To establish personal bias: Father Lessard is essentially one of my godfathers. He is the one who prepared me for my First Communion and insisted that I receive a year earlier than usual. He was the one who explained to me why in the Sacrament of Baptism the water must be poured upon the head, rather than a moist hand merely being placed upon the forehead of the candidate; further, he included – I was six at the time – an erudite exposition on the justification for the Church insisting that converts from the Protestant denominations prove that they were baptized in an acceptable manner as part of the preparation. By this conversation, Father Lessard taught me that the Ordo Religionis is much, much more than a series of convoluted gestures; rather it is the tangible manifestation of the spirit of Catholicism.
In addition to fulfilling the second tenant, Benedicere, of the Dominican order through his interactions with our family, Father Lessard has also executed the third, Prædicare, in the secular sphere by supporting the pursuit of a satisfying secular life, thereby turning the act of living into a continuous Te Deum laudamus. No one cheered more when my siblings and I chose to train as classical musicians. When I received my M.A. in history and literature from Columbia University, Father Lessard was ecstatic. In all things for us, he has been the incarnation of Laudare, the first tenant of the Order of Preachers.
For this inspiration and support, Father, I thank you. Now, as your honorary goddaughter, but also a millennial, Tridentine Catholic: Scholam tuam invito – “I challenge your thesis.”
You questioned the appreciation of millennials for Gregorian chant, citing your own emotional attachment to the music of Marty Haugen and David Haas. You state, “I can assure you that Haugen and Haas are superb composers based on objective elements, regardless of one’s subjective tastes.” To what objective elements do you refer? Any of the five species of counterpoint? Common-practice era music theory, i.e. the constructive elements used from J.S. Bach to the present? That such tunes often lack a cadence, thereby removing the appropriate structure according to the tenants of music theory? The fact that songs such as “Gather us in” have opportune moments for saccharine emotive passaggio sliding in the style of country singers?
The modern folk hymns entirely miss the purpose of contrapuntal chant. The Mass is not about us as people being there to interact with each other; it is about focusing entirely upon the Sacrifice of the Mass enacted upon the altar. Contrapuntal music, epitomized by Gregorian chant, symbolizes this concept. The individual notes, placed in conflict with each other, create a harmonious interval and represent the moment that mankind lays down interpersonal disputes to glorify God. In other words, it is an aural representation of the sublimation of the individual to the greater worship of God. It is the uplifting of the mind and thereby the soul, rather than the indulgence of superficial emotions. All pre-Vatican II music is intended, in its purist condition, to evoke a state of reflection, of meditation, rather than emotions which evaporate the moment the sound ceases.
Christ said, “άπό τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνὠσεσθε αὐτοὐς” — “By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matthew 7.16). I ask: what fruit has the introduction of folk, soft-rock, electronic band music brought forth? The high altar has become a backdrop to a stage and the Tabernacle is either a prop or has disappeared altogether. The congregation, beguiled and entertained, applauds. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi – let the rule of prayer determine the rule of belief. In Mediator Dei (1947), Pius XII addressed the involvement of the congregation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Point 188 stated: “Three characteristics of which Our predecessor Pius X spoke should adorn all liturgical services: sacredness, which abhors any profane influence; nobility, which true and genuine arts should serve and foster; and universality, which, while safeguarding local and legitimate custom, reveals the catholic unity of the Church.” The importation of Evangelical-style “praise bands” to the Catholic sanctuary violates Point 188, as folk music does not meet the standard of “true and genuine” art.
Although the intent behind “praise bands” might truly be to augment the liturgy, the reality is that they are a distraction from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the re-enactment of the journey to Calvary. As such, the presence of such ensembles reduces the Sanctuary to a performance hall and the Mass to a music event, one that is in contradiction to your complaints that those who demonstrate reverence during Mass are drawing too much attention to themselves. Considering that the re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary is taking place, isn’t reverence called for?
When one considers the foundation Ecclesiastical music gave Western secular music, one sees that the sounds of the “folk masses” are barren for they are the culmination, the logical end reached by the rejection of the musical corner stone. Why? Because vacuous, liturgical folk music cannot be reinterpreted, for example, it cannot give birth to the magnificently distorted Dies Irae heard in the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique.” Without the influence of traditional church music, both Tannhauser and Parsifal would not exist, regardless of the disbelief of their composer, Richard Wagner. Olivier Messiaen (French) and Dmitri Shostakovich (Russian) could never have written their haunting dirges for the dead of the Second World War, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum and “String Quartet No. 8” respectively, without being firmly grounded in the musical tradition that unites the East and the West — Ecclesiastical chant.
