Cappa Magna and Medici Chant at Latin Mass in Vienna

On Thursday KIPA/APIC reported on the traditional Latin Mass celebrated in St. Charles’ Church in Vienna by Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur, Switzerland on the memorial of St. Charles Borremeo. Any time a bishop appears in cappa magna (“huge cape”), it’s a photo op that gets noticed.

See more photos at Una Voce Austria.

Many interesting things about this event, but I’ll take up just two – one about simplicity in the liturgy, and one about chant melodies.

First, liturgical simplicity. According the Giuseppe Gracia, Huonder’s spokesman, the bishop was invited by Una Voce of Austria for the annual Borromeo celebration. Asked how the highly baroque appearance of Bishop Huonder fits with the appeal to simplicity of Pope Francis, Gracias replied, “Even the new pope may not work toward the goal that only one form of liturgy is acceptable, striving for a sort of monoculture.”  The simplicity of the church and its officials enjoined by Pope Francis does not refer “primarily to a liturgical dimension,” but refers above all to “material and moral way of life,” he emphasized. He noted that the bishop of Chur annually earns 90,000 Franks (about $100,000, I believe) and drives a Skoda. “You couldn’t make that claim of any number of tax-funded bureaucrats who earn many times more.”

Simplicity doesn’t refer to liturgical style but to way of life: what do you think?

Second, Katholisches reports that the Gregorian Chant was sung according to the Medici edition. Strictly speaking, I don’t believe this is permitted since Pope St. Pius X decreed a reform of the chant editions and approved the reformed Graduale Romanum (based on the work of the monks of Solesmes) of 1908. The Medici edition of 1614 is one of many “reform” editions created all across Europe after the Council of Trent, in the mistaken belief that the medieval chant had become more melismatic and complicated than the original Gregorian chant and needed to be simplified (in effect, hacked up). After Pius X, all the varying local editions were superseded by the universally binding official version.

Chant research has established rather conclusively that the work of Solesmes, however praiseworthy, can be improved upon. The Second Vatican Council, in article 117 of the liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, called for a melodic reform of all the official chant books. This work is still in progress, and fifty years later there is not yet an official reformed Graduale. All across Europe (but not at Solesmes itself, be it noted) it is rather common to sing Latin chant from scholars’ unofficial improved editions. Anyone who tracks European chant recordings of the last two or three decades will know how common this practice is, though it’s praeter legem.

I’ve long wondered what the Tridentinists would do when the reformed Graduale comes out – will they accept the new-fangled thing or cleave to 1908? (Probably not many other people worry about this…) Of course the so-called Tridentine Mass was celebrated for most of its history since Trent with melodies more like 1614 than 1908, and the chant melodies changed many times between Trent and 1908, but would that persuade? I suppose one could argue that the 1908 melodies were in force in 1962 so that is what should forever be sung with the Missal of 1962. But I would hope they’d accept the improved official chant edition, just as their forebears once had to give up Medici and the like when the very different 1908 Graduale landed. See this Medici 1908 comparison.

Europeans are interested in reconstructing musical practices of past eras, and this feature of secular musical culture doubtlessly has more influence on church music than in the U.S. I suspect this is what was going on at the Karlskirche – Charles Borremeo lived in the 16th century, so the historically-informed participants appreciated chant coming from roughly the time he lived. Fine with me. I would have enjoyed hearing it once in its liturgical setting. If we can use scholarly editions that improve upon 1908, though they aren’t yet approved, then I guess they can do this.

Official and unofficial chant editions: what do you think?


  1. Rather than just having one Extraordinary Form, it would be better to have Extraordinary Forms, i.e. to allow people to celebrate any historical ritual or musical form established by scholarship if the local bishop where the celebration occurs approves. There should be a registry of such forms.

    This might take away some of the idealization of the present EF which after all was just a particular Missal at a certain relatively limited time, e.g. with the reformed Holy Week rites and Saint Joseph in the Canon, etc.

    This might not only help cultural, historical, liturgical and musical scholarship but also be a genuine contribution to spiritual enrichment for other people. I have a recording of a Roman Chant Latin & Greek Vespers for Easter. I think much of it is a reconstruction but then it seems that Gregorian chant is a reconstruction. But I like it and use it for Vespers during Easter Week.

