“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” — John Henry Newman
HIS FAMOUS QUOTE by Blessed John Henry Newman was proclaimed by one of our wonderful priests this past Sunday at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas, TX. Said priest, a former Episcopalian, is quite fond of Newman and quotes him regularly and to great effect. This particular quote got me thinking about my Catholic history, and how deep in it I may or may not be. As a musician and (hopefully) an artist, I am greatly moved by all things aesthetic. I am also a great lover of history, so I think back with great fondness to my boyhood parish of St. Mary of the Assumption in Waterford, NY. An exceptionally beautiful church built in the English Gothic style a little more than 100 years ago, it stands on top of a small knoll at the crossroads of two main streets, and was so well known in the Capital District region that it was nicknamed “the little cathedral of the North.”
My Catholic history is deep in this place. Romanticized? Probably. But to me, it just looks, feels, and even smells like a Catholic church. It’s timeless. Years of incense permeates the rich wood of the pews and panelings with an unmistakable sweetness. The impressive and commanding carved white marble altar, tabernacle still in place, is enveloped by a high vaulted ceiling, rich with lovely paintings that, as a youngster, I was sure were the actual depictions of heaven. I’m pretty sure I still think that. The winters in upstate NY were bitter, and one thing you could always count on was that the holy water fonts, placed right inside the doors, would freeze over every year. It was almost as if it wasn’t our church if the holy water hadn’t turned to ice. The winding staircase leading to the choir loft, which I first ascended when I joined the choir in the 11th grade, is narrow and a bit dark, with creaky stairs and the mustiness of years. Side chapels with statuary and candles, lovely stained glass windows, and the sheer height, scope, and weight of the building have said to several generations, “this place is important.” Its history is deep and connected to the soil of the faith. Beauty is here, and it is the beauty of God.
A deep musical history is just as important as architecture. It’s wonderful to see the Church exploding with the talents of so many who are re-discovering and introducing us once again to the importance of sung liturgy. From chant to polyphony, like the incense-soaked wood of St. Mary’s, our liturgies are being saturated once again with Proper texts and liturgical music of great beauty. Influenced and impressed as I am by the choral works of Frank La Rocca, Kevin Allen, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Richard Rice, and so many others, I humbly offer this Communion motet, Jesus Said to His Disciples composed this past March:
THE TEXT IS TAKEN FROM the Communion Antiphon for Friday within the Octave of Easter. A cappella and with imitations and prepared dissonances in the Renaissance style, the words “Come and eat” are thrice repeated and set apart. The “Alleluia” is an extended attempt at timelessness, and with a sweetness that is meant to invoke Jesus’ deep love for his disciples. Special admiration and many thanks go to the fabulous singers of the Schola Cantorum of St. Rita’s in Dallas.
We hope you enjoyed this guest post by Alfred Calabrese.