One of the most popular chant mass settings sung today is known as Missa de Angelis or Mass of the Angles. It is mass VIII in the Vatican edition. Here is a link to a Youtube video of this mass. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG-gOLUnAN0&list=PLEz4GufIuIEaXyx9zBXdKy5X_Jzbsa92s

Most of the Gregorian chant masses in the Graduale Romanum get their names from tropes that were sung as a part of the Kyrie. A trope by the way is a verse that was sung before or inserted in the text itself. One example of this is the popular Missa Orbis Factor. It is so called because its trope was “orbis factor rex aeternae” creator of the world, eternal king. 

The Missa de Angelis, however, most likely received it’s name from a more unlikely source.

This title of “Mass of the Angels” comes from the devotion, established in general use through the efforts of the Franciscans, of celebrating, on Monday, a votive mass in honor of the Holy Angles. (A. Gastoue, The Caecilia, Vol. 60, no. 12, Dec. 1933)

The Franciscans went about collecting the parts of this mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and in part have helped to establish its name since the 16th century.

Interestingly enough, it was never custom until more recently to sing Mass VIII on a Sunday. This setting, by the 18th century, was exclusive to votive masses and certain degrees of feasts. The Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are the oldest parts of the mass and enjoyed popularity in the late middle ages. The Gloria though is quite new as far as chant goes. Documentation for it only goes back as far as the early 15th century. This accounts for its major sounding mode, which doesn’t at all lend itself to the natural accents of the Latin language. Nevertheless, it is a well known and enjoyed Mass setting.

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You Can Thank the Franciscans

Raiders of The Lost Art, Part 2

It has been 5 months since I last wrote for this blog, a sabbatical that concludes with a new baby and a new career. I can honestly think of no better way to begin again than by simply continuing where I left off…examining the heartfelt and intimately prayerful artwork of Msgr. Fulkerson.

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Jesus and St. John, 19th century. Located in St. Michael’s Church in Leuven, Belgium.

This particular piece hangs hidden in the kitchen of St. Christopher’s large meeting room. Although it, along with most of his works, is not original it nevertheless has a personal touch that is uniquely his own. Peter, for example,  as he so often does in the gospels reacts strongly to Jesus’ words, yet Fulkerson leaves Christ and John with little expression. 20150513_094245_Richtone(HDR)

The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar is a perfect example of the mystical aspect of his works. Rather than portray this mystery realistically he returns to the same motif of darkness and light. The theme of darkness can be found even among mystics like St. John of the Cross who associate darkness with the intimate union of the soul with God. Fulkerson’s use of darkness hints at the fact that the proper place to contemplate the events of the passion in contemplative prayer.

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Finally,  this portrait of Christ Carrying his cross. Most likely this painting was inspired by El Greco’s version. The difference here is that Fulkerson chose again to show no expression. This lack of expression, in my opinion, is similar to the art of iconography. It is not emotion, passion, or realism that is desired here,  but rather something sacred to be pondered and prayed.

 

An Evening of Music

Evening of Music 2

Continuing our successful debut, St. Christopher’s Summer Recital Series is honored to present our second recital to the public this coming Thursday evening. Join guest artists, Dr. Jeong-Suk Bae and Adrienne Copeland for an evening of Baroque organ and flute music from Germany and England. Free Admission, donations accepted.

Organ Works by Johann Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Sweelinck, and flute works by John Stanley, George Frederick Handel.

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part 1

As I have posted once before, St. Christopher is home to a plethora of paintings that were made by its second pastor, Msgr. Fulkerson. He must have been a man with a great capacity to reflect and I would not be surprised to find out that the sacred images he painted made real impressions on him and his prayer life. If art is man’s way of expressing what is deep in his soul, then these works of art give us a look into the inner life of Fr. Fulkerson.

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Christ in Gethsemane

This is a copy of Carl Heinrich Bloch’s painting from 1875. Our Lord is being ministered to by an angel. The red robe depicts Christ’s humanity, the blood that he will shed. The blue is his divinity. Fr. Fulkerson did well contrasting dark and light bringing Christ and the angel to center stage in contrast to the trees of the garden behind them.

Mater faciei obliquae

Mater faciei obliquae

It seems that this may be an original from 1976. The title is roughly translated as “Mother in profile.” Again we see stark contrast between the dark background and the lightness of Mary’s face. The painting is reminiscent of the iconography of the eastern churches although I find it interesting that he chose to color the background dark black. Usually, gold is the color of the background for icons representing heaven. Perhaps this Mary is sorrowful.

Fulkerson’s ability to use the chiaroscuro method of contrast is quite effective in almost all of his works. (I will be posting more soon.) The only thing that alludes him, and this is difficult for all artists I’m sure, is creating realistic expression for the faces. Nevertheless, these are some of St. Christopher’s most prized treasures in my opinion.

