Universa Laus meeting, 2015

August 24-28 saw this year’s working meeting of Universa Laus, the international study group for liturgical music, gather at Traunstein in southern Bavaria, not far from the Austrian border and Salzburg. 25 participants from Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland made up a smaller number than at some recent meetings, but this also enables some real work to take place. St Rupert’s Haus was a comfortable retreat centre, conducive to working and reflection, with a beautiful chapel and excellent food!

Two years ago, the UL Praesidium decided to embark on a three-year series of thematically-linked meetings. Thus last year’s main presentations were on Aesthetics and Ritual by Giorgio Bonaccorso, a Benedictine monk who teaches liturgy at the Institute of St Justina in Padua, and Beauty: Convergence between Art and Theology by Luigi Razzano, a priest, theologian, sculptor, painter and poet, who teaches Christology and Aesthetic Theology at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences in Caserta.

This year we enjoyed Anna Morena Baldacci, Associate Professor of Liturgy and Co-ordinator of Italian Theology at the Pontifical University of Turin, on Ritual and Beauty: the “liturgical score” between Silence and Words, Creativity and Form”, and Daniele Sabaino, Professor of Musicology and Musical History at the University of Pavia/Cremona, whose paper was entitled Between Sensitivity, Beauty and Action: Elements for a Discussion on the Aesthetics of Liturgical Music. Both these papers provided much meat for lively debate.

In 2016, Universa Laus will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its official founding in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1966. (The group had already started meeting in 1962.) Since Switzerland is prohibitively expensive for conferences these days, the venue will be just over the border in Italy, at Gazzada, near Varese, where the costs are apparently still held at their 2010 levels, and the programme will include a day “pilgrimage” to Lugano to celebrate the anniversary. The two main speakers will be Paul Inwood and Fr Jan Michael Joncas, who will both tackle the area of the development of analytical tools for liturgical music. In other words, having looked at aesthetics, ritual and theology, and this year aesthetics/beauty and ritual/liturgical music, next year’s meeting will examine the topic from a more practical angle: how those on the “receiving end” actually perceive the aesthetics of ritual and music. The dates are August 16-20, and any non-members interested in attending can initially contact Paul Inwood at pastoral.liturgist@gmail.com

In addition to the main presentations, the 2015 meeting also received a presentation from Armin Kircher, Director of the Department for Church Music of the Archdiocese of Salzburg, on the 2013 German-speaking (inter)national hymnbook Gotteslob. Each participant in the meeting at the beginning of the week had been given a complimentary copy of the book (in our case, the edition with a supplement for the Austrian dioceses ― the German and Swiss-German dioceses have different supplements), and throughout the week we used the book as a resource during our times of prayer together. Thus as well as experiencing Bernard Huijbers’ Great Litany in German, we also used interesting (and to a certain degree unconventional) music by composers such as Johannes Falk and Peter Janssens (the latter to a text by Romano Guardini).

The celebration of Mass was interesting in a different way. The Sanctus was sung in German to the music of Owen Alstott’s Heritage Mass, although we could just have easily used the setting which uses the Holy from Richard Proulx’s Community Mass which is actually the very first one in the selection of Sanctuses! The Great Amen was from Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation. Further back in the book, not used by us on this occasion, you can find Fintan O’Carroll’s Celtic Alleluia.

It is fascinating to see how liberal the German-speaking repertoire is when it comes to texts of the Order of Mass. While we English-speakers have no freedom at all to vary the texts, the German-speakers appear to have the freedom to use a wide variety of textual variants and even paraphrases of Mass texts — apparently with Vatican approval. Two years ago, just as the book was going to press, Rome notified the editorial committee that troped settings of the Lamb of God would not be acceptable (for the book was to be given a recognitio), which caused more than a little consternation as there were a considerable number in the book. All of them (including a couple of my own) were hurriedly removed, but this has not stopped the use of a number of different textual versions of the Lamb of God itself.

It is also fascinating to see what is lacking in the repertoire. In the main book there is only a single setting of just one of the three Memorial Acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer ― it appears that this acclamation is not sung very much in German-speaking countries. However, the Austrian supplement contains four, none using the official text, including a two-part canon, two for use with EPs at Masses with children, and one set to the tune Kumbayah ! By contrast, Gotteslob contains a large number of Alleluias for the Gospel Acclamation. There is excellent ecumenical contact in these countries, and over 50% of the hymns and songs are to a greater or lesser extent common to other denominations as well as Roman Catholics. Another feature is the inclusion of different diocesan versions of popular hymns with as many as five different tunes for some texts.

The meeting is not all work, and this year included an outing to Salzburg, with a guided tour of the Abbey of St Peter, free time to wander in the city centre (cathedral, Franciscan basilica, etc) and a festive meal in an excellent restaurant. We look forward to the half-century!


  1. Academic year ’03-’04 when I lived in Innsbruck, IIRC across the various churches in which I worshiped we always sang the same acclamation (Deinen Tod, O Herr, verkuenden wir…) to the same music.

  2. As luck has it, I was in a Berlin choir loft this past weekend where I saw those same American settings in the organ edition. They’ve been reharmonized in a most interesting way…..

  3. In my experience, the only place in Italy where the memorial acclamation gets sung is at the Vatican, and then it’s always to the chant in the Missal. Many parts of the world do not seem to share the American (and English?) assumption that that if the Sanctus is sung, the memorial acclamation and amen should be sung as well. Even fewer seem to presume that the three form a musical “suite” that should be melodically related to each other.

    I happen to think it is good to sing all three (though I am generally in favor of singing as much as possible), but am less convinced that they need to be musically related. I don’t see any reason why the memorial acclamation couldn’t be treated like the preface dialogue: an invariable chant. But it’s not an issue that I get too excited over.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:

      Even fewer seem to presume that the three form a musical “suite” that should be melodically related to each other.

      In England and Wales, policy is that suites of EP acclamations have to make use of the same musical material. Those which don’t do not get through the approval process.

      There has been no debate on this. Some have attempted to point out that the Acclamation “Holy”, the confessional statement “We proclaim your death, O Lord” and the plea “Save us, Saviour of the world” are different literary forms which demand different musical treatments, but their arguments have been quashed by the approval panel without discussion.

      I happen to think that musically linking the settings is desirable not only in order to unify the Eucharistic Prayer but because it makes life much easier for the assembly, but I’d still like to see a proper debate with the approval panel on the other point of view. That probably isn’t going to happen, as the current panel coyly hides behind a cloak of anonymity (unlike the same panel almost 50 years ago).

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