Report from St. Basil’s Chant workshop, Houston, TX

Ed. note: Last weekend St. Basil’s School of Gregorian Chant offered a three day workshop (16th-18th February) on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Pray Tell reader M. Jackson Osborn provides this report.

There were about 35 attendees from around the Houston area, including music directors, and a priest from Ohio, anxious to have chant flourish in his parish and diocese. We also had a pair of Franciscans looking to introduce chant in their new monastery.

The featured speaker was Fr. Columba Kelly of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey. This is the third year that we have had Father for a winter workshop. Many return each time and many are new, but all are deeply indebted to his erudite teaching. Chant as Fr. Columba teaches it is definitely “accessible'” to all who would wish to partake of its beauties and of the unique manner in which it can and should grace our liturgies.  Without prejudice to some other kinds of music, it is Gregorian chant which is the unique song of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries, the eternal song of the Church.

Stressed were the chant propers as found in Graduale Romanum, but put into English for which Fr. Columba composed new chants. These formed the propers for our closing mass Saturday evening and created much interest in restoring propers into the Roman Rite. Great attention was also given to Gregorian hymnody, Te Deum, and simpler Gregorian Alleluias that a congregation could learn in a month’s time.

All this chant was, needless to say, presented according to semiological principles, the foundation of Fr. Columba’s work, which follows in the path laid out by Dom Cardine. I consider the implications and conclusions of his lifelong research to be irrefutable.

Friday evening, we sang vespers in a small Greek chapel which the de Menils built to house some 13th century frescoes which they had redeemed from robbers. Having been here for about ten years, they are soon to be returned to their rightful owners, the Orthodox Church on Cypress.

Saturday evening we closed with a solemn OF English mass in St. Basil’s Chapel at UST. Everything and anything you might think of (except the homily) was sing or chanted. The propers were some of the newly composed chants by Fr. Columba and were very well received.

All was in English except where indicated otherwise *


1. ORGAN VOLUNTARY  –  Christe, aller Welt Trost (BWV 670)  –  J.S. Bach

2. INTROIT  –  Domine, in tua misericordia  –  Mode V  –  C. Kelly

3. KYRIE  –  Orbis factor  –  Mode I   (*Greek)

4. GLORIA  –  Mass XII  –  Mode IV, Adapt., C. Kelly

5. PROPHECY  –  Tone for the Prophecy

6. RESPONSORIAL PSALM  –  XLI  –  Beatus qui intelligit  –  Mode III, C. Kelly

7. THE EPISTLE  –  Tone for the Epistle

8. ALLELUYA AND VERSE  – Evangelizare pauperibus misit me  – Mode II, C. Kelly

9. NICENE CREED  –   Credo III  –  Mode IV, Adapt., C. Kelly

10. UNIVERSAL PRAYERS  –  Byzantine chant

11. OFFERTORY ANTIPHON with verses – Intende voci orationis meae – Mode V

12. SANCTUS  –  Mass XII  –  Mode VII  (*Latin)

13. OUR FATHER  –  Mode VII

14. AGNUS DEI  –  Mode VII  (*Latin)

15. COMMUNION ANTIPHON  –  Narrabo amarabilia  –  Mode II, C. Kelly

16. MOTET- Fulgebunt justi sicut lilium – for two equal voices (*Latin) – Orlando Lassus

17. VOTIVE ANTIPHON  –  Ave Regina Caelorum  –  Mode VI  (*Latin)

18. ORGAN VOLUNTARY on the Introit, Domine in tua misericordia  –  Improvisation

M. Jackson Osborn has been a professional choirmaster and organist for 45 years. He is currently the choirmaster and lecturer in chant studies at St. Basil’s School of Gregorian Chant, hosted by the University of St. Thomas, and teaches chant at Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston.


  1. Thank you Mr. Osborn for the report.

    I am quite glad to see a burgeoning movement to produce English adaptations of Roman plainsong, including the Graduale Romanum. Although I can’t read or sing a note, I have compared the texts of the Latin chants with some recent English adaptations. In my view, many of these chants strike a good balance between Latin meaning and contemporary English. I have attended a good number of Ordinary Form Masses with English adaptations of the Gradual, and have been quite impressed with the “seamlessness” of the integration.

    Although many fellow traditional Catholics might strongly disagree with me, I would hope that sung vernacular adaptations of Roman chant might one day be permitted at Extraordinary Form low Mass. During the Tridentine era, vernacular paraphrases of the Latin propers and ordinary had been permitted at low Mass in central European countries by tradition and later indult. So long as the priest recites all the Latin propers in a low tone, I do not see why an EF choir and congregation could not participate in a vernacular adaptation of the propers for that Mass. Perhaps this might serve as an example of the mutual enrichment Pope Benedict has encouraged.

    1. Kind of an English “Singmesse”? As long as it doesn’t end up being taken as prescriptive rather than descriptive, a “four hymn sandwich”, or a de facto replacement for actual sung Masses, I see no problem with it for certain things. For instance, I think it would make a good Sunday Low Mass. The practically silent Low Mass has its place, but people need to be reminded that it isn’t the pinnacle of liturgy. It is derived from the Solemn, not the other way around.

      As to “mutual enrichment”, I think not. As you correctly pointed out, the German practice of having a Low Mass with a sung German Ordinary is fairly old-at least from the Tridentine/Counter-Reformation period. While this practice is certainly not 1950’s “traditional”, it also has nothing to do with the NO. Same with the use of the vernacular in general, it was allowed before the Council (i.e. the Collectio Rituum) and we have examples of vernacularized traditional Mass (i.e. the Glagolitic Missal) from long before even Vatican I. It might not have been common, but the priciple existed long before the NO.

      I would chalk the vernacular sung oridinary at Low Mass up to being a legitimate tentative development in its own right.

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