Dom Karl Wallner: The Profanation of the Sacred and the Sacralisation of the Profane


The author of this essay is Dom Karl Wallner, O. Cis., Rector of the Pontifical University of Heiligenkreuz (AU) and national director of Missio for Austria. The following passages are extracts from his address at the session of the International Academy held 31st August 2016 at Aigen and translated into English by Canticum Salomonis.

(See the German original and French translation.)

The last few decades have brought a stark alteration of Catholic cult, liturgy, art, and architecture that many perceive as a break and a rupture, or even as an outright destruction of the former dignity and sacrality. In the long theological debates of the 1970s, “desacralisation” was treated as an imperative for the modernisation of the Church.

Along with desacralisation inside the Church there was another phenomenon, which I was able to experience personally in my encounters with the profane world of show business: a form of sacralisation of the profane, a ritualisation of the banal, the promotion of non-religious objects to the level of cult objects. From the backstage of the show to which I had been invited, I could observe how the show was designed down the last detail as a sort of dramaturgy, so that the viewer in front of the television participated in a kind of “Pontifical Mass of Entertainment.”

Several years ago, after celebrating a vigil service with a youth group, I had an experience that struck me profoundly and became the key to understanding.

For the past 20 years at Heiligenkreuz, we have organised prayer retreats for young people between the ages of 15 and 28. Since the majority of young people that age suffer a severe lack of enculturation in everything related to Catholicism, and must still learn how to pray and adore, these vigils represent a real challenge. That is why we could not even imagine celebrating a Mass with them: we must first render these young capable of receiving the Eucharistic mystery. First and foremost they need to have a personal relation to Jesus Christ. In that regard, the Catholic liturgy offers a range of possibilities, a whole sacred repertoire that is able to create an ambiance that permits the young people to open their hearts so that they may be touched by the presence of God.

Concretely, this is what happens at our monastery: the light is turned down in the nave of the church; we do lots of singing, especially hymns of praise; the entrance procession begins from the medieval shadow of the cloister, to the light of candles, reciting a decade of the rosary; the Holy Sacrament in the monstrance is brightly illuminated so as to constitute a central point, majestic and brilliant, drawing the gaze of about 300 youth praying and adoring on their knees. The bells ring at full force as the priest blesses the crowd. The celebrant wears a solemn veil. The acolytes arrange themselves in perfect order. In a word, we use all the resources the Catholic liturgy offers us from the point of view of dramaturgy.

And of course, we use lots of incense…

Sight, hearing, the chant, the smell of incense, the gestures and postures…etc. become concrete instruments that encourage the soul to open up. We notice that the incense does more than please the sense of smell. It also gives visibility to space: as it rises it produces a sensation of height, elevation, well-being, and solemnity.

It is in this context that I had the experience I mentioned. At the end of the Vigil, one of the youth who completely unformed came to see me. He was profoundly moved, radiant and excited. He told me: “Father Karl, your vigils are super cool, so modern! You even use the fog machines like they do in the disco!”

I think that today we are witnessing the beginnings of a return to a previous situation, and this is most evident in the youth: from a desacralisation of the Catholic world toward a certain re-sacralisation, in the sense of a renewed understanding of terms like “cult” or “celebration” among the younger generations. Among young people, there is no greater praise for an event, concert, or music group as when it can be said to have reached “cult status.” [French: In the same way, a particularly successful concert is called a “great-mass” (grand-messe).] The same holds true for the word “celebration.” Often decried before and still always avoided in ecclesiastical circles, this term has been rediscovered in a quasi-euphoric way in the profane world. It’s because we love moments of solemnity. The business world thrives on flashy “celebrations” full of glamour.

When one loves the liturgy of the Church and considers it the very substance of his life, like here at Heiligenkreuz where I have had the honor to hold the duty of MC for 21 years, one is often astonished to realize that “the sons of the world are often more wise than the sons of light.” The dignity, majesty, solemnity, the sense of ritual, all those things that were normal in the Church during past centuries, but have been gravely neglected since the 1960s in a movement of secularisation that was complete unprecedented, have now been “discovered” in the profane world, and integrated into this context as a great novelty.

