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Romeri – Chaput

by Gary D. Penkala


John Romeri An unfortunate situation has occurred in the Archdioscese of Philadelphia. John Romeri, a well-respected Catholic church musician of considerable standing, has resigned his position as Director of the Office for Liturgical Music and Music Director and Organist at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

Dr. Mark Nowakowski, on the blog One Peter Five offers:

The news of the unexpected and noteworthy resignation of John Romeri as head of Liturgical Music in Philadelphia has put the issue of music front and center in the Catholic world. Mr. Romeri – once named Pastoral Musician of the Year by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians – is held in high regard as a performer, educator, and clinician in the world of Catholic music. It is worth noting that he is generally considered an aesthetic moderate, and thus, not a controversial figure.

In his letter of resignation, Romeri wrote:

This Holy Week, with some of the most beautiful liturgies I have ever conducted, was not well received by the archbishop. This is the continuation of several years of discontent on his part with the Liturgical Music at the Cathedral and at Archdiocesan liturgies. There are simply irreconcilable differences in our understanding of the role of music in the Liturgy and the role of the choir. While at this point, I am not sure just what my next musical adventure looks like, it is absolutely the right thing for me to leave this present situation.

Archbishop Charles Chaput Let's examine more closely the music from the Liturgy Booklet from Philadelphia's Sacred Paschal Triduum 2015, which prompted this dramatic action. In my estimation, the music used was excellent and supremely well-balanced, never falling below the expected standards of a Roman Catholic basilica-cathedral.

Triduum Liturgy

First, the Liturgy Booklet goes to great lengths to follow The Roman Missal quite closely, using as its titles the exact wording in that volume. The order, structure and often the very texts for music selections come from the Missal itself. This is a tour de force for liturgy exactly as found in the book!

Holy Thursday:
Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

  • Choral Introit Nos autem gloriari (Felice Anerio) A Renaissance Latin motet using the exact text for the Entrance Antiphon – a perfect way to begin the Triduum as the Church envisions
  • Entrance Come Let Us Glory in the Cross [tune: Duke Street] A congregational hymn using an English translation of the official Latin Introit previously sung
  • Kyrie from Mass for the Parishes (Leo Nestor) A simple Greek setting for cantor and congregation by one of the deans of Catholic church music in America, a former Music Director at the National Shrine in DC
  • Gloria from Chant Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis) An extremely familiar setting of the Gloria, which here alternates chant by the congregation with SATB choral sections by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, former Maestro di Cappella at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome — this is how the Gloria is often sung at Vatican Masses
  • Readings The First Reading and Second Reading ended with a sung conclusion, using the prescribed descnding fifth pattern for the Old Testament and the descending minor third pattern for the New Testament — very nice touch!
  • Responsorial Psalm Psalm 116 (Timothy Jansen) A setting by a contemporary Saint Louis organist, pianist and composer, who was commissioned to write music for the last Papal visit to Saint Louis
  • Gospel Acclamation Praise and Honor to You (Rev. James Chepponis) A familiar setting by another living American composer, who is a pastor and Director of the Office for Music Ministry for the Diocese of Pittsburgh
  • Gospel The Gospel [Jn 13:1-15] was chanted, using the tones found in CNP's Book of Sung Gospels, a perfect way to add solemnity to a Mass
  • Foot Washing I Give You A New Commandment (Peter Latona) Another contemporary work by the current National Shrine Music Director, set for cantor (or choir) and congregation
  • Universal Prayer Lord, in Your Mercy (Richard Gibala) A setting by the Music Director at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington VA
  • Offertory Antiphon Ubi caritas (Paul Mealor) This is the Proper Offertory Antiphon for tonight's Mass, sung by the Cathedral Choir in a setting by Paul Mealor, Welsh composer (born 1975); this setting was sung at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011
  • Sanctus (Gregorian chant) The ubiquitous and extremely simple, familiar chant setting (Missa XVIII) from Jubilate Deo. a collection of common chants distributed by Bl. Paul VI as chants that all Catholics should know
  • Mystery of Faith Save us, Savior of the world … (chant) The English setting found in The Roman Missal
  • Amen (chant) Simple, three-note melody
  • Agnus Dei (Gregorian chant) Again, the most simple and familiar chant setting, contained, as was the Sanctus, in The Roman Missal itself
  • Communion Antiphon Hoc corpus (chant) The Proper Communion Antiphon, sung by the choir
  • Communion Psalm I Will Take the Cup of Salvation (Richard Proulx) A setting of Psalm 116 for cantor and congregation
  • Communion Motet Ave verum (William Byrd) One of the most beautiful Renaissance settings of this apt Eucharistic text, sung by the choir
  • Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament Pange lingua gloriosi (Gregorian chant) This is the familiar chant hymn is called for in the Missal rubrics for the procession after Mass; it was sung in Latin and English

