The Orchestral Mass: The Case of Saint Agnes

Photo: OC-Travel

I have to say one of the most interesting and formative experiences of my life was growing up as an altar boy at the Church of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota (in a historic old neighborhood known as "Froschburg," or Frogtown).  

For this gift, I can only thank my parents who instilled in me a love for sacred music and liturgy.  At the end of the day, I am profoundly and eternally indebted to Divine Providence for my association with St. Agnes.  

St. Agnes has long been known as an oasis of Baroque liturgy in sight and sound.  In fact, many of us found refuge here during turbulent times in the postconciliar evolution of liturgical distortion and confusion.

While St. Agnes has many claims to fame, chief among them is that it remains one of just a handful of churches in the world where the laudable custom of orchestral Mass has been preserved.  The parish philosophy at St. Agnes has always been to preserve and pass on the liturgy exactly as the Church in her wisdom has given it to us.

St. Agnes was fortunate to have three successive - and very distinguished - pastors who helped shape and fashion its liturgical programme, helping to carry it through the darkest days of 1960s liturgical renewal.

The three pastors were Monsignor A.J. Schladweiler (who was pastor until 1957 when he was made a bishop and later Council Father), Monsignor R.G. Bandas (who went on to be a Vatican II peritus - he served until 1969), and Monsignor R.J. Schuler (who was a renowned church musician and composer who retired in 2001).

It was Monsignor Schuler who introduced the orchestral Mass to St. Agnes in the early 1970s.  He was also the proud conductor and musical director of the choir and orchestra.

Monsignor was very fond of the Church's liturgical patrimony of sacred music.  He was always quick to make a distinction between sacred music and liturgical music, because, as he oft pointed out, they were not always the same.

The tradition of the orchestral Mass at St. Agnes continues strong, even ten years after his passing.  The legacy that the good Monsignor bequeathed to us remains on a firm foundation, thanks in no small part to a great many volunteers and enthusiasts.

St. Agnes claims many unique feats.  One such is that it has the rare distinction of having had Sung Mass in the Roman rite celebrated on its main altar - in Latin - every Sunday, without interruption, since it was consecrated over one-hundred years ago.

The baroque orchestral Mass has been described as an imaginary arc reaching up to the heavens, the reaching of the meridian by a celestial body.  I am very grateful for my time at St. Agnes where I grew to love and appreciate this form of the public worship of the Church, a similar experience of orchestral Mass that Pope Benedict grew up with in the Bavaria of his youth.

Catholic historian Christopher Dawson shares this fitting description of the Baroque: "The bourgeois culture has the mechanical rhythm of a clock, the Baroque the musical rhythm of a fugue or sonata."

I recently wrote an article on the beauty of St. Agnes parish, showcasing its Baroque culture and art, including the orchestral Mass.  Following below is the article.

"America is not famously known for its beautiful churches; however, when Catholics from Canada make road trips to the US, they often return captivated and genuinely impressed by the churches they have seen. One such church not to be missed is St. Agnes, located just off the Interstate highway in St. Paul, Minnesota. Be sure to visit for the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, which is nothing short of an unforgettable experience...."

Read the rest of the article here: Liturgy Turns Classical With Orchestral Mass.

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