SACRED BANQUET! The Eucharist gives us food for a difficult journey. Appropriately, the Mass is our greatest prayer. It is in a way, a rehearsal for our life in heaven. The chant Ave Verum describes Jesus’ body as “a foretaste (of heaven) in the trial of death.” The Mass is nothing less than this. But we are human and we fall short. Faith and reliance upon God must bridge our failings.
As such, music for the Sacred Liturgy must trend toward the transcendent—holy, beautiful, and universal. What it is not called to do is to please anyone other than God. This is a very tall order. Once again, our frail humanity is a frequent obstacle to such ideals. Again, we must rely upon God and the gift of the sacrament of Himself–the Eucharist.
But there are many gems that area beautiful, sacred, and universal. It is our sacred treasury of music, given highest value by Vatican II: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art…”(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, §112.) Occasionally, there are gems added to this sacred treasury.
F YOU ARE NOT FAMILIAR with the works of composer Frank La Rocca, you should be. His transcendent setting of O Sacrum Convivum is rooted in traditional polyphony, yet is thoroughly modern at every turn. The harmony is modal yet often very accessible to the contemporary modern ear. At other times, the harmonic language is defiant of traditional harmony in the vein of progressive works of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries.
Through it all La Rocca achieves symmetry and wholeness and therefore holiness. It depicts the eternal Eucharist, while simultaneously addressing and calming the anxieties, evils, and depression of modern life. He paints the text beautifully, ultimately filling a besieged world with the hope promised by the Sacred Banquet.
A work such as this moves contemporary sacred music towards the realization of Vatican II. It represents an ideal not because of style or preference but because of transcendence and significance. Anchored in tradition, it speaks with the authority of the ages yet with the innovation of modernity. Imbued with the Spirit, it is timeless.
O Sacrum Convivium
text: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.