This Mass had a perfectly appropriate mix of chant, Renaissance polyphony and music of contemporary composers, all of which were called for by Vatican Council II in the renewed liturgy. There is nothing strange, unusual, ill-conceived or awkward about the music for this Mass — the congregation and choir both had an equal share in praising the Lord in song. If anything was missing, it was the celebrant's (Archbishop Chaput) dialogues with the congregation, a very important component of good sung liturgy — judging from the lack of musical congregational responses for these dialogues, music that otherwise was very generously included in the Liturgy Booklet.

Good Friday:
Celebration of the Passion of the Lord

  • Readings The readings again ended with the normative sung conclusions
  • Responsorial Psalm Psalm 31 (Lynn Trapp) A setting published by Morning Star Music, by a contemporary organist, pianist, conductor and composer, who is closely affiliated with AGO and NPM, and serves as Director of Worship and Music at Saint Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis
  • Gospel Acclamation Praise and Honor to You (Rev. James Chepponis) The same setting as last night
  • Passion The conclusion ("Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ") was sung; the Liturgy Booklet does not indicate if the Passion itself was chanted
  • Collection for the Holy Land That Virgin's Child (Thomas Tallis) An unusual British Renaissance motet with specific text for Good Friday
  • Showing of the Cross (chant) The simple chant, directly from The Roman Missal, was sung by deacon and congregation
  • Adoration of the Holy Cross I: Proper Antiphon We adore your Cross, O Lord… (chant), sung by the schola
  • Adoration of the Holy Cross II: The Reproaches Popule meus (Tomas Luis de Victoria) An extraordinarily beautiful Renaissance setting of this emotional text, which is called for specifically in The Roman Missal
  • Adoration of the Holy Cross III: Faithful Cross Faithful Cross the Saints rely on… (chant) The congregational refrain alternated with a choral setting by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci; this text, as all the above, is specifically called for during the Adoration of the Holy Cross by The Roman Missal
  • Adoration of the Holy Cross IV: Motet Miserere mei (Gregorio Allegri) This is perhaps the most famous and gorgeous choral motets for Good Friday, sung during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Sistine Chapel; the young Mozart heard this on a visit and promptly wrote it down from memory
  • Communion Antiphon All You Who Pass This Way (Jacques Berthier) This refrain for congregation comes from the many volumes published by the Taizé Community, a lively ecumenical religious group in eastern France.
  • Communion Motet Crucifixus (Antonio Lotti) This motet, sung by the Cathedral Choir, has the appropriate text, "Crucified for us under Pontius Pialte, he suffered, and was buried."

Once again, the music seems entirely reasonable and emminently suited to the liturgical action. Great pains were taken to see that the texts of The Roman Missal, recently translated in 2010, were faithfully presented. This is liturgical music the way the Church intends it.

