Beauty and Liturgy | Pope Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

OPE SAINT JOHN PAUL II’s Letter to Artists (1999) is an inspired document worth reading and rereading. In it he outlines the relationship between art and faith – between beauty, goodness, and truth as well as our responsibility to an “artistic vocation in the service of beauty.” (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, §3) Implications for the liturgy are unmistakable and its influence on faith incontrovertible.

* *   Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists • 1999

With regard to the liturgy, Saint John Paul is clear in the relationship between beauty and truth. Through this relationship, Gregorian Chant expresses the eternal in celebration of the mass:

Gregory the Great compiled the Antiphonarium and thus laid the ground for the organic development of that most original sacred music which takes its name from him. Gregorian chant, with its inspired modulations, was to become down the centuries the music of the Church’s faith in the liturgical celebration of the sacred mysteries. The “beautiful” was thus wedded to the “true”, so that through art too souls might be lifted up from the world of the senses to the eternal. (Ibid, §7)

This is a bold statement, especially in light of St. John Paul’s strong words on Gregorian Chant, just a few years later in 2003:

12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes.” (Chirograph for the Centenary of Tra le sollecitudini)

St. John Paul also makes an appeal to musicians and architects. Such a profound effect architecture has upon our worship and our soul! It can be deleterious, or it can lift our minds to greater things. Architecture can remove us from present worldliness and draw us heavenward into timeless eternity. Likewise, music does the same. It can either be harmful, or sometimes worse – endlessly harmless. Or music can uplift, edify, and sanctify the soul.

I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man. (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, §14)

AINT JOHN PAUL LAYS OUT THE RESPONSIBILITY of the artist. He clearly recognizes not only the importance and “profound respect” for art, but for its necessity. It is our responsibility to seek and employ what is beautiful, and to do the best we can with what is possible. Through this beauty we praise God. Through beauty, we evangelize. Art expresses our faith, articulates our prayer, and reminds us of how we must live. Beauty lifts the faith of those around us. St. John Paul calls us to this responsibility but also gives a stern warning:

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. (Ibid, §4)

Finally, it must be understood that the simple is often beautiful. We likely do not have endless resources, financial and otherwise, to create the most beautiful sacred liturgy. We must do what is possible. The simplest of chant and inspired melody, sung well and with prayerful heart, expresses truth. One might evoke Pope Francis who calls for a Church of and for the poor. In the recognition of all human dignity, the poor especially deserve truth from which beauty emanates. The greatest beauty often comes from the least among us.

N COMPOSING THE Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II, I pray that I have lived up to some of the his words. If not, I will strive further! This mass is published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ, SATB)

DOWNLOAD Unison/Organist Edition:
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ)

SATB Recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA, with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ:

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

Ascent to Freedom

True freedom does not rise from the capacity to fulfill all desires. Freedom is captivity, followed by battle, followed by faith, followed by wisdom and compassion as seen through the eyes of love.

Of this struggle, true liberation is born.

“… Its five movements are quite accessible, sometimes displaying a French influence. The last three movements made imaginative use of, respectively, the Lutheran chorale If You But Trust in God to Guide You, the spiritual Go Down, Moses, and the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing. There was some compelling musical illustration in the spiritual movement when tortured chromaticism and crunchy reed chords gave way suddenly to diatonic harmonies on the solo clarinet accompanied by string celeste: the effect was like a release from bondage.” — The Boston Music Intelligencer

Reviewed from this Live Performance on the 1875 E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings, Opus 801, Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, MA

VIEW SAMPLE SCORE: Ascent to Freedom 

  • Purchase Digital PDF copy ($12.95) comes with reprint license) 
    As recorded on the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ, St. Cecilia Church, Boston:





The Thoughts of His Heart

HAVE LONG BEEN FASCINATED with the text of the Introit for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cogitationes, Ps. 33 (32): 11, 19: “The thoughts of his heart stand from generation to generation: that he might deliver their souls from death, and nourish them in times of famine.”

  • Digital PDF copy ($8.95 comes with reprint license for the buyer only.)  


