The Sacred Music Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) Likes: Misa Criolla

Cardinal Sean O’Malley (Boston) writes about his visit to Argentina:

When I had to make a trip to South America for the US Bishops Conference to visit projects in Paraguay that are funded by the collection for Latin America, I had to stop in Argentina on the way, where I was [Cardinal Bergoglio’s] guest and had a wonderful visit with him. On that occasion, he gave me a beautiful recording of the Missa Criolla, the Argentine Mass.

Contacts from Argentina tell me that  Missa Criolla is his favorite Mass and a favorite gift for him to give visitors to Argentina. It’s by Ariel Ramirez.

Here is the Gloria:



  1. First the red shoes and the mozzetta. Now it looks as if the Sistine Choir, the Vatican Academy of Sacred Music and pipe organs are under threat. What Next???!!!
    Latin America has a rich tradition of liturgical music going back to the days of the Reductions, and more recently recovered by Jesuit and SVD musicologists in Paraguay and Bolivia. One can easily understand why Pope Francis appreciates the “Misa Criolla”, it is a music of and for the people. Look forward to hearing this at a liturgy in St Peter’s or St John Lateran.

  2. It’s my favorite mass music, too. Such rhythms! Such a heartfelt Danos la Paz! I had the good fortune to sing it in a college choir 40 years ago. Pope Francis is a connoisseur as well as a patriot.

  3. I’ll tell you what, that sounded 100 times better than the Gloria sung by the St. Peter’s screamers at Francis’ installation. If that choir is going to chronically make a ghastly mess of the chant and polyphony their badly-tuned operatic voices can’t manage, I say skip it and bring these guys over.

    I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing the Spanish classical guitar from time to time, in any case. Anybody over at the Sistine Chapel have John H. Clarke’s number?

  4. “Of and for the people,” in a sense, yes. But Ariel Ramirez was a serious composer of art music, incorporating into his music folkloric elements of the entire South American continent. His European training and craft permeates the composition, tempering and weaving together elements of style that are both pan-American and “creole,” that unique fusion of New- and Old-World cultures and peoples. I find myself appreciating it in the same way that I do the Vaughan Williams “Mass in G,” which seems to seek a Catholic ethos in an indigenously English modality.

    The musical tradition of the Jesuit missions and the reductiones are indeed a special part of American religious history, a tradition that is both beautiful and tragic. It belongs to the story of the Church in Europe evangelizing the Americas. The Ramirez Mass, composed just after Vatican II, could be seen as a positive expression of the full flowering of faith in Latin America, poised to re-evangelize the Old World.

    Regardless of the detail of musical styles, we in the developed North and West are likely to be challenged and blessed for the rest of our natural lives by the missionary tide flowing back in our direction from the Church of the so-called “two-thirds” world. The musical tradition that is of “inestimable value” is surely growing to include not only ancient monody and the European Christian miracle of logogenic polyphony, but rhythmic patterns, melodic modes and formal structures and processes from people of faith everywhere. The question is not what music will we USE, but what music will we MAKE? Radical missionary “resourcement” cannot help but produce a musical Renaissance in the Church. Perhaps the lesson of the Paraguayan reductiones lies in listening heart of the missionary and docile receptivity of native genius…and that musical Renaissance is but a provision to give us hope of what lies beyond the cross.

    1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #5:
      My comment above was in reference to musical style, not to the question of performing forces in the liturgy. I was simply noting that Misa Criola is “art music,” regardless of its adaptation of “folk” elements.

      That said, I would not go so far as to draw such an impermeable line between “art music” and “sacred music” (i.e., music closely bound to liturgical rites). Whether or not a choir or schola cantorum can authentically offer music of its own in the liturgy depends on the capacity of worshippers to unite heart and mind with the voice of the other. I don’t think I’m grasping at straws just to conserve a “high art” tradition. Such capacity is requisite for FACP in the prayers of the liturgy (collects, Eucharistic prayer) the proclamation of the Word, and the missionary outpouring of liturgical fruits. Indeed, everybody’s got a place in the choir, not all voices sound simultaneously in the liturgical “polyphony.”

      Regarding the papal liturgies and singing by the whole assembly: Wouldn’t many present know the parts of the Missa de Angelis ordinary? It appeared to me that the choir sang a good deal in alternation with the rest of the assembly. I suspect the chant ‘Ave verum corpus” was intended to be a congregational hymn.