I’ve already mentioned those big televised shows in which I participated, sometimes willingly and sometimes by compulsion, and that I experienced them as pseudo-liturgical productions. These “entertainment liturgies” have as their goal to create feelings of tension, emotion, well-being and amusement: i.e. an earthly happiness composed of dramatised emotions. And they spare no expense! The majesty of the place, reinforced by the movement of the camera, the presence of a “great pontiff” well known by all, the promise of substantial profit and media recognition… The presenter-star is given a form of veneration that we once reserved for the priest at the altar, for in the priest we honored the great majesty of Christ. In the sacralised profane, this veneration has devolved into a drab personality cult and the worship of “stars” [Starrummel; starisation].

The sacred is an experience of a separation, a contrast. It involves a subjective notion, a sentiment, a fundamental constant of human psychology.  Who has not felt a surge of respect and emotion during a grand and solemn moment of music, in a place where the architecture has the qualities of height and symmetry? Who has not felt awe and emotion when participating in an unaccustomed scripted ritual, a feeling of unity and cooperation in the midst of a large crowd? The feeling gives you goosebumps!

Lars Olaf Nathan Soderblom, a Swedish historian of religion, defined the sacred in 1913 as “the notion determining all religion; it is more important even than the notion of divinity.”

The experience of the sacred is more fundamental than the notion of the divine. This means that religiosity is based in the first place on letting oneself be touched by the existence of something that transcends the every-day,  through a sort of purity and majesty, something that compels respect, something unexpected. It is only based on this experience that a man seeks the origin of this sentiment in God.

Historically speaking,  the first acts of man of a religious connotation were not addressed to a personal god. They were rather the reflection of a sentiment; a feeling of being affected, touched, by a kind of majesty, by something other, by what is beyond the frontiers, by a “sacrum.” This fundamental constant of religious sentiment had to await Christianity to be purified and magnified. Indeed, amidst this fascination, suddenly a personal God is revealed, a person who, in Jesus Christ, would even have a concrete, historical existence among men, and who through the Holy Spirit would inhabit the hearts of men.

We repeat: the necessity of being affected by what one feels is “sacred,” even to the point that it makes our hair stand on end, is fundamental for man: for man is predestined for the sacred.

This is confirmed in a negative way: since the 1980s we have witnessed a dramatic decline in the Christian faith, and more generally of the ability to establish a relationship with a personal God. A study dating from 2015 (“Shell-Jugendstudie”: a study of 2500 youths in Germany between 12 and 25, from all backgrounds)—conducted not by theologians using hued glasses, but by serious sociologists—characterises young German Christians as “baptised pagans.” This study, which shows a very realistic picture of the situation, is not encouraging: only 35% of Christians interviewed said they believed in a personal God; only 39% thought that faith in God has an influence on their life choices.

Even if, according to the terms of the study, there has been found an “almost complete rupture with the Christian faith,” this does not signal the rise of atheism pure and simple. What has changed is the object of the faith, which is no longer God, but all sorts of other things: vacations, liberty, autonomy, the traditions of feasts around Christmas, the horoscope, a car, a football club, etc. People have not stopped to act in religious ways, but they no longer believe in Jesus Christ, and have no idea what a sacrament of the Church is. In place of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, such as might appear in Eucharistic Adoration or meditation on the history of salvation through the mysteries of the rosary, one now finds other exercises of religious piety taken from eastern meditative techniques, occult practices, and post-modern ideas. This practices are already widespread in the present culture and enjoy a very popular image.