HE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART is an organ work based on Cogitationes. The chant is quoted in its entirety in the pedal with an 8′ oboe stop. (Even the psalm verse is quoted, with a return to the incipit.) This is played over an ostinato accompaniment in the left hand, with interjected improvisatory figures in the right hand. Within the realm of interior prayer, there is rest and comfort to be found, yet at the same time a restless joy exposed by the unusual harmonies and imposed melodies. Ultimately, it finds repose and peace.

The heart is resilient and complex. It leads us to Jesus and to his Heart.

English Setting of Veni, Sancte Spiritus | Pentecost Sequence

ENI, SANCTE SPIRITUS, the Sequence for Pentecost Sunday is one of the great jewels of the Roman Rite. The Gregorian Chant is exquisite. The text alone is a treasure—short, simple, profound, and transcendent.

The text reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s protection and comfort. The text reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We are also called to inward transformation, forgiveness, and compassion: “Bend the stubborn heart and will. Melt the frozen. Warm the chill. Guide the steps that go astray.”

This setting uses the translation by Edward Caswall from the Lyra Catholica. Cas­wall was or­dained an An­gli­can priest in 1839 and later was a convert to Roman Catholicism. His translations are known for his adherence to Roman Catholic Doctrine, faithfulness to the original text, and pure poetic rhythm. He is also cited for his translations of the Roman Breviary, published in the Lyrica Catholica. (London, 1849)

Free Download:
PDF • “Sequence for Pentecost Sunday | Veni, Sancte Spiritus” | for Schola, Organ or Piano
Includes separate versions for organ or piano and with optional lower key

COMPOSED THIS SETTING APPROXIMATELY TWENTY years ago or more, perhaps in 1992. I’m not sure. I wrote the piece for tenor Mark Donohoe, a superlative cantor who possesses clarity of diction, humility, and prayerful expression, (and a heart of gold.) Also effective for a schola, this setting has been unusually popular, hopefully reverent, and somewhat worthy of the extraordinary sacred text.


Finally, for future reference, or a last minute opportunity for the Vigil for Pentecost and Pentecost Sunday:
Free Download:
PDF • “Easter Season Communion Propers, Years ABC”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II on “Sounds from the Spires” and the Youth-Based Chant Movement


ASS IN HONOR of Pope Saint John Paul II” was recently featured on “Sounds from the Spires” on SIRIUS XM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

I had the opportunity to speak with the program’s host, Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In addition, special guest, Ryan Lynch, Director of Music and Organist at St. Raphael’s Parish in Medford, MA joined the program to discuss the youth-propelled chant movement, the new economic model of publishing, and how it is reshaping the liturgical landscape.

• PODCAST • You can listen here to the program broadcast on 5.18.2014:

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ, SATB)
Published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

• Music from this broadcast:
“Mass in Honor of Pope St. John Paul II” | St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

YouTube:  Christe qui lux es et dies | The Seraphim Singers, Jennifer Lester, Director
YouTube:  St. Cecilia Day Variations | St. Cecilia Schola, Richard J. Clark, organ

• TWO BONUS PODCASTS! Here is my 2012 interview on “Sounds from the Spires.”

From 2013 Richard Kelley, trumpet, and Richard J. Clark discuss their CD, “Requiem pour une américaine à Paris”

Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II


VER SINCE MY WIFE was expecting our third child, I began composing this mass setting in thanksgiving to God for my son, Sean Paul to whom it is dedicated. While composed in a chant style, each melody is reminiscent of a simple lullaby. (The Sanctus is perhaps the best example.) Like chant, when one sings a lullaby, one often doesn’t focus on meter and timing. The words and melody flow naturally and are fully devoted to the child. Likewise, chant is fully devoted to God flowing in much the same way. As such, this mass can even be sung effectively in three ways:

1 • Unison without accompaniment

2 • Cantor/Unison Schola and Organ

3 • SATB and Organ

The voice-leading is designed to be simple; the accompaniment is well-suited for an organ of humble means.