      I agree that authentic integration of choral ordinary movements in the reformed liturgy is tricky, perhaps desirable only in certain situations, and impossible in most. However, in situations where it is done, the assembly often has a robust vocal role in the liturgy as a whole. The authenticity of exuberant choral ordinary or proper settings and the capacity to unite hearts and minds with them seems to decrease, however, in the absence of the chanting of ritual dialogues and other common vocalizations.

  5. On St. Joseph’s Day my confessor told me that as a Catholic I must obey the new Pope, even if Pope Francis’s “emphases” are different. What he did not say is that the new reign will be a liturgical trial for traditionalists. I desperately want to love the new pope. I admire his solicitude for the poor and marginalized. Even so I feel as if his new liturgical regime will soon become an emotional and intellectual burden.

    We traditionalists and certainly the pontiff emeritus revel in compositions such as Mozart’s Krönungsmesse (missa brevis in C major). Indeed, a ROTR basilica near me will feature this composition for their Easter Vigil. I cannot wait to hear this sublime work performed within the context of Mass. And yet, does a late 18th century orchestral Mass speak to a person who picks rags from a dump or begs in order to survive? And still, traditionalists will meltdown if the Missa Criolla is featured at a papal Mass.

    I wonder if Pope Francis is implicitly challenging traditionalists to turn from the traditions they worship as idols and turn towards their fellow believers. Are we strong enough to embrace our brothers and sisters rather than dig our fingernails fearfully into our “heritage”, our “tradition”? No, we are not ready. I can already hear the grousing about the Missa Criolla: “That is not fit for a papal Mass”. “Where is the ‘majesty’, the ‘grandeur’?” These phrases presuppose that majesty and grandeur reside only in chant and a narrow range of European court musical compositions which speak to dead social structures.

    If the Holy Spirit can elect Pope Francis, then he can also equip the Holy Father with the ability to defrost the fearful hearts of traditionalists. Our Holy Father is at once a great stumbling block for the rigid “old believers” and also a great furnace of charity.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #6:

      I am a long time lurker on this site but have always been a bit too intimidated to post. (I’m a 30-year “amateur” in the music ministry and a slightly less experienced veteran of the on-again, off-again “lay liturgical advisory committee” manifestations that appear from time to time in the small town parishes in the High Plains where I have lived for many years, but I lack the formal training and experience that all you pros out there have.)

      I’ve been on the site enough to have read many of your posts, sir, and I think I know a little about your point of view. I’m generally on the opposite side of the divide, as it were. However, I was moved by your comments and wanted to say so. Pardon me for the expression, but I feel your pain. You did, however, express yourself charitably, thoughtfully, and with absolute loyalty.

      I love the Mozart Coronation Mass. I love Bach and have a great appreciation for the earlier masters like Palestrina, et. al. But I’m also quite fond of the contemporary OCP gang, too. In my narrow experience, I hadn’t heard the Missa Criolla until I viewed the video posted above, but I’m anxious now to listen to a complete recording.

      Perhaps there’s room for us all. I don’t know how to define it exactly, but somewhere out there is a liturgical paradigm that respects the heritage of our Church and promotes appreciation of it among the faithful, while encouraging and incorporating contemporary modes of expression. Those of us who actually care about this stuff—whether “trads” or “progs”—will always have difficulty with our personal prejudices. But I remain optimistic, especially when I read comments like yours.

      Best wishes to you, sir.

      1. @Vince DiPiazza – comment #16:
        Vince- “Perhaps there’s room for us all.” Amen! If there isn’t room for us all, then why bother? The liturgy doesn’t ‘belong’ to any one school of thought or particular range of musical taste. The God we worship refuses to settle into anyone’s neat little box. Please keep searching for that paradigm that sings to and sings with all of God’s children.

  6. It may not be successful in every kind of acoustical situation, just as chant struggles in outdoor settings and suburban theater-style churches.

    As I think about these things, though, I can’t help feeling that there is more in common between the Missa Criola in this recording, Renaissance polyphony sung in a cathedral or court chapel, the praise choruses sung in a local inner-city parish by an umamplified Gospel choir, and hearty congregational hymn singing in variety of traditions–all sung and played “acoustically” with every member and group within the liturgical assembly being on the same acoustical plane–than between any of them and music that depends on electronic amplification and the sonic stratification and disintegration of the senses that occurs in such situations (which are more common than not in my neck of the woods.)

