TSD 11: Traditional Latin (Jazz) Mass

That got your attention, didn't it?

I live in the city where Mary Lou Williams, one of the greatest jazz composers and arrangers of all time, was raised and is buried. Known for her collaborations with just about every notable jazz musician of her era, Williams entered the Catholic Church in 1956 and spent some of her most productive years writing sacred jazz music, such as her album Black Christ of the Andes about St. Martin de Porres:

She also wrote Mass settings, including her Vatican-commissioned Mass for Peace, known today as Mary Lou’s Mass:

I was involved in some intermittently tense discussions about the “divisiveness” of the Extraordinary Form this week, but one good result was that it got me thinking about Williams and the way a vibrant tradition isn’t stagnant, but incorporates the surrounding culture. And I got to daydreaming: What would a pre-conciliar Mass in the jazz idiom sound like?

It seems to me that the fact that I have not the faintest clue what that would sound like is not a good thing. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the idea of reestablishing a living tradition—a tradition that isn’t just grasping for the past (though this is an important first step) but that is integrating the present in order to shape the future—will be a running theme of this newsletter. Even if a jazz-inflected Mass might not be immediately suitable to liturgy, it could at least be a concert piece that reflects the timelessness of the ancient rite.

The idea of a Mass setting that’s distinctly modern while anchored in tradition isn’t extravagant: Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe fits the bill:

Or Zbigniew' Preisner’s Requiem for my Friend, especially the Lacrimosa, used to tremendous effect in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life:

Unmistakably modern; unmistakably traditional; unmistakably Catholic. There are good reasons why jazz might be a harder idiom to incorporate into Catholic spirituality and certainly liturgy, but a tradition that’s genuinely universal (i.e. genuinely catholic) should be able to manage a fruitful and beautiful synthesis.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is Trinity Sunday. The readings are Proverbs 8:22-31, Romans 5:1-5, and John 16:12-15.

This Sunday is a homiletic minefield. Please forgive me for sharing Lutheran humor:

As Donall and Conall point out, it’s probably best to go back to the folks who first defined the doctrine of the Trinity. Here’s Didymus the Blind on the last verse of this Sunday’s Gospel, expressing what the Father and the Son share, and in what way they remain distinct:

That which the Father hath according to His substance, i. e. His eternity, immutability, goodness, it is this which the Son hath also. Away with the cavils of logicians, who say, therefore the Father is the Son. … When He saith, “All things that the Father hath are Mine,” by using the name of the Father, He declareth Himself the Son, and being the Son, He usurpeth not the Paternity, though by the grace of adoption He is the Father of many saints.

Wednesday, June 19, is the feast of St. Romuald. He is associated with a re-emergence of “eremetical monasticism”—a form of solitary ascetic discipline inspired by the Desert Fathers—at the turn of the millennium. His Camaldolese order exists to this day, split between more community-oriented and more solitary lifestyles.

The “brief rule” he established for his monastic foundations stressed solitary meditation:

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms – never leave it.

Saint Romuald.JPG

Romuald’s party trick was writing his entire monastic rule on his forehead.

Friday, June 21, is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Noble by birth, Aloysius preferred learning, the arts, and prayer to the expected martial preoccupations of his class. Over the strenuous objections of his family, especially his father, Aloysius entered the Society of Jesus, which entailed renouncing all the privileges that came with being the firstborn of a noble clan.

Despite his own chronic health problems, at the age of 22 he volunteered to serve the victims of a plague that had swept through Rome. There, he became ill and declined over the course of several weeks, dying (as he had predicted) on the Octave of Corpus Christi—June 21. For his rejection of high society for a grimy humility and charity, and for the strength of faith and character that belied his frail and boyish appearance, he is one of my favorite saints.

The young man cradling the old. A stunning portrayal at St. Aloysius College, Malta.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is Trinity Sunday. The Epistle is Romans 11:33-36 and the Gospel is Matthew 28:18-20. Both readings suggest a kind of closure, signifying the end of the Easter season and the return to contemplating Jesus’ public ministry—and our own. The feast was only extended to the Universal Church in 1334 by Pope John XXII, but has its roots in combating Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry concludes:

Since it was after the first great Pentecost that the doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed to the world, the feast becomingly follows that of Pentecost.

