31 October 2010

Very Old Chant

A while ago, Fr Tim posted some clips of Organum chant, which led me down a merry road of spending money on music I can only listen to on earphones or in an otherwise empty house.

The theory is that "Old Roman Chant" represents the very ancient mode of singing employed in Rome, and which lingered on in the Papal liturgies until the Papacy moved to Avignon, at which point Gregorian Chant supplanted it completely.

Old Roman Chant provides not just a bridge to the music of the Eastern Churches, but shows their descent from the music of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Here is a flavour of what has been conjectured as the sound of the Introit of the Dawn Mass of Christmas Day in the sixth century.  If you are like me, it will thrill you to imagine the link back, and to be able just about to imagine the baggage such singing brought with it.  If you are like everybody else chez Ttony, you will marvel at the fact that people will pay money to hear this.  "The closest this will get to my car is the front tyre", as I was told.

You decide.


The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It is celebrated just after the longest night of the year, when (in the northern hemisphere) the days begin to lengthen until we reach the summer solstice, which is associated with the figure of John the Baptist. To celebrate this moment, the Church deploys an exceptional - virtually uninterrupted - liturgical cycle in which the usual Offices are interspersed with four Masses.


The First Mass begins just after the third hour, that is to say when the sun is midway between its zenith and twilight. Then, amid the final glimmers of daylight, First Vespers of the Nativity are sung. When darkness has fallen, Compline celebrates the first hour of night. After a short pause begins the great Office of Matins, whose solemn ceremonial lasts more than three hours, until the night reaches its epicentre, at this point Midnight Mass is celebrated. As the time of darkness draws to an end, an hour before the first gleams of dawn, begins the Office of Lauds, the two last chants of which - the hymn and the Gospel canticle - must correspond with the arrival of light in the sanctuary. Then the Office of Prime, which lasts only some twenty minutes, introduces Dawn Mass. A short break, and, when the sun is midway between the horizon and its zenith - that is, at the third hour - the Office of Terce introduces the fourth Mass. Between the commencement of the cycle - after the ninth hour on 24 December- and the beginning of the last Mass - after the third hour on 25 December - six hours of daylight and twelve hours of night have elapsed. This geometry of time, which leaves our contemporaries indifferent, constituted for our forefathers the foundation of the liturgical act.


The musical anthology presented here traverses some of the great moments of these four Masses of the Nativity. The music is that of the ancient chant of the Church of Rome, one of the oldest repertories of which traces have remained in the collective memory of mankind. Up to the thirteenth century this repertory accompanied the papal liturgy. It disappeared with the installation of the papacy in Avignon, and sank into oblivion. Rediscovered in the early twentieth century, it aroused little enthusiasm among musicians, and only began to be studied properly first from the liturgical, then from the musicological perspective, in the second half of the century. At this time, to distinguish it from Gregorian chant, it was named 'Old Roman chant'. A major debate took place in the Gregorianist milieu in an attempt to understand why, when since the ninth century, the whole of Western Europe had been using books of Gregorian chant in which the melodic forms are almost identical, the Roman chant books give a different version from the Gregorian chant, often with much more highly developed ornamentation. After a century of research, it would appear today that Old Roman chant presents the Roman tradition in a state closer to its origins. The musical notation utilised is extremely precious, for all the ornaments are written out, whereas in the notation of Gregorian chant ornaments are merely suggested.

A short historical summary

At the end of the eighth century, the Frankish kings began to become conscious of their role in protecting the papacy. Pippin the Short, followed by his son Charlemagne, realised that the importation of the Roman liturgy would be a fantastic tool for establishing their legitimacy and culturally unifying a vast and disparate empire. Moreover, in the eyes of the Carolingians, the chant of Rome seemed to be the best preserved musical monument of the Graeco-Latin culture which they wished to revive at all costs. Conscious of the disaster that the loss of the knowledge of the ancients would represent, Charlemagne surrounded himself with scholars and artists who collected what they could of the artistic and scientific remains of Antiquity and attempted to breathe new life into them. The music of Rome was one of the key implements of this Renaissance. The musical terminology elaborated in Carolingian learned circles borrowed numerous terms from Greek theory, which the Franks discovered through the intermediary of the Romans. Thus the Carolingians developed a sensation of being a living part of a certain form of culture whose expression, according to ancient tradition, was Greek. As a result they acquired a degree of legitimacy which buttressed them in their attempts to forge relations with Constantinople.