Here I would like to call upon an example of profane canonisation in the person of Lady Diana. After the death of the Princess of Wales in Paris on the 31st of August, at age 36, her passing triggered a phenomenon the world over that might be called “euphoric grief.” The fact that the personality involved was very famous, very engaged in helping marginalised and socially excluded groups, led to a wave of compassion and solidarity to a degree that had never been witnessed before. The extent of mourning evoked had the effect of “raising Diana to the skies.” At that moment who would have dared to mention, even in a whisper, that the princess might have been responsible for the failure of her marriage? Diana became a myth, an idol of goodness and pure human compassion. This “canonisation” reached its acme a few days later when we learned about the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, this time a true saint of the Church. The crowds received this event as a confirmation and consolation. They recalled the suggestive photos showing the two side by side: two saints in full agreement. As if the radiance of Lady Diana’s face transfigured the wrinkled countenance of Mother Teresa. As if the Christian faith of Mother Teresa transfigured the black marks in the life of the unfortunate princess. As for Lady Diana, we might further remark that the palace where her tomb is located has become almost a place of pilgrimage, where one can find many features similar to places of Christian pilgrimage, though especially the less appealing ones.

It seems that any profane action is susceptible to being sacralised, and history abounds with examples of such abusive cults rendered to persons. Consider the dictators or those responsible for genocide. One certainly thinks of the adulation that was offered to Hitler, or the long files standing at attention before the mausoleum of Lenin, or more recently, to the grotesque behavior of the masses toward the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Thus we must be very prudent. If we do not cultivate the sacred and the dignified in our churches, if we forget the “tremendum” and “fascinosum,” then we can expect that human psychology will go looking elsewhere to fill the need to tremble before something majestic. If we degrade our liturgical ceremonies to the level of simple mundane ceremonies, if we banalise them, we should not be surprised to see people going elsewhere to satisfy their innate desire for sacred places, sacred symbols, sacred texts, and persons to venerate.

I’d like to share a personal memory. Some weeks ago, I happened to find myself by chance in possession of a ticket for the inauguration of the new stadium of Vienna-Hütteldorf, the Rapid-Stadion. During my whole life I have never attended a football game. I was alone, and I was seized by an anxiety about how I should enjoy the event. I was tempted not to go at all. But I intentionally made myself have these feelings, comparing myself to someone confronted by the idea of entering a church for the first time to see a Mass. I wanted to feel the genuine fear that people often feel before doing something they are not used to, of encountering customs and attitudes they’ve never experienced, and the fear of being noticed.

For me watching the match was also a sort of expiation. My father, now deceased, was a passionate fan of the Rapid team, and in some way I owed it to him to go there in his memory.

It was incredible. What I experienced there was a fascinating profane liturgy. The match was a friendly encounter against Chelsea, but the match itself it was nothing but a pretext. A genuine liturgy took place, with chants, ritual applause, coordinated movements of the crowd, and waving the club’s green emblem. But what left the strongest impression on me was an action that might have been inspired by the liturgical epiclesis. In the middle of the 75th minute, they began to call on the “15-minute Rapid.” Thanks to Wikipedia I knew that this tradition had existed since 1910. What was it? Everyone stood up, held their hands in front of them palms down, like the priest when he calls down the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine at the moment of consecration. At that moment a humming, a rhythmic droning  arose in the seats where the 28,000 spectators were packed. It got louder until the hands began a trembling motion. I thought right then: “Come, holy spirit of football!” After the tension was brusquely relieved, loud cheering swept through the stadium.

During the match the idea came to me, that it is a shame the Church of Austria doesn’t organise at least once a year a great public festival in a profane place. A sort of testimony to the presence of Christians outside the churches and sacristies. The Evangelical churches and the Jehovah’s Witnesses do this type of thing regularly. Closer to home, the origin of the Corpus Christi processions is the desire to manifest our veneration for the Holy Sacrament by carrying it through the city streets, across fields, and into all the places of our daily life.

Though I have no pretensions in this address of offering an exhaustive argument, I think I can affirm that there exists a correlation between “a profanation of the sacred” and “a sacralisation of the profane.” Opened to transcendence, man needs a “tremendum” and “fascinosum.” If religion no longer gives him thrills, he will begin to sacralise his profane environment, to idolise anything and everything.

