Lessons for the choir from Saint John

For us charged with the choral office, the feast of Saint John the Baptist bears paramount importance. It is on this feast when, at vespers, we once again sing the hymn that became the basis of the names of the notes of the mediaeval hexachord. Paul the Deacon, to whom authorship of the hymn is ascribed, saw in the 8th century the parallel in his and Zachary’s situation when, scheduled to sing the Exsultet in the Easter Vigil, he instead came down with a sore throat that very day. Needless to say, the anecdote confirms that, indeed, Paul’s throat was healed.

Stanzione - El nacimiento del Bautista anunciado a Zacarías
Annuncio a San Zaccaria della nascita di San Giovanni Battista | Massimo Stanzione | c. 1635

Six months after John’s birth, our Lord was born. Shortly after the birth of the Messiah, Herod the Great ordered the massacre of all male infants, two years and under, in Bethlehem. Only two survived. Christ, Whom Joseph and Mary spirited quickly to Egypt, and John, whom Elisabeth and Zacharias hid in the wilderness. And this nourishes our motley experience in promoting sacred music, our steadfast commitment to preserving Gregorian chant in the life of the Church.

Stanzione - San Juan Bautista se despide de sus padres
San Giovanni Battista dice addio ai suoi genitori | Massimo Stanzione | c. 1635

Our isolation in this seemingly inhospitable part of the Lord’s vineyard, which other workers attempt to compromise by diverting irrigation (Goodbye, 2000-ish-year-old chant! Let’s support music that people want to hear!), adulterating fertiliser (Away with Latin! Nobody understands it these days!), or substituting crops (Hello, alius cantus aptus!) is not for naught. Sweeter is triumph at the height of adversity.

Stanzione - Predicación del Bautista en el desierto
La predicazione di San Giovanni Battista nel deserto | Massimo Stanzione | c. 14635

Sacred music is becoming a stranger in its own home. It is as if we are continuously encouraged towards holiness from one side, and expected to act on this resolve while hearing in the liturgy music bordering on the wanton. Popes, bishops, concerned liturgists have spoken in favour of sacred music. To some Catholics, however, who harbour other notions, obeying such pronouncements, even those enshrined in the blueprints of reforms they so cherish to the point of canonisation, is a pill far bitterer than a quashed ambition. Germane thoughts of solidarity ripple across the vineyard. But when the stewards, his foremen, and their concerned labourers turn to other problems, the determination fizzes out, and we are left again in the wilderness of obedience. The head is willing but the members are weak.

Stanzione - Degollación de San Juan Bautista
La decollazione di San Giovanni Battista | Massimo Stanzione | c. 1635

But what immensely fortifies us most in the duty to which have been called and to which we have responded is the reality of persecution. Every day we labour is a day lived in martyrdom. Not necessarily with blood. Let us not shirk away from this reality, and call upon the guidance of the Precursor of the Lord, whose birth loosened the tongue of his father.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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What child is this?

There is a pious tradition reckoning the feast of Saint John the Baptist as the Summer Christmas. It is, after all, the liturgical feast of the earthly birth of the Precursor of the Lord, Whose proper birth is celebrated six months later, a celebration the Anglosphere calls Christmas. These two and the earthly birth of the Blessed Virgin are the only earthly births the Church celebrates. All other birthdays are heavenly birthdays, coinciding with the martyrdom or the death of a saint.

Gentileschi - Nacimiento de san Juan Bautista
Nascita di San Giovanni BattistaArtemisia Gentileschi | 1633–1635
Bouguereau - La Vierge, l'enfant Jésus et Saint Jean-Baptiste
La Vierge, l’enfant Jésus et Saint Jean-Baptiste | William Adolphe Bouguereau | 1882

That the birth of Saint John the Baptist has a summer character to it has to be underscored as well, because of its scriptural significance. The summer solstice usually falls on 21 June, and after this occurrence, we usually notice the days shortening. The shortest day, that is, the longest night, usually falls within the period of the misas de aguinaldo, and the days will begin to lengthen again after the winter solstice, which usually falls on 21 December. Indeed, even the arrangement of the season reflects the relationship between the Lord and His Precursor. Oportet illum crescere, me autem minui, so saith Saint John.