However, it was necessary to adapt the Roman liturgy to the new liturgical preoccupations which took shape in the course of the ninth century. Successive reforms, and a certain crossbreeding with the old Gallican traditions, resulted in a transformation of the former Roman chant. From this emerged a new dialect known today as 'Gregorian chant'. This chant spread through the Western empire and returned to Rome around the end of the eleventh century, gradually taking the place of the older repertoire from which it was derived. Old Roman chant, whose origins dated back to before the sixth century, continued to exalt the papal liturgy at St Peter's and in the great Roman basilicas until the end of the thirteenth century. The installation of the papacy in Avignon dealt it a fatal blow, and all trace of it was lost in the early fourteenth centurv, when it ended up being supplanted by the chant now called 'Gregorian'.


Like Milanese and Beneventan chant, the other two older Latin repertories, Old Roman chant is situated at the turning point between the music of Graeco-Latin antiquity and that of the Middle Ages. It testifies to a time when the Eastern and Western Churches communed in cultural and spiritual unity.

This programme illustrates the different musical genres in use in the Roman Mass. The chants known as 'Propers' are specific to a particular liturgical time. These are the Introit, the Gradual, the Alleluia, the Offertory, and the Communion. To these are added the chants known as 'Ordinary', here a Kyrie. The art of reading is illustrated by a Gospel sung in the manner still in force in the Eastern churches, whose tetrachordal musical structure is characteristic of ancient Greek music.

For this recording we have used the oldest Roman chant manuscript. It is dated 1071, and is today preserved in the extraordinary collection of the Fondation Martin Bodmcr at Cologny (Geneva).


One must imagine this music in the context of the great Roman liturgies of the first millennium. The glimmer of the candles which makes the colours of the mosaics flicker on the walls, ceiling and the floor long of the basilicas, the movements and the static positions of the officiants the long periods of silence. This music is founded on the art of cantillation, that is to say the act of proclamation and transmission of the sacred texts. On the most solemn feast days, the words were drawn out to extreme lengths so that the faithful might better absorb the meaning they convey. Through the magic of music, sung texts become icons. Time is deployed with sovereign slowness in order to give contemplation all the space it needs and allow consciousness genuinely to settle into the encounter with the Word. The use of the drone, the note held by the lower voices - a form of polyphonic chant then called basilical organum - confers on the sound a hieratic immanence in which time and space are united in a single vibrant truth.

Old Roman chant occupies a central position in the history of music. It is the keystone which gives meaning and coherence to what ought to be the musical consciousness of Western Europe and far beyond. For, looking back to the period before, it gives us the key to the filiation between the chant of the temple of Jerusalem and the heritage of Greek music. Looking forward in time, it enables us to follow and understand the treasures of Koranic cantillation. Outside certain extremely restricted musicological circles, this repertory is today unknown to musicians, ecclesiastics, and the general public. Yet it offers us the oldest version of Graeco-Latin music of Late Antiquity, and represents the missing link between Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian chant, Arab music, and Western music.

Marcel Peres



28 October 2010


Can you have completely white sandpipers?  This was taken at North Dock Llanelli yesterday, so is unlikely to be anything too exotic.  It was about the size of a gull.

25 October 2010

St Martin In The Fields

I took this picture of St Martin in the Fields and realised that I'd never been inside.  (It doesn't lean, by the way, but I can't be bothered to photoshop the picture.)

If truth be told, the Wren Churches do little for me.  They are beautiful baroque spaces, wonderful paradigms for harmonious design, ideal venues for concerts, but something is missing: the Blessed Sacrament.  (Whoops!  It's by Gibbs, but the argument still holds.)

Perhaps I am being fanciful, but I think I can sense the difference between a Church in which Mass has been celebrated, however long ago, and one where it hasn't.  Now matter how reordered a pre-Reformation, I can always visualise how Mass could be said today, how little would have to be changed.

I must confess though that two things caught my eye and made me think that something very good was going on here.  The first was that there was a large group of down and outs in the church, each occupying one of the box pews in the side, enjoying the warmth, dozing, most of them, and appreciating the beatiful baroque space in a much less aesthetic but a lot more practical way than me.

The second was the window behind the altar.  I am not the greatest fan of modern art, and the idea of messing up the window in a Wren church sounds preposterous, but in there, this morning, it worked.

