Friday, December 1, 2017

December - Perfect month to meditate on Greccio

First of a series by guest poster Sandy Wehle, SFO (aka my Mom), taken from her monthly letter to fraternity homebound.

Dear Ones,

 The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 In the 12th century, the morals of Assisi  we’re notorious even in the tough Italy of those days, and not only were the subject of sex was concerned. “In new Babylon“ was the title given to the town by the early chroniclers.

Medieval man believed that it was an essential part of life to subject religion to satire.   In the annual feast of fools at Christmastime, every rite  and article of faith of the Church, no matter how sacred, was celebrated in mockery. Arnoldo Fortini, in Francis of Assisi,  gives a detailed account of the debauchery which annually took place in Francis’ own parish church of Saint Nicholas, when on the saint’s feast day a boy-bishop was installed as Lord of the Revels to turn everything topsy-turvy. It was a kind of depraved celebration that bordered on paganism, lasting through Christmas and the feast of the Holy Innocents.m

The common people were allowed an annual temporary compensation for the harsh life which they led under the feudal, communal, and religious authorities. It was believed that this annual psychological safety valve was a good release of tension for the common people. However, the celebration became a time that encouraged murders, beatings, brutality, robbery of every kind, oppression, cheating, and all forms of depravity with no fear of punishment or retribution. All forms of sacrilege and insult were acted out in the church during this period of time. Lewd and bawdy talk was shouted out at nonsensical Masses that were said in gibberish. Games of dice were played out on the altar. Black pudding sausages were eaten during the Masses. Old shoes were burned instead of incense. They saying obscene songs in the choir. They held drinking bouts in the church.

How these memories must have saddened Francis after his conversion! (Since he was a member of the merchant class, he might have even been chosen as a “boy-bishop” when he was younger.).  Francis loved to meditate on the birth of the Christ Child. He longed for the people to share the “feast-of-feasts“ instead of the “feast of fools.”

 At Greccio three years before he died, Francis, with the help of Giovanni Velita, fulfilled his plans to call to mind the birth of the Christ Child on the night of Christmas. Brothers from nearby Franciscan places were invited. Many torches and candles were needed to make a great light in “that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star.”  Men and women worked unceasingly in the preparations.

All had been made ready in the forest by Christmas Eve, the Vigil of Christmas: the manger with a figure of the Christ Child, the hay, the ox, and the ass. Francis inspected it and was pleased. At last he had found a way to make a living presentation of the concept in which he passionately believed, in a drama that could not fail to stir even the most unresponsive. The lowly manger would show forth God – small, poor, humble. Assisi may have become a new Babylon, but Greccio would become a new Bethlehem.

Night fell, and it begin to snow. As the hours passed, far-away lights appeared in the valley and began to move up to the hermitage of Francis. Torches too numerous to count blazed up in the darkness, joyous moving lights. There was a great whirlwind of snowflakes dancing in the flickering flames of the torches. There were crackling bonfires to add their light and voice to the jubilation of flames that shone out on that harsh and lonely mount. The night was “lighted up like the day.”  A great throng crowded about the manger, where the ox and the ass brought the ancient miracle to life again. The people were “filled with  new joy over the mystery.“    The psalms sung by the kneeling friars filled the night.  Everything proclaimed celebrity, beauty, and joy: the priest in gold vestments celebrating the Mass, and the altar shining with lights. There was a single harmony that united all things and all creatures.

 Francis, vested as a deacon, sang the beautiful lesson: “she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger."   His beautiful voice touched everyone. Giovanni Velita was so overwhelmed by it that as Francis sang and read, Giovanni saw the figure of the baby Jesus come to life and awaken and look at St. Francis as he bent over the manger.

 This was truly a fitting vision, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of His grace, He was brought to life again through His servant St. Francis. This vision was stamped upon their fervent memory; it was the beginning of a new day for all who were there.

St. Francis had conceived of a simple way to awaken everyone’s love and admiration of the Christ Child, especially those who were weak in the faith.