    Where does the preferential option for the poor fit into that equation?

  7. I guess we’ll find out if I’m truly censored here or not.
    These remarks are solely based upon musical content in context.
    Ramirez’s work has stood the test of time as far as its aesthetic credence. But, to claim that it represents the ethos of a post-conciliar, FACP cognizant Mass setting would be a blatant misrepresentation. It is no more congregationally accessible than any choral Mass from Lassus to Faure, or worse Bernstein. It is, IMO, sacred music YES, but whose appeal lies in the realm solely of the senses. In that way it has less FACP than the infamous (not to me) Missa Gaia of Paul Winter et al. And far less authentic grass-roots DNA than Missa Luba or African Sanctus (Fanshawe.) From a working liturgical musician’s POV, it shares more viability with Mozart and the Coronation Mass than does even the noble, flawed efforts of Peloquin.
    But from the commentary thus far, authentic emotion is a worthy admittance, and true humility of noble simplicity in the musical realm still lies outside the walls. And yes, the testosterone-laced Bartolucci solution has returned with a vengeance unmitigated to the screamers, and the people of God be damned with the phrase portions of Mass VIII they’re thrown like a bone.
    If, as has been duly chronicled here more than anywhere, the symptoms of the Franciscan papacy are spiced with bytes of humility, it has yet to show in the one art that as inestimabile donum should beautifully and humbly adorn in service. YMMV

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #9:

      Charles, why you should be censored for what you wrote, I have no idea. I agree with what you said. I have been somewhat dismayed by all the music heard this past week – not because it was chant or polyphony, but because it so overlooked the assembly. Not even a “bone” was thrown to the cardinals last Thursday during that interminably prolonged reception of holy communion. I’m sure they could have and would have been happy to chant a psalm or two. And why did the organ have to accompany the simple “ora pro nobis” during the litany of the saints at the beginning of the conclave? Let the litany stand on its own; it needs no accompaniment.

      Whether one is of the opinion that the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not gone far enough, or whether it is just fine, or whether one takes the most narrow interpretation of SC and its call for the preservation of Latin and chant, or whether one rejects the council outright and proclaims allegiance to St. Pius X’s motu proprio, what we witnessed this past week was not FACP, unless one defines that principle as “actively listening to everything, but singing nothing.”

      Even the most committed proponents of singing all the propers at Mass should ask themselves: once all the propers have been performed, must choir motets fill in all the rest of the time? Is there nothing that the assembly can be asked to sing?

      I’ve burned though several LP’s of the Missa Criolla since the late-60’s. It’s a great piece, a powerful piece. But I would agree that at Mass it would leave out the liturgical assembly completely and ultimately serve only as high entertainment (which, I guess, is better than low entertainment).

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #10:

        But I would agree that at Mass it would leave out the liturgical assembly completely and ultimately serve only as high entertainment (which, I guess, is better than low entertainment).

        More accurately, middlebrow entertainment.

        But I think you have a point about Missa Criola being entertainment and spectacle, rather than integrated sacred music proper. I differ in thinking that there is no urgent need for the congregation to sing *something*, but I think it is true that this particular Mass gives them really zero chance to join in if they wish in a way that is not true of most other prevalent forms of sacred music.

        I find the use of guitars very regrettable, and not because I dislike guitars – I have a pretty sizable collection of indie folk music – but because they’re very poorly suited to the Mass. Sacrosanctum Concilium (120), Musica Sacram, and the GIRM all give the pipe organ pride of place for a reason (even if one wishes they had been more emphatically exclusionary of other instruments).

        But I am not ready to assume that Pope Francis will be bringing Missa Criola to St. Peters.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #14:
        Richard, if you would, could you expand on your statement that pipe organ gets pride of place for a reason? For the life of me I can’t figure out what that reason would be. Thanks.

  8. The UK chamber choir in which I sing is learning the Misa Criolla for its next recital, along with several other works from North and South America (Billings, Thompson, Villa Lobos, Barber, Whitacre etc). When Pope Francis was elected, we were delighted to discover that we had chosen such an appropriate work. But, as others here have suggested, whatever Misa Criolla’s original function, the work is now a piece of art music, every bit as much as a Mass by Byrd, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or Stravinsky. Yes, of course, I deeply appreciate the aesthetic and spiritual riches of this music, and the fact that any of these works *could* still be used in the liturgy (just about), but, as the organist of a small Catholic church in a small English town, I and my music leader are not about to choose any of them – or Misa Criolla – for the Sundays of Easter. There is nothing for the people to make their own, and they would be a barrier to most people’s worship, not an encouragement.