What child is thisAnd so, today we prepare to celebrate this year’s Johnmass (which forms a triad with Christmas and Ladymass). Compared to Christmas, the feast of Saint John has not been blessed with a vast repertoire of hymns, either in Latin or in the vernacular, even if its vespers hymn is the basis of nomenclature in solfege. Years ago, therefore, we decided to appoint alternative lyrics to one the many tunes associated with Christmas, Greensleeves, which carries the Christmas title What child is this? This Johannine parallel (click the thumbnail to open the file), likewise, uses this same title, having taken the strange opportunity of commemorating in one carol the only three who were born with no original sin: Christ our Lord was sinless; Mary was conceived without original sin; the Lord sanctified Saint John while still in the womb.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Propers of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

In July 2015, with the transfer of our priest, our community found a new home in the parish of the Most Holy Redeemer in Santol, Quezon City. The titular of the parish is, from its name, the Most Holy Redeemer (23 October in the Missal). The patron, on the other hand, is a Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (8 May in the Missal). (Cases where the titular saint and the patron saint of a parish church have been recorded in the Philippines since Spanish times.) In the Extraordinary Form, such feasts are ranked first class in the calendar proper to the parish church, and, therefore, outclass all other liturgical observations of lower rank.

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The parish keeps the feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on the first Sunday of June. Thus, on 5 June 2016, we first celebrated this feast. There was a little hiccup to this: the full set of propers for this feast is found neither in the Liber usualis nor in the Graduale Romanum. The introit and the communion are nowhere to be found. (The tract can be found in the 1924 Graduale Romano-Seraphicum, proper to the Franciscans.) We needed to set the missing propers into chant. And, so we did.

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In festo B. M. V. a Sacro CordeThese chants proper to the choir (click the thumbnail to open the file) were first chanted in 2016. In 2017, the parish feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was liturgically dislodged from the first Sunday of June in the Extraordinary Form. Pentecost fell on that Sunday, 4 June 2017. The liturgical observance of the feast was on the following 12 June, a Monday, the first unimpeded day after Whitsuntide. This year, 3 June is not impeded, so we have to observe the feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, impeding, however, the usual external solemnity of the Corpus Christi after the feast on Thursday.

Let us rejoice and exult in the Lord, for knowing His Name, we hope in Him, Who does not abandon those beseeching Him, and let us beg the intercession of our Blessed Mother, in whom is all the grace of the way and the truth, and all the hope of life and virtue!

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Happy 1985th anniversary!

A blessed Pentecost to everyone! Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the 1985th anniversary of Her beginning, having been founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who ordained thus that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.

Pentecost
Pentecôte | Jean II Restout | 1732

EXEVNTE·MDCCCCLXXXV·ANNO
A·PARACLYTO·PER·FILIVM·A·PATRE·EMISSO
QVI·DVM·TAMQVAM·SPIRITVS·VEHEMENS·DESCENDENS
VT·IGNIS·LINGVA·SEDIT·SVPRA·DISCIPVLOS
DEDIT·ECCLESIAE·A·CHRISTO·AEDIFICATAE·EXORDIVM
OMNIBVS·HANC·SENTENTIAM·VISVRIS
SALVTEM·IN·DOMINO·PRO·EIS·DESIDERAMVS
FAVSTISSIMVMQVE·EISDEM·EXITVM·GRATVLAMVR

Vivat Sancta Mater Ecclesia !

Substituting the choir with recordings at Mass

It has come to our attention that certain Traditional groups push forward with the celebration of a misa cantada even when no schola is present to sing. Now, we can dispense with the schola when we deal with the ordinaries of the Mass. The congregation can sing Missa de Angelis from memory, supposing they still remember it, and have a collective vocal apparatus capable of executing it. We all know, however, that a misa cantada requires at least one cantor, trained or at least experienced in chant or psalm tones, to sing the propers. So, in the case presented above, schola carente vel cantoribus absentibus, the propers were played from recordings.

