Wednesday, July 11, 2012

EF Masses at the Colloquium: Heaven on Earth

This is a report on the extraordinary form Masses that were said at the Sacred Music Colloquiuum in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the end of June. The author is Stephanie Swee, president of the Society of St. Gregory the Great. In an email to me, Stephanie added that she had heard more than one attendee express the sentiment that "I thought I had died and gone to Heaven."

For some of those attending the Sacred Music Colloquium in Salt Lake City, the two extraordinary form Masses were the highlights of the week. On Wednesday, a Requiem Mass was celebrated for the deceased members of the organization. Perhaps the most important of those members to the success of the organization was Msgr. Richard Schuler, a musician and dedicated liturgist who served as president and editor of the group’s publication, Sacred Music, until his death in 2007.

Schuler presided over many Latin Masses in the ordinary form over the years he was pastor at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He took a fair amount of abuse from his colleagues for the often elaborate music – Mozart and Haydn Masses prominently – that he directed at the beautiful old church, but he persevered in trying to make the music worthy of the worship.

The Requiem Missa Cantata was splendidly sung by a number of choirs, and the well-known sequence, Dies Irae, was magnificent in its rendition by alternating chant choirs of men and women. Even though the celebrant wore black, the mood was joyous, as the comforting chants of the Mass for the Dead, such as the haunting Introit, Requiem aeternam, moved all those in attendance.

Some young friends who drove an hour to be at the Requiem Mass were speechless after the last strains of music died away.  They had never, they said, heard anything so beautiful – until the Friday extraordinary Mass, which they said exceeded even what they had experienced on Wednesday.

The Friday, June 29 liturgy was a Solemn High Mass in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. The vestments were red velvet and the music included a polyphonic ordinary by Louis Vierne, his Missa Solennelle, Opus 16. Although those parts were very elaborate, just as impressive were the proper chants, especially the Communion, Tu es Petrus, with its psalm verses.

A motet by Sir John Hawkins followed the distribution of communion, Quem dicunt hominess (“Who do men say is the Son of man; You are Christ, the Son of the living God.”) After Mass, because English cannot be sung during the span of the liturgy in the extraordinary form, a motet in the vernacular, which echoed the previous one, served as recessional: The Son of Man, composed by Sir Richard Newman.

There was a noticeable hush after this Mass, when it seemed those in attendance were still stunned by the solemnity of the rite and the music. One young man who had grown up in Salt Lake City and become a convert from Mormonism to Catholicism there, said he felt as if he were dreaming: “I never thought I would see a Mass like this in the cathedral,” he said.

There was in all the Masses a liberal use of incense and candles. Just as the organ sometimes became overwhelming in its volume, the ministers pulled out all the stops in the use of ceremonials.

It is true that many of the colloquium attendees came from rich musical backgrounds, some directors of choirs, many with advanced degrees in music. But others were neophytes and some had never sung chant before. It was a testament to the power of the liturgy and of its proper music that all could come together in this solemn act of worship, to praise God and offer again the sacrifice of Calvary.


  1. I am no singer, but I cannot imagine anything more wonderful than being able to attend a Mass like that.

    Is there anything half as beautiful as the EFM?

  2. you know, nothing can compare! I wish I could have been there, but a friend told me it probably was just as well that I wasn't because I WOULD have died of happiness!

  3. You need to come over to Oz for a holiday :) Come visit my church.


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