HOSE WHO READ this blog know how much I despise platitudes. I also hate “empty words”—which might be called writing for the sake of writing. Readers come here to learn something valuable … and our readers are busy people; they don’t have time to waste. Let me say (to be absolutely clear) that today’s article is quite serious and “heavy.” It deals with items I’ve been thinking about for decades. So please don’t “skim” this article; please read the entire thing.
First Things First: If someone asked you to describe Vespers, could you? A correct answer is: “Five psalms, a hymn, and the Magnificat.” But what does that really mean? For those who have never experienced Vespers, such an answer is nothing more than gobbledygook. The best way is to show them what Vespers is. In the past, we have posted this article, which contains a YouTube video of our congregation singing Sunday Vespers, as well as a congregational booklet (18 pages), plus an organ accompaniment (29 pages.) That’s how it sounds with a normal congregation singing Vespers. The ceremony for Vespers on a “normal Sunday” usually doesn’t change—except for a few items like the Magnificat antiphon—and you can compare this fully notated booklet for Quinquagesima. Also, don’t forget to download the 487-page masterpiece by Albert Bloomfield called “Vespers for Sundays & Holy Days”—the link is given toward the bottom of this page, which also demostrates how organists can add counter-melodies when accompanying Vespers.
Dr. Calabrese: Additionally, Dr. Alfred Calabrese posted a symposium article which contains a YouTube recording of Vespers for the Sacred Heart. You might not have time to listen to the full thing, but at a minimum you should listen to Dr. Calabrese conducting the polyphonic Magnificat (marker 27:22). It’s superb beyond words—and I don’t know of a more thrilling, powerful, spectacular piece of music.
An Experiment: A few weeks ago, we did an experiment. We had our congregation sing Vespers for a feast they haven’t sung before—and probably never will again—which is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here is the “live” video (and notice a polyphonic Magnificat starts at marker 20:45):
It has some glorious moments … and some disastrous ones!
The Recording Itself: Microphones cannot reproduce accurately the glorious sound of 120 people singing choral music. Microphones distort the “true” sound; and I know this because I was there. Moreover, please remember that nobody had seen the music in advance. It was pure sight-reading. I could have simplified the music, but I wanted to see what would happen if we did everything straight out of the Liber Usualis.
The Liturgical Movement: Many readers will be familiar with what is known as the “liturgical movement.” For decades, Catholics accepted the liturgical movement as something which was 100% good, something to admire, and something to follow. However, in recent years it has become clear the liturgical movement didn’t get everything right. Some ideas promoted by the liturgical movement were garbage ideas—and they should be discarded. To give one example: Annibale Bugnini’s team made a proposal in 1961 that “in every celebration of the Mass a deacon or commentator should explain what the priest was doing with short commentaries.” What an offensive idea; and what a misunderstanding of what the Holy Mass is all about!
Getting Pregnant: The liturgical movement claimed the only participation that “counts” is when Catholics are physically doing some action—even though that contradicts the teaching of Pope Pius XII, who said the more important type1 of participation was “interior” participation. The liturgical movement also wanted everybody to sing everything, and that seems like a really good idea. Congregation singing is good, right? The problem is that some people can’t sing—and no matter how much training they receive, they will never be able to sing. To speak of “the entire congregation singing” makes as much sense as talking about “the entire congregation getting pregnant.”
Problem? Solution? On that recording, you can hear 2-3 men happily singing along. The problem is, they’re off key by a tritone. Should we stop them from singing? I feel we should not stop them from singing. However, there should be some sections sung only by the “capable” singers—and the example is the polyphonic Magnificat. (As mentioned above, the Magnificat starts at marker 20:45).
Conclusion: I go nuts when everything isn’t sung perfectly. But part of our job is to share music with the entire Church, is it not? That’s why I propose that there should be some sections sung by all, and some sections sung just by the choir. In medio stat virtus. What do you think of my proposal?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Furthermore, Pope Pius XII, in MEDIATOR DEI (1947), wrote as follows (§108): “Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman Missal even when it is translated into the vernacular; nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns, and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say—on account of such a prejudice—that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass, nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ, or perform other exercises of piety, or recite prayers which—though they differ from the sacred rites—are still essentially in harmony with them.”