Sunday, November 26, 2006

Great Parishes: St Agnes, St Paul, MN

It had been more than a year since I had visited so today I thought it was time to go over and see what the "Youth Movement" was doing to St Agnes in St Paul, the "parish that must be preserved but I don't want to go to a two hour Mass every weekend." Kinda sounds selfish and hedonistic, doesn't it. Because their services in the past have always been great whenever I have been there.

But things are looking pretty good since Father Welzbacher asked for transfer to a smaller parish. Even those two gigantic statues didn't bother me as much as they usually do. Or maybe my prayer life is better.

I don't know how one can tell a Tridentine from a N.O. Latin High Mass. But I didn't hear word one of English, other than the readings (done by a lay adult lector in "cassock and surplice", no less, that is new, I believe) and those prayers after the Creed that I am becoming less resistant too. It depends on how well they are written, I think. Plus the status of my prayer life.

Normally, when I have gone to St Agnes for the High Mass, it has been on a Christmas or Easter and I don't recall hearing the congregation singing some of the Mass Gregorian Chant responses. But they were this morning! I hope this bodes well for the rumored Tridentine Indult if it comes comes down. A Latin Mass with no participation by the congregation is pretty boring and it's easy to get distracted. I speak from experience, being born well before Vatican II.

Actually, to my eye, the only thing that told me that it wasn't a Tridentine Mass was the fact that after the Communion after the celebrant, Father John Ubel, their new pastor and his two deacons (both priests) gave the chalice, properly covered with things the names of which I once knew, to a 12 year old altar boy to place on the credence table (I still remember that

Just touching the chalice in my day as an altar boy would have been grounds for excommunication after much hard penance and severe public humiliation to serve as a warning to others.

I'm no expert in classical (or any other kind of) music but I know what I like and the Mass (op. 87) by Herzogenberger was great. The Kyrie made me feel like I had been to Confession to Padre Pio or the Cure' d'Ars. It also reminded me of a visit to a Romanian Orthodox Church a couple of years ago when the number of "Lord Have Mercy's" must have ran into the hundreds. The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei were also great.

It's harder to appreciate the Gloria and the Credo and the other parts of a sung Latin Mass if you can't follow the sung words unless you were familiar with the music ahead of time. My three years of altar boy service and two years of High School Latin still serve me in good stead.

One pleasant surprise was the appearance of pastor emeritus Monsignor Richard Schuler at the Mass. He is up and about. But he needs quite a bit of assistance. But he was alert and handled his biretta doffing duties admirably. (It was a four-biretta Mass). Msgr Schuler is the man responsible for the sung Latin Mass at St Agnes and the inspiration for many similar ones around the United States.

The battalion of altar boys at a St Agnes Mass always are on top of their jobs. Father Ubel referred in his homily to the pilgrimage to Rome from which he had just returned with a large group of St Agnes altar boys (read: many future priests)!

The music by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale and the professional musicians was wonderful, as always. My only quibble, and being the "detached critic", I always have one, is the addition of an organ prelude and postlude to the service.

I don't think that the parish received a copy of Cardinal's Arinze's stinging rebuke to English (UK) priests last Winter which reminded them that the music is to accompany the Mass. It is not there for entertainment. St Agnes is the one parish where you can be certain that a sizeable portion of the congregation will arrive early and stay late for prayer. This is greatly hindered when the organ, wonderfuly played to be sure, keeps them from that.

I'll have to get my pal, Mr. Google, to find a copy of the good Cardinal's message and pass it on.

One of the logistical problems at St Agnes is the heaters that are under most pews. If you wear size 12 clodhoppers like I do, you can not kneel in a pew if there is a heater behind you without twisting your feet at least 45 degrees. That can't be done. After the Mass, I did scout out other seating areas and did spy some pews on the Epistle/St. Joseph side of the church that had a few heater-less pews near the front. You'll want to head there if you are overly-endowed, feet-wise.

But the sung Latin Mass at St Agnes is a magnficent experience. You can find the schedule of the Masses and the performance on their web page.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: "4-biretta Mass", that's a good one!

