AST TUESDAY, I was in Steubenville, Ohio, participating in and singing the Pontifical Solemn High Mass celebrated by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke. The two-and-a-half-hour long Mass started at 10:30 in the morning at St. Peter Catholic Church in downtown Steubenville. The church was packed and filled with students, professors, staff, families, laity and religious from around the area. About twenty priests from the Diocese of Steubenville, Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Franciscan Third Order Regular, and Diocese of Columbus, Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Wheeling-Charleston, and Altoona-Johnstown assisted at Mass or sat in choir.
The Schola Cantorum Franciscana sang under the direction of Professor Nicholas Will. The schola is part of the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Sacred Music Program. The program has been committed to the training of professional church musicians for nine years. It has been flourishing these past few years and is attracting more and more young singers and organists to join. A few other fellow alumni and myself had the privilege to sang with the schola and it was an incredible experience for me. The musical highlight of the Mass is the Messe Solennelle by French composer Louis Vierne. Here is what Steve Skojec of OnePeterFive had to say about the Mass and the music:
“For those who think Steubenville and tradition don’t mix, the college has several on-campus TLMs a month. On the particular and quite special occasion of Cardinal Burke’s visit, a Pontifical High Mass was also arranged at St. Peter’s, the local parish. Professor Nicholas Will, who teaches Sacred Music, played the organ in a style that would impress even the most demanding Frenchman, and he also directed the Schola Cantorum Franciscana in the Messe Solennelle by Louis Vierne. In general, I respect and appreciate the organ as a liturgical instrument, but my preference is for the human voice, sparsely adorned.
And Oh! Those human voices! It was an absolutely stunning performance. The Kyrie and the Sanctus in particular were incredibly moving. Many of the students who come to Franciscan are musically talented, but not all of them are limited to softly strumming guitars and Christian contemporary ballads. I do not overstate the case when I say this was the most powerful vocal performance I have ever heard in all my travels – including Rome, Vienna, and Salzburg.”
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski also agrees with him and said that the Mass and the music is “just magnificent in every way”. After the Mass, Cardinal Burke thanked Prof. Will personally and congratulated the schola on the impressive music. Dr. Michael Sirilla, a theology professor at Franciscan, told me that Vierne’s Kyrie was the most powerful Kyrie he has ever experienced. How powerful is it? Here is a recording of the Kyrie from Vierne’s Messe Solennelle:
Director: Prof. Nicholas Will
Organist: Andrew Barnick, ’15
Audio Technicians: Dr. David Schaefer and Ryan Harner, ’16
The Mass and the music was definitely a very powerful experience for me personally. I have never been to a Pontifical Mass where the prelate wears his cappa magna. To attend a Solemn High Mass, the fullness of the Roman Rite, with a cardinal was a mountaintop experience! The beauty of the Liturgy, the arts and music really reflected the heavenly banquet. I believe this has to be the closest thing on earth to the heavenly Liturgy.
Vierne’s Mass is only the second French Mass I have sung in my musical career, the first one was Faure’s Requiem. I know! I still have many more to work on: Franck, Durufle, and many others. Anyway, as a singer, I really enjoyed the dramatic effects, the expressiveness and the color of the Messe Solennelle.
Photo Credit: Drew Pultorak
More pictures of the Mass by Allison Girone.