A holy man once said that singing is a lover’s thing.
Out of the utter depths of love, St. Augustine wrote, singing is produced.
In their own expression of love for Mary and gratitude for their church, the choir at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Littleton performed a one-of-a-kind sound during a solemn traditional Mass July 16.
Using Medieval chants and polyphony—or multiple sounds that create one melody—the parish honored its patron Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Rick Wheeler, music director for the parish, said he doesn’t think there’s another Mass with music like it.
“As far as we know, no other (polyphonic Mass) in history begins in the way ours does,” he said.
He worked with fellow composer and friend Lee Graham to create a music score for the 7 p.m. feast day Mass at the Littleton church that celebrates the Tridentine Latin Mass.
“(My friend) and I consulted for hours on the phone and talked about examples and musical ideas and themes,” Wheeler said.
He said they decided to draw on the Church’s sacred music tradition to celebrate its feast day.
They drew on the polyphony sounds of the Renaissance, known in the musical world as the height of perfection for liturgical music. The sound adds a “dignity, majesty and prodigious richness” to the Mass, Venerable Pope Pius XII wrote in his 1955 encyclical Sacred Music.
The Second Vatican Council also supported the use of Gregorian chant, saying it is suited for the Mass and should be given “pride of place in liturgical services.”
“We can write music in the 21th century that’s just as beautiful,” he said.
The music for the Mass imitated that of France, Spain and Italy around the 1500s and was inspired by the work of Tomás Luis de Victoria, a famous 16th-century composer in Spain.
“We took many examples of polyphonic Masses of the 1500s and 1600s and noticed one specific characteristic that stuck out to us: an alternation of chant and polyphony,” Wheeler said. “Both of us quickly came to the conclusion that the Mass had to be like that very historical style.”
The music score for the Mass fluctuated between Gregorian chants written specifically for the Mass and polyphony written by Graham, sung in Latin—and some Greek—by a choir of more than a dozen men and women, Wheeler said.
The music composed included an entrance song, a hymn after Scripture readings, Alleluia and a communion verse—most commonly from Scripture.
Other parts of the Mass that do not change—including the Gloria, the Creed, the Hosanna, and Lamb of God—were also sung in Latin.
“We’re finding those older chants and bringing them back,” he said.
Wheeler said he is sharing the full score with musicians so other parishes have the chance to share in the Church’s sacred treasure.