Category Archives: History

Oh, Those Rosary Ladies


We all remember them – even those of us who never saw them – those dear ladies who said the Rosary during Mass prior to 1970.  (I actually remember coveting their crystal and pearl rosaries.) Although they are nearly as extinct at dinosaurs, they will surface in every debate over the Extraordinary Form if the discussion goes on long enough.

New flash!  Their behavior was regarded as undesirable in its time and was fading by the mid-1960s.  The first generations of liturgical reformers struggled manfully against this and many other out-of-place devotional practices during Mass.  However, they didn’t believe the solution was the abolition of the Extraordinary Form.  Their goal was education that would progressively engage the worshippers with the liturgy.  Congregational chant, the dialog Mass, hand missals, and extensive lay education were all aimed at displacing the pious practices that were themselves a response to another abuse – the dead-silent Low Mass.

There is no reason to present the case that it’s “rosary ladies or the Novus Ordo.”  That’s the informal fallacy known as a false dilemma.  The Extraordinary Form is a rich ceremony that can demand the full participation of its worshippers, as can the Ordinary Form when it is well celebrated.  Let the poor Rosary Ladies rest in peace and pray for the repose of their souls.

(By the way, I still see the occasional rosary-reciter at masses in the Ordinary Form.  And you know what, I don’t care.)

My Liturgical Rubicon

Last week I drove five hours each way to sing in a schola for the Feast of the Assumption. The occasion was the celebration of the Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Church of the Gesu in Miami. Why? Because I knew that only in the Extraordinary Form would the splendor of the Mass truly reflect the splendor of the feast. And it did.

So I’m “coming out” for the Extraordinary Form.  While this may not mean much to you, for me it is mentally crossing the Rubicon. Since Summorum Pontificum, I’ve kept my opinions to myself (and tried to talk myself out of them).  At the same time, I wouldn’t be a Catholic today if I hadn’t stumbled across the Extraordinary Form at St. Agnes Church in New York one Sunday in 1989.  There I found a Latin Rite Mass equal to the Orthodox Liturgy – a Mass that embodied the doctrines I was studying as I acknowledged the Petrine claims and re-oriented myself to Western theology.  And even though I knew it was not the norm, at least I knew it still existed.

For 20 years I have defended the 1970 Missal, attributing its shortcomings to the manner in which it was celebrated, not to the rite itself.  Since I was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1990, my battle cry as a musician has been “we can make it better.” I believed  better hymns, better vestments, chanted propers, an improved translation or celebration in Latin – some combination of these could raise the 1970 Novus Ordo to the level of the Missal of Pius V or the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church.

We can make it better.  But it will always fall short.  I do not – for one single minute – doubt that it is the Church’s authorized celebration of the Eucharist and that it carries all the graces of the sacrament.  I truly believe that Our Lord is present there and is adored by the angels.  But is this the window into Heaven that liturgy is meant to be?

The Novus Ordo‘s stripped-down text, its multiplicity of options for readings, Eucharistic prayers, and its preference for suggestion over precision are built into its structure.  The bare-bones version is as uplifting as a Protestant prayer service. More elaborate celebrations are confections of local taste – ranging from LifeTeen to beautiful chant at the taste of the presider, choir director, and the liturgist.    It is a child of the mid-20th century – iconoclastic, mistakenly ecumenical, and with a bad case of faux archaeologism.

The Latin Rite has constantly “re-formed” itself through history.  The revered 1570 missal that followed the Council of Trent was itself a revision. Beginning in the 19th century, liturgical theologians, musicians and others all knew that it was time to revivify the rite’s celebration.  Dom Gueranger, Lambert Beauduin, Louis Bouyer, Romano Guardini and a host of others in Europe and the United States wrote, met, worked for liturgical reform.  And by the mid-20th century, it was happening – the Gregorian chant revival, the dialogue Mass replacing the dead-silent Low Mass, adult education courses on liturgy and doctrine, and increased lay interest in the breviary.  Anyone who reads Sacrosanctum Concilium knows that this document sought continued movement in this direction.  For reasons that don’t bear discussing here, there was instead a radical shift, a rupture.  The result was the Novus Ordo Mass.

Is it the Latin? No, most definitely not. The Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil are celebrated in a multiplicity of languages from Greek to contemporary African tongues with no loss of dignity.

While I love Latin, I know that it lies far out of the reach of most of the current clergy and that worshippers aren’t interested in reading their way through a hand missal. By limiting the Extraordinary Form to the Latin language, we shut out potential celebrants and worshippers with barriers they can’t overcome.  I know sincere priests who study the rite, but they will never be sufficiently comfortable in Latin to celebrate anything more complex than a Low Mass.  And the Low Mass was not meant to the the preferred public celebration of the rite.  In the transitional missal of the mid-1960s, we had a good translation of the Missale Romanum.  The English Missal of the Anglo-Catholic movement is another fine translation and could be a wonderful consequence of Anglicanorum coetibus. Our worship needs the depth and expansiveness of the old rite, its universality, its orientation to the supernatural.  Let us not keep language as a barrier. 

Worship is honor and adoration given to what we love.  And that love goes on to inspire great deeds.  The Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite is the Western Church’s great treasure.  What could happen if it were allowed to flourish?

