ODAY is the feastday of our patrons, the Jesuit Martyrs of North America. Let me officially reveal that we at Corpus Christi Watershed have a whole bunch of amazing things planned in the coming years—and we feel you’ll enjoy them greatly. (Someday, God willing, we’d also like to create fantastic websites honoring the holy Jesuit martyrs.)
This fantastic testimony comes from an amazing wife and mother of eight children:
AM SO GRATEFUL for all of your resources, and I wanted to send you a testimonial of our choir. Our parish priest is Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, and our parish (Corpus Christi in Great Falls, MT, Diocese of Great Falls-BIllings) was formed when three parishes were merged about four years ago. Although I was aware that the music at the time was not especially notable, I was used to the “four hymn straightjacket.” I didn’t know it could or even should be different. When he arrived at our parish, he and the previous parish musicians struggled to understand one another. As they quit, one by one, I stepped in to help as a cantor at the 9 am Mass (it is the Ordinary Form, offered in a more traditional manner), though my piano skills were rudimentary at best. My singing voice is stronger, so that was the reason that I gave for including so many a capella chants. We only had the Breaking Bread (OCP) hymnals at first, but in searching online for a more robust set of Gregorian chant options I discovered Corpus Christi Watershed. And my eyes were opened…I found a roadmap to understanding the liturgy, to entering into the mystery of the Church’s gift to us in the liturgy. I am still in awe.
Gradually, we introduced the LALEMANT PROPERS as a sort of “pre-hymn” antiphon, followed by hymns suitable to the occasion (pre-approved by the priest). We introduced the Latin ordinaries (Jubilate Deo), and even put on a chant workshop to teach people (including me) to read Gregorian chant. Fortunately, others were as interested as I was! With all of your helpful links and solid resources both online and for purchase, I found an amazing array of support and help as I became the most eager student. After a few seasons, some singers began to join me, so that the load was not all on my shoulders. In light of this great influx of help, we were able to tackle some easy polyphony for feasts, especially the Richard Rice Choral Gradual. (I love that resource because it seems to the parish as if it is a performance piece by the choir, and introduces the propers to their rightful role in the liturgy.)
At the end of the second year, Father Ryan and the parish council agreed to purchase the Jp2 institute’s Jogues Missal and the Pope Francis Hymnal for the entire parish—and I was delighted! The amazing resources on your website helped me to understand the vision provided by Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram. I began to understand that vision at a deeper level, and to truly pray the Mass even as I was singing in the choir. The formatting of the missal and hymnal and every single work on your website is pristine—I can easily read it, and it helps me to pronounce the Latin correctly to hear it sung in a practice video. And, I could show my budding musicians the videos as well, so that we could all master the melodies together.
Father Ryan prefers the Gradual to the Responsorial Psalm, so we use that from the Lalemant Propers. And it is nice that both the Latin and the English versions are included in the JOGUES MISSAL, so persons in the pew can follow along when the choir sings. I want to say again—the layout on your resources is just perfect for persons like myself who are self-taught and need the white space—and larger notes and clear layout—to help me learn the chants. And the translations from Latin to English on all resources help our choir know what they are singing.
More accomplished musicians have started to join the choir in the past 18 months, and a choir loft was created up in the balcony—where it used to be anyway! They moved the organ and piano upstairs, and we began to truly come together as a choir. Best of all, people joined in our efforts who could play the organ, and we began to hear compliments more than criticism of our efforts. We have come a long way as a parish, and even have had a conference this summer to teach both new and old parishioners about the reasons for the liturgical changes we made. Today, most people at the 9:00am Mass can sing the De Angelis (VIII) ordinaries, and we learned the Cum Jubilo (IX) Mode this year. Next summer we plan to introduce Orbis factor. The entire parish can easily sing Credo III now, and we will be introducing Credo I at Advent. We have tried not to move too fast, but to respect the natural learning curve of our members.
When you first started posting sacred polyphony a few years ago, I felt a little sad—as so many of them seemed so out of reach for us. Still, I downloaded a few pieces, and when my (music educator) son came to visit, we did the Jesu Redemptor Omnium motet at Christmas three years ago. The congregation’s response was so positive…and so we tried another…and another…with more musicians who could anchor parts…including a priest in residence with a solid baritone…who helped us with liturgical pacing and phrasing…and we have become a real choir, even a Schola.
When I am looking ahead to the next major feasts, I always search your blog’s archives for pieces that you recommend, and I learn so much about the development of sacred music that I did not know. In following your blog, I also get timely tips on how to help our Schola grow musically and also find some advice on the music that I cannot find anywhere else. Father Ryan told me that he is amazed at how the liturgy has been transformed at our parish, and that never in seminary did he believe that this kind of liturgy would be possible in a parish in Montana. I thank God…and you generous folks at Corpus Christi Watershed. We rarely use anything now that we do not find on your website. We just ordered the Goupil Gradual as well to use for feast days. Priests from Montana and even across the US have visited Father Ryan and complimented our Schola—which is a compliment directly to your excellent help.
This year, Holy Week and Easter were so special. On Good Friday, we sang the Vexilla Regis motet by Kevin Allen (#3281). Easter Sunday, we did the SATB Alleluia based on Ave Maris Stella by Victoria (#7503) as well as the Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart. We even did the Verbum Supernum Prodiens motet by Rossini (#4311) for the Feast of Corpus Christi procession—not sung perfectly…but close enough that I am sure the angels fixed all of our imperfections for the sake of our beautiful Lord! And, I am even learning to play the organ, as I find that the accompaniment options you provide are not as hard as I first feared. Because the voices are solid on the chant, I can just play the chords. (I do recommend Frog Music Press’ Hymnal for Catholic Organists—that is very helpful for this organ neophyte.)
It is such a joy to sing every week and to use all of the musical resources you have made available. While we did experience some people leaving our parish because of the liturgical changes years ago, lately I’ve been noticing new faces in the pews every week. I believe people are drawn in by the beauty, and I know it provides a balm to my soul as I am surrounded by the grandeur and mystery that accompanies the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. We will continue to purchase your materials and I try to remind people who compliment me that CCW could use some donations to support the materials you provide for us.
Please feel free to use this testimonial in any way that would help. We are so grateful for your resources, and we hope that you will be showered in blessings for your work.
Thanks, Kristen! We are so glad CCW makes a difference!