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Is this allowed? The resounding answer is: No, it is not allowed!

If there is no schola, the logical, human, and pastoral recourse would be to celebrate a misa rezada.

But, sir! But, sir! Is playing the propers from recordings forbidden? Of course, it is forbidden! By Pope Pius XII, no less! Below are extracts from the 1958 Instruction De musica sacra (English here; original Latin here). First, that instruments at Mass should be played personally:

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60. c) Finally, only instruments which are personally played by a performer are to be used in the sacred liturgy, not those which are played mechanically or automatically.

60. c) Denique ea tantum musica instrumenta in sacra Liturgia admittuntur, quae personali artificis actione tractantur, non autem quae modo mechanico seu automatico.

And, second, that sound-producing machines which mimic, and not merely amplify, the capabilities of the human voice, can be used only outside the liturgical action:

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71. The use of automatic instruments and machines, such as the automatic organ, phonograph, radio, tape or wire recorders, and other similar machines, is absolutely forbidden in liturgical functions and private devotions, whether they are held inside or outside the church, even if these machines be used only to transmit sermons or sacred music, or to substitute for the singing of the choir or faithful, or even just to support it.

However, such machines may be used, even inside the church, but not during services of any kind, whether liturgical or private, in order to give the people a chance to listen to the voice of the Supreme Pontiff or the local Ordinary, or the sermons of others. These mechanical devices may be also be used to instruct the faithful in Christian doctrine or in the sacred chant or hymn singing; finally they may be used in processions which take place outside the church, as a means of directing, and supporting the singing of the people.

71. Usus instrumentorum et machinarum « automaticarum », uti sunt : autoorganum, grammophonium, radiophonium, dictaphonium seu magnetophonium, et alia eiusdem generis, in actionibus liturgicis et piis exercitiis, sive intra sive extra ecclesiam peragendis, absolute vetatur, etsi agatur tantum de sacris sermonibus vel Musica sacra transmittenda, vel de cantoribus aut fidelibus in cantu substituendis aut etiam sustentandis.

His tamen machinis uti licet, etiam in ecclesiis, sed extra actiones liturgicas et pia exercitia, cum agitur de audienda voce Summi Pontificis, Ordinarii loci, vel aliorum oratorum sacrorum ; vel etiam ad fideles in doctrina christiana vel in cantu sacro aut religioso populari instituendos ; denique ad populi cantum dirigendum et sustentandum in processionibus extra ecclesiam peragendis.

Actuosa participatio is predicated on the actual and present action of the human person, a sentient, rational, and intelligent being created by God in His very image, capable of recognising God his own Creator, worshipping Him, and rendering Him adoration, veneration, and honour.

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Use the recordings for practice, for seminars, for conventions, for talks. Chuck the record player out when it’s time for Mass, or the First Friday Benediction, or the fiesta novena. God forfend we transform the Mass into mere aesthetic experience replete with a panoply of pleasing vocals produced from the throat of a creature formed by human hands! God is not worshipped by machine.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Happy Easter!

Today is the Octave of Easter, also known as Low Sunday, also known as Quasimodo Sunday, also known as Dominica in albis deponendis, in Western Christendom. Most of Eastern Christendom, on the other hand, celebrate Easter today.

Caravggio - Incredulità di san Tommaso
Incredulità di san Tommaso | Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio | 1601–1602

Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!


Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and to those in the tombs,
granting life.

Christus resurrexit a mortuis,
morte mortem calcavit,
et euntibus in sepulchris
vitam donavit.

المسيح قام من بين الأموات
ووطئ الموت بالموت
ووهب الحياة للذين في القبور

Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών,
θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας,
και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι
ζωήν χαρισάμενος.


Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Low Sunday

Stom - De ongelovige Thomas
De ongelovige Thomas | Matthias Stom | 1641–1649

SVRREXIT·CHRISTVS
SVRREXIT·VERE


Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. The He saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put into My side; and be not faithless, but believing.

