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: Transforming quarantine into retreat

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This bruising Lent, in which “fasting” has assumed unprecedented new forms, seems likely to be followed by an Eastertide of further spiritual disruption. What is God’s purpose in all this? I would be reluctant to speculate. But at the very least, the dislocations we experience – whether aggravating inconvenience, grave illness, economic and financial loss, or Eucharistic deprivation – call us to a more profound realization of our dependence on the divine life given us in Baptism: the grace that enables us to live in solidarity with others and to make sense of the seemingly senseless.

If we cooperate with that grace rather than “kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14), it can enable us to transform quarantine, lockdown, and the interruption of normal life into an extended retreat, a time to deepen our appreciation of the riches of Catholic faith. Dioceses, Catholic centers, and parishes are offering many online opportunities for prayer, thereby maintaining the public worship of the Church. Here are other resources that can help redeem the rest of Lent and the upcoming Easter season.

* Shortly before the Wuhan virus sent America and much of the world reeling, I began watching Anthony Esolen’s Catholic Courses video-lectures on the Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve long admired Tony Esolen’s Dante translation and his lucid explanation of the medieval Christian worldview from which Dante wrote; and there was something fitting about watching Esolen accompany Dante and Virgil through hell during a hellish Lent. Professor Esolen’s explication of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise (also available from Catholic Courses) are just as appropriate these days, however. For the entire Comedy is a journey of conversion that leads to the vision of God; and that is precisely the itinerary the Church invites us to travel during Lent, as the Forty days prepare us to meet the Risen Lord at Easter and experience the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

* Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was arguably the greatest papal homilist since Pope St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The March and April sermons in Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year (Cluny Media), help put the trials of this Lent and Eastertide into proper Christian focus.

* I’ve often recommended the work of Anglican biblical scholar N.T. Wright. Two chapters (“The Crucified Messiah” and “Jesus and God”) in The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (InterVarsity Press) make apt Lenten reading in plague time. The fifth chapter of that small book, “The Challenge of Easter,” neatly summarizes Dr. Wright’s far longer and more complex argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press) and makes a powerful case for the historical reality of the Easter events. Like Wright, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s reflections on the empty tomb and the impact of meeting the Risen One in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (Ignatius Press) underscore the bottom of the bottom line of Christianity: no Resurrection, no Church.

* Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series is the greatest audio-visual presentation of the faith ever created. If you’ve never watched it, why not now?  If you have, this may be the time to continue with Bishop Barron’s Catholicism: The New Evangelization (an exploration of how to put Catholic faith into action) and Catholicism: The Pivotal Players (portraits of seminal figures in Catholic history who did just that – St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, and Michelangelo).

* Pope St. John Paul II’s centenary is the Monday following the Fifth Sunday of Easter: an anniversary worth celebrating, whatever the circumstances. The first 75 years of this life of extraordinary consequence for the Church and the world are relived in the documentary film, Witness to Hope – The Life of John Paul II. Liberating a Continent, produced by the Knights of Columbus, is a stirring video evocation of John Paul’s role in the collapse of European communism – and a reminder, in this difficult moment, of the history-bending power of courage and solidarity.

* The Dominican House of Studies in Washington and its Thomistic Institute are intellectually energizing centers of the New Evangelization. The good friars are not downing tools because of a pandemic; rather, they’re ramping up. Go to thomisticinstitute.org to register for a series of online “Quarantine Lectures” and an online Holy Week retreat. At the same home page, you’ll find Aquinas 101, 52 brief videos that make one of Catholicism’s greatest thinkers accessible to everyone, free and online, through brilliant teaching and striking animation.

And may the divine assistance remain with us, always.