Traditional Latin Mass in Dance Time? Sure!

Every now and then I hear the Old Latin Mass described as a somber affair. Many think only dirges are sung and that everything is quite subdued. Granted a low Mass can be rather quiet as the Priest whispers much of the Mass.

But a sung Mass in the Old Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form) can be quite elaborate, especially if the Choir sings in polyphony (harmony). Some of the greatest music in history was composed during the Renaissance in a form known as “Renaissance Polyphony.” It is a kind of harmonic singing that features four or more independent melodies sung simultaneously in rich harmony. Much of this Church music was written in a kind of Dance Time, such that you can almost dance to it! While I am celebrating a Traditional Mass and this sort of music is sung, I sometimes tap my toe even though the rubrics don’t call for it. And while the Gregorian Chant is sung there unfolds a kind of mystical contemplation. No, Traditional Latin Masses are not somber, they are, especially in their sung form, joyful and even exuberant.

Enjoy a few videos that demonstrate this joyful and rhythmic singing.

Photo Credit: From the Website of St. John Cantius, Chicago, Ill.

This first Video is of setting by William Byrd. The text is Haec Dies quam fecit Dominus Exultemus et laetemur in ea, Alleluia! (This is the Day which the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it, Alleluia!). Enjoy, it’s rich harmony, jovial tone and dance-like rhythm

This second video of the Angus Dei (try not to tap your toe). The song was recorded at the Oratory of St. Francis De Sales in St. Louis – one of the most beautiful churches in the Country. The text is Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…grant us peace). Enjoy another beautiful sample of Renaissance Polyphony in toe tap (dance) time.

23 Replies to “Traditional Latin Mass in Dance Time? Sure!”

  1. Great video. I’ve seen you in your toe tapping, body swaying mode. It always makes me chuckle to myself. You got soul Pastor. (lol)

  2. Actually, I think that the way the priest and the deacons move feels highly choreographed, like a dance almost. I adore this music and even in my atheist days this was the music that spoke to my heart … (I sang for many years in the church and also a performing choir). Sometimes I think that this music is evidence of God Himself, it is so beautiful.

    1. I so agree!! There is something so heavenly and uplifting in these choral works. Inspired, beautiful, prayerful and mystical. This is what I think is being as close to perfection as we can get while earth-bound. The fact that this is the music of the Church is perfect. I LOVE IT!!

    2. Yes, to you both, a little taste of heaven on earth. I also remember once fast forwarding through a tape on the solemn high Mass and the movememnt of the clergy through it all really did look like a dance, esp. at that speed.

  3. Epistle 201
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the title of the homily, phrase “Dance Time” has no English Dictionaries.
    However, Msgr. Charles Pope explained that much of the Church music was written in a kind of Dance Time.
    Therefore, we can understand that “Dance Time” is a kind of the Church music, especially in Traditional Latin Mass.
    In addition, Msgr. Charles Pope also explained further that “Dance Time” means “Toe tap Time”. “Toe tap (dance) time” means to tap toe in time of music being played.
    Secondly, now permit me to talk about some problems on the homily hereafter:
    As far as I’m concerned, the homily is difficult to understand.
    I only understood slightly that Msgr. Charles Pope has a certain joyful pleasure.
    However, when I watch carefully two videos at the bottom of the homily, I understood that Msgr. Charles Pope wants to say to us that in Traditional Latin Mass and in music of “Dance Time”, many of us perhaps be not understand them. But if they were translated into English, then we can understand them clearly.
    In first video, the text is Haec Dies quam fecit Dominus Exultemur et laetemur in ea, Alleluia! (This is the Day which the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it, Alleluia!).
    In second video, the text is Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…grant us peace). The title of the text is Lamb of God./.

    1. Sir, forgive me if I seem unkind, but I do not think your knowledge of the English language qualifies you to critique Msgr. Pope’s “homily,” Moreover, the Latin words of the ordinary of the Mass are so easily learned, that there is no need for them to be said or sung in the vernacular during Mass.

  4. Beautiful! For those that enjoy the music of Harry Christopher and the Sixteen…

    Trailer for the BBC Series on Sared Music with Simon R. Beale…I bought the DVD..even with some of the PC comments and a few swipes at the Church. Part II on Palestrina…is worth the price.

      1. You’re most welcome Msgr. !
        Thank you for your contributions to this blog…I read it regularly!
        This DVD will be our gift for Priest this coming Christmas.

  5. Msgr,

    Thank you for a well-written and well-reasoned article.

    Liturgical worship is a dichotomy whose roots lie in our Jewish heritage and in Greco-Roman theater. We certainly have an innate need for sacred space, sacred time, and sacred language, but we also have as strong a need to tie our daily lives to the sacred and t’other way ’round. The Medieval and Renaissance church exemplifies the dichotomy.

