Monday, November 11, 2013


I spent the weekend in Trieste, Italy where my parents lived in the late 1940's. My sister Elizabeth remembers being there and staying for a short time in a hotel with a fish tank. The hotel I stayed, near the train station and thus a more earthy part of Trieste, called Hotel Roma, did not have a fish tank so I guess it wasn't the same hotel.  Thus I conclude my pilgrimage through Italy visiting cities that have signficance for my mother, Livorno, Trieste and Napoli. All great cities.

Trieste is on the border with the former Yugoslavia, which now divided has two nations close by, Solvinia and Croatia. To the north is Austria. It is a great location. The reason my father was stationed there in the American army in the late 40's was because Yugosalvia which had been handed over to the Communists laid claim to Trieste as have many other nations over the centuries, including Austria, and wanted to annex it into its communist regime. That was not allowed, thank God. Its culture is a mix of  Slavic and Italian, but predominantly Italian and Italian is the language.

Above are pictures of the church I visited for Mass on Sunday at the Chiesa di S. Antonio Taumaturgo. It is at the head of a canal that leads from the Adriatic Sea to it. It has recently be restored and beautifully so. It was complete with American style pews and quite sturdy and beautiful too! 

The following is a critique of the Mass which I hate doing when I go somewhere else and attend Mass but there were pluses and minuses. 

The place is magnificent and I think it approximates the restored Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgn Mary in Baltimore, which I've been to a number of times prior to its restoration but not since. It was clean on the inside, bright and the side altars as well as the main altar, still in tact, were beautiful with beautiful art work and statuary, but not overdone in any fashion. 

The Mass began with the great organ and organist and what I think was a professional choir chanting the Introit a la the Extraordinary Form in Latin, with the Gloria Patri included. At first I thought it was a prelude because all remained sitting until some time later the priest and a single adult server entered the sanctuary from the sacristy and all stood. The Introit continued for a bit and then the priest began the Mass. 

No incense was used. The choir was magificent and I do think a paid choir. The space was great for singing also and they were forceful. They sang all the parts of the Mass from a "symphony" Mass I think from an Italian composer all in Latin. I do not know the composer nor had I heard it before but it was wonderful and so Italian! The only things not sung by the choir were the Credo and Great Amen both of which were spoken. 

The proper Offertory and Communion antiphons were chanted in Latin also. The rest of the Mass was in Italian. The Pater Noster was in Italian but the the Latin chant melody. At first I thought it was in Latin and started to join singing the Latin version I know well by heart but then I realized it wasn't Latin but Italian! The only parts that I could hear the laity singing were the "Alleluia" prior to the Gospel and the Pater Noster in Italian. So they could and would sing if they were given selections that were possible to join. The choir Mass was impossible to sing with the choir as it was most difficult but quite beautiful.

Another odd thing occurred after the Sign of Peace. The priest went directly into the "Behold the Lamb of God" prior to the Agnus Dei. Now I did not notice if he said it to himself privately as in the Extraordinary Form but it was omitted for the congregation prior to Holy Communion. But once we all responded in Italian, "Lord I am not worthy..." and started the Communion Procession, the choir sang the magnificent Agnus Dei from their choir Mass and magnificent it was. They also sang the Communion Antiphon after that and another Latin Motet. The Agnus Dei was not that long that it couldn't have been sung at the proper place. I thought it very odd. 

There were about 200 or so people in the church mostly in their 50's and older, men and women. But there were no young people or families with young childrend. The Mass was at 9:00 AM and I suppose in peak tourist season it would attract many more tourists. There were many other Masses to follow, but I don't know if the professional choir sang at any of those and I don't know what the attendance would be at the later Masses. Of course, there are many, many other churches nearby also. 
I think the church could seat upwards to 2000.

But on Saturday morning I went into a nearby church to this one, and it was filled with kids about to have their own Saturday morning Mass and with their own contemporary music ensemble and singing. So that was good to see so many young there. 

Saint Anthony's altar had the most people before it after Mass making private devotions. Of course Padua is not that far away from Trieste and Saint Anthony is even more popular in Italy than Saint Francis of Assisi. His altar on the side wall is closest to the entrace of this great church.

My biggest critique is that the priest came in and departed by the sacristy and greeted no one, but another Mass was about to start. He was friendly from the altar though and gave a good homily. It was a simple Ordinary Form Mass in a magnifcent church built for the Extraordinary Form and the Mass setting too was intended for the magnificent Extraordinary Form Solemn Sung Mass. 

The Ordinary Form as it was celebrated there did not match its surroundings or the music for it. The new altar before the older altar compared in no way with the older one and had a bouquet of flowers on one side, three rinky dink candles on the other and a large crucifix on the side of the altar on the candles' side. This arrangement is quite common in Italy, although some churches have begun to follow the "Benedictine Altar" arrangement. 

