ROM TIME TO TIME, readers accuse me of bundling together unrelated ideas and then “pretending the results constitute an article.” Needless to say, I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. On the other hand, I do often incorporate rabbit holes. One reason is to ‘lure’ readers into exploring esoteric subjects—the same way a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Another reason is because (hopefully) readers enjoy forays into various subjects, although that means those who absentmindedly skim might miss the thread holding them together. What follows was written by Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt, who served as editor of Caecilia:
Titling editorials was one of the more enjoyable, though sometimes tantalizing, chores connected with publishing the old Caecilia Sacred Music Magazine. Unless the subject were a new piece of church legislation, or an honoree, like Father Vitry or Father Brunner, one would come up with abstruse, senseless lines like “Under the Big Top” (about the NCMEA, I think) or “The Bunny Hop” (probably in reference to warring champions of chant). […] One would have to read the editorial to discover the connection, if any.
I’m deeply grateful to our readers for reading what I have to say! I hope you discern the ‘thread’ holding today’s article together. It’s never my goal to confuse, harass, or vex the reader.
First Things First • The basic gist of my article today is: No salvation from decrees. But first we need to talk about FATHER CARLO ROSSINI. In 1977, Monsignor Schmitt wrote: “Father Rossini was the oracle in matters of Church music in Pittsburgh. With the backing of Bishop Boyle, he frequently placed clerical violators of his interpretation of the law on a blacklist published in the diocesan paper. After serving a stint with the Italian Society of Saint Caecilia during the 1950 Holy Year, he was no longer welcome in Pittsburgh. He remained in Italy, where he puts the royalties of his not inconsiderable number of publications to work building and supporting an Italian Boys Town.” The famous ROSSINI PROPERS are so poorly typeset that they’re virtually impossible to sing from (in my humble opinion).
Father Carlo Rossini • But why wasn’t Father Rossini welcome in his own diocese, where they knew him best? I suspect it’s because of his rigid, intransigent, shameless condemnation of pretty much everyone (except himself). Consider a few of the edicts he published in 1939—including threatening nuns who sing the Divine Office or during Mass, condemning hymnals not edited by him, and banning Gregorian accompaniments composed by his rivals:
* PDF • Father Rossini Bans All Nuns From Singing (1939)
—List of items “forbidden” by the committee run by Father Rossini.
Which paragraph by Father Rossini is most egregious? Surely it’s his claim that using the Editio Vaticana is forbidden by the Vatican:
Rossini’s Reprehensible Rescript • How could Father Rossini have made such an idiotic statement? Pope Pius X spoke unambiguously (22 May 1904) of “the Vatican Edition of liturgical melodies, which should be adopted everywhere under Our authority.” In 1907, Dr. Peter Wagner, COMMISSIONIS PONTIFICIAE GREGORIANAE MEMBRUM, wrote: “Everyone may, with full confidence, accept the Vatican edition. The illuminating word of a pope called it forth.” Father Rossini seems to have been ignorant of the MOTU PROPRIO “Col Nostro” issued by Pope Pius X. Today I release online an English translation of “Col Nostro,” a Vatican document dated 25 April 1904:
* PDF Download • “Col Nostro” (Motu Proprio issued by Pius X)
—This is the first English translation of “Col Nostro” to be placed online, as far as I can tell.
Essentially, “Col Nostro” announces the Editio Vaticana and explains what it’s all about. Father Rossini’s assertion that the Editio Vaticana is “forbidden for church or school use” is cockamamie and reprehensible.1
What You’re Thinking • I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself: “Jeff, if you think Father Rossini’s narrow-mindedness was bad, prepare yourself for a rude awakening when you see what we’re up against in the year 2023.” I actually don’t disagree! For instance, I’m aware of egregiously heinous behavior by those who run major Catholic publishing companies. If I revealed to readers what I know, their blood would boil. It would make them so angry they’d be foaming at the mouth for at least a week. On the other hand, I also possess information vis-à-vis certain “internet heroes” (who self-identify as “ultra-traditionalist”). The information I possess is so loathsome, hair on the back of readers’ necks would stand up. So why don’t I write articles about that stuff? Briefly stated: I don’t believe God wants me to do that—at least right now. Moreover, God doesn’t need me. As Father Valentine used to say: “The cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.” God created the entire universe. The universe will survive without me spending my days publishing ‘scandal porn.’ Indeed, the universe will be just fine! The reason I felt comfortable mentioning the Rossini business is because it fits with today’s “No salvation from decrees” theme.
