Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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St. Aloysius Parish’s Gregorian Mass offers liturgical alternative
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the June 8, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Deacon Ed Schaefer. (IR photo)
Deacon Edward Schaefer isn’t exactly your average parish volunteer when it comes to being responsible for liturgical music. Not only is he on the faculty of Gonzaga University’s Music Department, but for about 10 years now, at 5 p.m. each Sunday during the academic year, Deacon Schaefer has been responsible for a Gregorian Mass in the chapel of Gonzaga University’s Jesuit Residence.
All the music for this Mass is Gregorian Chant. Some of the chants are in Latin, some are in English, but they all use the Gregorian tones. Apart from this, the Gregorian Mass is not much different from any other parish Mass, including the use of English for all the prayers and readings.
The Jesuits host this St. Aloysius Parish Mass, said Deacon Schaefer,”and the Music Department provides the resources for it. There are students who provide the music, and they can get an ensemble credit for it. So it’s a kind of collaborative effort.”
About 10 years ago, Deacon Schaefer first visited the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes, in France. Since 1904, the Vatican has charged the community at Solesmes with working to update Gregorian Chant.
“It was really a powerful experience to be there,” Deacon Schaefer said, “and my sense was that what went on there was probably closer to what had been envisioned by the Second Vatican Council than what has unfolded – not saying that what has unfolded has been evil, I’m just saying that probably what the Council Fathers had in mind is probably closer to what I experienced at Solesmes. It really kind of lit a fire, and so I looked for ways to preserve the music of the church, the chant of the church, and find some ways that I thought it would be acceptable here. So it’s basically a vernacular Mass. A lot of things have been adapted, but we still do the Proper chants, and we still do the Ordinary chants. It’s not a bells-and-whistles-a-minute kind of event.
“The first few weeks we did it there were hundreds of people there,” he said, “but I warned the parish that once the novelty wore off this is a process that requires interiorization, so all the tourists would leave, and they did.
“What’s really different about this Mass,” said Deacon Schaefer, “is this: to be Catholic, I think, is to commit yourself to a countercultural life, and so the question is with regard to our liturgical spirituality. The Gregorian Mass really puts you in a different place that is not a part of contemporary popular culture. It helps me to be centered in a life that is not centered in popular contemporary culture. That’s probably the most powerful immediate effect of the (Gregorian) Mass.”
The use of Latin in the liturgy can be a source of unity, he said. “We’ve sort of forgotten that. I go to France, typically, about once a year, and I was just over there at Holy Week. I was there with a group of people from 10 countries. Most people spoke French, but not everybody did. But when we were at Mass, the Masses were in Latin and we were all one because we all spoke the same tongue. I’ve experienced that in other places, too, such as some of the big tourist churches, like St. Peter’s (Basilica, in Rome), and I’ve been in Notre Dame (Cathedral, in Paris) a number of times. Before Mass you sit, and I hear languages and I haven’t a clue what they are. And then when the Mass starts (in Latin) everybody is singing the same thing. I mean, it’s a tremendous unifier. In some ways, because it’s nobody’s language, it can be everybody’s language.”
People attending the Gregorian Mass have different reactions, he said. Some like it; some don’t; the bottom line, however, is “to offer an alternative.”
For the first time, this summer the Music Department at Gonzaga University is offering a choir camp for high school students, June 23–29. Part of that experience will be singing this Gregorian Mass, he said. “Plus, we’re going to sing some of the music from the Jesuit missions in South America, from the 18th century.”
(More information is available from the music camp website, www.gonzagachoircamp.org.)