In what might be a new world record, or perhaps simply a first of its kind choral accomplishment, the fifty-five voice Lyceum Choir sang back to back liturgies – one in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and the other in a Hierarchical Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite, celebrated by Bishop Milan Lach, S.J.!
Now I have been a choir director for about thirty years and have had numerous occasions where I have been asked to prepare choirs for this or that solemn liturgy, at which this or that Bishop would be celebrating. Every such occasion is exciting for a choir, and of course these opportunities are events for which ordinarily a choir will attempt to do its very best. Of course cathedral and basilica choirs are habituated to such events. That is why many of them consist of both volunteer and professional choristers among their ranks.
The students of The Lyceum Choir know that they are primarily singing ad maiorem Dei gloriam, but it’s not every day that one gets to sing with a Cardinal in the morning and a Bishop in the afternoon!
As it was the feast of The Immaculate Conception, and as Cardinal Burke had been invited to celebrate the Mass at the gorgeous Immaculate Conception Church in Cleveland, we knew we had to meet such an occasion with every ounce of preparation we could muster. After all, this was a visit by the highest ranking Church prelate to the church since its cornerstone was laid in 1878!
The students arrived an hour early to warm up for the 10 AM Mass in high spirits. Although the church itself is fairly large, its architect did not envision both a pipe organ and a fifty-five voice choir in the loft. Consequently we made the decision to locate the choir in the last four rows at the back of the church. Given that the church was packed, this was no easy feat.
Now some of you might be thinking,
Ok…that’s pretty impressive….. but any school choir might be able to sing a Pontifical High Latin Mass with preparation. What’s so difficult about singing the Missa de Angelis along with a couple easy motets?
Well, just take a look at this program:
- Introit – Gaudens Gaudebo (Gregorian Propers- in full!)
- Kyrie from the Missa Brevis – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
- Gloria – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
- Graduale – Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria (Gregorian Propers)
- Alleluia – Tota Pulchra es (Gregorian Propers)
- Credo III (Gregorian)
- Offertory- Ave Maria (Gregorian Propers)
- Offertory Motet – Alma Redemptoris – Palestrina
- Sanctus – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
- Agnus Dei – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
- Communion- Gloriosa dicta sunt de te– (Gregorian Propers)
- Communion Motets
- Dixit Maria – Hans Leo Hassler
- Rorate Coeli – Christopher Tye
- Ave Maria – Jacob Arcadelt
- Sicut Cervus – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
And then, to top things off, the Mass ended with a glorious procession of the Blessed Sacrament complete with the regular congregational settings of O Salutaris, Pange Lingua, Holy God, and Immaculate Mary.
After finishing this glorious experience which lasted for about two and half hours, the students quickly boarded a bus which transported them to St. Stephen’s Byzantine Catholic Church in nearby Euclid, Ohio. Timing was of the essence given that the students were to provide the choir for the Solemn Profession at 1:30 PM for a nun from Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.
Now, it goes without saying that a choir cannot sing well at any liturgical function unless it is familiar with the rhythms and movements and traditions that are peculiar to it. Successfully providing the liturgical music for any liturgical event or service requires a choir that is able to cooperate and has the requisite skill to exercise flexibility so as to adapt to the various tones, pacing, and idiosyncrasy of this or that celebrant (or congregation).
It is not any choir that can sing a full polyphonic Palestrina Mass and then seamlessly make the transition from west to east- singing the music for the incensation of the church and the Antiphons and Troparia and Kontakia and Trisagion and Prokeimenon and Anaphora – not to mention the many other regular polyphonic prayers like The Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
The young are especially adapted for making such swift transitions without blinking!
Pope John Paul II famously said in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint,
the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome… we understand clearly that the vision of the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate diversity.
Now although Pope John Paul II meant to signify the Church as a whole, as opposed to individual members of the Church when he said “the Church must breathe with both lungs,” I still think that he would have been very proud of the fifty-five students who sang a Solemn Pontifical High Latin Mass in the Morning and a Hierarchical Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite that very afternoon.
Could there be a more effective response to Saint John Paul II’s encyclical? Singing certainly requires lungs! And anyone who is familiar with the harmonies of the east will agree that if the western music of Palestrina is produced from one lung, it certainly might seem that the music of the Byzantine Church is produced from quite another lung!
These students certainly sang from both lungs that day. They sang from 9 AM to nearly 4 PM!
And because of their youth, because of their reverence, because of their goodwill and because of their beautiful voices, they enhanced the beauty of two very significant liturgical events. They also inspired the many hundreds of people who came to witness these events.
They demonstrated that there is much reason for hope!