Some strong words of the Cure d’Ars come to mind: “Leave a parish without a priest for twenty years, and they will start worshipping the animals.” And I’ll venture to follow up: “Deprive man of respect for sacred things, such as the liturgy is meant to express, strip down the sacred service offered to the unfathomable divinity till it is a simple worship rendered to man, and you shall see the faithful flee their priests and turn to the druids and shamans, and worship the stars and animals as their deities.”

But aren’t we something responsible for what is happening?

Profanation begins when we ourselves no longer respect holy things. Everyone knows that you take your shoes off when entering a mosque and that silence must be respected there, or even that you must wear a kippa in a synagogue. But a Catholic church is no longer respected more than some museum! It all begins when we no longer think it necessary to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, which is not an abstract notion as in other religions, but a very concrete sacramental reality. When we prattle on in church like so many pagans. One has the experienced visiting the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna and then the city’s history museum: there, you find the sacred profaned, here the profane sacralised.  

Someone will probably say to me, “Yes, grave errors have been committed in our Church. The spirit of the times has pushed us toward a certain desacralisation and so favored the birth of new pagan religious movements.” But once more I repeat a truism I have already cited: when the faith we have received from God is shown the door, superstition enters through the window.

I fear that the demythologised theology, the desacralised art and liturgy we have endured for some decades, are often self-defeating, as it were. If we are no longer capable, by means of sacred art and liturgy, of transmitting the reality of the advent of God into the life of man, then he will make a substitute for himself. If we no longer transmit to man that sacred gift that permits him to encounter God who in Jesus Christ has been made so close and so majestic, then man will find something else to satisfy him. And it seems that nothing profane is able to escape from his desire for sacrality: ideologies and nations, Führers and stars, T.V. shows and rituals … everything that happens seems charged with sacrality.

And now? What shall happen? Something different, in any case! There is no future in the Church for desacralised rites: they are already passé.

The young generation of seminarians surprises us by their taste for solemnity. They appreciate the idea of “celebration,” they are fascinated by the aesthetics of ritual. They want to know the liturgical norms precisely and follow them. And this is definitely not a step backward, toward pre-conciliar ritualism, as some have prophesied, thus showing that they do not know how to recognise the signs of the times.

The faithful young, born long after the end of the pre-conciliar era—doubtlessly guided by the Holy Spirit—is set to vindicate every liberty for sacrality, which has proven to be constitutive of the very essence of Christianity.

These youth are exempt from every ideology, opposite to those who lived through ’68. They set great value in sacrality because they have instinctively realised that it is thanks to it that they have the concrete ability to approach the Holy God-made-man: thanks to a majestic liturgy, to sacred music, to hymns of praise, to trustworthy rites, an architecture open to heaven and an art that speaks a language of transcendence.

—Deo gratias!—


*Marginalia Aelredi*

(in sup. sinistra, eleganti stylo)

Frater nostri ordinis, vir probatus, dicendi peritus.


Hoc “show-biz” ex “turris Babylonis” derivatum?

Canones ludis publicis monachos omnimodo prohibere; reverendus frater monendus.

Testes Jehovae = apud Paulum ἰουδαϊζόντες? Pertinaces!

Vivitur ut filii Israel inter paganos. Templa paganorum cur non destructa?