May, the Month of Mary

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The month of May is almost here, a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which will soon be paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne.” -Paul VI, Encyclical Mense Maio, April 29, 1965

Today each grade level at St. Christopher Catholic School took flowers to this beautiful statue of Mary to honor her during the this Marian month. This particular statue appears to have been donated by the class of 1957.

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The May devotion in its present form originated in Rome, where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality among the students, made a vow at the end of the eighteenth century to devote the month of May to Mary. From Rome, the practice spread to the other Jesuit colleges and from there to nearly every Catholic church. This practice is the oldest instance of a devotion extending over an entire month. Indulgences, three hundred days each day, may be received by assisting at a public function or performing the devotion in private. A plenary indulgence can be received on any day of the month or on one of the first eight days of June under the usual conditions (Pius VII, 21 March, 1815, for ten years; 18 June, 1822 in perpetuum). (Paraphrased from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

 

Gregorian Propers for Lent

This year I have decided to include the original Gregorian chant communio at the 10:00 a.m. Mass. The communio is the text or antiphon that is properly sung during communion. It is most often taken from one of the psalms. This Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, the antiphon is from Ps. 90:4, 5.

Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi Dominus, et sub pennis ejus sperabis: scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus. The Lord will overshadow thee with His shoulders, and under His wings thou shalt trust: His truth shall compass thee with a shield.

Here is a link to a Youtube recording of it.  As we practiced this chant throughout the week I thought it would be interesting to research older versions of the Liber Usualis (literally: Usual book or Common book. It contains all the chants for the church year). This book was first compiled and printed in 1896 by the Monks of Solesmes in France. So, I checked the 1896 version and compared it to the 1961 version, which is commonly used today.

Scapulis Suis 1961

Scapulis Suis 1961                                                           

Above is the 1961 version. Notice that Solesmes has added interpretations, dotes and lines, to help the singers know when to elongate certain notes. The word “Dominus” or “Lord” is missing as it appears in the 1962 Missal.

Scapulis Suis 1896 pg 1

Scapulis Suis 1896 pg 1

Scapulis Suis 1896 pg 2

Scapulis Suis 1896 pg 2

In the 1896 version, “Dominus” is present as well as a few different notes, notably on the word “Suis.” The added “Dominus” actually does not even appear in Psalm 90 of the Weber Gryson edition of the Vulgate bible. (Vulgate is the Latin translation of the bible.”

Which is correct? Who knows. But if you attend 10 a.m. Mass tomorrow please leave a comment below on what you thought of the chant.

Bones in the High Altar

If you did not know before today, enclosed in the high altar at St. Christopher Catholic Church are pieces of bone from three early Christian martyrs. They are ex ossibus (from the bone) relics that were brought here by the Chancellor of the Diocese in 1949.

Located in the sacristy.

Located in the sacristy.

There are two altars in our parish. The main one is the largest altar upon which the tabernacle sits.

And underneath the white corporal (a special cloth where the priest places the body and blood of Christ during Mass) lay the relics of St. Innocentia, St. Desiderius, and St. Fortunata.

It is very common for the altar in a church to contain relics. Nowadays, new parishes that are built may not have any due to various reasons including a shortage of relics. But I was very lucky to be present at the Dedication of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and I saw the Cardinal place a box of relics (one of which was from Saint Therese of Lisieux) underneath the altar. It was a beautiful ceremony.

So, who are these three saints?

According to legend, a man named Januarius (d. c. 305) was born at Naples and was bishop of Benevento when Emperor Diocletian launched his persecution of the Christians. On hearing that his friend, Sossus, a deacon, and two laymen, Euticius and Acutius were imprisoned for their faith, Januarius went to visit them. He was arrested with his deacon, Festus, and a lector, Desiderius, on order of the governor of Campania. They were all thrown to the wild beasts, and when the animals would not harm them, they were beheaded near Pozzuoli.

A man named Honoratus (d. c. 303) along with Arontius, Fortunatus, Savinian, Felix, Januarius, Septimus, Repositus, Sator, Vitalis, Donatus, and another Felix were all natives of Hadrumetum, Africa, and are known as the Twelve Brothers. They were arrested during the reign of Emperor Maximian, tortured at Carthage, and beheaded at Potenza on August 27.

Little is know about St. Innocentia except as a martyr from the 4th century.

Perhaps this Lent these three martyrs can become a part of your spiritual life and bring you closer to your parish family and to the mysteries which happen on the altar each and every Sunday.  

The Visitation

With Advent fast approaching, it is appropriate to spend some time examining those mysteries of the Gospel that lead up to the birth of Our Lord. What better way to do this than by looking at the art of St. Christopher Parish. Hanging in the parish hall are a number of paintings, one of which is called The Visitation. It was painted by our very own Msgr. Fulkerson who was the pastor here from 1940 to 1971.