Using the 2010 English translation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition, it is published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for SATB, Schola, Organ)

DOWNLOAD Unison/Organist Edition:
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ)
Recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA, with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ:

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

LISTEN and FREE DOWNLOADS of 24 bit audio here

AM ABSOLUTELY NOTHING without my wonderful volunteers and colleagues who are generous, talented, and devoted to prayer. Many thanks to Mark Donohoe, Allesandra Cionco, Jaime Korkos, Emily Lau, Michael Olbash, Peter Tetrault, Ryan Lynch, Doug McNicol, Benjamin Mead, Robert Gregory, Gillian Lynn Cotter, Ghinwa Choueiter, Heather Young, Joseph Houley, Mark Brown, Rachel Edelman, Robert Boland, Kathleen Boland, Libby Boland, Wanner, Cynthia, William Brown, Chuck Ovivieri, Matthew Gallup, Anna Maria Licameli, Rose Sun, Michelle Ong, Patricia Almond, Rebecca Wettemann, Patricia Driscoll, Perpetua Charles, and Timothy Edward Smith

Mass of the Angels | Congregational Mass Setting in English


ASS OF THE ANGELS is based on the popular and familiar Missa VIII (De angelis), which was the standard chant Mass sung in many parishes immediately prior to Vatican II. It includes Gospel acclamations and the Credo using the familiar incipit from Credo III. It is set for cantor, congregation and optional SATB choir. This setting may also be sung in unison with cantor or schola.

• It is available exclusively through CanticaNOVA Publications.
• For ordering details click here.
• PDF samples are available here.
• See below for YouTube recordings.

Adam Wood calls it “one of the best congregational settings of the new texts.” Furthermore, the mass was influenced by Theodore Marier and Richard Proulx in two areas:

I wanted to adapt these beautiful chant melodies in an accessible manner and to be mostly in English.
That the piece could translate well liturgically, whether in the grand setting of a choir of forty with a fifty rank organ of French Romantic design in a European acoustic OR with the austerity of an eight rank organ and a single voice or unison schola


Here are some sample recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ.

      YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
      YouTube:  Gloria (Refrain version)
      YouTube:  Gloria (Through-composed/cantor version)
      YouTube:  Gospel Acclamations (Alleluia and Lenten options)
      Credo (response in Latin)
      YouTube:  Sanctus
      Mystery of Faith A, B, C
      Amen
      YouTube:  Agnus Dei

Free Communion Propers for the Easter Season | Years ABC


HIS COLLECTION of communion propers for the Easter Season is an update which now includes settings for all three liturgical years (A, B, C).

To sing these texts is to journey from Christ’s Resurrection to the descent of the Holy Spirit. It is quite an emotional experience when one realizes just HOW MANY ALLELUIAS are in all of the Easter propers! After abstaining from “Alleluias” throughout Lent, it is a blessed relief to sing “Alleluia” over and over again within these beautiful texts from scripture.

Free Download:
PDF • “Easter Season Communion Propers | Years ABC” (for Schola, Organ, SATB)

• Includes seventeen settings from the Easter Vigil though Pentecost Sunday.

• All are chant based in style.

• Includes a setting for the Seventh Sunday of Easter in those dioceses in which The Ascension of Our Lord is not transferred to Sunday.

• Can be sung with cantor or schola with organ. There is enormous opportunity for optional SATB singing, designed to offer contrast with unison singing.

• Optional congregation inserts for worship aids found after page 37

• Antiphon texts are English translations of those found in the Graduale Romanum. (You will find variation with the Communion propers found in the Roman Missal, especially during the Easter Season. A MUST READ article regarding Antiphons in the Roman Missal vs. the Roman Gradual is written by Jeff Ostrowski.)

HESE ANTIPHONS SHOULD ALWAYS BE SUNG with forward, yet unhurried movement, and often with an air of lightness—not always in color but in spirit and energy. Even the intensity of the Pentecost antiphon should be sung with light forward motion, yet still unhurried (despite the “rush of a mighty wind”!). Do not be afraid of engaging in mystery and energy in chant!

Each antiphon colors the text simply and occasionally with symbolic gesture. For example, the Easter Vigil / Easter Sunday antiphon ends a half step below the tonic — unresolved and evoking the mystery of the empty tomb. The Pentecost antiphon uses a similar device, bookending this collection. Another example is found in the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which utilizes an augmented fifth chord—three equal intervals representing the Trinity — the augmented fifth, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, on Ascension Thursday, the final chords in both the antiphon and verses are unsupported by the root, but instead by the third providing a sense of elevated motion.

