I imagine Pope Urban VIII offering the liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica on a summer day in 1638, offering his prayer that he might do God’s will as he puts the finishing touches on a bull protecting the existence of the Jesuit missions in South America by forbidding the enslavement of natives. He hopes, too, that he might open China and Japan to greater missionary efforts. As he stands before the great altar, he reflects on the mystery of Christ’s birth. The setting for the liturgy is the Missa Beata es Virgo Maria by composer Vincenzo Ugolini, the maestro of San Luigi.
I think of Pope Alexander VII, who commissioned Bernini and other great architects to create many wonderful churches and piazzas in Rome including the Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square), the Piazza Colonna and the obelisk and elephant in the Piazza della Minerva. In my imagination, Pope Alexander is listening to the Motet Dixit Dominus, a recent composition by Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni of Perugia, one of the leading organists and composers in Rome during the late Baroque period.
And on: Pope Paul V in 1605, hearing the strains of Benevoli’s Motet Laudate pueri Dominum for the first time. Pope Clement VIII celebrating mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, hearing Roland De Lassus’ Motet Domine, quid multiplicati sunt.
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The reason for my reverie is a new CD I’ve just received, which was produced by the Studio de Musique de Montréal. Titled Musica Vaticana, the CD is a compilation of choral music which was performed at St. Peter’s Basilica over a period of two centuries. Under the direction of organist and harpsichordist Christopher Jackson, the Studio’s ensemble has since 1974 enjoyed reputation for excellence for its inspired interpretations of the Renaissance and Baroque vocal repertoire.
The songs are in Latin; and since my inadequate command of the language will not permit a sing-along, I am content to let it play in the background, calming my spirit, warming my heart.
The recording was released in September 2011; but now, as the Cardinals gather in Rome to elect the successor of Pope Benedict XVI, Musica Vaticana takes on a new significance.
In one week, the Chair of St. Peter will stand vacant until the successor of Pope Benedict is named. As we embark on the journey with our College of Cardinals, we pray for our beloved Pope Benedict, and we pray for a new Pope for the Church, one who will please God by his holiness and lead us faithfully to Him. Perhaps Musica Vaticana can help to bring us God’s peace.
Listen to a short selection at their website.