This Weekend: Music And Liturgy After Vatican II

For those of you in the DC area interested in beautiful music, and particularly in the idea of having beautiful music as part of the liturgy – which, since the 1960’s, has been something of a foreign concept – I invite you to join us at St. Stephen Martyr in Foggy Bottom this weekend and next, for a two-part lecture on how the post-Conciliar Church should and could be using music in worship. The lectures will be given by our Music Director at St. Stephen’s, Neil Weston, and will be held at about 12:15 pm in the Parish Hall. Perhaps you will also consider joining us for the 11:00 am Mass upstairs beforehand, to hear Neil and our Parish Choir in action, since Catholic or not, you are very welcome.

Neil studied at Oxford, the University of London, and the Royal College of Music, and as a conductor and soloist has performed in many venues in Europe and America, including here at the National Cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine, and the Kennedy Center. Among other awards to date, he won the American Guild of Organists’ National Competition in Organ Improvisation, and has played on numerous solo and ensemble recordings. Every week at the 11am Sunday Mass, he and our choir help make the liturgy a truly beautiful, uplifting experience, enhancing rather than distracting from the worship of God by the use of their musical gifts.

At the risk of embarassing an Englishman, since they are not an effusive sort of people, I will say that every week I stay behind after the Recessional Hymn at Mass to hear what Neil is going to play, as people shuffle their way out. As you can hear in this example of his solo performance, recorded at St. Stephen’s and showing both Neil and the church, there is a joyful dexterity in his style and wonderful acoustics in the building itself. Neil plays and conducts an enormous variety of music, from the familiar to the unknown, the classical to the contempoary, but always with exceptional good taste and a sense of decorum as to what is suitable for the liturgy.

You can also hear a sample of Neil and our choir at St. Stephen’s performing together in this video, recorded during the Offertory at the 11:00 am Mass on January 10th of this year. I apologize for the quality of the recording which, since it was made on my phone, is not studio-grade. However more to the point of this post, as well as to the lectures which Neil will be giving, this was not music for a major feast day, like Christmas or Easter, but just a normal Sunday Mass. This of course begs the question, if as a rather small parish of only about 500 permanent members St. Stephen’s can make the effort to have a beautiful liturgy like this, every week, why cannot other, larger and welathier parishes do the same?

Hope to see you there this weekend and next, and if you spot me, please drop by and say hello!


Light in L’Enfant / Festivity in Foggy Bottom

Light in L’Enfant / Festivity in Foggy Bottom

Thank you again to all of those who attended and shared my post on New Liturgical Movement about Advent Stations with the Dominicans at St. Dominic’s Church in the L’Enfant Plaza neighborhood of DC. This is the second year that the friars have held what they hope will become an annual event here in the Nation’s Capital, and appropriately enough the size of the congregation doubled from last year. (I suppose it is too much to expect that the attendance will therefore triple next year, but who knows?)

You can see some mediocre photographs I took over on my Instagram account, but you can see some superb ones by my friend Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., over on the New Liturgical Movement website.  

It was a beautiful evening of light, music, scripture, prayer, and preaching, and one which I highly recommend that you put on your advanced planning calendar for next year.

For those of you who will be in the Washington, D.C. area over Christmas, and are considering where (or if) to attend services, I want to put in a plug for my parish of St. Stephen Martyr in Foggy Bottom.

As I regularly observe on social media, our choir and organist/music director are stupendous, which is no exaggeration. Friends from social media who are not Catholic OR Christian have joined us for Mass at St. Stephen’s, and come away astounded by how beautiful the music is. On Christmas Eve we will be having carols at 6:00 pm, followed by Mass at 6:30 pm, and you are most welcome to attend and celebrate with us. Given the very warm weather we will be having – the forecast high for DC on Christmas Eve is 76 F – and the relatively early hour, you can join us and still have time to go to dinner, put the kids to bed for Santa, or start watching that “Elf” or “Christmas Story” marathon. As an aside, I will be giving one of the Scripture readings from the Acts of the Apostles, so if you do attend I hope you will take a moment to say hello.


Photo of St. Dominic's by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

An Invitation to DC Area Readers

For those of my readers who are in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, I would like to extend an invitation to you to join me this Sunday, November 20th at 11:00 a.m., for what promises to be a particularly memorable celebration of the Eucharist at my parish of St. Stephen Martyr.  St. Stephen’s is located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Streets, N.W., a couple of blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, as you head towards Georgetown.  Even if you are not a Catholic, or of any particular religious affiliation, you will be most welcome.  It will be a grand opportunity for you to not only experience a beautiful celebration of the mass with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, but also to admire a large and remarkable new piece of sculpture, as well as to hear some magnificent sacred music performed exceedingly well.

I should first provide a little background, for my readers who are not Catholics.  This weekend the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King, which is the end of our liturgical year.  The new Church year begins the following weekend with the 1st Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas.  For those of us who are members of St. Stephen’s however, which some of us younger members refer to affectionately as “St. Yuppie’s”, this Sunday will be an extra-special celebration of the feast reminding us of Christ’s promise of His eventual return in glory.

It just so happens that this the 50th anniversary of our present parish building, which was completed in 1961, though this is the second church to sit on the site, as St. Stephen’s was originally founded in 1866.  To mark the occasion, Cardinal Wuerl will be dedicating our beautiful new front doors, featuring bronze sculptural reliefs of the life of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, by artist Anthony Visco, and about which I have written about previously in a photo-essay.  The Cardinal will also be dedicating our new vestibule, which has provided better lighting to the main entrance to the church and improved insulation from the street noise and the elements on busy Pennsylvania Avenue just outside.

We are also very fortunate to have, as of the past few months, our new music director and organist Neil Weston, a native of the UK who studied at Oxford, the University of London, and the Royal College of Music, and served as Assistant Master of Music at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex before moving to the United States. He is an extraordinary musician in his own right, and has taken our choir – which was always very good – to even greater musical heights. A regular Sunday mass at St. Stephen’s since Mr. Weston’s arrival is one marked with wonderful music as it is, aided by the superb acoustics of the somewhat Neo-Cistercian interior of our church, with its parabolic arches amplifying and enriching the sound as in old, Gothic-era monastic churches in Europe.  I for one am looking forward with great anticipation to what the music for this coming Sunday, on this very special occasion, will sound like.

For the mass itself, I have the great privilege of serving as the first reader from the Scriptures, and will be reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.
(Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17)

And for those of you interested in history, below is a picture of JFK coming out of mass at St. Stephen’s back in 1963. There is also a great picture of him and Jackie doing so one Sunday in 1962, which hangs in the church lobby, though unfortunately I cannot seem to find a scan of it online. While the building itself may not be that old, because of its location in the Nation’s Capital, midway between the White House and Georgetown, it has had a number of prominent people worship here regularly, or drop in/pass by from time to time, including even Pope Benedict XVI in the Popemobile during the Papal Visit to Washington a few years ago.  In fact, there is a great photo in the lobby of him raising his hand in benediction as he passed in front of St. Stephen’s.

In short, with what promises to be a wonderful celebration, as well as the beautiful, sunny, and mild autumn weather anticipated for Sunday, you have every reason to consider joining us on our parish’s special day. All is done for the greater glory of God, as we praise and thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed on the members of St. Stephen’s for so many years, and which encourages us to reach out to our surrounding community. So even if just for a brief visit, gentle reader, it would be wonderful to see you there this weekend.

JFK leaving St. Stephen’s after mass