On Jesus’ command to baptize the nations in the name of the Trinity in the reading from Matthew, St. Jerome writes:

From these words we gather how undivided is the substance of the Trinity, that the Father is verily the Father of the Son, and the Son verily the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit the Spirit of both the Father and the Son, and also the Spirit of wisdom and of truth, that is, of the Son of God. This then is the salvation of them that believe, and in this Trinity is wrought the perfect communication of ecclesiastical discipline.

Albrecht Dürer’s Adoration of the Trinity. The Trinity is a topic where I tend toward a certain iconoclasm: No depiction can ever approach the truth. I chose Dürer’s, however, for its busyness and grandness.

The introit comes from Tobias 12:6 and Psalm 8:2:

Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas, atque indivisa unitas: confitebimur ei, quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam. Domine Dominus noster, quam admirabile est nomen tuum in universa terra! Gloria Patri…

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity: we will give glory to Him, because he hath shown mercy to us. O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is Thy Name in all the earth! Glory be to the Father…

Don Johner writes on the propers for Trinity Sunday (p. 230):

Today, then, we hear this phrase repeated in the Introit, Offertory, and Communion: “He hath shown His mercy to us.” The entire Mass formulary becomes one great “Glory be to the Father. . .” as a conclusion to the work of redemption begun at Christmas and brought to completion at Pentecost. Each of today's chants begins with an exhortation to praise God; Introit: Benedicta; Gradual, Alleluia-verse, and Offertory: Benedictus; Communion: Benedicimus. Few Mass formularies exhibit such unified structure.

Thursday, June 20, is a bit tricky. Traditionally, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is Corpus Christi, and it remains a holy day of obligation (and often a civil holiday) in many parts of Christendom. But the feast has only ever caught on regionally in the United States, and it is transferred to the succeeding Sunday in the Ordinary Form. In the old calendar, however, the (non-HDO) feast remains on Thursday—however, a parish may celebrate the feast a second time, as an “external solemnity,” on Sunday.


Thursday, June 20, is the Feast of Corpus Christi. The logic behind the feast is that the day of the institution of the Eucharist, Maundy Thursday, falls during Holy Week, and thus precludes a joyful celebration of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. A thirteenth century nun, St. Juliana of Liège, championed the feast until her death in 1256, which was followed eight years later by the expansion of the local celebration to the Universal Church by Pope Urban VI in his bull Transiturus. The office for the day, including the sequence Lauda Sion and the hymn Pange lingua, were written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Epistle for the Mass is 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and the Gospel is John 6:56-59:

For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.

If I’m asked for a Scriptural reason why I’m Catholic, the answer is simply: John 6.

The Pange lingua. There’s simply too much to say about Corpus Christi; happily we can cover more ground next week.

Those Seven Days…

…in Catholic Twitter

Taylor Patrick O’Neill identifies the void:

A Bishop Umbers special:

My tweet that included Francisco de Zurbarán’s Saint Anthony, from last week’s TSD, resulted in some great discussion of this underappreciated master:

…in the Content Mines

Fr. Augustus Tolton, the former slave who became the first African-American priest, is now “Venerable.”

Maybe a little on the heavy side, but there’s some tremendous insights in this post by Before Church and State author Andrew Willard Jones on the way we are trained to think in ultimately nonsensical terms of the religious vs the secular and the moral vs the political.

The title “When Saints Took On Legendary Beasts” is self-recommending.

Check out analysis from Catholic News Agency’s Ed Condon and JD Flynn from the USCCB meeting in Baltimore this last week.

What’s working—and what isn’t?

If you’ve made it this far, it means you’re a faithful reader of TSD. So let me ask you: What do you like best about the newsletter? What do you skim for as you scroll down? What do you skip over every week? I’m finding that these are getting longer—not because of any active choice by me, but just because I’m being more thorough and finding more information and media that I want to share with you. But it’s getting to be a bit much—for me and, I worry, for you. So drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com or on Twitter @brandonmcg. I want to make this thing as good—and as streamlined—as it can be.