Catholic Arts Today

Here’s a well-done online magazine about sacred music and art, beauty, transcendence, and so on.  Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview, for instance:

“The curious thing, when you think about it a little bit, is the fact that a whole range of composers since Wagner in the twentieth and now twenty-first century, have been profoundly religious men and women, in one way or another.  It is astounding.  Stravinsky was as conservative in his theology as he was revolutionary in his music.  The other great polar figure of early modernism, Schoenberg, reconverted to a practicing Judaism after he left Germany.  His later works are full of that Jewish theology and culture and tradition.”

“…John Cage went to study with Schoenberg because I think Cage saw in him a fellow mystic,” Sir James continued. “…you know the curious thing about that piece 4’33”, that four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence which was a kind of provocation to the culture and their listening sensibilities or lack thereof?  The original title for that was: Silent Prayer.  So that was Cage’s initial concept.  And there are academics pushing the idea he got the idea for Silent Prayer by wandering into an American Catholic church in the 1950s.  And of course, as you know when silence descends in the Extraordinary Form Mass, it’s at the moment of Consecration, which usually lasts about four and a half minutes.”


Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 7.43.04 PMAnother geeky fun resource: The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. Academic. But seem to specialize in publishing obscure hymns and songs, such as a sequence for a Mass for St. Ursula (and the 11,000 virgins) in the old York Rite.

I also must add it’s so moving to come across versions of still-sung hymns in ancient manuscripts and hear more or less the exact same chant I know come off the page. Here’s a transcription of a version of Vexilla Regis (which friends and I sang at vespers of Palm Sunday) from a manuscript from 16th century Toledo, Spain:

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.23.11 PM

Do be generous and donate to support projects like this if you download or use material from the site! Here’s their donations page.

Ave Maria

Here’s one more chant by Saint Hildegard, and this time I include a bit of the commentaries on the songs which you can find at the site of the International Society to which I link.

This page has the text, video, sheet music and commentaries. A wonderful resource.

Some excerpts from the very interesting commentary:

“In the Dendermonde manuscript, the songs to Mary are found between the songs to God and those dedicated to the Holy Spirit, perhaps because Hildegard associated the second person of the Trinity so closely with the woman from whose womb he was born in human flesh. […] Though Mary only rarely appears as a visionary figure in Hildegard’s theological writings, the sixteen songs addressed to her in the Symphonia are the most dedicated to any one figure.”

“Beverly Lomer has argued elsewhere that the Marian repertory would have been primarily intended for performance by the nuns of Hildegard’s community, and therefore, unlike the theological books that were written for an outside audience, would have been free from external scrutiny (see Lomer’s work in “Further Resources” below). The unconventional imagery and almost divine agency that Hildegard assigns to Mary in the songs would support this supposition. While the more typical contemporary depiction of Mary’s role was that of mediatrix, in Hildegard’s Mariology, she assumes the status of an essential partner in the redemptory scheme.”

“The opening respond also showcases one of Hildegard’s most characteristic Marian themes, of the Virgin Mother healing the brokenness brought into the world by the first mother, Eve. The image of Mary treading down and crushing the head of the serpent (contrivisti, conculcasti) is a classic fulfillment of God’s words of punishment to the serpent in Genesis 3:15—but Hildegard adds her own unique spin on the theme by imagining that crushing as the tearing down of the tower of death that Eve constructed as she stretched out her neck “with puffed-up pride” at the serpent’s beckoning.”

R. Ave Maria,
O auctrix vite,
reedificando salutem,
que mortem conturbasti
et serpentem contrivisti,
ad quem se Eva erexit
erecta cervice
cum sufflatu superbie.
Hunc conculcasti
dum de celo Filium Dei genuisti,

R. quem inspiravit
Spiritus Dei.

V. O dulcissima atque amantissima
mater, salve,
que natum tuum
de celo missum mundo edidisti:

R. quem inspiravit
Spiritus Dei.

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui sancto.

R. Quem inspiravit
Spiritus Dei.

R. Hail Mary,
O authoress of life,
rebuilding up salvation’s health,
for death you have disturbed,
that serpent crushed
to whom Eve raised herself,
her neck outstretched
with puffed-up pride.
That serpent’s head you ground to dust
when heaven’s Son of God you bore,

R. on whom has breathed
God’s Spirit.

V. O sweet and most beloved
mother, hail!
Your Son
from heaven sent you gave unto the world:

R. on whom has breathed
God’s Spirit.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.

R. On him has breathed
God’s Spirit.

O tu suavissima virga

Another great chant collected and made available by the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies. Video and sheet music available at this link.

