Justorum Animae

My latest composition, Justorum Animae, was used as a meditation for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during solemn vespers. The text is meant as the offertory antiphon for the feast of All Saints – but you will find it familiar – as it is often used as the first reading for funerals.

Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt,
et non tanget illos tormentum mortis.
Visi sunt oculis insipientium mori,
illi autem sunt in pace.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and the torment of death shall not touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die;
but they are in peace.

We pray for our dead in the month of November, and so it was particularly moving to conduct this at Vespers on November 22nd for the feast of Christ the King – which also happens to be the feast of St. Cecilia – the patroness of the St. Cecilia Consort, the ensemble that performed this.

Sheet music available!

Gospel Acclamations for LENT

Please feel free to download and use these acclamations. Chanted verses with text from Missal 3rd ed. (NOT Grail Trans)


Rediscovering Worship and Sacred Music – An Introduction

How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face — tears that did me good.” (St. Augustine, Confessions 9:6, 14)

No doubt, music has a unique ability to stir our emotions. But we need to be careful that liturgical music does not become entertainment – or mood-music. Its purpose and function is obviously much deeper, and, if implemented properly, helps to reveal truths we desire to know.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1157 states that “Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,” Through the beauty of expressive prayer, participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the mass, “actively participate” is realized through the meaning of the liturgical words and actions which give all glory to God and sanctifies the faithful.

In order to help achieve this, careful attention must be given to the style of music used in the liturgy. It must be set apart from the associations of popular culture – the confines of our daily lives, and transport us into the solemnity of the mass, outside of our daily space and time, and to the Eternal. In essence, we assume a countercultural mentality to fully participate in the sacred liturgy.

John Paul II issued a pastoral letter in 1998, directed especially toward the United States, in which he said: “Active participation” does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness, and listening: Indeed, it demands it. Worshipers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be countercultural.”

So, you may ask, “Why are we hearing psalms and antiphons during communion at mass from time to time?” It’s a small first step, and but one example, to propel our worship to that more fully active participation, to turn our hearts upward to the Eternal, and leave the distractions of the day outside for a mere hour on a Sunday.

In my service to the church, I take seriously the responsibility to ensure we always seek a deeper, profound understanding of our faith through the music we experience at mass. To help achieve this, we must ensure that sacred music is better integrated into the ritual (just as the readings and prayers are directly integrated into the mass), and set-apart from the distractions of our everyday lives. The various church documents, specifically the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM), exist to aid in this endeavor, and direct our worship to unity with the universal church throughout the world. We have an obligation to commune with the whole universal church, and to realize, in humility, that we are worshipping with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

There is, and always will be much more beauty to be discovered in our worship. With open hearts and minds, we can enrich our worship through our participation, and come to better understand our relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the sacred mysteries.

Different Language – Same Mystery

Instructions on how to assemble a piece of furniture are most useful to me if they are in English. I need to be able to fully understand and comprehend them in order to assemble said piece of furniture. Liturgy, on the other hand, is not an instruction manual to help us “assemble” the sacred mysteries into something we can comprehend. The paschal mystery is an unsolvable puzzle! It is, by design, mysterious. In this regard, the mass is the most important tool we have to help us ponder the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and nurture our relationship with Christ and each other.

Music has a unique ability to shed light on the very things that elude us and can help us consider the Paschal Mystery, and the scriptures. When we sing something in Latin or Greek, we may not fully understand the text – but consider the fact that we might not fully understand the text even if it were in English. Instead of struggling with understanding, let the music heighten your prayer and consider the connection to our ancestors in the faith – who also pondered the Paschal Mystery, and had the same questions and lack of answers – just in a different language. If you listen to the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requeim, I can assure you that you will be moved to tears and hear God speak – and you won’t understand a word of it.

Ave again…

Here’s a brief article in the Fairfield County Catholic about the premiere of my newest arrangement of my Ave Maria.



Back Home in Lourdes

I returned for my second pilgrimage to Lourdes, France this month as an Auxiliary member of the Order of Malta American Association . This time I was slightly more prepared, but still bowled over by the spirit of this place.

My job was to provide music for the various masses and services – a special job for sure. Parish music ministry is rewarding enough, but to minister in Lourdes is truly a blessing. I got to see, from a unique perspective, the desire of people to be with The Lord, and Our Lady. Many sought his or her own miracle, and I have to believe that many felt some sort of presence or touch- it seems to me impossible not to feel something there!

Last year, being my first visit, I felt I had to experience everything right away. This year, I was able to “soak it in” and not rush around. This time, I was able to sit and talk with some of the Malades (French for sick) and truly listen and experience their perspective. It was truly moving, and once again reminded me of how lucky and blessed I really am to have a beautiful, healthy family. These malades are so courageous, some facing life-threatening illness- and to hear their stories and witness their faith was truly inspiring.
Just as inspiring, was to watch so many give so willingly of their time, and put their faith into action to help others. This, above all else, is really the grace of Lourdes: to help your fellow brother or sister through the trials of life. I’m proud to serve the Order of Malta, which enables me to participate, in a small way, the call to help others. It really was a sort of catharsis from the stressful and fast-paced world in which I so easily find myself drowning.

