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.”

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COMING UP: Archbishop Aquila on ad limina visit, Pope Francis and more

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During his ad limina visit Feb. 10-15, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was granted an audience with Pope Francis for over two hours where they discussed several topics pertinent to the Church today.

Archbishop Aquila was among a contingent of U.S. bishops representing Region XIII in the United States, which includes the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Utah. He along with the bishops of those states met with the Holy Father Feb. 10. With the release of Querida Amazonia scheduled just a few days later on Feb. 12, Pope Francis discussed the document produced from last year’s Amazon Synod with the bishops.

“He brought up the question of celibacy, and he said [his] primary concern is that Gospel be proclaimed in the Amazon and that all of us need to focus on Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel first,” Archbishop Aquila said in an interview with EWTN. “If they proclaim the Gospel and are faithful to the Gospel, then vocations will come forth.”

Archbishop Aquila with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

With much discussion surrounding the Amazon Synod and possible implications it would have for the universal Church, Archbishop Aquila was reassured by the Pope’s comments on synodality and the Church’s application of it.

“Even in the understanding of synodality, which we spoke about, it always has to be ‘under Peter and with Peter’ and that synods cannot be going off and creating things that they want done,” the archbishop said. “He made it very clear: that is not synodality in the Catholic understanding. That was very reassuring.”

Among the other topics the bishops discussed with the Holy Father were some of the challenges faced by the Church in the United States and how to address them.

“The Holy Father was very clear: He said transgenderism is one of the great challenges in the United States right now, and the other is abortion,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Both of them really deal with the dignity of human life and the understanding of human life and do we truly receive from God the gender that he has given to us.

Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

“There are only two genders, male and female, and so how do we open our hearts to receiving that as gift.”
Archbishop Aquila said that they Holy Father also “spoke of media, and how the far left goes after him and the far right goes after him, and neither one really presents who he is.”

In a time where Pope Francis’ comments can be rather polarizing and even mischaracterized, Archbishop Aquila was struck by the depth of the Holy Father’s faith in his audience with him.

“[The Pope] has a very, very deep faith. He is convinced of the Gospel, he is totally convinced of Jesus Christ, he is convinced that there are teachings in the Church that can never change and that we have to be faithful to the Church.”

Hannah Brockhaus of Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.

Featured image by Paul Haring/CNS