R. O tu suavissima virga
frondens de stirpe Jesse,
O quam magna virtus est
quod divinitas
in pulcherrimam filiam aspexit,
sicut aquila in solem
oculum suum ponit:R. Cum supernus Pater claritatem Virginis
adtendit ubi Verbum suum
in ipsa incarnari voluit.

V. Nam in mistico misterio Dei,
illustrata mente Virginis,
mirabiliter clarus flos
ex ipsa Virgine

R. Cum supernus Pater claritatem Virginis
adtendit ubi Verbum suum
in ipsa incarnari voluit.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui
sancto, sicut erat in principio.

R. Cum supernus Pater claritatem Virginis
adtendit ubi Verbum suum
in ipsa incarnari voluit.

R. O sweetest branch,
you bloom from Jesse’s stock!
How great the mighty power,
that divinity
upon a daughter’s beauty gazed—
an eagle turns his eye
into the sun:R. As Heaven’s Father tended to the Virgin’s splendor
when he willed his Word
in her to be incarnate.

V. For in God’s mystic mystery,
the Virgin’s mind illuminéd,
the flower bright—a wonder!—
forth from that Virgin

R. As Heaven’s Father tended to the Virgin’s splendor
when he willed his Word
in her to be incarnate.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and the Spirit
Holy, as it was in the beginning.

R. As Heaven’s Father tended to the Virgin’s splendor
when he willed his Word
in her to be incarnate.

Most excellent geekery

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.56.42 AMMusicologie Médiévale is a hardcore resource for Gregorian chant, medieval musicology and medieval liturgy that goes down all sorts of fun rabbit holes. Lots of academic participants, links to excellent resources for original manuscripts, conferences, institutions, experts, performers, libraries and more. Much of the site is in French and a good bit in English. You can spend hours exploring here… give a donation if you use it, please! We need to support these kinds of projects!

O quam preciosa

Another chant by Saint Hildegard, with the sheet music available at this link:

R. O quam preciosa est
virginitas virginis huius
que clausam
portam habet,
et cuius viscera
sancta divinitas
calore suo infudit, ita
quod flos in ea crevit.

R. Et Filius Dei per secreta ipsius
quasi aurora exivit.

V. Unde dulce germen,
quod Filius ipsius est,
per clausuram ventris eius
paradisum aperuit.

R. Et Filius Dei per secreta ipsius
quasi aurora exivit.

R. How precious is
this Virgin’s sweet virginity,
a closéd
whose womb
divinity most holy with
its warmth has flooded so
a flower sprung within it.

R. The Son of God has come forth from
her hidden chamber like the dawn.

V. And so the sweet and tender shoot—
her Son—
has through her womb’s enclosure
opened Paradise.

R. The Son of God has come forth from
her hidden chamber like the dawn.


O tu illustrata

Here’s a Marian antiphon by Saint Hildegard of Bingen, video link below:

O tu illustrata
de divina claritate,
clara Virgo Maria,
Verbo Dei
unde venter tuus floruit
de introitu
Spiritus Dei,
qui in te
et in te exsuxit
quod Eva abstulit
in abscisione puritatis,
per contractam
contagionem de
suggestione diaboli.Tu mirabiliter abscondisti in te
inmaculatam carnem
per divinam racionem,
cum Filius Dei
in ventre tuo floruit,
sancta divinitate
eum educente
contra carnis iura
que construxit Eva,
integritati copulatum
in divinis visceribus.
Illumined by
God’s clearest brightness,
O Virgin Mary bright,
with the Word of God
your womb then flourished at
the entrance of
God’s Spirit—
within you
he breathed,
within drew out
the loss of Eve,
a purity cut off and silenced
by that disease
contracted at
the Devil’s sly persuasion.You wondrously held hid within yourself
a flesh kept undefiled
according to God’s Reason—
for when the Son of God
within your womb was blossomed,
divinity most holy
brought him forth
to abrogate the laws of flesh
establishéd by Eve,
for he was joined to whole integrity
in flesh and womb divine.

At this link you can play a video of a group singing it.