Like the order of the ritual, chant is the musical manifestation of the catholic spirit, which in turn appertains to the Catholic Church. It is the verity of this universality that appeals to millennials. Sated with the insipid tropes about “feelings” and “community,” raised on a diet of cloying popular tunes to which the music emanating from the front of the church is suspiciously similar, we yearn for music that provokes thought, inspires genuine creativity, and ennobles in the manner desired by the Popes Pius X and XII.
Just as chant is the universal Ecclesiastical music, so are Latin and (koine) Greek the universal liturgical languages. However, they do not merely serve an Ecclesiastical purpose as they both predate the Church. You wrote, “We seem to be in another Dark Age, like the one that followed the Fall of the Roman Empire, because many faithful millennials, like monks in their scriptoria are busy restoring and preserving the classics instead of moving progressively forward by the Holy Spirit while their secular counterparts increasingly resemble Gothic tribes.” This sentence is a paradox.
The Church owes its progress to the greatest Dominican Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, and his application of Aristotelian logic to Catholic doctrine. Given that he wrote the Summa Theologiae in the mid-thirteenth century, it is axiomatic that he first encountered the works of Aristotle and Plato in the monastery where those who worked in the scriptorium had painstakingly preserved them. As we from a Catholic perspective accept that the Holy Ghost works through natural means, we may confidently say that Aquinas first had to develop an intellect solidly grounded in the classics before the Holy Ghost inspired him to progress. The Tridentine millennials are no different.
You call the millennials medieval in their attachment to Latin. We are not. Rather, we are Renaissance men and women. We understand that it is the fundamental language of Western education, and for this reason we learn and use it. So critical is Latin to obtaining a full education that I have many non-Catholic friends from university who understand all three incarnations – Classical, Ecclesiastical, and Medieval – of the language. Those of us who are Catholic use the Ecclesiastical dialect twice: once for religious purposes, and once for informed reading of late-Roman secular texts. It was the medieval monastic scholars who propagated the language as a medium for religious communication; led by Petrarch, the Renaissance scholars resurrected Latin into a living tongue spoken by peers across the Western world. Latin remained the primary language of academe well into the nineteenth century. There is a reason Isaac Newton wrote his works in Latin, the American mathematician, and founder of modern maritime navigation, Nathaniel Bowditch taught himself Latin, and that the first commencement address at Harvard University is even today delivered in Latin.
Additionally, knowledge of Latin and Greek serve practical purposes aside from the ability to read any classical or medieval book or document in the original: knowledge of Latin, as a static tongue foundational to all Western ones, accelerates one’s study and acquisition of modern European languages. German grammar is modeled upon Latin, and all the Romance languages descend from it. Beyond Benjamin Franklin, all famous polyglots learned Latin as one of their primary languages – Montaigne comes to mind as an example of the extreme. For this reason alone, Latin will never die. Certainly never in classical music where every great composer wrote at least one piece, usually a Mass, set to a Latin text.
Aside from the importance of Ecclesiastical Latin as a curative for doctrinal corruption – who hasn’t been outraged by the use of politically correct inclusive language in the vernacular from the pulpit? – as elaborated in Mediator Dei, millennials love Latin for another reason. Within the Tridentine Liturgy itself, we love its universality. In a globalized world, we millennials travel abroad frequently as a matter of necessity. In these circumstances, the Latin Mass becomes a destination for us. I experienced this myself when I moved to Paris to do my masters degree.
The first week there I was, of course, in culture shock, though mercifully I did not suffer from the additional problem of a language barrier. On the first Sunday in Paris, I went to a Latin High Mass and was immediately enveloped by the familiarity of recognition. I knew exactly when to stand, to kneel, how to approach the Communion rail, and how to communicate with the priests. Though I would have technically understood the liturgy at a vernacular ceremony, there would have been a part of me that was excluded as an American because it was a French service for French people.
When I stood in the sanctuary of Chapelle Notre Dame de Consolation de Paris, I was there as a Roman Catholic, inside a Roman Catholic church, and participating in the form of the Mass unchanged for 1826 years by using the language of the Romans. En vérité, it was universal and timeless. It was the essence of Catholic. For this reason, I am a Roman Tridentine Catholic.