For future reference, here are Communion propers for Lent and Advent:

Free Download:
PDF • “Twelve Communion Propers for Lent”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Free Download:
PDF • “Advent Communion Propers”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Have a blessed Lent and Holy Week!

Christe qui lux es et dies | Compline Hymn for Lent, Choral setting


HRISTE QUI LUX ES ET DIES (Christ, who art the light and day) is based on the ancient Compline Hymn for Lent, likely dating back to the Fourth Century. Although it was not retained in the Roman Breviary, its continued pervasive use is perhaps attributed to its antiquity, exquisite poetry, and simple beauty, extolling Christ as the World’s Light. Furthermore, its use often extends beyond Lent with its universal theme of light.

Please see an excellent article on this ancient Compline Hymn written by Henri Adam de Villiers on the New Liturgical Movement site. The chant notation is also provided in this article. This choral setting utilizes two major themes: the opening choral statement and the ancient chant melody, both in naturally progressing keys. The opening theme provides an axis of symmetry, setting verses one, four, and seven, while the chant is the basis of verses two, three, five and six. The Amen recapitulates the chant theme inside a variation of the opening exposition. As such, the Light of Christ is proclaimed both deep within the soul and cried aloud for all.

The score available for purchase here. ($14.95) This digital copy (PDF) includes a free license to copy as many as are required for practice and performance. This is a steal! The larger your choir, the better the deal.

While I’m at it, here’s a BONUS Free Download: PDF • “Twelve Communion Propers for Lent” (for Schola, Organ, SATB) HIS SETTING WAS COMMISSIONED and premiered by the The Seraphim Singers, Jennifer Lester, Director. The Seraphim Singers are enormous advocates of new music. Jennifer Lester’s programming is astonishingly vast, from Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony to Twenty-first Century works. Yet, her programming flows with astonishing unity and beauty. The Seraphim Singers present this eclectic repertoire with great artistry and ease.

Christ, who art the light and day,
You drive away the darkness of night,
You are called the light of light,
For you proclaim the blessed light.

We beseech you, Holy Lord,
Protect us this night.
Let us take our rest in you;
Grant us a tranquil night.

Let our sleep be free from care;
Let not the enemy snatch us away,
Nor flesh conspire within him,
And make us guilty in your sight.

Though our eyes be filled with sleep,
Keep our hearts forever awake to you.
May your right hand protect
Your willing servants.

You who are our shield, behold;
Restrain those that lie in wait.
And guide your servants whom
You have ransomed with your blood.

Remember us, O Lord,
Who bear the burden of this mortal form;
You who are the defender of the soul,
Be near us, O Lord.

Glory be to God the Father,
And to his only Son,
With the Spirit, Comforter,
Both now and evermore. Amen.

Free Communion Propers for Advent



NFUSE CHANT WITH SOME PASSION! Energico e con moto is occasionally a helpful marking for Gregorian Chant or chant-inspired liturgical works. Chant must not be lethargic, plodding and boring. It can be tranquil at times, but always with movement. The texts are transformative. They propel us forward in spiritual maturity and closer to God. Keep moving forward and keep growing!

Free Download:
PDF • “Advent Communion Propers”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

• All are chant based.

• Includes communion propers for the four Sundays of Advent.

• Includes a setting for the Immaculate Conception on page 9. This year it falls on the Second Sunday of Advent (December 8th). Therefore, the Immaculate Conception is shifted to Monday, December 9th. My fellow blogger, Andrew Motyka brilliantly explains some interesting quirks of the liturgical calendar including information that pertains to the Immaculate Conception in his post Juggling Holy Days of Obligation.

• Can be sung with cantor or schola with organ. There is opportunity for optional SATB singing, designed to offer contrast with unison singing.

• Congregation inserts for worship aids found after page 9

THESE SETTINGS, LIKE MANY of my liturgical works, at times “float” around traditional harmony, “bending” not so much with dissonance, but hopefully with carefully placed color. This at times is to convey an ethereal tone, yet hopefully without drawing too much attention to itself.

In the end, I hope these are useful, prayerful, reverent, and with a bit of passion!