I don't mind choir Masses on occasion, but I must say that being from the south and in parishes all my priesthood life where congregations want to sing, that I missed not being able to join the choir in singing the parts of the Mass. If I had to go to this type of Mass every Sunday I think I would not like it at all. It is good for sporatic experiences. 

So I am very much a child of full, conscious and actual participation for the laity and that it should be the norm, not that the extraordinary is dissallowed.  I see this as Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium makes it clear that this actual participation is both interior, from the heart and the faithful approach their participation from the point of view of "Mystery" that is transcendent and needs their engagement with what is happening even if they do not verbally utter any parts. But is is also actual in the sense of speaking and chanting their parts and aware of what the priest's parts are too even in Latin with the use of a vernacular translation. In other words, it isn't either/or, but, both/and!

But I do wish that celebrants for the Ordinary Form of the Mass would not face the congregation and give a homily prior to the Penitential Act as the priest did yesterday and most priests do. His chair on the other side of the sanctuary from the ambo faced the congregation directly, head on, rather than angled toward the altar. It looks like the priest is speaking the prayers to the congregation and I dislike that symbol immensely. It need not be the case in the Ordinary Form with the recovery of ad orientem and angling the priest's chair more directly toward the altar (as in my parish in Macon). 

The other odd thing about the Mass was that the priest chose a Penitential Act that included the Kyrie which was spoken, but after the "absoultion" the choir sang the magnificent choir Kyrie followed immediately by the Gloria. Again another oddity. 

Overall, though, God was praised, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered and we received the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinty of our Glorified Risen Lord. Then we were dismissed to live our Catholics lives in Trieste and beyond. That's what it is all about and everything else is under this umbrella!

But the reform of the reform, without returning necessarily to the 1962 missal, but certainly not excluding it either, needs more solemnity and transcendence and needs to match the glory of this space where it was celebrated along with the music selected. It did not and that is truly unfortunate. It was blah! It need not be and little bit of choreography, a bit of solemnity, the priest chanting all his parts and celebrated ad orientem, it could have and would have matched its surroundings and music choice.

I can't help but think that the Anglican Use Mass with the EF options would have been perfect in this setting and with the choir that sang. Perfect! One can hope that we will draw on the fine work of the Anglican Ordinariate for their liturgy and their recovery of liturgical common sense and solemnity!

Sconghilii I had and other sites visited:


rcg said...

How do you think this will affect your view of St Joseph and the various buildings around Macon?

John Nolan said...

The sung Mass without lights or incense is common on the Continent. England and North America got an indult early in the 20th century to use the ceremonies of the Solemn Mass in the absence of deacon and subdeacon, but this was not extended to the universal Church until John XXIII did so.

If you have a good choir they should be singing the Ordinary and the Propers. If the congregation is to sing the Kyrie and Gloria you confine yourself to simple settings sung week in, week out. It's not as if the people have no opportunity to respond at other times. I attend a sung Mass regularly and although I can join in any of the chant settings in the Kyriale, I am happy to listen to a polyphonic setting, and know that if I attend any of the English Oratories this is what I will be doing. (I tend to sing along with the Propers, but that's a different matter). Even with a polyphonic setting the Credo is normally in chant (I or III).

Singing the Agnus Dei during the people's Communion was established in Regensburg by Mgr Georg Ratzinger (with his brother's approval) but I suspect the London Oratory got there first. The problem here is due to the post-1967 Communion Rite, not to the music.

In England such a Mass would attract a large number of young people and families. I suspect few Italian young people ever go near a church.

Henry said...

In my little corner of Christendom, we have settled into what seems to me to be a happy medium for such backwaters. At sung EF Sunday Mass, the people join pretty fully in singing the usual familiar settings of the Gloria and Credo (along with all the usual dialog responses), while leaving the choir to chant the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei in appropriate variable settings. But at our solemn high Masses (typically just Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) the choir sings the ordinary (including the Credo) in a polyphonic setting (alone, of course). To me personally, on these special occasions the reflective contemplation of the repeated lines and threads of sacred polyphony seems a particularly active form of interior engagement in the liturgy, though I would not want it as standard Sunday fare (just as I would not want a sung Mass as standard daily fare).

Anonymous said...

You do not hate to critique the mass as celebrated by others.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Non capisco.

John Nolan said...

Non intellego. By the way, there is no verb "to critique". It is a French noun. The correct English is "to criticize".

Anonymous said...

"Critique" is a transitive verb meaning "to review or discuss critically."

The usage is correct.