Pray for everyone to share this inner joy and exultation with St. Francis of Assisi.
Pax et Bonum and Merry Christmas!


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The rest of the week - Epiphany and fleeing Snowmageddon

Thursday was another day full of music.  We had 4 1/2 hours of chant and polyphony rehearsal, plus chanting of Morning and Night Prayer, plus Mass - probably about 7 hours of singing, total.

The day's Mass was for St. John Neumann, OF ad orientem, completely sung, not only the ordinary (Mass IV) and the chanted propers of the day, but also the readings.

In the Traditional Latin Mass, Epiphany is celebrated on the appointed day, not transferred, so we actually got to have Epiphany on Jan. 6th. :) 
Due to the impending Winter Storm Helene, the  High Mass was moved up by three hours.  This meant we had to skip our last rehearsal, and the earlier one was shortened.  The rector of the cathedral surprised us by sending over two King cakes for the coffee hour after Morning Prayer! 

The Mass setting for the day was the Missa O Quam Gloriosum Est Regnum by Vittoria, which uses the same motifs from the motet after which this blog is named.  Hopefully, we will learn this setting in our parish schola at home later on.

Music files!   (It's a wonder I figured out how to do this)

 St. Paul Cathedral

Men's schola

Women's schola

Our fearless conductors!

Morning sky from hotel window
prior to Snowmageddon

So, I've been collecting pics of the 'angels in the architecture' in the various churches .  There weren't any in this cathedral, but they do have these adoring angels before the tabernacle!

Birmingham was getting ready for an afternoon of heavy sleet, so it was a blessing to be able to finish early, but it's always hard to leave.  We made it home safely, although it rained most of the way.  My schola and traveling buddy Jean is a great driver, even if I was white-knuckling it for a good part of the time! :-)

The annual summer Colloquium will take place in Minnesota this June.  Hope to see y'all there!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mass with Bishop +Baker

Since we were not in town to attend the installation of  our new bishop, it was lovely to have this evening's Mass celebrated by Bishop +Baker.  His Excellency was supposed to attend the installation, but he said our conference was more important.  May God bless him for his sacrifice!

This was following a full day of rehearsals for our own Masses on Thursday and Friday, of course.  More pieces have been added to our repertoire, with one chant rehearsal and two polyphony rehearsals.  Lots'o singing today!

Chanting Morning Prayer

Sister Servants of the Eternal Word
Bishop +Baker at his Cathedra

Bishop +Baker with priests, seminarians, and
servers attending the sacred music workshop

Highlands Consort of Birmingham
presented an Early Music Concert
after Mass
Works by William Byrd 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Winter Sacred Music - Birmingham!

No, it isn't yet Colloquium time!  This is a special edition - the Winter Sacred Music workshop, this year held in chilly Birmingham, AL.  There is even a chance of snow before we finish on Friday.  Woot!

45 attendees have braved various weather events traveling.   It's great so see old friends again and to meet new ones.

 We just had a very long drive with rain and fog thrown in for good measure.

The Mass on Wednesday will be with Bishop Baker in his cathedral.  As our schola director at home  would say, we will be 'massed at' by the cathedral choir.  In the meantime, we are practicing for the Thursday and Friday Masses, in the OF and EF forms respectively.  We are still in the Christmas season liturgically , so the Friday EF Mass will be Epiphany proper.  The setting of the Ordinary that we are learning is the Missa O Quam Gloriosum et Regnum by Victoria, which features the same motives as the motet of the same name.  We are also learning his motet Magi Viderunt Stellam.  Our advanced chant group is also responsible for the OF Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, and Offertory Propers on Thursday, as well as the Alma Redemptoris Mater by Palestrina.  The entire ensemble is learning Mass IV, Cunctipotens Genitor Deus, for that Mass, too.  There might be a few others, but we haven't learned them yet.  That's a whole lot of music we have, and have learned most of it in under two days so far.  (Well, two of the motets aren't new, so that helps.)

