Saturday, June 21, 2008

An Era Passes in Church Music

In 1990, the first Colloquium on (Catholic) sacred music was organized by Fr. Robert Skeris. It was held at Christendom College of Virginia, where Fr. Skeris was Chairman of the Theology Department. It was loosely modeled on the Boys' Town conferences of the Church Music Ass'n of America, which provided master-class level seminars on choral conducting and organ performance for church musicians. It was also reminiscent of the Milwaukee Archdiocesan events held bi-enially on the Major Seminary grounds. It is no co-incidence that Fr. Skeris played a key role in each of those. But both Boys' Town and the Milwaukee events were only faint memories by 1975--the result of the Liturgical Revolution of 1965-70.

The event at Christendom was memorable. It was dedicated to the proposition that the Liturgy Document of the Second Vatican Council actually meant what it said about Chant, polyphony, and Latin--not to mention the concepts of sacred time, sacred space, and sacred languages (including music.)

The faculty consisted of Ted Marier and Paul Salamunovich, Fr. Richard Schuler of St Agnes parish in St. Paul, (all Knight Commanders of St. Gregory,) Cal Shenk, and Fr. Skeris. Sixty or so musicians from all around the country signed up with enthusiasm and left the event with far more knowledge than when they came.

The Christendom series was the US' seedbed of the music and liturgy counter-Revolution; it was a rear-guard activity at best, or perhaps a catacombs-type meeting; it would have been conspiratorial except for the knowledge that what was going on there was in real service to the Council's actual writings (not its "spirit.") But make no mistake: all the participants knew that they were a miniscule minority, almost invisible in the US church landscape. Few nurtured the hope that liturgical practice would return to the norm, let alone to a higher plane than (say) the late 1950's. Even the name "Ratzinger" was largely unknown, except to a very few participants.

Now, almost 20 years later, Marier, Shenk, and Schuler are dead; Salamunovich is very ill--and Fr. Skeris presented his last scholarly paper for the CMAA, at the XVIII Colloqium of CMAA, held at Loyola University of Chicago.

What was an underground resistance is now a remarkably blossoming flower, with over 250 attendees (most younger than 40 years of age), all enthusiastically heads-down poring over pages of Gregorian Chant and polyphony (some written in the last couple of years, by the way), and filling the marvelous Stella Maris chapel of Loyola U. with sung Propers, Ordinaries, and litanies in English and Latin.

Since the campus was not closed during the proceedings, campus policemen, area residents, and some students and faculty heard and saw the goings-on. Some did not glance-and-scoot; instead, they stayed, transfixed by the ceremony and the music. One engaged me, asking how an Extraordinary Form Mass could possibly be celebrated on the campus of a Jesuit university; as it turned out, he was an Adler-ite, completely sympathetic. Another observer came into the vestibule almost by accident during Benediction and immediately grabbed a program and fell to her knees; the campus guard stood, uncomfortably; (he knew he really should kneel)--but his eyes and ears never left the ceremony.

What he and the others were seeing and hearing was the splendor of worship, properly speaking; they understood that, if only by respectful attendance and attention, they were participating in something that is 'the foretaste of Heaven.'

The Old Guard has passed with Fr. Skeris' last presentation; the New Guard, their spiritual and intellectual children, are taking over; the evangelization, growing underground for so long, has broken through the surface with cultivation from Benedict XVI, to bear fruit as the Reform of the Reform begins.

Next year in Jerusalem!!

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