I'm glad to see someone publicly address problem of those heaters under the pews. I, too, have big clodhoppers. I have the same problem you do.

Anonymous said...

That is why I get there early, sit up front by St. Joseph in a pew without heaters!:)
I also go to the 6:30AM - I can't endure the high mass - it's too much of a production.

Anonymous said...

isn't it wonderful to belong to a church that can endure so many silly complaints?

the rock

Unknown said...

"The Rock" is either a protestant who has never kneeled and doesn't know that it is important in the worship of Our Lord that we kneel, or he wears size fours.

Our Word said...


One thing I'd add that is perhaps more than a "quibble" but less than something else. It has to do with how the music for the ordinary is conducted.

Dr. Robert Peterson took over the principal conducting of the Catholic Chorale and orchestra following Msgr. Schuler's retirement. Since that time, there has been (to our ears, at least) a noticeable slowing of the musical tempo. My concern is that Dr. Peterson mistakes "deliberate" for "solumn," with the result that the music's effect is becoming less and less representative of what the composer had in mind.

Take, for example, the Mozart and Haydn masses which are a principal part of the repetorie. There are a lot of people who don't think they like Mozart or Haydn - they think them too sentimental, too cloying. At least they think this until they hear the music performed as it was written - with a faster, almost joyful tempo. This is typical Hayden, typical Mozart, and it is also what is often missing from St. Agnes since Dr. Peterson assumed direction of the Chorale. You don't have to be a musicologist, or even a classical music buff, to detect the shortcomings in this approach to liturgical music.

The slower tempo not only distorts the sound of the music, making it much more difficult for both singers and musicians to keep a steady line while performing, it also, I think, dilutes the liturgical impact of the music. If Mozart had meant to write a dolorous piece of music, he most certainly would have. Perhaps the Requium should be played at a more stately pace (although, listening to Vanska's interpretation with the Minnesota Orchestra, for example, we once again find a faster tempo that is more consistent with Mozart's other pieces), but the effect of slowing the music down so much is can, in fact, make it more distracting to worship. Mozart's music was meant to be joyful, as the congregation's participation in the Mass is joyful, and that effect simply cannot come through when the music is played in such a deliberate - nay, funereal - pace.

I hasten to add that I am not making this criticism purely because of the length of the orchestral mass. I have no problem with a 90-minute or even two-hour mass, provided that the length is not artificially created. The Herzogenberg piece you cited, as well as the Gounod Saint Cecilia Mass for example, are both very long pieces. (The Gounod piece is the one we heard over at Holy Childhood earlier this year.) Nonetheless, their length comes naturally - not as a product of the conductor's decision.

Contrast this to the Cathedral this weekend, where Mozart's Coronation Mass was used for the ordinary. The music was crisp, pure, and briskly paced. The effect was light rather than heavy. triumphant rather than dolorous, dignified but not irreverent. The mass came in at just about 80 minutes, and this included (for the Penitential Rite, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei) the congregation chanting the ordinary prior to the orchestra playing. (I suppose that was "active participation" - I don't necessarily think the redundancy is necessary, but that's another question.) Granted it wasn't in Latin, but it still moved along.

I make these observations because, as I've said, Dr. Peterson's choices not only distort the intent of the composers (who most surely intended their pieces to be performed as a part of the mass), they do a disservice to the talents of the musicians and they have the potential to become an external distraction to the purpose of the liturgy.

The objective of the music ministry is to give praise and glory to God, but also to be true and faithful to the composer, who was doing the same thing through his composition.

I mean this not as a criticism of the use of orchestral music in the Mass (although I do think it a fascinating topic for another day, especially using music in the Novus Ordo that was designed for the Tridentine), but as a plea for musical fidelity and a proper integration of the music, peformed as it was meant to be heard.

BTW - I share the same problems as you and Cathy. Size 13 doesn't fit under the pew very well either!


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

"The Rock", being a member of St Agnes must wear size fours, then, or has double-jointed ankles, a possibility that I had not considered before. Fours must be as hard to find as sizes 12 or 13.

Anonymous said...