Mindfulness & Music on the Feast of St. Cecilia

Attached below is a reflection on mindfulness and liturgy by Fr. Albert Scharbach of Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore, Maryland.  Among the paradoxes of liturgy is that it is meant to be “understanded of the people,” as the English reformers put it, and yet it celebrates mysteries that cannot be fully articulated or understood.  Turning our minds to the words and actions does not mean pinning meanings down but being thrown off balance by what they reveal, if only partially.

Music expresses a similar paradox.  If we listen closely to a piece of music, we seem, often, to have a new understanding, whether because of the music itself or because of the way the music expresses a text.  But if we analyze the music, it is not always clear why we respond as we do.  Compositional choices are made with great care, and performers bring the best of their training and technique to a performance.  But even then, something beyond all of this careful, human control is communicated.  As someone said about the late Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt (under whom I had the privilege of singing when I was a student at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey), at the height of his brilliance as a conductor, after years of study and experience, he conducted Brahms’s _Ein Deutsches Requiem_ one evening, then, afterwards, said to a friend, “I *think* that’s the way it goes?”  As this friend of his reports—and the friend is an experienced conductor too—Dr. Flummerfelt said this with a sense of helplessness and humble uncertainty.

Mindfulness about communicating the incommunicable is a good reminder on this feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.  I’m sure the Church honors patron saints of other art forms.  But I confess I don’t know who those saints might be.  If the Church accords a preeminence to music, it says a great deal that among the treasures of the Anglican patrimony is its musical heritage.  Those of us who have been formed in this patrimony have an august responsibility to give this mystery its due.  “Blessed Cecilia / Appear in visions to all musicians / Appear and inspire”.


Dear Parishioners and Friends,

Mindfulness in the mundane can bring a monastic-style spirituality into daily life and work.

Last week, we considered the monastic origin of Christian mindfulness and how this is reflected in the Anglican patrimony of our parish. The poetic rhythm of liturgical language helps to keep our minds focused on the present act of worship.

Brother John-Bede Pauley points out how this can be carried over into the liturgy of life.

Monastic poetry is not only about reading and writing but also about discovering the beauty of God’s presence in the ordinary, which means perceiving liturgy, theological reflection, and quotidian tasks as forming aspects of the same integrated whole. Even utensils—garden tools, for example, or stirring spoons—are to be treated, according to the RB (Rule of St. Benedict), as though they are “sacred vessels of the altar.” Conversely, the ordinariness of the garden shed, the kitchen, and other places of everyday life has its resonance in the oratory. All is both reverent and familiar, awe-filled and quotidian. Patristic/monastic spirituality favors the stillness of the domestic and the “homely” rather than the “disputations” of scholastics or the exaggeration and drama that characterized much spirituality and art in the late Renaissance and the Baroque.

This perspective on mindfulness in the mundane is the fruit of a particularly Benedictine spirituality that continued in England longer than the continent, and continued to form English Catholic spirituality. It is brought forward in the poetry of our Ordinariate worship today.

In our worship at Mount Calvary, we say that “we lift up Christ in the beauty of holiness.” But the beauty of holiness means infinitely more when it extends outside our church doors and into daily life.

May Christ be lifted up in every aspect of our lives today.

In Him,
Fr. Al Scharbach


cecilia pre-raphaelite

Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Anglicanorum Coetibus at Our Lady of Walsingham Cathedral, Houston.

Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in commemoration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. 3 November AD 2019 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, Texas.

Click here for a link to a video of the liturgy

Please note, during the second reading, we lost video for a moment, but you still get the audio of the reading.

olow choirCelebrant: Most Rev. Steven Lopes; Concelebrants: Very Rev. Timothy Perkins, Very Rev. Charles Hough IV, and Rev. Richard Kramer; Deacon of the Mass: Rev. Mr. Mark Stockstill.

Podcasts on William Byrd


One of the most important composers of the Anglican patrimony’s musical expression is William Byrd.  A composer of the Chapel Royal under Elizabeth I, Byrd’s high musical standards helped establish a high benchmark for liturgical music in the Anglican tradition.

I have not finished listening to two recent podcasts about Byrd, but based on what I have listened to thus far, they are worth one’s while in gaining a better understanding of how the Anglican musical heritage owes so much to Byrd as well as to the importance of music, in general, in the Elizabethan era.

