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"Like all other liturgical functions, like offices and ranks in the Church, indeed like everything else in the world, the religious service that we call the Mass existed long before it had a special technical name."
— Rev. Adrian Fortescue (1912)

Palestrina and the Perfecting of the Medieval Ideal of Music as Rational • (Part 3 of 3)
published 19 July 2017 by Guest Author

BELOW IS THE FINAL PART of a guest series by Joseph J. Mullen, founder and director of The Palestrina Choir School, dedicated to the training of choristers to sing for the Traditional Roman Liturgy. Beautifully sung tone and musical literacy are its foundational principles. These principles are actualized by a synthesis of ancient and modern pedagogic approaches in light of the Liberal Arts and Thomistic Meta-physics.

Part One can be read here. Part Two can be read here. Part Three considers the perfect example of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a 'self reflecting’ soul and a summary conclusion of how the 'Medieval Ideal of Music as Rational’ was perfected in the Works of Palestrina.

Perfect Example of the Blessed Virgin Mary

110 Mary HAT CREATURE better exemplifies this inner dialogue of the soul than the Blessed Virgin Mary?

We know from scripture that she:

“kept all these words in her heart”
(Luke 2:51)

“kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.”
(Luke 2:19)

What is the nature of this inner pondering? In Sacred Scripture, the book of Wisdom gives us some insight on these “words” and her “pondering them in her heart”:

“When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness. Thinking these things with myself, and pondering them in my heart, that to be allied to wisdom is immortality, and that there is great delight in her friendship, and inexhaustible riches in the works of her hands, and in the exercise of conference with her, wisdom, and glory in the communication of her words: I went about seeking, that I might take her to myself.”
(Wisdom 16:18)

This passage can plainly be understood as inner dialectic and self reflection:

“conversation” … “with myself” …

“pondering them in my heart”
(direct reference to the BVM in Luke chapter 2 verses 19 and 51)



(inquiry, questioning which implies someone being asked, which implies dialogue)

By this inner self reflecting dialectic the knowledge of the things we ponder is perfected. By inquiry upon inquiry we magnify what is known in order to see it in a more detailed analysis or different perspective. This greater magnification will aid the intellect to specify particulars and resolve conflicts. The Blessed Virgin Mary proclaims the fruits of her inner pondering and reflection:

“And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”
(Luke 1:46-47)

If Mary’s Magnificat can be understood as an inner dialogue of self reflection toward perfection—the fruits of which are to “rejoice in God” her Savior—then it must follow that we find in her the greatest most edifying example of a Christian soul to be imitated.


N the 1903 Motu Proprio: “Tra le Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini” Pope St. Pius X wrote that the polyphonic choral style “reached its greatest perfection in the fifteenth century, owing to the works of Pierluigi da Palestrina.” This perfection was contingent upon the understanding of the rationality of music and the musical scale. This understanding grew out of the ideals that flourished throughout Medieval Christendom.

The Roman polyphonic style, as perfected in the imitative works of Palestrina, is an aurally perceived type of the immaterial power of the human soul to “self reflect.” This ability to “self reflect” is a participation in the Divine nature. Because this music is structured upon musical dialectics that reflect the divine nature, it appeals to the highest attributes of the human rational mind and soul. It magnifies and elucidates the sacred texts of the Catholic Liturgy that tend toward the contemplation of the good, true and beautiful. The musical phrases as stated in one voice, then restated in another differing in melodic and rhythmic expression, are one in harmonic union. This union augments, intensifies and magnifies texts of the liturgy. In this dialogue one can hear the echo of heaven. Not a dialogue of argument or polemics but an ever elucidating and unfolding of perfection.

For references and footnotes, please visit: Palestrina Choir School

We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Joseph J. Mullen.