Trope of the Week: Clemens Rector

Clemens Rector, aeterne Pater, immense, eleison.
Nostras necne voces exaudi, benedicte Domine.
Aether stellifer noster, nostri benigne eleison.
Merciful ruler, eternal Father, immense one, have mercy.
And hearken to our voices, blessed Lord.
Our star-bearing heaven, in Thy compassion have mercy on us.
Plebem tuam, Sabaoth Hagie, semper rege, eleison.
Trine et une, sedulas nostras preces, Rex, suscipe.
Fidem auge his, qui credunt in te, tu succurre, eleison.
Rule Thy people alway, holy Lord of hosts, have mercy.
Treble and one, heed our diligent prayers, O King.
Increase the faith of those who believe in Thee, succour them, have mercy.
Respice nobis, o Inclyte, fer opem de excelsis et nostras, Redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi Angelorum carmini adiunge, eleison.
Cunctipotens, sophiae tuae lumen nobis infunde.
Tripertite et une Kyrie, qui manes in aeternum cum Patre, te ore, te corde atque mente, psallimus nunc tibi, o beate Iesu bone, te precamur omnes assidue, eleison.
Behold us, O Glorious one, bring aid from on high and join our voices, O Redeemer of the world, with the ceaseless song of the angels, have mercy.
All-powerful one, pour into us the light of thy wisdom.
Tripartite and one, O Lord, who remaineth with the Father for aye, we now sing to Thee with our lips, heart, and mind, O blessed good Jesus, we all continually beseech Thee, have mercy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 17.48.43Clemens rector, listed as Kyrie ad lib. 1 in the Vatican Edition, was one of the oldest and most popular Kyrie melodies in the Middle Ages. It first appears in West Frankish manuscripts from the 10th century, and by the 13th century it had spread throughout Europe. Although there are sundry farced versions of most Kyrie melodies, Clemens rector is remarkable in being the only trope that was ever attached to this one, and indeed, it proved as enduringly popular as the melody. The oldest manuscripts prescribe that the Clemens rector trope be sung on the feast of St Stephen, but it soon began to be reserved for the greatest feasts of the liturgical year, being sung variously on Christmas, Childermas, Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, All Saints, St Peter, St Benedict, and feasts of Our Lady. In the mid-12th century, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, ordained that the Clemens rector trope was to be sung on the five principal feasts in his monastery, adding that this was already an established tradition in other monasteries of the Cluniac congregation, such as Moissac:

Statutum est, ut illud Kyrie eleyson, cuius cantus habet prosaicos versus, quorum principium est Clemens rector aeterne, pater immense eleyson, qui in multis monasteriis ad Cluniacum pertinentibus usu antiquo cantabatur, etiam Cluniaci in quinque praecipuis festis cantetur.

Even after tropes fell into disfavour in the aftermath of the Tridentine reforms, the Clemens rector continued to be chaunted in certain places, and is found in liturgical books published as late as the 18th century.

The popularity of this trope owes much to fact that its textual shape is singularly well adapted to the Kyrie’s musical shape, as David Bjork demonstrates in The Aquitanian Kyrie Repertory of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. He additionally draws attention to the text’s use of polyptoton—repeating words with the same root—, matching the melody’s use of recurrent motifs:

Melodic phrases correspond most consistently at their ends, and so, too, do the petitions: all but three petitions (2, 5, and 8) close with eleison. Other words appear twice in the text: Nostras…voces (petition 2) recurs exactly (petition 7), and both times it occurs in a construction that separates these two words by placing others between them. Several word stems recur in different forms, thus establishing a kind of resonance without the bald effect of exact repetition: rector (petition 1) returns both as rege (petition 4) and as rex (petition 5); nostris (petition 2) returns as noster and nostri (petition 3), and nostras (petitions 5 and 7); trine et une (petition 5) returns as tripertite et une (petition 9); preces (petition 5) returns as precamur (petition 9); and aeterne (petition 1) returns as aeternum (petition 9).

Clemens rector also gives good expression to the exegesis of the Kyrie performed by Amalarius of Metz, one of the foremost liturgists of the Carolingian era. In his Eclogae de officio missae, Amalarius rather laconically puts forth the idea that the Kyrie represents the voices of those prophets who lived near the time of the incarnation, such as Zacharias and John the Baptist, and in the Liber officialis he explains in greater detail that mercy is the main theme of the Kyrie, urging cantors singing the Kyrie to keep in mind the words of St Matthew, Qui coronat te in miseratione et misericordia. He also indicates—and later writers made this point more explicitly—that the tripartite nature of the Kyrie alludes to the Trinity.