19 October 2010

The Benedict Bounce

This coming Sunday will be the one where the Hierarchy pulls together of of the positive fruits which arose during the Pope's visit into a single powerful strand of prayer and action to revitalise the Church.  Together in unity, and individually as local leaders, they will issue a powerful and stirring message to their faithful to begin a new movement of evangelisation in accordance with the Pope's vision.

Watch out here:
Arundel & Brighton, Birmingham, Brentwood, Cardiff, Clifton, East Anglia, Hallam, Hexham & Newcastle, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Menevia, Middlesbrough, Northampton, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Shrewsbury, Southwark, Westminster and Wrexham

18 October 2010


In the same way that a bully will always look for the weakest of his opponents, Mgr Loftus has threatened to sue Fr Mildew and as a result Fr Mildew is reduced to a state of extreme anxiety.

Here is our shibboleth.

Fr Mildew preaches God's Truth.

Mgr Loftus writes for the Catholic Times.

Let's enthusiastically treat this as an issue of Black and White and admit no grey.  Let's make this a ground upon which we can stand.

Prayers, of course, for Fr Mildew, but let's support him properly and oppose the message of his opponents!

17 October 2010

New (To Me) Books


As I had suspected, I had to resort to the world repository of second hand books to start to build up a collection of educational books about the Faith.  The first I managed to get hold of is a modern reprint of Fr H Thurston SJ's Lent and Holy Week, originally published in 1914.  It is amazingly good.  It starts with Septuagesima and the Lenten Fast and traces the history of Lent and the fast, discurses on the severity of the Lenten Fast in antiquity, on relaxations of the Fast, and on whether or not birds counted as meat in mediaeval and early modern times.

Chapter Two starts with Shrove Tueday: as Confession on the day before Ash Wednesday has no liturgical character, where does it come from? and then goes into  the difference between Confession, Penance, Reconciliation and Absolution (which four happened at different times during Lent), what happened to the person who, dressed in sackcloth and ashes was banished for six weeks, and how people who weren't carrying out this penance nevertheless began to get some of the ashes sprinkled on them on Ash Wednesday.  His description of Holy Week as it used to be are fascinating, though they raise the question about whether those who would return to the pre-1950 Holy Week would be prepared to impose the former strict fast on the entire Church, just so that they could anticipate offices in order to mitigate the fast's severity.  The Pian reforms are not perhaps as black and white as I had thought.

Over at Catholic Book Reviews, Andrew recently reviewed a book I'd never heard of called Mitre and Crook, by Fr Bryan Houghton.  He says: "In the best English tradition (and Fr Houghton would certainly have been aware of this) he uses letters to tell the bulk of the story, and this works exceedingly well.
The plot is fairly straightforward. An English bishop, Edmund Forester (possibly the bishop Fr Houghton believed he could have become if he had not been so suspect because of his orthodoxy...) decided to reinstate the Traditional Rite of Mass in his diocese." 

I was slightly less convinced by: "I first read it as an undergraduate; I picked it up out of idle curiosity from my mother's bookshelf one evening in the vacation. I did not go to bed until I had finished it in the small hours of the morning" but effectively the same thing happened to me - I read it through in one go!

The only other "Tridentine novel" I have read is Smoke in the Sanctuary, by Stephen Oliver, which details what happens when a new PP of traditrionalist bent takes over a very untraditionalist parish.  While not a comic novel, neither is it a serious literary attempt to write a novel about the Church post-Vatican II.  It is entertaining as well as serious, and aims some excellent blows at the "Spirit of Vatican II" beliefs which infect so many in authority in the Church in England and Wales.

Mitre and Crook is a very different proposition.  It is much more serious and tells what might have happened if just one of the Bishops in England and Wales had dared to defy the Episcopal Conference consensus which has brought about so many of the problems we face today.  Could what Fr Houghton portrays actually have happened?  Who knows.  But the manner in which the faithful had their Mass taken from them (for the second time in 400 years) and the trahison des clercs which caused it and saw it through are portrayed here in a series of letters which it is difficult to imagine could be written by any senior English or Welsh cleric today.

Lots to think about!

09 October 2010

Managing Decline

So Ushaw is to close.  I thought the writing was on the wall when I saw the photos of the former Junior Seminary here.  In fact the writing was on the statues which had been vandalised, and in the liturgical books which had been abandoned, and on the atlar cloths which had been left on deserted altars.