    We are a communion of saints so I don’t see why we should not occasionally celebrate as our various ancestors did, especially if we are studying them or living where they lived.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #1:
      Well, my problem with this is that, invariably, it would function as a matter of choice of celebrating priests. We’ve got more important fish to fry than to give celebrants even more choices that the PIPs lack.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #2:

        The more practical problem is that priests are not using the options they have available. For example last night at the vigil Mass I heard the EP for Special Needs for the first time. I did not know what it was, only that it sounded more like English than Latin.

        The pastor of my favorite parish explained that while it was from the New Missal, i.e. it had been retranslated, it was far less “Latinity” because it had started off in Dutch. He said that they had used the earlier English version, however I could not remember hearing it before. Maybe it did not stick out as much from the crowd in its former version as it does in its present version.

      2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #6:
        Btw, I agree. My general sense is that priests and liturgists should exhaust all the myriad options already provided clearly in the ritual books before spending much energy on seeking or crafting more. I like the EP for Special Needs (there are 4 variations on it), wish it was used more. Then again, I wish priests would become well practiced in all the EPs and use a greater variety of them over the course of a liturgical year. (Just like I wish music ministries would use all the options for entrance, offertory and communion chants with more regularity, rather than sticking to just one of the options more or less all the time.)

  2. Don’t I recall Peter Anson commenting in his autobiography that Gregorian chant would be more popular if the pre-Solesmes style were allowed? Never did I think that such would ever be!

    What next? Perhaps some will request a Greek revival in the Roman Rite. Not too impossible the Prayer Book was translated into Koine in the twenties.

  3. The Medici – Solesmes comparison given here (the Introit of the Requiem Mass) could be misleading for some. For once, both versions happen to be rather similar (perhaps the Medici-ites thought that this particular chant was so well-known that they couldn’t tamper with it too much). In many other cases the difference between the two editions is much more marked.

  4. I’m a bit confused about the second question and styles of Gregorian Chant. Today, one could substitute at a funeral Mass “On Eagle Wings” or “Be Not Afraid” for the official Introit in English or Latin. Why in the world would it be “unlawful” to chant the Gregorian Chant in an older manner rather than the revised manner given the fact of the more egregious choices in the modern Mass?
    In terms of the dreaded capa, it truly is a museum piece that is non-liturgical and odd and clearly misunderstood in the modern world except in those places that still have monarchies, like England. I wonder how many Catholics today have ever seen one? But then we focus on this eccentricity that few see and forget what most people have to put up with Sunday after Sunday in terms of museum music, not of the ancient tradition, but of the folk idiom of the 1960’s which seems to be the norm in so many places with vesture that should have been retired in the 1970’s? I suspect there are many, many more in the Church whose senses are assaulted weekly by the banal stuff than by the Baroque stuff and the more ancient Gregorian stuff. And I suspect there is more sumptuous living in the real world by priests who celebrate the normative Mass in an impoverished way compared to those who rely upon the Baroque.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #5:
      Why in the world would it be unlawful? Ask the Roman curia. It’s their law, not mine.
      Museum music and vestments – this isn’t my experience, Alan. Very little folk music from the 60s and 70s is being done any more. There is lots of new music every year. Maybe it’s in a style you (or I) don’t like, but that’s different question.
      It would be interesting to ask lay people what they are suffering about. I doubt it’s your liturgical tastes and your dislike of banal music and vesture from the 70s. I doubt that your tastes are theirs. I suspect they’re suffering from dull liturgies, uninspiring preaching, poorly lead music with too little congregational involvement, and the like. As much as I probably share some of your tastes, I doubt this is the main problem for many other people.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #8:
        It is probable that music is far less banal in an abbey than it is in many parishes. For this lay person, banal music is a huge problem and the amount of congregational involvement, much lamented by experts, is not even on the radar.

    2. As to whether EF musicians will adopt a new Gradual – would a version be published for the EF or would an independent publisher have to take the OF Gradual and revise it? It is my understanding that the two forms use a lot of the same material, but not necessarily on the same days. I imagine having to adapt materials not made for the EF would be reason enough for a lot of people to ignore a new edition.