Episode 49—A Catholic Composer in Queen Elizabeth’s Court, Pt. I—Kerry McCarthy

Episode 50—A Cathoic Composer in Queen Elizabeth’s Court, Pt. II—Kerry McCarthy

Byrd was also Catholic, and this at a time when Catholics were being executed for celebrating Mass, fined for not attending services of the established Church, and so on.  Exactly how Byrd not only survived but thrived as a Catholic composer in the very heart of Elizabeth’s ecclesiastical establishment is a mystery that might never be completely solved.  (It seems Byrd was not only an intelligent composer but also a diplomat of no mean ability.)  But the work of scholars such as Joseph Kerman and Kerry McCarthy indicates Byrd’s theological perspective, as a Catholic, is expressed in the compositional choices he made, certainly in his music written ostensibly for Catholic liturgy (though not permitted to be performed as liturgical music, it seems), and no doubt in his music for Anglican liturgy as well.

Anglican Choral Music Brings Catholics in Ottowa Together for Candlemas

People from across the Catholic community in Ottawa (including the Nuncio!) came together a few nights ago to celebrate a choral High Mass in the Anglican Use, the first time this particular feast day has been celebrated with full choral music by Ordinariate Catholics in the city. (The first write-up from the evening can be found here: Anglican tradition Candlemas with the Papal Nuncio.)

[A full account by Christopher Mahon is found here.]

190202 Candlemass ottowa

Lessons & Carols at 100

The Lessons and Carols service the whole world knows, i.e. the version performed by—and broadcast from—King’s College Cambridge, celebrates its centenary this year.

It is a helpful reminder to many that this service is only one hundred years old, since there are those who identify Lessons and Carols as representing the essence of Anglican worship.  Though this service was created only yesterday, as it were, when compared with much, much older liturgical texts, it is characterized by elements that flow directly from Anglicanism’s monastic roots, which thus link the Anglican patrimony as far back as the third- and fourth-century beginnings of the monastic charism.  For example, the emphasis on “lessons” (readings from Scripture) is profoundly Anglican and monastic as is the implicit notion that music in liturgy is a form of lectio divina.  (Early monasticism was pretty much anti-music, to be honest.  But music itself was a different cultural creature than it was to become, even in the Middle Ages and certainly by the time of the sixteenth-century politico-ecclesiastical fits and starts that led to the establishment of the Church of England.)

The Saint Peter Gradual

The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has produced The Saint Peter Gradual, and it should soon be available through such distributors as Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, or Newmanhousecatholicbooks.org.  (It is already available through Amazon.co.uk.  Here is the link.)

To quote from the Fall 2018 issue of The Ordinariate Observer, this resource contains musical settings “for the ‘minor propers,’ or chants, for the Mass.  The collection was developed as a resource for not just the choir or cantor, but all the faithful at Mass.  The collection is edited by Very Rev. Carl Reid, Dean of the Canadian Deanery.”


Documentary on Professor Edward Higginbottom of New College, Oxford.

Information on the release of a new documentary on Professor Edward Higginbottom, the retired choirmaster of New College, Oxford.  The documentary promises “an insight into his teaching and his art … Filmed in the resplendent setting of the prestigious school, this documentary shows us the benefits of a high-quality musical education, of an introduction to beauty, lessons handed down to the young singers by an exceptional choirmaster, whose methods have been copied the world over.”

Conference on the English Musical Renaissance and the Church

For the full announcement, click here.

The organising committee for The English Musical Renaissance and the Church and the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies invite proposals for this one-day conference to be held at Durham University on the 5 November 2018.

We invite researchers to submit proposals engaging with perspectives on the relationship between composers associated with the English Musical Renaissance (EMR) and the church. PhD students are especially welcome to submit presentations. Proposals may address, but need not be limited to, the following topics:

  • EMR composers and hymnody
  • EMR composers and science, especially evolutionary thought
  • EMR composers, revealed and natural theologies
  • EMR composers and the liturgy
  • Analytical approaches to the church music of EMR composers
  • The church music of EMR composers and the long nineteenth century
  • EMR composers, and sacralisation of the secular
  • EMR composers, legacies today