    Renaissance musical forms, and their predecessors, often obliterated the line between sacred and secular forms. Many polyphonic Masses are based on cantus firmi taken from very secular sources whose original texts might be viewed as bawdy. Our older brethren were yet to experience the world of the Puritans.

    The term “carol” comes to us from an older Gallic word meaning literally “a street dance” and many of our Christmas Noels and Easter Carols reflect that origin. We are told that David danced before the Lord and our brothers and sisters of African heritage have little trouble with letting the whole body join in praise. I would defy anyone of musical bent to keep their toe still during Guillaume Dufay’s (1397-1474) “Gloria as modum tubae”. It’s as rhythmic and syncopated as the ragtime of Scott Joplin.

    It is very difficult to express “joy” musically without employing rhythmic devices and sacred ebullience is no exception. I would call to mind the works of English composer, Maurice Greene (1696-1755) who lived during the wonderful era that gave us Handel, Boyce, Clarke, Purcell, and others. Most of these composers wrote freely for both the Catholic and Anglican liturgies. Greene’s wonderful tongue-twister setting of Psalm 65, “Thou visitiest the earth and blessest it. Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness” is a perfect example of rhythm in praise surviving well into that era.

    1. Thanks for another wonderful link. It is a true fact that Catholicism and non-puritan expressions of the faith had a greater confidence in the created order and were able to “blur” the line between the sacred and secular. One of my favorite Mass settings from the Middle Ages is Henrich Isaac’s Missa Carminum which uses tavern songs as the cantus firmus for many of the movements. The more puritanical may blanch at this but they are thinking only of bawdy drinking songs whereas the tavern for the Middle Ages was more of an all purpose meeting place where songs, both Sacred and secular were often sung. As for drinking, it was less taboo in a time when water was less purified. Life was more seamless in older times.

    1. Thanks for this. I love to study hymns. I always regret that when we Catholics went over to the English liturgy we did not draw more on the Lutheran and Episcopal hymnals which had superb and long tested hymns in English. Instead we mimeographed all this “folk” music, much of which was silly, untested and ephemeral. The English and German (Lutheran) hymnody was theological, very solid and suitable for a Catholic Worship.

  6. Father,

    Let me open by saying that I find great value in most of your blog posts and read them all regularly. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

    However, I continue to stumble on the matter of sacred music. So many excellent orthodox priests and laymen tell me over and over again that polyphony is engaging, rhythmic music which is THE music best suited to be used as liturgical music. However, whenever I experience it, I find it difficult to follow, confusing, and not at all engaging to my heart or spirit. And whenever I express this perspective, I am told that the problem is in me, that I don’t understand sacred music, and I need to understand the Church and her teaching on music better.

    Is that really going to result in me suddenly having a positive reaction to music I simply have never found engaging or uplifting?

    I regularly attend benediction and find the Te Deum, Salutoris Hostia, and Tantum Ergo to be beautiful expressions of sacred music. But polyphony, every exposure I have to it, leaves me totally cold.

    I admit that the music I am most fond of is the charismatic-inspired music that has come out of the University of Steubenville, where I went to college, though I would by no means characterize myself as a “charismatic”. I suppose that’s what you refer to above as “silly”, though I am quite certain it is theologically sound and appropriate.

    1. That’s fine the Catholic Church offers this too. As for silly music I am referring to songs like “Sons of God” and other silly songs of the late sixties and early seventies, not Steubenville Music

      I too like a wide variety of music and if you’ve read this blog long you will see that I like and comment on a wide variety of music and often post videos in the genre you describe. I also love Gospel music. Hence, you can like what you like. I happen to like what you like, you don’t happen to like what I like in this instance, but that said, it is just a matter of taste. Polyphony is obviously not your cup of tea.

      1. I have a very-much-lapsed-Catholic friend who claims that “Sons of God” was just the last straw back in the late ’60s. He now has to be dragged kicking and screaming to Mass on Christmas and Easter.

  7. Thank you, Father.

    As for “Sons of God”…I’d actually never heard it before. I looked it up on Youtube and…yes, “silly” is without question the correct term.

    1. Darn it, now that tune is stuck in my head.

      Will St Cecilia pray for those burdened with earworms?

  8. I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes caused by the great beauty demonstrated here. May this music return to regular worship soon, very soon.

    1. Some parishes may not even have this kind of music in their libraries, and some choirs have never sung it. [The earliest composer I’ve heard in the Catholic parish my family attends is Mozart.] Bringing Renaissance and Baroque music into worship as even the occasional anthem will take considerable time and money.

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