St. Ambrose Recommending the Psalms

“The Apostle admonishes women to be silent in church,

yet they do well to join in a psalm; this is gratifying for all ages and fitting for both sexes. 

 Old men ignore the stiffness of age to sing [a psalm], and melancholy veterans echo it in the joy of their hearts;

young men sing one without the bane of lust, as do adolescents without threat from their insecure age or the temptation of sensual pleasure;

 even young women sing psalms with no loss of wifely decency, and girls sing a hymn to God with sweet and supple voice

 while maintaining decorum and suffering no lapse of modesty. 

 Youth is eager to understand [a psalm], and the child who refuses to learn other things takes pleasure in contemplating it;

it is kind of play, productive of more learning than that which is dispensed with stern discipline.”

St. Ambrose, On Psalm 1



Musical Delights Enjoyed and Anticipated

The last two days have been lovely – an evening event at Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine allowed me to wander through the 18th century on my harp.  “Permanent residents” of the historic cemetery include Irish priests and workers, English and Scottish, Menorcans and Spanish.  So there was room for Carolan, Handel, Robert Burns, The Grenedier and the Lady, Green Bushes, Avon Water, the Arran Boat Song, and She Moved Through the Fair, to name a few.  Also my advantageous position near a citronella torch kept most gnats at bay.

This morning I taught a workshop on Singing the Psalms at the new Villa Flora-Brown Hall Renewal Center, run by my dear Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine.  We had about 14 in attendance.  After the brief history of the psalms and chant, they put their feet on the floor, took a deep breath and began to sing.  From a single-note recto tono, they worked their way up to a nice chant on Tone 8g (antiphon stayed on straight tone) in two choirs.   What a delight!

After enjoying some musket fire at the Battle of Bloody Mose, I have started the final preparations for my Colloquium trek.  And so looking forward to it!

Sacred Architecture Journal

If you’re interested in beauty, art, history, religion, or liturgy, you can’t not read this journal!  (I love that double negative construction I just used.)  Sacred Architecture is a fantastic read – at times heartening, at times sobering – and always intriguing.  Articles are accessible to the non-specialist and very well-referenced for those who wish to pursue any topic further.  Musicians tend only to pay attention to the space around them in order to complain about acoustics, lighting, or a lack of outlets. 

Well, the visual and the aural are not mutually exclusive. Their interplay in liturgy is the highest form of art and drama.  So why not add this dimension to your considerations?

It’s also fun to read!

While there is an archive of older articles, I encourage you to shell out the modest subscription price – that keeps the advertisers happy, encourages the editors, and, like it or not, shows that you think this is important.  At $9.95/year, it’s cheaper than lunch.

The Last Divine Office – A Great Read

The Last Divine Office:  Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Geoffrey Moorhouse takes on the dissolution of the monasteries of England through the prism of Durham Abbey.  (This just happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.)  If you were ever inclined to a moment’s sympathy for Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell, you’ll be cured by the time you finish the book.  Rapacious, cruel, and thuggish are three words that come to mind.

Moorhouse also paints a fascinating picture of late medieval English religion, both the good and the bad points.  So it’s a nice book to put on your shelf with Eamon Duffy.  Not too long and hard to put down.  Highly recommended.

(Can you guess that I used to write library book reviews in another life?)

Melville Dewey in Florida

I’m preparing for my annual trip to Ave Maria University for the Musica Sacra Florida Chant Conference.  This entails a lengthy drive down the midsection of Florida (of which there is a great deal).  A memorable moment along the way is always Lake Placid, the Caladium Capitol of the World.  (The Caladium Festival is the last full weekend in August, if you want to plan for it.)

As a former library administrator, imagine my surprise when I found that the one and only Melville Dewey (yes, the Dewey Decimal System) played a leading role in the town’s history.  Here’s a bit from the Chamber of Commerce website:

By 1926 the Florida building boom resulted in tourists flocking to the town and businesses sprang up everywhere. In 1927 Dr. Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System for cataloging library books, arrived in the area. Finding the locale remarkably similar to his native Lake Placid, N.Y. due to the lakes, Dr. Dewey had visions of a resort town as the semitropical branch of the Lake Placid Club in the Adirondack Mountains, which he had formed in 1893. Dewey’s first move was to open a 100 room hotel in mid-town for wealthier tourists and then to build a three hotel complex collectively called the Lake Placid Loj – the spelling the result in Dewey’s simplified spelling approach. The Loj is the present site of the Lake Placid Conference Center. In 1927, at Dewey’s urging, the town’s named was changed to Lake Placid by legislative act and has remained so to this day.

Wednesday Music – El Cantico del Alba

I did this YouTube a year or so ago from a concert Cantorae St. Augustine sang at the Cathedral-Basilica in St. Augustine.  We rehearsed it again last evening and I was reminded of what a lovely song it is.  Dating from the late 18th/early 19th century in California, it began the day on the ranchos and missions of Alta California.


Intonarium Toletanum Digitized

Well, this might not make your day, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise for me!

Thanks to the Library of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, I can happily paw around in this 1515 chant manuscript in the comfort of my own home and without having to wear those little white gloves so beloved of archivists!  And there are lots of treasures to enjoy!

What a happy marriage of the past and present!

(Apologies for the inelegant logo – but my image-scaling skills are at a low ebb this morning.)