    3. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #5:
      Obviously, you were completely unaware of Fr. Ruff’s historical statement:
      “The Second Vatican Council, in article 117 of the liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, called for a melodic reform of all the official chant books. This work is still in progress, and fifty years later there is not yet an official reformed Graduale. All across Europe (but not at Solesmes itself, be it noted) it is rather common to sing Latin chant from scholars’ unofficial improved editions. Anyone who tracks European chant recordings of the last two or three decades will know how common this practice is, though it’s praeter legem.” (the final two latin words mean that it is not in compliance with the law).
      Sounds like lots of current antiphonal latin compositions/chant also make up their own rules – can this be similar to what you allege about 1960s-1970s church music? How banal (to use one of your favorite borrowed traddie terms)
      Say it’s not so!

  5. What is truly sad is that this was done on the feast of Borremeo – noted reformer, anti-careerist, famous for his Acts of the Church of Milan that recorded more than 20 archdiocesan synods, and,oh by the way, legislated that mass was to be done facing the people.
    His example and decisions for a simpler lifestyle, attacking benefices, etc. led to his canonization 50 years later.
    He must have been rolling over in his grave with this *insult*.

  6. The revival of the EF does not have to include old legal patterns, like the limiting of options for celebration. While that was a part of the prevatican culture, it is not particularly liturgical. It is a way of understanding rubrics rather than being in the rubrics.

    If the people who patronize the EF want to be a stickler for the rules and adhere closely to the tradition, they should do as the Popes have asked, and celebrate the OF. If they are not going to do that, I do not see why they should be bound by the 1908 Gradual.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #13:
      Speaking of being a stickler for the rules and adhering to tradition, how does the bishop of Chur figure he’s entitled to wear the cappa magna in a territory (Vienna) other than in his own diocese?

      Assuming the bishop consulted the regs, can we conclude he asked for and received permission to wear the cappa from Pope Francis?

  7. The simplicity of the church and its officials enjoined by Pope Francis does not refer “primarily to a liturgical dimension,” but refers above all to “material and moral way of life,” [Bishop Hounder’s spokesman] emphasized.

    Wait … I recall this aphorism … how does it go? Oh yes, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi”.

    Can the baroque liturgical style be entirely separated from the “princely” style of living that Pope Francis warned about?


    Is a $20,000 episcopal bathtub in any way related to a $30,000 set of cardinalatial duds?


  8. For the first issue, I’d call it wrong if people went out and bought a new cappa magna for the occasion, but to use an existing one in a historic setting is not. (Or should we have the Swiss Guards switch to their regular cammies to save?)

    As for music, wasn’t the “Black Book” banished years ago? If we can sing some of the rather second-rate music out there from the 60s (which is sadly still around – visited a church last week which opened with “We Are One In The Spirit”! Aargh. Ghosts of churches past.) then I would hope that older chant music, abrogated because its melody was different should be permitted.

  9. I imagine that the pope’s call to simplicity has more to do with bishops’ owning vacation houses than with priests’ having an affinity for the old Tridentine rite.

  10. So the mom and dad are arguing about Thanksgiving and the kids are yelling in the car as they head to Church today. They all know they have to go to school or work tomorrow and the bills from Black Friday were huge.

    They get to church as the cantor starts O Come O Come …. The kids hit each other and have to be separated with the now non speaking parents facing forward… And the priest starts Mass with… “I bet you’re wondering why I’m wearing purple today!”

    Thank you awr #8 …exactly.

  11. In this day and age a cappa magna is no different than the widened phylacteries and lengthened tassels Jesus criticizes in Matthew’s gospel. They are nothing but means for scribes, Pharisees and a handful of today’s elite clerics to call attention to themselves. Jesus asks that we “do not follow their example.”

  12. The historian in me is quite fine with using the old chant, etc., on rare, significant occasion, as in major anniversaries of this or that, but not on a regular basis. Historical re-creations can have their place, just not a huge one. “Annually” is probably a huge one, for this. Maybe every 50 years or so? If nothing else it serves to remind us why we refreshed things.

  13. But the cappa is beautiful and Pope Francis’ recent exhortation points to the role that beauty has in the sacred liturgy. It also takes a great deal of humility for a celebrant to wear the cappa. It admits that the celebrant is not the master of the tradition that belongs to the whole Church when he receives it and carries it forward. Any outright dismissive of it risks an appearance of arrogance and a presumption that one is above the tradition of the Church rather than humble acceptance of it. That is a danger liturgists must avoid or it is they who appear elitist. That unfortunate approach wrought havoc over popular Catholicism in the late 20th c.