In other matters, I got to play some fantastic instruments there!

This organ, at the church of Saint Savin (a very old Benedictine church), was constructed in 1537! It has some ballyhoo to boot. In front are three masks, the mouths of which, the organist can control with pedals. It also has birds that twirl around- and if the power goes out, you use the bellows!

I also got to play this organ in the upper basilica for the closing mass.

Then there is the underground basilica of St. Pius X. The international mass saw an attendance of roughly 25,000 – UNDERGROUND! Here is view looking left from the choir area in the center.

One other interesting fact- in no other place is it so commonplace to celebrate mass with a Cardinal, Archbishop, or bishop, and not blink an eye. The focus is squarely on the pilgrimage and service, not on the ceremony so often accompanied by high-ranking clergy. It was so personal and intimate- very nice.

Every night, after some fellowship at the Jeanne d’Arc (local bar), many would walk down to the grotto and pray the rosary. So quiet and peaceful- nobody there, and all you hear is the burning candles and the River Gave. A truly remarkable experience- and very moving to bring the malades there and witness their emotions as we prayed right in front if the place that the blessed mother appeared to Bernadette.

After, many would walk just up the way and light a candle. (Was beautiful to see the Sandy Hook candle burning there with the names inscribed on it- they burn one year-round).

I love this place, the people, and the reason. I long to return again.

A Reflection on Lourdes

The world premiere of my Ave Maria in Lourdes, France – the Grotto.

As a composer, I have learned that there are good days and bad days as it relates to “feeling the creative” and hearing the music. Indeed, most days I sit with pencil in hand and realize that today is not the day for that great piece of music to be created.

However, one regular day in October of 2011, the notes came flowing like water. Immediately, I had a text in mind- the melody was perfectly suited to Ave Maria. The piece literally wrote itself, and to quote myself from a previous post, I felt like I was connected to that larger musical (and apparently spiritual) conscience.

Then, as if it were scripted, I received an email a few days later from a now dear friend inviting me on the Malta pilgrimage to Lourdes, France to help with the music. Of course, the thematic connection was obvious, but I didn’t give it too much thought.

Months later, while rehearsing with the music director, Lia Carter, I mentioned that I had written an Ave Maria. We ran it quickly, and she was nice enough to want to include it in the program. Just before I left, she mentioned to me something along the lines of “by the way, did you know the title of the pilgrimage this year is ‘Ave Maria?’ ” My hair stands on end.

Just before we leave, the issue of where to place it within the various masses gets answered- at the Grotto, right where Bernadette had her visions.

Yikes! – the circumstances surrounding this composition just kept getting stranger and stranger – or as I came to realize, more and more special.

I arrive at Lourdes and quickly start participating with the music (The whole experience was really mind-blowing- I highly recommend a visit, no matter your faith or creed). This picture on the right is me cantoring at the Rosary Basilica – read into, or don’t, but all the “coincidences” seem to be directed by someone, or something – and this picture really sums up the idea. Is she saying “about time you got here?!”

A few days later, it was time for the mass at the grotto – where we would first play my Ave Maria. Its is a humble place, void of gilded decorations, just the rock cave. For me, I found it much nicer to do it here, then inside a huge church or basilica. I try to be a humble person, and this place just fit my persona.

I had to play it on a rickety old organ, but I must say – playing it THERE, was something special. Again – read into it or don’t, but it was a sunny day when we arrived at the grotto – but the clouds started to fill the sky – and the very moment (and I mean with my downbeat) we started, it began to lightly rain. The moment we finished, the rain stopped and the sun came back out. – Another moment.

When all is said and done, from a composer’s standpoint, it was the most unique premiere of a composition – made all the more memorable by all of the so called “circumstances.” Many people might write-off those weird moments as nothing special and just a coincidence – and it doesn’t bother me in the least. But, as a person of faith (well, someone who tries to be – I’m fail miserably most days) – it was mind-blowing – all the things that happened. I’ll never forget that day in the grotto.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am really back to reality – and have to go change a diaper.

Sacred Musings

Over the course of a few weeks, I’ve introduced my new mass setting called Mass of the Assumption (yes, left it ambiguous as to which one) to the parishioners at Our Lady of the Assumption . It has been so much more rewarding teaching the congregation something that I wrote – and honestly something I wrote because I wasn’t blown away by any of the new settings released over the past year.

[If you feel out of the loop- here’s the background: Pope JPII ordered a new translation of the Roman Missal in 2000. The translation is more accurate- and arguably more poetic – as it is now faithful to the original Latin. The 3rd Ed. was released last year and will be fully implemented in the U.S. the first Sunday of Advent.]

For a long time I’ve felt a little trapped by the particular genre of contemporary Catholic music- for sure some nice music out there, just as I love the old hymns and chants. But I guess I have a different take on contemporary- which is why I wrote my own mass. It was pretty fun to do- and made me really consider the text I was setting- something most people (including me!) tend to take for granted and just recite or sing like an automaton.

I think I may have found a new source for text- sacred. Some of it is just exquisite poetry. I’ve submitted the mass for publishing- once I find out either way- ill share more details.

(I’d be happy to send to any organists/music directors- just email me. It is suited for both organ or piano.)