Archive for the ‘music’ Category

The Dominicans baffle me. I have heard some very good things about them during the last year or so, one of their number was highly praised by a friend in Leicestershire for his devout celebration of Mass – in the old form of course. Another one is the chaplain to the Society of Saint Gregory the Great, the Finnish Latin Mass Society. Yet a third skillfully refuted the atheist ramblings in Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, the billboard makers that sold Dawkins and told you to “join the debate” chose to make it a monologue and never advertised the refutations, as one could expect. Beginning on the real Corpus Christi and ending on Sunday they have the Quarant’ Ore (40 hours devotion)- at least at the priory in London.

Now, some of the readers here know that I’m discerning a vocation to the priesthood, at the least my post about visiting the seminary should have made that clear. Following a recommendation from someone who encouraged me to get in touch with the Order of Preachers I went up to St Dominic’s Priory at Southampton road here in London the other day. Mass was pretty mainstream; altargirls(poorly trained), something that definitely wasn’t the Roman Canon, an Altar facing the wrong way, communion in the hand, Eucharistic monsters handling the chalice .. However, the music was fairly good -gregorian- despite several choir members being on pilgrimage to Walsingham. The priests seemed sound enough in a conservative, NO sort of way, until full of enthusiasm one of them told me about the upcoming visit to Blackfriars Hall in Oxford (their house of study) by none other than the Dalai Lama. The mixed messages leave me scratching my head in some confusion as to what to think about them.


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There was once the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence by visiting a seminary. No more. Regardless of that the vocations weekend at Allen Hall, the seminary for the diocese of Westminster, was a grace filled time. That it was placed at the beginning of the Novena to the Holy Ghost might have helped. We had a lovely time of sharing our stories with each others and his lordship bishop Longley, one of the auxillary bishops of the archdiocese. There was also a time set apart for speaking with some of the seminarians. To end the first day there was a get-together in the seminary pub. This gathering gave us, well me and one of the others, a happy surprise as three mutual friend turned up – one of which is beginning his studies at the seminary in September.

I spoke a bit with the philosophy professor, trying to find out about the level of the studies and was told that all the academics they teach in the seminary itself is the first two years of philosophy. The theology is all handled by Heythrop College – the philosophy and theology college attached to the University of London. I can say nothing of Heythrop save that the staff seem to have a generous sprinkling of Jesuits.

The lifestyle of the seminary seems rather relaxed and unlike the last seminary I visited there is no specific dress code. This is reflected at Mass as well; jeans, T-shirts and sneakers. The Saturday evening Mass was the main disappointment at the place There was a coffee-table-altar, a JPII size Host for the main celebrant and the rest of what you might expect, up to and including questionable music.

All in all the hospitality was great and the atmosphere Grace filled. It leaved me inspired to pursue a vocation to the priesthood but unconvinced as to where Allen Hall fits in.

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Pope tones

Do we have another musical pope? I don’t mean it in the mundane sense that the holy father likes music or plays the piano, but in a broader sense. History knows few popes who have been given the adjective ‘the Great’, likewise there are not many popes that have dramatic effects on the history of music. I can only remember two. First H.H. Gregory the Great, from whom we have the Gregorian chant. The second was H.H. Marcellus II, who in his brief 22 day reign managed to secure the place of sacred Polyphony, a good example of which is Palestrinas Mass dedicated to him, the Missa PapaƦ Marcelli.

When it comes to Church music our time is in some ways similar to that of Gregory the Great, by the time of his reign the music used by the Church had degenerated into something that -like our contemporary Church music- was unworthy of the Church. In his reforms H.H. Gregory the Great sought to return to a more severe and ancient style better in keeping with the genius of the Roman Rite. That the result was good is easily seen by the endurance of his work and its popularity. In the Middle ages it was attributed to Divine inspiration and in our days it has found new popularity and can easily be found at the local CD shop. I have also seen the rather strange idea of setting modern popular music to Gregorian tones, yet another testimony to the enduring quality of the music itself, though listening to ‘Losing my Religion‘ does make the musical experience ironical in the extreme..

Can the current Holy Father become another of these musical popes? In some ways he has already begun, if the rumors of reforming the choir of the Sistine chapel and replacing the papal musicians have any foundation in reality. Something which the article in the Telegraph referred to in the last post here seems to indicate. Like the title ‘the Great’, only history can be the final judge. In the mean time

Cantate Domino canticum veterum

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Cantate Domino

Yesterday the Telegraph ran a story about the Holy Fathers ongoing improvements at the Vatican. The silly-song era draws to a close. I remember walking up the Via della Conciliazione with some student friends to the tones of Sibelius haunting Finlandia, played so falsely that even someone as tone deaf as I could notice that something was a bit wrong. The singing that particular time was not much better. The idea the Pole had about rotating the choir, drawing it from churches all over the world, may well have had some merit at first sight but at the end of the day it provided for a lack of balance as some choirs could be good and some to put it kindly, in need of a bit more practice. It’s to be hoped that we well soon be able to enjoy a professional choir worthy of St Peters, trained to the highest standards of Polyphony and Gregorian chant.

It’s hard to understand how things actually came to be as bad as they were, and still are in many places. Should not the beauty of the traditional music in itself have been enough to preserve it? Admittedly Gregorian chant can be difficult to sing and polyphony even more so. Was it then a matter of laziness that robbed us of the treasures of sacred music? Or maybe a hankering after something new, something different? Both probably did play a part, but it’s interesting to note how many of these new silly-songs are actually taken from protestant worship, with the inevitable infusion of heresy. Is ecumenism to blame then? Quite likely no single thing brought this scandalizing state of affairs about, yet one common denominator is the subjectivist outlook that poisons so much of the life of the Church. The idea is that we must cater to all different views and tastes (except of course the traditional) so that everyone can feel at home in the Church. It is of course a dieszeitickeit that ignores the fact that the Church is not a social club but the Body of Christ, the gate of Heaven and the Mother who is to form us in Christ and guide us to Paradise.

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