Looking forward to more rehearsals and chanted morning and night prayer each day!  This is the Best kind of vacation!  :-)  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Colloquium, Last Day - Mozart!

The 2016 Colloquium drew to an end today, but not without one more spectacular Mass.  Today we were again at St. Joseph Shrine for a Solemn High Mass, with the Mozart choir singing his Sparrow Mass setting, complete with 10-piece orchestra.  Today was the feast of St. William of Naples, an 1th century saint, who is an inspiring saint for our musical work, as he was forced to leave his monastery and subsequently went on to found several more.  In his homily, Father remarked that St. William was probably pleasantly surprised that he had a solemn Mass for his feast day, since he probably had not had something that elaborate in quite a few centuries!  :)

The choir got to sing from the loft, always a treat since lofts are generally so few and far between.

Following lunch and a quick visit to st. Charles Borromeo parish and the Lewis and Clark Museum in St. Charles, MO, it was time to return home to implement what we have learned, until next year.... in Minnesota!

Mozart choir in the shrine loft

Solemn High Mass, feast of St. William

St. Charles Borromeo

Rose window, St. Charles Borromeo

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Colloquium Day Five - Palestrina!!

Could this week get any better?  Why, yes, yes it can!

Today we had a plenary talk by Bishop +Conley from the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, who spoke on the Via Pulchritudinis, or the Way of Beauty.  We, as transmitters of the sacred music tradition, are called to evangelize through our chant amd polyphony.  In our post-modern culture, truth and goodness are no longer valued, but beauty retains its power to inspire conversion, turning to God.  We are to let it transform our whole lives, leading by example.

A lovely addition to the week jas been the opportunity to meet two of my online Plurk friends in person.  We met Mark, from Rome of the West, and Tina, from Snup's View from the Back Pew, for lunch at Schlafly's Tap Room neat the Colloquium hotel.  I love it when my online friends turn into 'in real life' friends! :-)

After lunch was the final rehearsal for the evening Mass for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.  We were warned not to let our necks get stuck looking up so much at all the mosaics adorning the interior of the cathedral!  It would have been easy to do so, as it is covered from top to bottom, and then some!  Our 60 voice Palestrina choir had the awesome experience of singing the Missa Papae Marcelli in this magnificent space.  The reverberation time seemed to be almost nine seconds!  Following the Mass and supper, we returned t  the cathedral for an organ concert, which again filled the space.  I'm still trying to figure out how to pack some of that echo for home; even three seconds would make a world of difference in our home parish.

Tomorrow, the Mozart choir will provide his Sparrow Mass setting for our final Mass back at the Shrine of St. Joseph.

Bp. +Conley gives a plenary talk
 on the Via Pulchritudinis
Main altar
 containing a relic of St. Louis

Me with Mark and Tina,
in real life!

St. Louis is the patron
 of the Secular Franciscan Order

Lots and lots of angels!

Up in the baldachino
you can see the honeycomb.
The Motet choir sang Jesu Dulcis Memoria by Victoria

Friday, June 24, 2016

Colloquium Day Four - Requiem

Today we had the annual  Solemn Requiem Mass for the deceased members of CMAA.  We were back at the Shrine for the Mass, followed by Solemn Vespers and sung Compline.

Earlier in the day,  the Palestrina choir (the one I'm in) rehearsed the Missa Papae Marcelli, which we will sing at the Cathedral Basilica tomorrow.  If you have never been in the midst of 60 voices singing this Mass, I highly recommend that you do so.  It is breathtakingly beautiful.  

After all the liturgical events at the Shrine, I got to meet my Plurk friend Tina and her puppy pal Dug in person!  Dug showed off his cat-stalking and treat-eating skills, and Tina graciously played tour guide and gave me a driving tour of the city before dropping me back at the hotel.  Tomorrow, I get to meet another Plurk buddy, Mark from Rome of the West blog fame, in real life.  :-)

The Mass will be live-streamed on Friday at 5:30 Central, 6:30 Eastern here:


Solemn Requiem Mass

Fr. Pasley