    The fact that Pope Francis loves the Misa Criolla does not necessarily imply that we will shortly hear it ringing around St Peter’s during a pontifical Mass.

  9. “All God’s children have a place in the choir,
    Some sing low some sing higher,
    Some sing out on the telephone wire,
    Some just clap their hands, or paws,
    Or anything they’ve got now.”
    De Fide

  10. Matt Connolly : @Richard Malcolm – comment #14: Richard, if you would, could you expand on your statement that pipe organ gets pride of place for a reason? For the life of me I can’t figure out what that reason would be. Thanks.

    Hello Matthew,

    Well, I would start with one point from Pope Pius X’s Tra le Solicitiudini: “16. As the singing should always have the principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never oppress it.”

    While Pius XI’s motu proprio isn’t fully in force any more, I think this is an important principle of sacred music that endures: The singing always has principal place. The pipe organ is especially appropriate for accompaniment because mimics the human voice, which it does because it operates on the same principles. As Lucy Carroll once put it, the organ came to preeminence as “a perfect leader of song, an instrument that could play more than one melodic line, could be heard throughout the church, and which was a good equivalent to the tone production in the human voice.”

    There wasn’t an organ at the Last Supper or the first Masses, and Christ did not demand their use before the Ascension; we’ve had them for about 12 or 13 centuries, so this is not a question of dogma, or questioning the Holy Father’s adherence to same. But what has always been true is that singing (usually, chanting) takes the principal position, if any music is to be used at all; and no other instrument supports that singing so well, at least to date. A guitar (or other similar stringed instruments, like mandolins) can be a beautiful instrument, but it’s poorly suited to leading congregational singing. And that was why both Vatican II and Paul VI reaffirmed that pride of place.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #17:
      I would venture to suggest that its “pride of place” has not so much to do with the pragmatics of accompaniment (even if it is subordinated to singing in TLS), but rather to its didactic use in neo-platonic speculation and the theological symbolism that it accrued since its introduction to the West. [See Quentin Faulkner, Wiser Than Despair: The Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of
      Music and the Christian Church (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996), 217]

      Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger traces the theo-political history of the organ from this time down to the modern age in “Theological Problems in Church Music” [in Robert Skeris,ed., Crux et Cithara: Selected Essays on Liturgy and Sacred Music (Altötting: Alfred Coppenrath, 1983), 220.]

      The vast extant musical literature of a largely-improvised tradition emanating from liturgical practice certainly supports the assertion that a robust a claim as “pride of place” is about more than the pragmatic concerns of vocal accompaniment–even though what Lucy Carroll purportedly said or wrote is most certainly true.

      1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #18:
        Thanks to both Richard and Kevin. Funny though, my wife and I both say that the organ tends to command, while the guitar suggests. I find it much easier to emphasize the words being sung with piano or guitar. Maybe I just take suggestions better than I take commands.

        De gustibus…

      2. @Matt Connolly – comment #19:
        Frederic Chopin, the great pianist, supposedly once said, “There is nothing so beautiful as a guitar, save perhaps two.” I agree that an acoustic guitar is sublime, and plucked (and gently hammered) strings are wonderful for accompaniment of singers as their decaying tones leave natural space for the articulation of consonants and text accents. On the other hand, hyper-amplified thrashing away at the guitar can feel like an assault.

        Likewise, an organ can “tend” to do whatever its players tend to do with it. Stravinsky referred to the organ as the “monster that never breathes.” Organ building took an unfortunate turn in the early 20th century where they did indeed become monstrous, and organists began to play in a manner that was overbearing, never lifting the hands to allow the kind of articulation you suggest. Most of the history of organ building was not like that, however, and the best of organs built today have tone that is of human scale (noble, to be sure, when all of the human-scale voices are combined), but very musical and subtle. Organists likewise respond to these musical instruments with the kind of sensitivity and subtlety one would expect from any other acoustic instrument.

        Richard is correct in describing the organ (a really fine organ) is capable of leading and sustaining the singing of a large group of people like no other instrument, both because it can sustain tone like the human voice, and because it can provide a “leading” pitch an octave higher than singers and a bass line and octave lower allowing the singers to hear the organ without pulling back their singing (assuming the organist has chosen the right stops). The organ can be grand and noble, and nearly as intimate as the guitar or a single voice.