No Salvation From Decrees! • Can we learn anything from Father Rossini’s narrow-mindedness? I feel we can. I would propound that when it comes to the current crisis in church music, there will be no salvation from decrees. In the STAR WARS movie which came out the same year Monsignor Schmitt wrote his book (1977), Princess Leia says: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi: You’re my only hope!” For those of us attempting to restore dignified, reverent, authentic sacred music to the Holy Mass (what Vatican II referred to as the “thesaurus musicæ sacræ”), our only hope is the persuasiveness of beauty and reverence—not decrees. We must follow the example of the saints. The saints never asked: “What does the legislation allow?” Rather, the saints sought to accomplish God’s Will by promoting (and often restoring or resurrecting) authentic, holy, beautiful traditions. It seems to me that each saint reacted in a way particularly suited to the heresies of his time—and we must do the same. By the way, I’m not claiming there’s never a need for pronouncements, legislation, and decrees. I’m saying I don’t see it working in our current environment.
Not A Pipe Dream! • How exactly can we convince Catholic priests, bishops, and the laity to fall in love with the Thesaurus Musicae Sacrae (“treasury of sacred music”) mandated by Vatican II? I’m sure readers know the council fathers voted 2,147 to 4 to adopt SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, which powerfully mandates the Thesaurus. For example, that document says: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM also declares: “The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.” [You can read more quotes about the Thesaurus here.] Readers know I’ve spent my entire life promoting plainsong and polyphony, creating more than 43,000 musical scores, rehearsal videos, and scanned resources. At the same time, I have also emphasized that (because of today’s particular circumstances) it’s good to include ‘simple’ music, sung extremely well—especially melodies which are bright, happy, and irresistible.
This is not a pipe dream! This can be done in real life. Consider the following recording, made on Pentecost Sunday (28 May 2023) by my 100% volunteer choir:
Not Enough Singers For Parts? • If your volunteer choir hasn’t recruited enough singers to have solid SATB singing, try singing “German Style”—which is unison plus organ. When my choir does that, we alternate between Tutti (all voices) and women only. Below is a live recording of “Pange Lingua Gloriosi” (Saint Thomas Aquinas) from last Sunday, demonstrating this “unsion-alternatim” approach:
Results From The Survey • Many choir directors are volunteers who simply don’t have time to spend hours each day exploring the Thesaurus. Sacred music can be overwhelming, and we realize that. Therefore, a team of wonderful people (from all over the world) spent years producing a tool we believe to be a game-changer. It’s called the Brébeuf Portal, but not many people know about it or realize its potential. Therefore, we recently conducted a survey on our website. About 300 church musicians responded. We got responses from across the globe, and one person even wrote in Korean! Broadly speaking, the responses were fantastic. I’ve been asked to speak about the best response (and the worst response) received. There were so many fine responses, I can’t really choose the best. Therefore—even though it’s cheating—I have “blended” together a few responses (from different countries) to the 4th question on the survey:
A Good Response • I think your “common melodies” or “shared tune” technique is fantastic. A few of these exist in the hymnal our parish currently uses (e.g. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and “The Day of Resurrection” both on ELLACOMBE). The hymns on your portal are beautifully executed, with sublime results. The pastoral effect of making it easier for the congregation to learn the tune is superb, and eases the people into more intricate melodic forms. In fact, we had experimented with this technique in our seminary before having known the Brébeuf Hymnal—though with lesser mastery—based on the Gregorian tones and the simple contour of some well known local hymns. As that rudimentary example showed an interesting success, I do believe this well-composed and thought-out version of the technique is superior and has great potential. I appreciate that many of these are translations from the Divine Office. Since hymns seem to be here to stay, let’s get the congregation singing good, solid texts to melodies that are familiar. To sum up, I think it’s a compelling way to teach new music without the music getting old.