The Visitation

The Visitation by Msgr. Fulkerson

Seen on Elizabeth’s face is an expression of joy at the sight of Mary her cousin. Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a child and is 6 months pregnant. Mary’s visit happens immediately after she receives the announcement from the angel Gabriel. The news was so miraculous that she sped to visit her cousin as soon as possible. The trip from Nazareth to the hill country is 80 miles. So, Mary had a long journey to see her kinswoman. The evangelist writes, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb…and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” I believe St. Ambrose puts it best when he says,

Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice, but John the first to experience grace; whereas the natural sound of words rang in his mother’s ears, John rejoiced in the mystery of what they meant. Elizabeth felt Mary’s presence at her side; John, the closeness of the Lord. Elizabeth heard her cousin’s greeting; John felt the presence of her Son. The two women spoke of grace, but their two sons experienced grace and communicated that gift to their mothers in such a way that, in a double miracle, both women began to prophesy, inspired by their sons. -St. Ambrose, Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam

 

An Ancient Christmas Text Renewed

In the Liber Usualis (the book that contains all of the Gregorian Chant for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours) at the prayer of Matins on Christmas morning one can find a famous responsory antiphon.

O Magnum Mysterium

et admirabile sacramentum

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum

jacentem in praesepio.

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.

Alleluia.

“O great mystery and wonderful sacrament that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia.”

It dates back to the Middle Ages at least. Over the centuries many composers have taken this text and composed motets for use at Christmas Masses. Some notable ones are Tomás Victoria, Giovanni Palestrina, and most recently Morten Lauridsen. During Mass, it is often used as a communion motet because of the comparison made between the animals adoring the new-born Christ and to the sacrament of the Eucharist that we so often adore in the monstrance. It is as if the manger becomes a tabernacle to house the body of our Lord or even the womb of Mary, which many church fathers liken to the ark of the old covenant housing the presence of God.

O Magnum Mysterium

This year at St. Christopher Catholic Church we will be singing a newly composed O Magnum Mysterium during communion at Midnight Mass. It was composed especially for the St. Christopher Choir and will have it’s debut here. An ancient text enjoyed by millions of Christians through the centuries will again be enjoyed at Park Place Blvd. Below is a link to a recording of the piece although it will sound quite different with the full choir singing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNlKy7rINK8

The History of St. Christopher Catholic Church, Part 2

The Knights of Columbus in Houston raised $300 and the Catholic Church Extension Society contributed $1,000 to the building fund. In the meantime, Fr. Tonson, a neighboring priest, began offering a Sunday Mass at Park Place School. Bishop Byrne dedicated the new church (pictured in the previous post) at 10 a.m. on August 31, 1924. He named Fr. Reicher, the diocesan Chancellor, as the first Pastor. For the next seventeen years, Fr. Reicher worked during the week at the Chancery in Galveston but drove up each Sunday and on holy days to offer Mass at St. Christopher. Here, I’d like to point out that in 1924 driving to and from Galveston to Houston was not as easy as it would be today. Fr. Reicher must have been a dedicated man to take on both jobs. Fr. ReicherHe helped to establish organizations and groups like the Women’s Club, the Holy Name Society, and the Third Order Franciscans. One of the altar boys he trained to serve Mass later went on to become a seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1938. His name was Vincent Harris and he was the first priestly vocation from St. Christopher. As of today, I believe we have four young men in the seminary.  The Dominican Sisters took charge of religious education and in 1939 a school wing was added to the church building. In September of that year, there were fifty-six students enrolled. Within a year, the enrollment doubled.

Students from 1963

Students from 1963

By 1941, the parish had grown to 173 families. The demands on Fr. Reicher were beginning to be too much. Therefore, Bishop Byrne appointed Fr. E.K. Fulkerson as the first resident pastor of St. Christopher. Fr. Fulkerson World War II brought many people to Houston. There was work to be done and there were the armed forces to join. In January of 1946, Fr. Fulkerson reported that the parish now included 506 families, a diverse mix of English, German, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and Czech families!! St. Christopher was probably more diverse then than now. But, such immense growth meant that the small church building from the parish’s humble beginnings was no longer able to accommodate. The City of Houston was also making plans for a new highway. Highway 45. It would cut straight through the existing property of the parish. So, Bishop Byrne approved the choice of a new site on Park Place Boulevard, near the original church, on land belonging to George Harris, the father of Fr. Vincent Harris. The Bishop broke ground for the new church on July 25th, 1948, the feast of St. Christopher. At the same time, the parish rejoice to learn that Msgr. Reicher, their first pastor, had been named Bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Austin. His consecration took place in Galveston on April 14, 1948. The parish held a reception in his honor before he left for Austin. Fr. Vincent Harris, whose family still lived in the parish, became the new Chancellor. Side note: Fr. Vincent Harris became the Bishop of Beaumont in 1966 and Bishop of the Austin Diocese in 1971.

Bishop Vincent Harris, Diocese of Austin (1971-1986)

Bishop Vincent Harris, Diocese of Austin (1971-1986)

(Some Information was provided by Lisa May, Diocesan Archivist)