OPE LEO XIII—“the Pope of the Rosary”—had an exceptionally long reign. In fact, it lasted twenty-five years; the third longest in the history of the Church. He composed a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel (sometime around 1884) and ordered that all priests recite it after Low Mass as part of the “Leonine” prayers: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host—by the power of God—cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I never knew this prayer had been set to plainsong, but while working on the Brébeuf Hymnal, a member of the production team emailed me a 700-page book of Franciscan chants (see below), which contains a remarkable setting:
Here’s a holy card drawing of Pope Leo XIII.
Be careful, because a “TI” becomes “TE” as shown here:
After Vatican II, it became quite trendy to denigrate something called “Neo-Gregorian” chants. Since this setting was probably composed circa 1890, it would be surely be considered Neo-Gregorian. I can’t deny that some of the Neo-Gregorian melodies are pretty terrible compared to authentic chant. On the other hand, many scholars of chant were dismayed when the Graduale appeared in the early 1970s. It did eliminate the Neo-Gregorian melodies, certainly; but too often the “authentic” replacements were ill-suited to the great feasts of the Church. In other words, for powerful and bright feasts, the antiphons assigned were frequently rather “somber” and “ferial.” These same scholars, therefore, had their choirs reintroduce the Neo-Gregorian melodies, since doing so is explicitly permitted “ad libitum” by the rules of the Ordo Cantus Missae (1970). But let’s face it: Gregorian chant de facto disappeared after the Second Vatican Council, so it seems rather silly to argue about “Neo-Gregorian” vs. “authentic” melodies.
THE FULL TITLE of that Franciscan chant book mentioned earlier is: Cantus Varii In Usu Apud Nostrates Ab Origine Ordinis, Aliaque Carmina In Decursu Saeculorum Pie Usu Parta. You can download all 700 pages, and I encourage you to do so. It contains loads of cool stuff:
I wish I had this book in 2009, when I was presenting on the “white notes” (as Professor Joseph Lennards dubbed them), because it speaks about them in a lengthy introduction:
On the other hand, it might have been confusing, since that same Introduction does not adhere strictly to the “Pothier” treatment of morae vocis.
By the way, at the very end of the book, you’ll notice excerpts from the “corrupt” Reims-Cambrai edition of 1895. This reminds us what monks had to do when certain feasts were not available in the “reformed” chant, and was quite common. Dom Pierre Combe says Guéranger and Pothier initially sang from the Reims-Cambrai because “it was the least corrupt.” That is true…but it’s also possible they chose it because it was quite popular in France in those days.
This article was originally published on 6 April 2019.