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

  • Candle Procession & Exsultet (chant) These were sung according to the melodies of The Roman Missal, with indicated congregational responses
  • Old Testament Readings All seven suggested Old Testment readings were used, with the music for the Responsorial Psalms as follows:
    1. Psalm 104 "Lord, send out your Spirit, y renueva la faz de la tierra." (Rev. Ronald Krisman) A setting for cantor and congregation in Spanish and English by a priest of the Diocese of Orlando
    2. Psalm 16 "Protégeme, Dios mío, que me refugio en ti." (Carlos C. Mares) Sung in Spanish by cantor and congregation
    3. Exodus 15 "Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory." (Robert Schaefer) An English setting for cantor and congregation
    4. Psalm 30 "I will praise you, Lord, for you have recued me." (David Byrne) A setting in English by the Music Director at Saint Luke Catholic Church in Saint Louis MO
    5. Isaiah 12 "You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation." (Lynn Trapp) An English setting
    6. Psalm 19 "Tú tiene, Señor, palabras de vida eterna. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life." (Tony Alonso) A bi-lingual setting by a prominent composer of popular-style liturgical music
    7. Psalm 42 "Like a deer that longs for tunning streams, my soul longs for you my God." (Michel Guilmont) An English setting by a famous Canadian liturgical composer
  • Gloria Gloria Simplex (Richard Proulx) A very easy, through-composed English setting by one of the most prolific and influential Catholic composers of the 20th century
  • Alleluia Psalm (chant) This beautiful chant melody is specific to the Easter Vigil Mass; it is unusual that this music, based on text normally found in the Lectionary, is actually prescribed in rubric #34 in The Roman Missal
  • Litany of the Saints (chant) The most familiar music, found also in The Roman Missal, was chosen for this dialogue between cantor and assembly
  • Blessing of Baptismal Water "Springs of water, bless the Lord … " A modal setting for congregation — no composer listed
  • Baptismal Acclamation You Have Put on Christ (Br. Howard Hughes, SM) A lively congregational refrain by a Marist Brother
  • Sprinkling with Holy Water "Springs of water, bless the Lord … " repeated
  • Offertory Anthem Sing Ye to the Lord (Edward C. Bairstow) A powerful Easter anthem by an early 20th century British composer
  • Sanctus from Community Mass (Richard Proulx) One of the most familiar English settings
  • Mystery of Faith from Mass of Saints Peter and Paul (Normand Gouin) From a setting commissioned by the Archdiocese and sung at the installation of Archbishop Chaput, by then Director of Music for Old Saint Joseph's National Shrine in Philadelphia, now Choral Director at Holy Cross College in Worcester MA
  • Amen from Community Mass (Richard Proulx)
  • Agnus Dei from Community Mass (Richard Proulx)
  • Communion Antiphon Christ Has Become Our Paschal Sacrifice (Normand Gouin) The Proper Communion Antiphon, here set for choir and congregation
  • Communion Motet Haec dies (William Byrd) A choral offering from one of the most prominent English Renaissance composers, who wrote much music for the Catholic Church
  • Dismissal The proper dismissal, with Triple Alleluia, was sung by deacon and assembly
  • Recessional Hymn Jesus Christ Is Risen Today (arr. Paul Sjolund) A concertato for congregation, brass, timpani and organ
  • Choral Recessional Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah (G.F. Handel) The quintessential Easter anthem!

Once more, this music is appropriate, fitting and exemplary for a cathedral liturgy in the Roman Rite. There is chant (our music), polyphony (both ancient and modern), congregational refrains, hymns and Mass parts, official propers, English, Latin and Spanish, ancient music and brand new music. In short, there is nothing amiss in any of this — it's a masterful collection of the best the church has to offer.

So then, where's the problem with the music? Although I don't know the situation intimately, I'm familiar with hierarchical "micromanagement" of liturgical music with the sole purpose of turning it away from the Church's music and more toward the prelate's preferences. It's not at all uncommon. It seems that Archbishop Chaput is not happy or satisfied with these musical selections, which exhibit to an amazing degree a fidelity to Mother Church and her wishes. There is nothing to fault in Romeri's choices, from either a liturgical or musical perspective — and no valid argument can be made against any of it … except "I don't like it." And how distressing are the decisions of prelates when their private whims overrule the Church's wishes.

Was the Archbishop's displeasure somehow linked to the papal visit in September? With a less polished style, does he hope to show Pope Francis a grittier American musical panorama? Will the Philadelphia Mass mirror not the wonderful liturgies in New York during Pope Benedict's visit, but the musical conglomeration that was Washington's salvo at diversity during the same visit. If so, shame on you, Philadelphia!

Article written 17 July 2015

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