Thursday, July 12, 2007

Te Deum

Catholic Theological Union is a graduate school in the heart of the Chicago. I attended for about a year and a half until the heterodoxy beat me into submission.

I'm still on their mailing list and I was intrigued to find the following entry in their newsletter from their President, Fr. Donald Senior, C.P.


In mid-April, I was at the Vatican for a plenary meeting of the pontifical Biblical Commission. On Frdiay, the last day of our week-long meeting, we finally completed a substantial text on "Bible and Morality" that the 20 of us on the commission had worked on for nearly six years. Once approved by the Pope it will probably be published in a year or so.

As the last vote was completed, the Secretary of the Commission stood and said we should all sing the Te Deum. You veteran Catholics remember the Te Deum? That beautiful Latin hymn of exuberant thanksgiving that dates from the 4th century and has been sung at moments of thanksgiving and triumph through the centureies. "Te Deum Laudamus," it beings, "We praise you, O God" and goes on from there to a lyrical litany of praise in an elaborate and exquisite chant melody.

All of us started strong: "Te Deum Laudamus, te Dominum confitemur, Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur . . . " ("We confess you as Lord. All the earth venerates you as the eternal Father . . . "). But as the verses unfolded (the hymn is long . . . ), voices began to trail off or just mumble the melody. All except one voice, that of Fr. Prosper Grec, an eminent and venerable Maltese scholar who teaches at the Gregorian University. His voice, firm and melodious, carried the hymn without hesitation, every word and every note coming from his heart. Each of us fell silent and let this sole lovely voice sing this ancient hymn to its conclusion for all of us. It was one of those unique moments I will never forget.

There are probably few people in the world who know the elegant Latin of the Te Deum by heart and perhaps in a short generation, no one will. Chalk it up to nostalgia, perhaps, but it reminded me how important and how beautiful our Catholic tradition is and what a tragedy it would be if it were lost. I don't mean trying to school everyone in Latin and going back to the liturgy of by-gone days, as some propose. I don't think there is much future in that. But there is an obligation to have at least those who will be the teachers and leaders of tomorrow's Church to be steeped in the great literature and teaching and art of our tradition forged over the centuries and being prepared to connect the meaning of all this tradition with our contemporary experience and to reverence that as well.

That is the central task of theological education in the Catholic community and that is what we striving to do here at CTU. Our graduates (just like our president and faculty!) probably won't remember the words of the Te Deum, but they will be able to appreciate it as a prayer of glorious praise and respect the ancient church that could produce such beauty, and be committed to sustaining God's praise with equal artistry and commitment in our contemporary idom.

I will let the climactic words of the "Te Deum" draw this reflection to end . . .

"Salvum fac populum tuum Domine et benedic hereditati tuae."

"O Lord, save your people and bless your heritage."

"Per singulos dies, benedicimus te. Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi."

"Day by day we bless you. And we praise your name world without end."

Please realize that this is an institution where you would probably never hear any chant in their liturgies. The fact that he speaks somewhat positively about this ancient chant is surprising, at least to me.

There is much that could be said, but the one thing that strikes me is the perceived need for a truly universal repertoire for Catholics. What does one sing at a function such as this, with people from all over the globe . . . Here I am, Lord? LOBE DEN HERREN? Chant is the most desirable and most obvious answer.


At Monday, July 16, 2007 2:44:00 PM, Blogger Scelata said...

I wonder, kind sir or madam, if you would mind answering a few questions I have about something in this post, via email.

If agreeable, please email

Thank you.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)


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