New choir brings sounds of Renaissance to modern Mass

Gaudium Verum revives polyphony, chant to inspire ‘true joy’ in worshipers

Roxanne King

There’s a new sacred choir in the Archdiocese of Denver and its name conveys its mission: Gaudium Verum, which is Latin for “True Joy.”

“We want to offer a glimpse of heaven,” founder and director Rick Wheeler told the Denver Catholic about the 25-member choir, which specializes in sacred Renaissance music, primarily polyphony and Gregorian chant.

Wheeler, 10-year music director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Latin Mass Parish in Littleton and member of a professional choir, said the new choir is not a ministry of the parish he serves. Rather, Gaudium Verum is an independent choir that can be hired to sing a Mass for special occasions. For it’s inaugural Mass, the choir sang Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli for the Jan. 25 feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at Holy Name Church in Denver.

The 16th century Palestrina is called “the prince of music” for his technical perfection. Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass) is among his most famous works.
“Every single person loved it. They thought it was beautiful,” Holy Name pastor, Father Daniel Cardo, S.V.C., told the Denver Catholic. “Many asked, ‘When can we do this again!’”

“For me personally, it was a beautiful, prayerful experience — in many ways a dream come true,” added the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae priest, who holds the Benedict XVI Chair for Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, is a visiting professor at the Augustine Institute and author of the 2019 book The Cross and the Eucharist in Early Christianity: A Theological and Liturgical Investigation.

Both Wheeler, who directs the main mixed voice and the schola cantorum (chant) choirs at his parish, and Father Cardo, who incorporates chant and polyphonic music into his parish’s 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, are advocates of making sacred polyphonic music more readily available to Catholics who miss it or have never encountered it.

“This music is sublime,” Father Cardo said. “The Church teaches that the liturgy is the source and summit of our faith. Palestrina is about the voice, the purity of the word. This is truly liturgical because the word has priority over the music — the music comes from the words.”

“The whole idea of polyphony is it can raise the soul and mind to God without being artistically distracting,” said Wheeler. “That’s an aspect of polyphony I’ve always respected.”

Wheeler said he is still auditioning talented chamber-music vocalists for the choir. He also welcomes invitations from pastors who would like to hire the choir for special Masses, or from laypeople for weddings, or from the archdiocese for special liturgies.

“This is about prayerful representation of the most beautiful music written for the Church,” Wheeler said, noting that the Second Vatican Council said Gregorian chant should have first place in the Mass, which remains the directive in the 2011 General Instruction for the Roman Missal.

“Pope Francis just said all churches should have some rooting in Gregorian chant,” Wheeler said referring to the pontiff’s Sept. 28 address to the Italian St. Cecelia Association. “It’s the music of the Mass.”

Father Cardo reflected on the same in the Jan. 16 Adoremus.org article “’The Church Stands or Falls with the Liturgy’: Benedict XVI’s vision for Church Renewal.”
“Liturgical music, as explained by the Council of Trent, and later by St. Pius X, the Second Vatican Council, and St. John Paul II, finds its standard in Gregorian chant and classical polyphony,” writes Father Cardo. “We should not be afraid to promote beauty, according to the musical tradition of the Church, which the Council describes as ‘a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art’” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112).

Wheeler emphasized that Gaudium Verum is not just for Latin Mass devotees.

“One of the big goals of Gaudium Verum is to show how this music fits the Novus Ordo Missae,” Wheeler said, referring to the new order of the Mass promulgated by St. Paul VI in 1969. “If you’ve never heard polyphony, it’s an experience and a half to be surrounded by this sound that feels like it’s there, but not there. It has this ethereal character.

“There are professional groups across the world who are doing polyphonic Masses. They are showing how it’s an integral part of the liturgical service. It’s not new, but it’s new to Denver.”

For More Information
Call 303-868-0785 or email music.director@olmcfssp.org

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.