    1. @Dan McKernan – comment #22:

      The issue of whether or not the cappa magna is a appropriate vestment for today resides not in aesthetic sensibilities but the objective meaning of the cappa through intellectual and physical time. You write Dan that “Any outright dismissive of it [the cappa magna] risks an appearance of arrogance and a presumption that one is above the tradition of the Church rather than humble acceptance of it.” [my addition] Persons who criticize the cappa today might challenge its relevance from the vantage points of postconciliar social and ecclesiological positions. The cappa is a potent reminder of a past (and never to return) highly hierarchical church which dwelt within a feudal ecclesiology. This past model of Church often discriminated, excluded, and objectified. Criticism of the cappa, therefore, is not a rejection of humility but rather a re-evaluation of the vestment by persons outside of the EF community and within the normative form and mainstream religious culture of Roman Catholicism.

      A prelate who takes on the cappa magna might do so from a subjective humility. His humility does not exclude well-argued criticism of his choices. The celebrant may not be “the master of the tradition”, but he must answer for his tacit support of now defunct sociocultural concepts. Tridentine tradition is double-edged: the beautiful and profound import of liturgical word and gesture in the Latin Mass also throw shadows of a triumphant Church. The use of the cappa as a symbolic flag against postconciliar Catholicism merely sets traditionalism as the negation of the modern. Instead of cappas, traditionalism ought to deconstruct its own position against postconciliarism.

  14. Jordan,
    Your comments are unpersuasive to me because references to “defunct sociocultural concepts,” “triumphant gestures,” “hierarchical Church,” and “feudal ecclesiology” are in and of themselves highly subjective labels or concepts limited by one’s own personal piety and hermeneutic of “post conciliar social or ecclesiastical positions”. One could easily apply those labels to the ordinary form, other western usages, and the eastern rites of our contemporary Church.

    1. Dan: One could easily apply those labels to the ordinary form, other western usages, and the eastern rites of our contemporary Church.

      Yes, precisely! I would invite an application of the terms I have mentioned and more to the ordinary form, as well as other rites.

      Unlike dogma and doctrine, the Mass (EF, OF, Divine Liturgy, etc.) as ritual frequently moves in and out of various categories and shades of social meaning. So, I would ask you how every one of the terms I have used applies also to the Ordinary Form. A criticism of the OF in this manner will not only reflect the inadequacies and difficulties of this form, but also shed more light on the evolution and function of the EF.

      The EF is no more ‘essential’ than a Mass said according to the most recent translation. A removal of the so-called essential nature of any aspect of language, posture, and vestment opens the way towards a placement of a liturgical form within the integrity of its own sociocultural and linguistic development, and not within the vestments often worn during celebrations of the liturgical form.

  15. I disagree with the attempt to link Francis’ comment on beauty in the liturgy with the cappa.

    The cappa is NOT a liturgical vestment, and is actually forbidden to be worn during Mass. It is a symbol of “glory of the office of the wearer: that is, what they are in the hierarchical order” and not a liturgical vestment at all.
    Furthermore, Burke and Rode have worn cappa’s that are forbidden, Rode wears a fur lined cappa and both Rode and Burke wear a cappa that is longer than 7 meters. It only serves to glorify the men wearing them.
    (In 1952, Valde solliciti required that the train of a cappa magna be reduced from 15 meters in length to 7 meters.
    In 1969, Instruction on the Dress, Titles and Coat-of-Arms of Cardinals, Bishops and Lesser Prelates again modified the use of the cappa magna, saying that:
    “The cappa magna, always without ermine, is no longer obligatory; it can be used only outside of Rome, in circumstances of very special solemnity. (§ 12)”

  16. Dale,
    I spoke of the cappa which is included in the CE 64. Interesting to point out those types that are forbidden, has a fur lined cappa been declared reprobate as a glass chalice has been? Does SP carry any weight in the manner of cappas worn before 1969 with ermine?
    Jordan, the terms you used could be applied to all Catholic liturgical forms by one whose piety, “ecclesiastical position,” and religious sensibilities are “low Church”.

  17. So now we’re comparing cappa’s to chalices??
    Don’t agree at all.
    A chalice is a liturgical object made to hold the blood of Christ whereas a cappa is made specifically to cover a horse’s petute.

    I’ll take the blood of Christ from any vessel I can get it, glass or otherwise and the horses petute’s can go play with their capes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.