HE FAMOUS editor of Caecilia Magazine, Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt, reminded us how—right before Vatican II began—POPE SAINT JOHN XXIII promulgated an apostolic constitution which “established and ordered that bishops and religious superiors … see to it that none of their subjects, moved by an inordinate desire for novelty, writes against the use of Latin … in the sacred liturgy.” The pope used stern and unambiguous language in that document, and meticulously explained why Latin is so important. In the presence of dozens of cardinals, hundreds of bishops, and thousands of priests and seminarians, he signed the document at the High Altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica on 22 February 1962. Ironically, most Catholics—if they ‘know’ anything about Pope John XXIII—declare: “He was the pope who convened Vatican II to get rid of Latin!”
“Magic And Overworked Noun” • Especially owing to scientific advancements, many alive today believe themselves to be little gods. Yet the truth remains. We human beings are sinful, weak, fallible, prideful, manipulative, flawed, and broken. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when church leaders contradict themselves, make errors, or embrace immorality. FULTON J. SHEEN used to say: “If the Catholic Church were as holy as some demand, those same people would be afraid to join because of their sins.” Beginning in the 1960s, many bad things were justified for the sake of participation, which Monsignor Schmitt called a “magic and overworked noun” in 1977. The Vatican II CONSTITUTION ON THE LITURGY says: Quæ totius populi plena et actuosa participatio, in instauranda et fovenda sacra Liturgia, summopere est attendenda… The official English translation says: “In the restoration and promotion of the Sacred Liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else…” Here’s the correct translation: “In restoring and nurturing the sacred Liturgy this full and active participation of all the people is very much to be considered…”
Accompany Gregorian Chant? • But can we really believe those in authority produce incorrect translations for official documents? Sadly, the answer is yes—even before Vatican II. Consider this ludicrous translation published by the USA bishops’ conference in the 1950s:
As you can see, their erroneous translation says Gregorian chant was accompanied (!) by the pipe organ circa 750AD. Writing in 1977, Monsignor Schmitt called this a “first-class blunder.” For those unaware, musicians did not start accompanying plainsong on the organ for another half a millennium. Perhaps Professor Weaver could tell us exactly when the first written plainsong accompaniments emerged. Perhaps the late 1700s? Certainly not 750AD.
When Life Gives You ‘Lemmens’ • I love accompanied plainsong. When done properly, it can enhance the beauty of Gregorian chant. The man credited with inventing modal plainsong accompaniment was JACQUES-NICOLAS LEMMENS (d. 1881), who’d been a professional organist. “Late in life,” according to Monsignor Schmitt, “Lemmens cajoled Belgian authorities into letting him found a Church music institute.” My method is based upon the NOH, which comes from the LEMMENSINSTITUUT in Belgium. Many famous musicians studied there. Dom Ermin Vitry (1884-1960), editor of the Caecilia Magazine from 1941-1950, studied at the Lemmensinstituut. Achille P. Bragers (1887-1955) also studied there. For the record, the Abbey of Solesmes accompanied some (not all) chants on the organ, even when Dom André Mocquereau was the Prior. Indeed, as late as 1924 Dom Mocquereau mentioned Dom Desrocquettes “whose beautiful and discreet accompaniments I hear every day at Solesmes.”