Worst Response • What was the worst response we got? Well, some included vulgarities—and I will not be sharing those. Leaving aside the responses which were completely useless, here’s a “bad” one I feel deserves a response:
A Bad Response • Your portal provides way too many instances of melodies which should only be used once (or twice at a maximum). I associate one melody to one text, specially for some well-known tunes which are emblematic of this or that text. I wouldn’t like to have, let’s say, a Lenten tune for an Easter text. [Editor’s note: The Brébeuf hymnal does not use Lenten hymns for Easter texts!] Your recordings all sound robotic. Your singers obviously need more emotion in their voices. Is it a text-only hymnal? Is it a digital hymnal? I’m very confused about what this Brébeuf Hymnal is trying to accomplish. I don’t see why a hymnal would have 20 different settings of a hymn text, especially since only one is commonly familiar. Using all those settings week after week would be terribly monotonous for the congregation.
I don’t think that’s a very good response. First of all, I really feel that our rehearsal videos for each individual voice are (broadly speaking) more than satisfactory for folks trying to learn their pitches and rhythm. Second of all, how can the person ask whether the Brébeuf Hymnal is a “digital hymnal.” Do the fifty-seven sample pages look like a digital book? [By the way, Sophia Institute Press recently announced they are making the organ accompaniment volumes and choral supplement available as e-books.] Furthermore, nobody ever said that all of the melodies must be used all the time. They’re available when you need them—and that’s very important! For example, I used to play five Masses each weekend. One of my Masses was at 8:00PM on Sunday evening, when everyone was exhausted. Therefore, I chose different music for that Mass than the 10:30AM choral Mass on Sunday morning. Those Brébeuf common tunes come in really handy! Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, they’re indispensable for a successful choral program. They work especially well for feasts that only occur once a year—such as the ASCENSION or the BAPTISM OF THE LORD—because teaching the congregation a new tune for a feast that only happens once a year is quite difficult. A Vatican document issued during the reign of Pope Pius XII said: “In general, it is better to do something well on a small scale than to attempt something elaborate without sufficient resources to do it properly.” How true that is! Finally, singing a familiar text paired with a fresh tune often forces one’s mind to reëxamine the text—or notice things one did not notice before—and that’s a good thing when we’re talking about prayer!
Conclusion • I do not believe there will be any “salvation from decrees” in our current environment. I believe we must help Catholics fall in love with the Thesaurus Musicae Sacrae (“treasury of sacred music”) mandated by Vatican II. When it comes to how we can best do this, we have billions more ideas we hope to share with you—although everything we accomplish is according to God’s Will. My life (and yours!) could end tonight. I could be murdered. I could have a heart attack. And so forth. We should praise God for the opportunity to serve Him, while we’re still in this vale of tears. As my dad would say: “Jeff, we’re only on this rock for such a short period of time!”
Nonetheless, I believe our organization is making a difference. I was recently notified by a friend in Alabama, who told me a harmonization I composed for the Church’s oldest Latin Eucharistic Hymn (#464) was featured on EWTN last week. The text comes from the 7th century or earlier. Below, I have provided the video from EWTN. The Brébeuf Hymnal provides an English translation, several melodies, and also the original Latin (#465).
EWTN Choir • I feel the EWTN choir shown in that video is excellent! Personally, I would have taken the tempo a little faster—but Father Valentine always used to say: De gustibus non est disputandum (“About taste, let there be no dispute”).
1 The Editio Vaticana was given a ‘boost’ by the Second Vatican Council, which declared: “The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed.” The council fathers furthermore called for the preparation of “a more critical edition of those books already published.” The critical edition was started, but I don’t think it will ever be finished. For one thing, Daniel Saulnier—when he was in charge of the PALEO at Solesmes—admitted to my teacher that even after fifty years (!) the critical edition was nowhere near completion. Moreover, there’s no need for a critical apparatus since we have the internet now. Thousands of Gregorian MSS have been placed online, making comparison simple as pie. (It would be foolish to blame the fathers of Vatican II for failing to realize the internet would be invented twenty years later.) Regarding the notion that the critical apparatus was supposed to replace the typical edition—a.k.a. the Editio Vaticana—I find that difficult to believe owing to the wording of Sacrosanctum Concilium. They don’t say the typical edition is to be replaced. Rather, they want the typical edition to be completed. If they intended for the critical apparatus to REPLACE the typical edition, they probably would have said something like: “The Editio Typica is to be deprecated—and should not be completed—because our intention is to create a new Editio Typica.” (But they didn’t say that.) In other words, it’s difficult to believe that the critical apparatus was meant to (eventually?) replace the typical edition. By the way, notice how the Second Vatican Council ordered the completion of the typical edition. That demonstrates the council fathers never intended a massive overhaul of the sacred liturgy.