This evening, we embark on our fifth year of collaboration with Schola Laudis. It has been a real joy to listen to the Schola develop, and to experience our own monastic engagement with the liturgy deepen through this cooperative work.
The roots of the Schola go back quite a bit further, to experiments that Kevin and I had been involved with independently of each other. My personal interest in the restoration of this beautiful music to its rightful place in the liturgy goes back to a conversation I had with a fellow Catholic and musician. We had sung Renaissance polyphony in college choir together, and we wondered why it was (in our experience at that time) never sung at Mass.
After I entered the Monastery, a group of friends approached us and asked to sing at Sunday Mass, and for many years, Triskelion (the women’s trio version) and Cantus Jubilus (a five-member expansion of the same group), sang between six and twelve times per year, notably on Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday. We began running into some difficulties when I was chosen to be Prior, since I was also the tenor in the group. About six years ago, we realized that we needed to make some major adjustments if we were to keep performing this music at the liturgy.
So we approached Kevin, with whom we had worked in various ways over the previous ten years. When he and I talked about how to set up this new Schola, we realized that most singers with the capability to perform Renaissance music would already have commitments on Sunday morning. It was just at this time that my amateur musicological sleuthing turned up a treasure-trove of music for Vespers. Perfect! We would focus on providing a beautiful setting for Solemn Vespers, reintroducing all kinds of music fallen unjustly into obscurity, and at the same time put into action the teaching of Vatican II: “The principal hours, especially Vespers, [ought to] be celebrated together by a group in the church on Sundays and more special feasts [SC 100].”
Last year, we made a point of celebrating the amazing variety of settings of the Magnificat, the gospel proclamation of Mary, the Mother of God, which is the culmination of every celebration of Vespers. We managed to highlight a different composer every month, and we will more or less continue this variation throughout the coming season as well. We are far from exhausting the wealth of lovely settings available. This is a clear testimony to the importance of Vespers in the Renaissance Church, especially following the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent.
This year, our plan is to focus more on other aspects of the liturgy. Modern persons often think of liturgy as something that happens in our free time, as a kind of adjunct to “life.” No wonder that many Catholics have ended up with a minimalist/legalist approach. “What is the minimum requirement of attendance at the liturgy?” In fact, as members of the Body of Christ, the liturgy is our true home, it is the center from which true, abundant life in Christ flows. The whole of life “in the world” is carried from this seminal encounter with Jesus Christ, risen and present as high priest at the center of our liturgical celebrations.
Because of this, all elements of the liturgy are sanctified and sanctifying, and the musical settings of the key texts of the liturgy help us to unlock the true meaning, the spiritual sense of the liturgy. From this inexhaustible source of conversion, sanctification, and indeed life, we begin to see with the eyes of faith how all things are being drawn to Christ. The contingent details of the secular world come to be seen in a new light, as part of our time of pilgrimage to the Father. This frees us from the fear and anxiety that so marks our contemporary life. We can become true ambassadors of peace, of the Christ Himself, Who is in the world reconciling it to the Father.
Yet each liturgical celebration has its own inner logic. Tonight’s motets, Sanctificavit and Da Pacem are taken from the chants proper to this Sunday’s Mass. The proper chants at this of the liturgical year (this is connected to the Triumph of the Holy Cross, September 14) begin to move away from the theme of first fruits toward the final harvest, both of the growing season as well as of the end-times. Tonight’s texts, then, focus on the pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem (city of peace: shalom or pacem), where the great banquet is being prepared by Christ the new Moses (Sanctificavit).
Next month’s celebration will be of particular interest and relevance in an age when many of our church buildings are in danger of being shuttered. On Sunday, October 23, at 5:15 p.m., we will celebrate the First Vespers of the Dedication of the Monastery Church. Keep an eye on our website for details as we get closer. The church building itself is a key element in the liturgy. As we celebrate Vespers, close attention to the placement of various ministers and their movements, the icons and the altar, will be repaid with a deeper understanding of Christ’s work in our midst.
—Fr. Peter Funk, OSB