workable.

Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla
Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla | Alfred Dehodencq | 1851

Whether de rigueur or workable, one Holy Week piece commands admiration, exudes an unparalleled spellbinding appeal that has captivated, and continues to captivate for that matter, many souls, believers or not. It is Allegri’s Miserere, whose history is as interesting as the mystique surrounding its accessibility is mythological. Today, of course, when the ornamental technique so closely guarded by the papal choir has but faded, the restrictions having become quite likewise moot, or so we believe, we can experience its beauty from performances by historically-informed professional choirs.

The Miserere, of course, refers to psalm 50, the psalm whose first verse is chanted at the end of the Asperges every Sunday outside Eastertide. In the older praxis, the priest is expected to recite the entire psalm from memory while passing through the nave sprinkling blessed water. But this is not the part where the Miserere obtained its fame. Its stint in the Office of Darkness, the Officium Tenebrarum, what we fondly call tinieblas, is what poised it for the renown it was to acquire and accumulate. The tinieblas encompasses two canonical hours: matins and lauds. At the end of lauds, after the strepitus, that is, the din and crash signifying the astonishment of all creation at the death of the Son of God on the cross, those praying the Office, in a gesture of repentance and penance, recite the entirety of psalm 50, submissa voce and recto tono.

Up until 1955, the rubrics for its recitation indicated that it should be so. Choirs from many places of the world have for a long time chanted the psalm in ways equaling the respective variety of expertise and situation. After 1955, the reformers’ shears accidentally (or was it intentionally?) pruned it off the Office, so it officially ended its existence. But, for better or worse, fine taste and culture refused to submit to enforced desuetude. For that matter, since the Miserere gained fame during the Renaissance, we shall for the moment ignore its latter fate. The first time the Miserere was sung in the tinieblas was in the Sistine Chapel, in 1514, in the reign of Leo X. In the words of the then master of ceremonies of the Sistine Chapel, Paride de Grassi:

Office of Darkness, Wednesday, 1514. At the end the Cantors said the psalm Miserere with a new method: for they chanted the first verse while harmonising, and then alternately (with chant), which was well and devoutly executed.

Officium Tenebrarum. Die Mercurii 1514. In fine Cantores dixerunt psalmum Miserere cum novo modo ; nam primum versum cantarunt symphonizando, et deinde alternatim, quod fuit bene et devote.

The following day, however, the opposite transpired:

Thursday, Office of Darkness. The Cantors at the end, since they wanted to harmonise cleverly, rather than pleasingly, were not praised.

Die Iovis. Officium Tenebrarum. Cantores in fine cum vellent symphonizare doctius, quam suavius, non fuerunt laudati.

On Friday, the papal choir returned to the original composition. And so, having thus weighed and found wanting, this composition never even received the honour of being included in the Sistine Chapel’s collection of misereres. The positive result of this tentative attempt is the fact that it launched a three-century love story that climaxed with Gregorio Allegri. The milestones of this project, the significant plot developments of this love story, according to Giuseppe Baini, are below:

1517 Costanzo Festa 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
1533 Luigi Dentice 2 verses of 5vv and 4vv
1582 Francisco Guerrero 2 verses of 4vv
1588 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
After 1601 Teofilo Gargano 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Giovanni Francesco Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Felice Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
Unknown 2 verses of 4vv
Giovanni Maria Nanino 2 verses by Palestrina with last verse of 9vv
after 1617 Sante Naldini 4vv with last verse of 8vv
after 1599 Ruggiero Giovanelli 4vv with last verse of 8vv
1638 Gregorio Allegri 5vv and 4vv with last verse of 9vv
1680 Alessandro Scarlati 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
1714 Tommaso Bai 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1768 Giuseppe Tartini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1777 Pasquale Pisari 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv
1821 Giuseppe Baini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv

In due time, the sequence was fixed: Baini on Spy Wednesday, Bai on Maundy Thursday, Allegri on Good Friday. This was for the Sistine Chapel, where the pope attended the Office. The canons of the patriarchal basilica of Saint Peter, canonically bound to the recitation of the Office in choro, chanted their own Tenebrae wherein the Miserere of Valentino Fioravanti was sung on Spy Wednesday, Francesco Basili’s on Maundy Thursday, and Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli’s on Good Friday. But of all the masterpieces here mentioned, alone Allegri’s reached the zenith of legend.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

[1] Giuseppe Baini, Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1828 Rome).
[2] Charles Michael Baggs, The ceremonies of Holy-Week at the Vatican and St. John Lateran’s described (1839 Rome).