New choir brings sounds of Renaissance to modern Mass

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

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: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.