A Rare Glimpse Into the Music of Holy Week and Easter Liturgies From the Lateran Archbasilica in 1941

Thanks to our good friends at the Fondazione Domenico Bartolucci we have this wonderful glimpse of the past, an inestimable peek into the solemnity and beauty of liturgies in Rome in the years just before the changes of the 1960's revolution.  The images are of the official program of sacred music at the Lateran Archbasilica from Holy Week and Easter 1941.  The musicians included some contemporaries still living at the time such as Don Lorenzo Perosi.  Some of the other more prominent names include Palestrina, Vittoria, Virgili, Casimiri, Vecchi, Meluzzi, Anesio, Viadana, and more, not to mention Gregorian chant.  

This unique foldable booklet was discovered among the papers in the personal archives of Domenico Cardinal Barolucci (1917-2013), an old friend of mine when I lived in Rome.  Fr. Bartolucci received this program with a letter dated March 31, 1941, sent to him by Mons. Lavinio Virgili, the director in those years of the Lateran Basilica choir.  This gem offers a fascinating glimpse of the musical program, showing a treasure trove of liturgical hymns that open the door to higher forms of spiritual reality.  This music should never be forgotten especially since we have fallen to a state where Catholics are musically illiterate and professional music such as this is today only heard by esoteric people in secular concert halls, commonly divorced from the divine liturgy it was written for.    

It has been said again and again how the Catholic liturgy of the past was exceptionally well provided with ways of access to spiritual realties that have been lost in the modern world.  Sadly in the years since 1941 the channels of tasteful music in church such as this display have been too often closed by unbelief or choked by ignorance and prejudice so that modern liturgies have been deprived of their powerful means of universal expression and superior artistic capability.  It is the task of Catholic leadership of the present time to recover these lost channels of worship and to restore this inheritance to modern society.  

Thus authentic liturgical music such as this evidences a very rich and wide culture: richer than modern secular culture, because it has a greater spiritual depth and is not confined to a single level of reality; and wider than that of the Oriental religions because it is more universal and many-sided.  For the average modern man, however, it is more or less a lost world and one from which even the modern Catholic has been partially estranged by his secular environment and break from valid traditions of worship.

Consequently Catholics of today have a double task: first, to recover their own cultural inheritance of liturgical music, and secondly to communicate it to a sub-religious and neo-pagan world.  This challenge is not as difficult as it appears at first sight, because many people are becoming more and more aware that something is lacking in their godless world and there are many who are still far from positive religious belief but who possess a good deal of intellectual curiosity about religion and classical music which may become the seed of something more, by God's grace.  Meanwhile, Catholics must accept their minority position (of every class and intellectual level) and be determined to look for quality liturgical music rather than quantity.  

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