Vatican Choir infuses Mass with ancient music


A World In Mourning

The Death of Pope John Paul II

April 09, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The boys and men of the Vatican Choir intoned solemn, stirring selections from the ancient repertoire of Roman Catholic liturgical music to accompany the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II.

As his coffin was carried into the sunlight for the start of the service, the choristers sang the familiar Latin prayer Requiem aeternam: "Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord."

The ensemble, directed by Giuseppe Liberto, was involved in a great portion of the nearly three-hour service, much of it sung in Gregorian chant with simple harmonies provided by the organ. It was a richly musical Mass befitting the most overtly musical of modern pontiffs.

The stately pace and timeless beauty of the music "sounded like something that would have been used for all the popes' funerals," said Lisa Lopatta of Westminster, a Baltimore Choral Arts Society member who got up at 3 a.m. to watch the event. "The young voices sounded lovely; the older males sounded deep and resonant. It all seemed ethereal and made the whole thing more grand."

An unusual and striking moment in the service came after the Litany of the Saints was intoned in Latin. Patriarchs of Eastern churches gathered around the casket and, in Greek, sang their intercessions to ancient chants of a very different musical style.

At the end of the Mass, the Vatican Choir filled the air with a rich setting of the Magnificat, words from the Gospel of Luke describing Mary's acceptance of her divine mission. The music sounded as old and anchoring as St. Peter's itself.

Sun staff writer Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.

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