        In a way there is no comparison. A guitar is musically analogous to part of a single stop or set of pipes, of which even a modest organ may have many, exhibiting wide tonal variety.

      3. @Matt Connolly – comment #19:
        If you or anyone else wants to read a little on the aforementioned “theo-political” history of the organ and its symbolism in Western Christianity (and don’t care enough about it to make a trip to the library), you can find some pertinent quotations on pp. 146-172 of my doctoral document:

  11. I should add that the art of leading and accompanying congregational singing with the organ is at its best like really fine choral conducting. The best conductors don’t demand, command, or coerce. They give cues that prompt a consensus in the group. This choral consensus is critical to the experience of the body by its members, and, I would be so bold to add, the manifestation of Christ who is present in the assembly of the baptized when it prays and sings.

    A really fine liturgical organist does the same, giving aural cues in countless ways that prompt a consensus in a group. Since liturgical assemblies only practice this in the course of liturgical celebration, it might take year or more before it all starts to work. But when it does, an organist can help the members of the assembly breath together, support the breath until the end of a phrase, even place a final consonant together. Most people aren’t aware of all of those details, but they experience the beauty and trust of the choral consensus, from which corporate prayer emerges. The critical characteristic of organ tone in this dynamic is the ability to hear when the tone stops. When the tone stops, people inhale. It is hard to hear this important cue in the decay of plucked or hammered stringed tone.

    Finally, I attended a workshop on liturgical guitar and piano playing a few years back. I was fascinated to hear the clinicians talking not about how to use the piano or guitar idiomatically, but how to imitate the aforementioned characteristics of the organ on them.

    A matter of taste? Of course, but the quality of whatever is on the menu depends entirely upon who is in the kitchen!

  12. While I, of all people, support in theory and practice of finely played guitar, and have posted examples on the YouTube of those fine distinctions between support and leading by the melodic nose of the instrument that needs not breathe and exhales ad infininatum, I fail to see any correlation of this tangent to that of the subject of Missa Criolla.
    One needs not make a defense for the guitar as a valid platform for the immutability of chant, and even so for certain types of strophic hymnody, the guitar idiom of “Criolla” cannot be reconciled with the requirements of the council documents on contemporary composition that clearly request that new works have a DNA-like adherence to chant. It is not an issue of strum versus arpeggiation, it is about understanding how to accompany singing properly.
    YouTube clips search “tccovmusicministry”

    1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #24:

      I enjoyed the tangent, Kevin, and I’ll tell my nephew – one of your summer-time organ students – to check it out.

    2. @Kevin Vogt – comment #25:
      Dear Kevin, sorry for the heavy handed push, I too, like Fr. Krisman, really appreciate your perspectives on the merits of the three instruments mentioned. (And I should be the last person to back-seat steer a thread back on course!)
      It’s just that it occured to me that the techniques and textures of the guitar and other plucked instruments in CRIOLLA are so idiomatic, that they would serve to further dissuade what little respect the instrument enjoys among studied musicians serving the church. My bad.

  13. The music of the Church since Vatican II is to follow the use of vernacular in the Mass. Local music of indigenous people has been used for generations and the current trend to classical chant seems an effort to deconstruct this progress. Having said that, use of the Argentine Gloria on a whim in any parish is a bad idea. We need to use what is commonly know to people that will raise their hearts and minds to God in the Mass and all we do each day. If that means the Argentine Gloria for people, great. If that means contemporary music in a suburban American parish, great. Should we forget the great classical music of the Church, no.

  14. Having it used in a papal Mass might make sense because the pope is Argentinian, or because there may be Argentinian’s present, but to have it employed when none participating would be able to make sense of it, being not a folk idiom with which they are familiar, seems to be to be dangerously close to dis-serving the liturgy. I know that the flip-side of that is the benefit of opening up our minds to our brethren throughout the world, perhaps especially those often most associated with the folk idioms, namely the poor and oppressed (my wife spent a year in Bolivia at a girls’ hogar, and she brought back music very similar to this, so I actually do think of her girls when I hear it; very in line with Francis’ emphases). Still, many argue that a universality exists in the sacred traditions of music that is not immediately inherent in folk and modern music, and thus context (not just type of church building but locale and congregation, of course) is more necessary for these types.

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