Venit Iesus, ianuis clausis, et stetit in medio, et dixit : Pax vobis. Deinde dicit Thomæ : Infer digitum tuum huc et vide manus meas, et affer manum tuam et mitte in latus meum : et noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis.


Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

 

Low Saturday

Burnand - Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au Sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection
Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au Sépulcre le matin de la RésurrectionEugène Burnand | 1898

SVRREXIT·CHRISTVS
SVRREXIT·VERE


Peter therefore went out, and that other disciple, and they came to the sepulchre. And they both ran together, and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

Exiit ergo Petrus et ille alius discipulus, et venerunt ad monumentum. Currebant autem duo simul, et ille alius discipulus præcucurrit citius Petro, et venit primus ad monumentum.


Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

 

Hail, O Queen of heavenly beings!

The title literally translates Salve, Regina coelitum. The metred translation, obviously the singable one, registers it as Hail, Holy Queen enthroned above. We all know the sprightly Sister Act version of this Marian hymn. YouTube teems with an endless slew of rehashed attempts to parrot this version. And yet, we most probably also know how to sing it more reverently in harmony with the sanctity of the consecrated edifice.

Tiziano - Il Cristo risorto appare alla Madre
Il Cristo risorto appare alla Madre | Tiziano Vecellio | c. 1554

Salve, Regina coelitumWhat is probably less known about this hymn is the fact that it has an Easter version, which practically still begins with the same words. Actually, we only discovered the verses and assumed that it used the same melody as the one we already knew (click on the image to open the file). Except for the first verse, the Internet yields virtually no information about this set of lyrics, which we found in an old Spanish devocionario—the title we forget—now kept in the Special Collections of the UP Main Library. Whereas in the usual extra tempus paschale version of this hymn, both lines of the verses end with O Maria; in the tempore paschali durante version, the second O Maria is replaced with Alleluia.

We Filipinos traditionally celebrate the joy of the Blessed Virgin at the Resurrection of her Son in a mystery play we inherited from the Spanish encuentro. Enemies of Tradition, those ashamed of our sacred heritage, and those who have elected to separate themselves from the Church, often scorn this custom for being not mentioned in Holy Writ, explaining it away as superstition without any warrant of plausibility. Whilst this saddens us, we lift our eyes unto heaven and redouble our hope in the Lord. Let us, therefore, unite our jubilation with the Blessed Virgin’s, and, invoking her unfailing maternal aid, let us honour our Redeemer in His most glorious Resurrection, that we may be guided in our preparation for the celebration of the descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Lay down the mourning!

In the midst of the Easter Octave, let us recall that supreme joy that possessed us the very moment we chanted again the Gloria in the Mass of the Easter Vigil. So deep the sorrow that gripped us on Good Friday, only to make sweeter that lofty joy with which we greeted the Resurrection of the Lord.

Nesterov - The empty tomb
Жены-мироносицы | Михаил Васильевич Нестеров | 1889

Pone luctumThe hymn Pone luctum, sume vestem, which we first sang last Easter Sunday, aptly captures this bold shift from grief to joy (click on the image to open the file). First appearing in 1851 in Heinrich Bone’s Cantate !, as the German Halleluja lasst uns singen, the text first appears set in music, ultimately traced back to J. B. C. Schmidts, in 1891 in Joseph Hermann Mohr’s Gesangbuch Psälterlein. Unfortunately, while the German history of this hymn has been manifested to us, both the first time the hymn was sung in Latin, and the identity of the author of its Latin verses continue to elude us. Below is the popular German version.

It bears an uncanny resemblance, both in metre and intention, to that mediaeval poem written by Adam of Saint Victor, Pone luctum, Magdalena, which in itself is also an Easter hymn. Easter encourages all of us who have sorrowed over the passion and the death of the Lord upon the cross, in repentance and resolution, to rejoice in the light of His resurrection, having reconciled the world unto Himself when He died on the Cross, redoubling and recalling our joy and mirth on that gladsome Sunday when the women and the apostles discovered the tomb of the Lord empty.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.