Indeed the petitionary nature of Clemens rector makes it sound like the voice of a prophet begging Christ to begin his work of redemption: nostras … voces exaudi (petition 2), sedulas nostras preces suscipe (petition 5), tu succurre (petition 6), sophiae tuae lumen infunde (petition 8), te precamur omnes assidue (petition 9), together with the recurrent use of eleison. Like a prophet forsaking earthly cares, the trope marks an opposition between sublunar and heavenly things in petition 7: et nostras, redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi angelorum carmini adiunge. Although this trope does not explicitly address each member of the Trinity in its three respective parts like some other tropes do, it does insist on the trinitarian nature of God in petitions 5 and 9.

Clemens rector is therefore itself a commentary on the mystical significance of the Kyrie eleison. This exegetical nature is ultimately shared by all tropes, which merely transfer the Western genius for exegesis from written commentaries to song. The Clemens rector gloss on the Kyrie, however, is a particularly felicitous one, and this also helps to account for widespread popularity.

(If you missed the inaugural post on tropes, give it a look!)


*Marginalia Aelredi*

(scribbled hastily in the vulgar tongue, in the top right corner)
Les tropes? Encore une fois? Mais on y a trop des tropes déjà!!


drollery 2.jpg
Notkerus Balbulus

On Tropes

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 12.01.20
A troped Kyrie

One of the most fascinating fruits of the mediaeval love for the liturgy is the vast corpus of tropes that age has bequeathed to us. Tropes is the collective term applied to-day to musical additions to the preëxisting liturgical chants; the mediaevals themselves variously referred to them as tropi, versus, laudes, prosae, prosulae, or verba. Tropes came in three general types (as classified by the editors of the Corpus Troporum):

1. the addition of a musical phrase, a melisma, without additional text (meloform trope);

2. the addition of a text, a prosula, without additional music (a melogene trope); and

3. the addition of a new verse of chant, comprising both text and music (a logogene trope).

Melogene and logogene tropes, at least, grew out of the same exegetical impulse that led so many mediaeval authors to pen commentaries providing moral, allegorical, and analogical interpretations not only of Holy Scripture, but of any of the books they had received from Antiquity, and still more, of even non-textual things, such as the ritual of the Mass (cf. our series on the Gemma Animae). Exegesis was the principal object of intellectual activity in the Late Antique and early mediaeval world, inasmuch as only through exegesis could one hope to obtain understanding. In De divinis officiis, for instance, Rupert of Deutz argues for the necessity of exegesis in order to understand the Mass:

The rites that through the yearly cycle in constituted order are performed at the divine office […] are symbols of the highest realities; they contain the greatest sacraments of the heavenly mysteries. […] They were instituted for the glory of the head of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ, by men who sublimely understood the mysteries of His Incarnation, His Nativity, His Passion, His Resurrection, and His Ascension, and who strove to proclaim them faithfully and wisely in the spoken word, the written word, and in the rites […] But celebrating the rites [sacramenta] and not understanding their causes is like speaking with the tongue and not knowing the interpretation [of what is being said]. The Apostle says, “And he that speaketh by tongue, let him pray that he may interpret”. Among the spiritual gifts with which the Holy Ghost adorns His Church, we are more exhorted to desire this one: to prophecy, that is, to seize with the understanding of the mind those things which we pray or sing through the spirit. [1]

Tropes, then, are simply the musical expression of this impulse for interpretation. As Dom Jean Leclercq explains in L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu, “All the liturgical literature of the monks consisted in similarly commenting, ‘with the voice and the written word’, the content of the rites. Rather than treatises on the rites, their commentary took the form of texts for use in conjunction with the celebration and which displayed its riches.”

