HEY SAY that Saint John Vianney, whenever he was in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, was so moved that “he could scarcely move or breathe.” In today’s hipster parlance, we would say that Saint John Vianney was “shook.” When I enter a place where the SANCTISSIMUM is reserved, I often wonder: How dare I enter such a place? After all, the Eucharist is the SECOND PERSON OF THE BLESSED TRINITY, the God who could blink and instantly destroy the entire universe, and then blink again and create another universe. Once we enter into the presence of God, how dare we ever leave?
Why It Matters • I feel this is one reason why TRADITION is so important. God is pleased when we imitate and mimic the saints—“our older brothers and sisters in the Faith” as Scott Hahn calls them. God usually does not want us to sit in front of the SANCTISSIMUM until we starve. We can be certain of this by following the example of the great saints, such as Father Isaac Jogues and Father Charles Garnier. In our own time, we have saintly priests who have instructed us in what is right; men like Father Valentine Young, OFM (d. 2020). And one of the traditions my parish follows is that of Vespers, sung by our entire congregation every Sunday afternoon.1
Here’s the organ score I created to accompany II Vespers for the 2nd Sunday of Advent:
* PDF Download • VESPERS ACCOMP. BOOKLET (27 pages)
—For accompanying the Second Sunday of Advent on the pipe organ.
“Father Frank” of Boys Town • Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt (d. 1994), of Boys Town (Nebraska) was known as an outspoken opponent of the rhythmic theories of Dom Mocquereau. I mention this because you won’t understand the following quotation without that knowledge. The following—written in 1977—is what Monsignor Schmitt said about his visit to Solesmes Abbey:
Friends ask me (a) how come they let me in, and (b) how come they let me out? I was so totally impressed that I did indeed toy with the idea of staying, as Langlais had predicted I might. It wasn’t the laundered but rough and unpressed sheets that deterred me. It was so cold that I feared I might spend most of the time in bed to keep warm. I wondered, too, through the never-ending offices of night and day, about losing the mundane satisfaction of reflecting that I had “finished” my prayers. I paid my respects at the graves of all the patriarchs except Josef Pothier, who I guess is still at the Abbey of Saint Wandrille. At that of Dom Gajard, I thought of him there in the garden telling Langlais: “Hear the blackbird! It doesn’t know what an ictus is, yet it sings better than we.” I was supplied with a monastic breviary, a 1936 Antiphonale, and a new Graduale. Compline reminded me of TENEBRAE at St. Mary’s in New York. Vesper incense hadn’t entirely lifted, and one couldn’t follow texts in the dark.
Dom Ermin Vitry • Monsignor Schmitt was a disciple of Dom Ermin Vitry, who was born in Hainaut, Belgium. Vitry became a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. It’s crucial to understand that Maredsous Abbey was a foundation of the German Abbey of Beuron. (Readers will recall that Beuron Abbey did not have the same singing style as Dom André Mocquereau.) Moreover, while pursuing his theological studies, Dom Ermin Vitry also attended the LEMMENSINSTITUUT, and received his diploma avec la plus grande distinction in 1910. At the LEMMENSINSTITUUT, which focuses on the study of religious music, special attention was given to plainsong. According to a letter (20 February 1974) of Dom Rombert Van Doren to Kathleen Bolduan, “only the Vatican editions of the chant were used” at the LEMMENSINSTITUUT. Below is how Dom Ermin Vitry—in a 1951 lecture—described Sundays from his childhood. Those who have read my article about Holy Communion will not be confused by the words in red ink:
Sunday was a special day. Father and Mother never gave any rules, but they had about themselves something untouchable. We couldn’t describe it. The sanctification of the day was within. There was a certain spiritual weight on Sunday morning. We would dress quietly in our rooms and come downstairs on our toes. We went to the early Mass to receive Communion because there was no distribution of Communion at the High Mass. After Mass was the breakfast, which was always of better quality than on ordinary days. Then after the breakfast we all returned to church for the Solemn Mass. From the town of about two to three thousand people, there would be only about two or three hundred in the church. The congregation was perfectly silent, and right after the last blessing, the men, who were all sitting in the back of church, could be found in the tavern around the corner. My father made sure we all kept the places in our books and urged us to join in the singing. After Mass, because my father was president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he had a meeting that lasted until one o’clock. We played in the garden while we waited for him. After we returned home there was the dinner. Sometimes the bell for the Vespers would ring before we had eaten our dessert, which was a tragedy. The dessert was left on the table, and we all went back to the church for the Vespers at two-thirty. At the Vespers there would be only about five or six other people in the church. When I did not have to serve as the altar boy, I would go to the choir-loft. The sexton was there. Also there was a seventeenth-century organ and I liked those pipes. I would sing the Vespers with the sexton. The Sunday Vespers made a great impression on me, in spite of the dessert. After the Vespers my father would bring the two horses and buggy, and we would go for a drive. Sometimes the boys would take the bicycles, which I liked very much because I could go where I wanted. When supper was finished there was a reading from the Old or New Testament. Then we would go through the house and give full release to the fighting spirit- Then my father would bless us and off to bed.
“Whom The World Can’t Contain” • During Mass, Catholics priests are allowed to touch the SANCTISSIMUM with their bare hands. Father John Vianney was overwhelmed by this—as any normal person should be—and while carrying the SANCTISSIMUM wondered: “How is such a thing possible? If I move to the left, God moves to the left. If I move to the right, God moves to the right.” One is reminded of the gorgeous Gregorian hymn, VIRGO DEI GENITRIX, which has the following line: “Virgin mother of God, He Whom the whole world cannot contain was enclosed in thy womb.”
1 We sing “second” Vespers (II VESPERS), because “first” Vespers (I VESPERS) denotes a ceremony that takes place the night before, just like Halloween comes the night before All Saints’ day.