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Aristotle A. Esguerra has served in the Diocese of Madison since 2009 as music director at the churches of St. Mary, Pine Bluff and St. Ignatius, Mount Horeb, and as the chant instructor to the Cistercian Nuns of Valley of Our Lady Monastery, Prairie du Sac.
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"Never before have men had so many time-saving devices. Yet, never before have they had so little free time. When the world unnecessarily accelerates, the Church must slow down."
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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First Impressions of Bishop Sample's Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music
published 18 February 2013 by Aristotle A. Esguerra

On January 21 of this year Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette issued "Rejoice in the Lord Always," a pastoral letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship. (H/T to Adam Bartlett of the Chant Café.) You may download it directly from the Diocese of Marquette’s website here.

What struck me the most about this letter is that it calls for the following:


  • Pastors and musicians to possess knowledge of the musical directives as found in Church documents (listed in the appendix) and to base preparations for liturgies on them;

  • An understanding that one prepares for the liturgy instead of plans it (subtle but important distinction);

  • At least one Sunday Mass per parish be a Sung Mass (missa cantata) according to the capabilities of the priest and faithful;

  • An awareness of the nonliturgical nature of the “Recessional Hymn”, calling for an instrumental piece or silence (in Lent);

  • Moving toward the singing of the Proper of the Mass (Entrance/Offertory/Communion chants), while laying down tighter guidelines for hymn substitution of these Propers (which takes place on a widespread basis);

  • Weekday Masses to incorporate some liturgical singing;

  • All capable priests of the diocese to learn to pray the Roman Canon in chant according to the tones in the Missal;

  • All parishes to learn two chant Mass settings (VIII and XVIII);

  • All parishes to conduct Triduum liturgies a cappella from the Gloria of Holy Thursday until the Gloria of the Easter Vigil.

He is set to leave the Marquette Diocese in a couple of months, so I’m unsure how well, how quickly, or if the directives in this Pastoral Letter will be implemented. (I have read some positive reports from last June’s Diocesan Sacred Music Conference, and I understand that he has recently hired a music director to carry out some of the above at the cathedral there.) However, as he will be installed as archbishop of Portland, Oregon on April 2 his presence may very well begin to be felt (albeit indirectly) not only in the churches of the Diocese of Marquette but also in all churches that use materials published by Oregon Catholic Press. (He is also the incoming chairman of OCP by reason of his archbishopric.)

In any case, it’s extremely refreshing to see the chief liturgist of a diocese teach and issue directives about the sacred liturgy that are in continuity with Church teaching. May their number increase.

And readers aware of the Proper of the Mass know that the beginning of the Entrance Antiphon for the Third Sunday of Advent is used for the title of this pastoral letter. Could we finally be seeing the advent of sung liturgy in the Roman Rite as envisioned by the Council Fathers at a diocese-wide level?