I could almost conceive that  torching places for their insurance value represents an ordinary decent criminality when contrasted with the studied manner in which the Northern Bishops (lets not blame Clifton, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Arundel and Brighton for once) have just abandoned a holy and consecrated place.

There is an obvious and clunking allegory about stewardship; in fact there are two, when you bear in mind that the holy and consecrated place was built to train priests.

This is how decline is managed in the Catholic Church in England and Wales: by turning our backs on the past and walking away.  But don't look backwards, ever, for fear of whatever might be looking forward at us.

06 October 2010

Bad Words

Musing on the discussion over at Fr Ray's about the "'Catholic' Press" in this country, my mind wandered and I started to think about words which, when uttered in a context which is supposed to be Catholic, today, in 2010, immediately make my knee jerk, make me think that here is somewhere I don't want to go.

Why don't you have a play?

Spirit of Vatican II
A / The Church (ie without an article when it should have one)
Estelle White
Priest, Prophet, King
South Coast
Easter People
Young Church
Catholics for ...
Press release from the Catholic Bishops' Conference
Worship group
Music Group
Youth Mass
Liturgy Group
Parochial Church Council
Pray, my brothers and sisters, ...
"In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" "Amen" "Good Morning everybody" "Good Morning Father" "To prepare ourselves ..."
Martin Luther King
Lay Minister
Minister of the Eucharist
Minister of the Word
Ministry of the Apparition (OK - I made that one up)
Holy Table
"We together, as God's people"
"Lord, you know ..."
Third World
Developing World
Developing countries

I'll stop there, having managed to boost my blood pressure up to the point where I know my heart is still working properly.

03 October 2010

Not Persecuted - Ignored

I get irritated by comments which which imply that Catholics in this country are facing a wave of persecution: it just isn't true.

Being persecuted involves people being martyred: it is distasteful in the extreme to think of the sufferings of Catholics in Pakistan, for example, and think that we are being persecuted.  And look at what happened in France in the 1790s to see what happens when a State decides to persecute the Church.

But another thought came to me from a throwaway remark in an American commentary on the Pope's visit linked from Joanna Bogle's blog.  It made the point that when the UK media talks about the Catholic Church, it doesn't mean the outfit based in Ecclestone Square: it means the Pope, Rome, the Vatican.  It suddenly struck me that the Catholic Church as an institution in UK national life is of as much moment as the Institute of Directors. 

Eamon Duffy has pointed out several times that one of the crucial points in the development of the post-conciliar Church in England and Wales came when Friday abstinence was abolished explicitly because it made Catholics different from their fellow citizens: that it marked them out.  "We" decided that we wanted to be just like everybody else.  (And let's not just blame the Bishops or pretend that it was the only disatrous choice made at that time.)

By removing the things that marked us out, by becoming part of civic society, our influence became that of any interest group.  Important, in a democracy, both because practising Catholics are about 2% of the population and are a relatively homogenous group with specific demands on society (like schools, chaplains in hospital etc), and because that 2% represents votes.

But our interests could now be weighed against those of other interest groups, and by taking part in the game, we agreed to be bound by the refree's decision.  The reductio ad absurdam of the current position comes when a senior representative of the Church can criticise SPUC for not cooperating with the Government in its aim of reducing the number of abortions.

Why should the press have been so surprised by the crowds who flocked to see the Pope?  Why did his message, or at least the manner in which it was expressed, seem so novel and shocking?  Why was it bewildering to see so many young people apparently accepting what the old man in white said which explicitly contrasts with what they are getting from every other source of information available to the general public?

Why?  Because the Catholic Church in England and Wales as an institution is irrelevant in national life.  We aren't being persecuted: we are being ignored.

02 October 2010

E&W Diocesan Websites

Against the day when you fancy doing a tour of the websites of the Dioceses of England and Wales to see, for example, how they report on the Pope's visit, and on the steps they are taking to capitalise on it, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep way to their home pages.

Arundel & Brighton, Birmingham, Brentwood, Cardiff, Clifton, East Anglia, Hallam, Hexham & Newcastle, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Menevia, Middlesbrough, Northampton, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Shrewsbury, Southwark, Westminster and Wrexham.

It's not as bad as I feared it might be ...