The Kyrie eleison was certainly the most frequently farced part of the Mass, and might have been the oldest to be troped. The earliest musical manuscripts of Kyries already feature the troped text, and thus there is no reason to believe that the untroped melodies had existed earlier. Even to-day the Vatican edition of the Gradual identifies most Kyries through the title of its trope, or one of its tropes, for there were sometimes more than one.

But tropes existed for all the parts of the Ordinary, such as the Ave verum corpus, which was first sung as a trope on the Sanctus, and for many Proper chants as well. A somewhat rarer practice was to trope the readings of the Mass, particularly the epistle, but in some places this custom proved to be surprisingly long-lived. Parts of the Office were also susceptible of troping, such as Matins responsories on great feasts, and sometimes certain versicles, especially the concluding Benedicamus Domino, were protracted with tropes that were veritable hymns. The popular Easter hymn O filii et filiae, for instance, was originally a trope on the Benedicamus Domino.

The popularity of tropes waned with the centralization of the liturgy wrought to a degree by the introduction of the Tridentine books and the establishment of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, but probably still more by the invention of the printing press. The Missal of the Roman Curia, which essentially became the Tridentine Missal of 1570, had no tropes, which is hardly surprising: Roman curial officials must not have been particularly interested in additions to the liturgy that might prolong the Mass, and indeed their missal was designed for the celebration of low Masses, hardly an environment favourable for troping. As a result, books published to provide the music for liturgical celebrations according to or based on the Tridentine model contained few if any tropes. At no point does it seem that tropes were expressly prohibited, except for one rubric contained in the 1570 Roman Missal (and not in the 1464 Missal) stating Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis etiam in missis beatę Marię, which might indicate an effort to forbid the popular Marian tropes on the Gloria.

Sequences, of course, suffered a similar fate. They are similar to tropes insofar as they are a mediaeval amplification of the liturgy, but do not quite qualify as musical commentary on the Mass in the way tropes do. The famous account of the origin of sequences told by Bl. Notker the Stammerer suggests that sequences were originally tropes on the Alleluia, but they very quickly acquired a life of their own. The four sequences preserved in the Tridentine books (a fifth, the Stabat mater, was added in 1727) were not chosen because they were necessarily the most excellent instances of sequences in the entire corpus, but simply because these were the only four the Roman curia had deigned to include in their books.

Yet the total purge of tropes, and partial purge of sequences from the Roman liturgy impoverished it, and formed an unhappy barrier for our understanding of the minds of our ancestors in the Age of Faith. Most tropes might strike modern man as tiresome and unnecessary lengthening of the Mass and Office, which only betrays how different the mediaeval approach to the liturgy was from that of the modern. Leclercq reminds us that in the Age of Faith “these texts were loved. Those who had a reason and the talent for doing so, loved to compose them”.

Canticum Salomonis will therefore try to encourage a greater appreciation for tropes by periodically publishing some of the best exemplars thereof. Perhaps in this way we might yet sense “the verve of the primitive, original, and youthfully exuberant spirits” who composed and sang them.

[1] Ea quae per anni circulum ordine constituto in divinis aguntur officiis […] altissimarum signa sunt rerum, et maxima quaeque continent coelestium sacramenta secretorum. […] Siquidem ab his viris ordinata haec, atque in obsequium Domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui est caput Ecclesiae, instituta sunt; qui sacramenta incarnationis, nativitatis, passionis, resurrectionis et ascensionis eius, et sublimiter intellexerunt, et praedicare voce, litteris atque huiusmodi signis fideliter et sapienter curaverunt. […] Haec vero sacramenta celebrare, et causas eorum non intelligere, quasi lingua loqui est, et interpretationem nescire. Qui autem lingua loquitur, inquit Apostolus, oret ut interpretetur. Hoc inter spiritualia charismatum dona, quibus Ecclesiam suam Spiritus sanctus exornat, magis aemulari nos hortatur, ut prophetemus, id est, ut ea quae spiritu oramus aut psallimus, mentis quoque intelligentia capiamus.

**NB: Any comments on this essay should be in the form of melogenic tropes.