Ten Minutes! • Last Thursday night, my volunteer choir practiced the INTROIT for about ten minutes. When they sang it (on Sunday, 30 April 2023) I accompanied—and below is a ‘live’ recording. I’m so proud of these young women for learning to read plainsong notation:
Witt Says Lemmens Stole His Idea • Where did plainsong accompaniment come from? How did it attain such pervasiveness that DR. PETER WAGNER (a prominent member of the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant) composed organ accompaniments for GOOD FRIDAY (!)—in spite of the fact that all legislation forbade such a thing? Hundreds of pages of plainsong accompaniments were published by Father Franz Xaver Witt (d. 1888), who founded the CAECILIA SOCIETY OF GERMANY. Writing on 20 May 1872, Father Witt says in the INTRODUCTION to his plainsong accompaniments: “any harmonic accompaniment, even if it be by the first artist in the world is the greatest misfortune; it is in fact its death.” Then, however, he justifies it, as does every other plainsong accompaniment book I’ve ever come across. Father Witt—having called plainsong accompaniment “the greatest misfortune” and a “death”—claims it’s necessary because “people will have this misfortune, this death of Plain Chant, at any price and everywhere almost.” In that same INTRODUCTION, Father Witt declares: “Better than the organ would be an accompaniment of Violins, Violas, and Violoncellos.” Then Father Witt says he cannot provide accompaniment by stringed instruments “because every idea, every truth, which—like this one—is expressed for the first time requires time to convince the great mass of people, who would therefore scarcely accept at once [such] an accompaniment.” Father Witt also claims that he “was the first to express a desire to employ the system of passing notes, as used by the masters of the Palestrina style, in the accompaniment for Plain Chant.” In an INTRODUCTION dated 21 April 1876, Father Witt says: “It is my wish therefore that the organ accompaniment in this book, which, though liked, must be looked upon as a necessary evil, should be forsaken as soon as possible, and, if an accompaniment must be used, that the plan proposed in my preface should be adhered to.” In yet another INTRODUCTION (dated 14 September 1880), Father Witt accuses Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens of stealing his method of plainsong accompaniment. [It should be remembered that the Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871.]
Competently Singing Plainsong • How can one sing Gregorian chant well? I feel the entire choir must “think, breathe, and act as one.” That requires a good teacher, plenty of rehearsal, and patience. As FATHER ROBERT SKERIS always says: Practise makes permanent. Plainsong, for me, is a type of ‘Catholic folk song’—that is to say, these ancient melodies constitute our inheritance. We must learn them. Year after year, we must sing them. Nevertheless, to assist the choir members with “breathing as one,” we frequently sing metrical hymns. Here’s a ‘live’ recording of my volunteer singing last Sunday (30 April 2023). I especially like the second verse, which has female voices only:
Pipe Organ For Hymns? • I prefer metrical hymns without organ. But while we’re still in the process of mastering them, I do accompany them on the organ. Right now, we are trying to conquer a melody called “MELCOMBE,” which I discussed at length in a recent article. To help them absorb this tune, I use a technique essential for any choirmaster: Common Tunes. Rather than explain what I mean, it would be faster to have you listen to another recording from last Sunday. Do you agree that limiting several verses to female voices creates a gorgeous effect?
“German Style” Hymnody • During one of our symposia, I asked Dr. Horst Buchholz why so few German hymnals contain harmonies. He explained that in Germany, organists prefer to provide their own harmonizations for hymns, and “rivalries” sometimes develop among the different diocesan organists. Moreover, according to Dr. Buchholz, the GERMAN-STYLE of hymn singing is unison with organ accompaniment—which allows the organist to harmonize each verse differently. For myself, I have come to prefer hymns sung in “SATB” (Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass). We frequently have our women sing every other verse in unison. Here’s an example, recorded last Sunday (30 April 2023):
Defending My Women! • I strongly disagree with Monsignor Leo P. Manzetti of Saint Mary’s Seminary (Baltimore), who wrote as follows:
“From an artistic standpoint there are no parts of our chants and services that choirs of men and boys cannot perform to better advantage for the spiritual uplifting of the Christian mind. Church musicians (when they are experts in vocal art) agree that women’s voices are effeminate, sensuous and operatic, hence unchurchly; that boys’ voices are, on the contrary, unsophisticated and unsensual carrying with them a note of sincerity, candor, and simplicity, a purity of accent that most fittingly expresses the prayerful attitude of the faithful.”
Some believe that women should not sing for Masses said according the 1962 rubrics. For myself, I can’t understand such an attitude. POPE PIUS XII declared in Musicae Sacrae Disciplina (1955): “Where boy singers are not available in sufficient number, it is permitted that a choir of men and women or girls may sing the liturgical texts during Solemn Mass in a place destined for this sole purpose outside the SANCTUARY, provided that the men are entirely separated from the women and girls and that anything unseemly be avoided.”
Moreover, the 1958 document (De Musica Sacra Et Sacra Liturgia) issued under POPE PIUS XII, says that “a woman [may] be used as director of the song.” Later on, that same document says: “A choir of the faithful is permitted, whether ‘mixed’ or entirely of women or of girls only. Such a choir should take its position in a convenient place, but outside the sanctuary or communion rail.”