Can I do this? A bumbling neophyte tries to sing the Missa Secunda

Several evenings ago I walked into my parish church to do something I’ve never done before. Probably out of ignorance and hubris, and not a little blind hopefulness, I decided to lend my voice to our parish choir. But not for the normal Sunday choir. This time I joined in because I had heard at Sunday Mass the announcement that coming up in about four weeks was going to be a special Novus Ordo Mass (feast day at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation) that would be in Latin along with Latin (and Greek) chant, and that if anyone wanted to join in the choir they would be welcome, and that our choir director would be offering a chant schola in preparation for the Mass.

So I reached out via email and was invited to join.

As I walked in to the church I heard beautiful music resounding throughout the nave and sanctuary from the regular choir rehearsal as they were finishing up. After blessing myself and genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, I turned, looked up, and saw this.

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With not a little panic mixed with excitement I realized I would be going up to the choir loft. What had I decided to do? Reality was setting in. I had never been up there, but have wanted to. I had not sung in a choir since, probably, about 4th grade for some silly event. As I worked my way towards my destination I was asked a couple of times if I was a tenor or bass. I could only shrug. I had no idea. Oh no, I thought to myself. I’m an idiot. I’m a fool. At my answer a look of slight worry crossed the faces of my questioners. Had I made a huge mistake?

On the back bench lay items of sheet music and a binder. I picked up my copies and went to my place. Everything was new to me. I did not know these people. I had never been in the choir loft, I was an imposter. Perhaps I didn’t even know how to sing. However I was welcomed warmly. Okay, at least they’re nice.

Then I looked down at the sheet music. Oh no. This was not the medieval square note sheet music. Not that I know that ancient form well, but because of my curiosity about historical Christianity I know a little. And it’s rather simple to follow if you know the basic format. Rather, this was the Missa Secunda by Hans Leo Hassler, and it looked like this:
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If you want to know how it’s supposed to sound, here’s a recording from another choir:

 

Okay. For those of you who can read music easily, have sung in adult choirs, know that you are a tenor or bass or whatever, then you might be curious at the sudden and profound panic I felt.  (Perhaps you are merely laughing at my foolishness.) I realized I would have to reach deep into my past, to those few piano lessons of many decades ago and remember foggy snipits about breathing at the right time, etc. 4/4 time. 3/4 time. Half notes. Whole notes. God help me, and God save this choir from me.

The choir director, a very kind and super encouraging man (fortunately for me), brought me to a side room and had me sing Mary had a little lamb, just to determine there my voice might fit. He said I could be a tenor or bass, so he put me with the tenors. And there I was.

We began with the traditional chant Salve Regina to warm up. That helped. I know that one, and it’s not too difficult. Then we dove into the Missa Secunda. Another great blessing for me, I was next to a woman who knows the music very well, has a great ear to be able to listen to me while she sings herself, and a kind and generous spirit to guide me through my stumblings. If she had not been there I might have completely failed and not come back. Later others told me, yeah she’s great.

So, rehearsal one is over. Three more to go. Will I be able to do this. I asked several, including the choir director, after that first rehearsal if they think I can contribute. They were all very encouraging. I also found online resources to help me do “homework” between rehearsals.

God help me, but I loved it.

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Missa Cantata: Singing the Traditional Latin Mass

At a local parish in my neck of the woods (not the one I belong to, but nearby) the Traditional Latin Mass, or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass, has begun to be celebrated the first Saturday of each month. Celebrating the TLM is not a common occurrence here or elsewhere. The “version” used is the Missa Cantata, or sung Mass.

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This is a kind of High Mass, and includes incense, the priest singing portions, a choir singing portions, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling, and everything but the homily is in Latin. And I love it.

I’m not a traditionalist. I don’t think the Church should go back in time, uncritically adopting the form of the old merely because it’s old, even if it seems to be an antidote to the various illnesses of our contemporary world. However, I’m a big fan of tradition, and I do think our modern age is sick, and that we’ve lost many of the riches from the past, riches that are good for us and conform to our humanity.

So, about that lost past… The experience (so far I’ve been to two of these masses) is rather rough around the edges, which I find wonderful in a way. We are learning together and trying to get it right. My friend is the main altar server and directs the younger servers. We are also watching them learn. When does one stand, sit, kneel, speak, etc.?? The first time I went we were all over the map. The second time we were better. Fortunate, Fr. Mark knows what he is doing and gets through Mass without issue.

I want to be honest. I cannot say that after having experienced the Ordinary Form in the vernacular I was transported to some transcendent cloud of Catholic ecstasy by the TLM. But I can say this: It is so obvious that the TLM more completely and concretely fulfills the way God designed us to worship, and speaks more clearly to the reality of who Christ is and our relationship to him, than does the modernist way the Novus Ordo Mass tends to be celebrated (which is not the way entirely envisioned by Vatican II).

I would love to see more parishes beginning to add the TLM to their weekly masses. I think it’s good for the Church and the people.

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Excellent deep dive lecture series on Vatican II; what it was, and what it means

This is one of the best (probably the best) series of lectures on Vatican II that I have come across.

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Quaerere Deum: A look at the daily life of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia

The true Benedict option:

From the YouTube description: “In the Jubilee year 2000 the monks of Norcia breathed new life into the birthplace of St Benedict. Armed with only their faith and zeal they founded a monastic community which has been attracting men from all over the world to follow St. Benedict’s ancient Rule. Many of their friends have long wanted an insight into the inner workings of their life and so they have produced this high quality up to date film which shows the monks as they go through the daily ora et labora. The title of the film, ‘Quaerere Deum,’ means to Seek God. This is the true calling of all monks, the first and most essential quality of an authentic monastic vocation, as laid out in the Rule of our Holy Father St. Benedict.”

The Monks of Norcia website.

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O’Connor, Dostoevsky, and Christ Pantocrator: A Lecture by Dr. Ralph Wood

I’m reposting this, because it is so good. But also because we live in a society that has become a slave to sentimentality. This is also true of Christianity — sentimentality affects so much and we are so blind. O’Connor hated sentimentality. Ralph Wood speaks to this in the midst of so much else he says. A rich talk indeed.

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A truly great lecture…

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Archbishop Sample: Pontifical Mass Homily (2015) — A House Divided…

Do not let the Traditional Latin Mass become a source of division — and this goes both ways.

From the YouTube description: “Archbishop Sample’s homily during the 2015 Gregorian Chant conference at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon on March 7th.”

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Archbishop Sample: Pontifical Mass Homily (2014) — Love Must Rule

“If we do not have love then it’s just a show.”

Some great words from Archbishop Sample. He gives perspective on the Traditional Latin Mass in the Church today. He addresses Summorum Pontificum and it’s importance today. He does not call into question the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but challenges the Church to actually take it seriously and to see the Ordinary Form as inherently connected and informed by the Extraordinary Form. He also sees the TLM as a form that all priests and bishops should know.

From the YouTube description: “On March 1, 2014 Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon celebrated a Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Brigittine Monastery “Our Lady of Consolation” in Amity, Oregon. The Mass was the crowning celebration of a 3-day conference on Gregorian Chant and the role of sacred music in the liturgy.”

The beautiful chant at the end comes via Schola Cantus Angelorum.

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