Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Precious Blood Robes: And Then there were Two!

The Brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego are now possessed of a pair of Precious Blood Robes, the robes worn by the Brothers at London, who are also members of the Archconfaternity of the Precious Blood. The robes are worn by the Brothers when participating in liturgical processions, or with cotta when assisting at the altar on appropriate feasts, such as the Feast of the Precious Blood (July 1), or when participating in Musical Oratory.

The robes are here modelled by Brother Richard Dawes, and Chorus Breviarii member and Postulant, John T. Velasco. The second robe was made by La Mesa Tailors of Linda Vista, San Diego, Ca., to a pattern by Mrs. Nunzia Pecoraro, wife of George Pecoraro, one of the Brothers. Mrs Pecoraro is a professional costumier, who works for San Diego Opera and the Old Globe Theatre, among others. The Brothers wish to express to Mrs Pecoraro and to La Mesa Tailoring their sincere gratitude for work expertly undertaken, and expertly completed. (Spot the replica!)

This detail shows the perfectly matched piping, buttons, and the red stitching around the button holes, all evidence of the attention to detail paid to the exact reproduction of the Precious Blood Robe copy (and yes, for those who know, the curious little button at the top of the back, under both the collar and mantle, is duly in place!). A keen eye will notice however, a slight difference in the weave of the two black fabrics. The original robe (right) is wool, which after experimentation proved too hot even for the sub-tropical climate of San Diego. Instead, a double thickness of cotton fabric was used, which achieves a weight and hang similar to the woolens, but provides suitable breathability.

The achievement of the first Precious Blood Robe (in all probability) to be manufactured on this continent in the last hundred years, if ever, is due to the extraordinary generosity of the London Brothers who made it possible, through the donation of one of their own, for yet another level of completeness in the expression of the Oratorian life of our distant chapter to be realized. We are not only grateful, but indebted, and if unable to repay the debt in attendance or material contribution, we will ever seek to do so through spiritual affection and prayerful devotion. Brothers, we thank you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

St. Philip's Celebrations 2009

The 2009 observance of St. Philip's Feast was accomplished with the greatest degree of fullness yet attained by the Brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego. With the exception of Ronald Clemente, currently serving with the United States Army Reserve in Afghanistan, all of the admitted Brothers forming the "Western Chapter" of the Brothers of the Little Oratory at London were present in San Diego for this year's celebrations.

These include Mssr's Ashley Paver (Cincinnati, OH), John Polhamus, Roberto Lionello, Thomas Gray, David Latorre, Richard Dawes, John J. Velasco, Christopher Velasco, George Pecoraro, Robert Keim (Maple Hill, KS) and Wayne Lam (Orange County, CA). They were joined in choir by Mssr's Jon T. Velasco, James Covalt and Jeffrey Morse (Sacramento, CA), currently postulants.

Parcipating clergy included Fr. Carl Gismondi, FSSP, Deacon Jose Zepeda, FSSP, and Fr. Justin Ramos, O. Praem., who very graciously travelled all the way from St Michael's Abbey in Silverado for Vespers and Holy Mass, thus ensuring solemn liturgies on both occasions. To him, and to Fr. Gismondi and Deacon Zepeda, the Brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego offer their most profound, solemn and joyful gratitude.

On Sunday 24 May the Musical Oratory was given in St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown San Diego, with a musical offering by Dr. Alison Leudecke, playing the 1931 Austin organ, which was originally installed in the old cathedral-church, demolished in 1942 to make way for the present building. Dr. Leudecke's program included music by the early 20th century titular organists of the great Parisian churches and Cathedrals. For her time, her talent and the treasure of her generosity, the Brothers thank Dr. Luedecke profoundly. The Brothers also wish to thank the Cathedral Rector and Pastor of St. Joseph's, Fr. Peter Escalante, for once again allowing us to praise God in the historic seat or our Diocese.

Dr. Luedecke's program included the Th. Dubois "Toccata in G Major," the "Te Deum of Tournemire," the "Ave Maria: Ave maris Stella" of Langlais, "Incantation pour un jour saint" by Langlais, "Nigra sum" from the Dupre Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, the "Veni Creator Spiritus" of Durufle, and for the recessional the "Final" of the Vierne Organ Sym #1. Apart from the first and last pieces, each of the pieces during the musical offering was preceded by a brief selection of chants sung by the assembled Brothers, each illustrating and quoting the main themes used as motives in the organ pieces. Hymns included "This is the Saint", "True Sons of Philip", and in the middle, a hymn written by An Oratorian Brother of three stanzas on the theme of conversion, sung in a metricized version to the famous and familiar chorale-theme from the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony #3.

The Musical Oratory was held to the rear of the crossing aisle of the Cathedral, and necessitated only the moving of an armed chair and a small side-table, and a kneeler for Fr. Gismondi. About forty attended the concert, minus the Brothers - but bear in mind that this was the Memorial Day weekend. Next Year St. Philip's day precedes it by a week, so in some ways this year might be looked on as a tune up for a more propitious calendrical placement. We hope to transcribe Fr. Gismondi's fervorino from one of the video-tapes in the near future.

Also of interest was that during the Musical Oratory, Robert Keim read from the life of St. Philip by Bacci, wearing the Precious Blood robe, as is customary apparel for Brothers at Musical Oratory. This robe is the customary habit of the Archconfraternity of the Precious Blood, and is used for public or ceremonial wear outside of liturgical function in the sanctuary. The Brothers upon reception at London, are enrolled in the Archconfraternity, which was brought to England by Fr. Frederick William Faber, founder of the London Oratory. This use marked the robe's first appearance in San Diego. More are currenty being made for the use of the San Diego Brothers.

On Monday, 1st Vespers of St. Philip Neri were sung in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in Coronado, Ca., across the bay from downtown San Diego. The use of this architecturally noteworthy church was graciously granted by Pastor Michael Murphy, and use was overseen (on Memorial Day holiday) by parish Organist Holly Jones, who also contributed a festive prelude and postlude. To both of them and all who helped facilitate the Vespers, the Brothers extend their heartfelt gratitude.

Fr. Gismondi was Hebdomadary, with Fr. Justin Ramos, O.Praem. 1st Asst, and Deacon Zepeda FSSP 2nd. Psalmody was carried off well, accompanied by Mr. Spencer Velkey, to whom the Brothers offer great thanks. The office hymn "Pangamus Nerio" was sung to the tune written in 1895 by William Sewell, arranged for SATB choir, String Quartet, and Organ. At exposition the choir sang the Croce "O sacrum convivium", and the sopranos sang an original Tantum Ergo by An Oratorian Brother, accompanied by the string quartet. Following the procession to the Lady Altar the choir sang the Soriano "Regina Caeli", and the hymn "True Sons of Philip."

This year's vespers were Solemn three-cope vespers, with three matching gold copes borrowed from St. Anne's Parish, Santa Sophia Parish, and Fr. Justin Ramos personally. For their great generosity and trust the Brothers thank particularly Fr. Gismondi, Fr. Peter McGuine, Pastor of Santa Sophia Parish, and Fr. Ramos. The three copes are approximately one hundred years old, being made of Cloth of Gold manufactured in Lyons, France. The panels on the copes are machine stitched, but hand-tinted, creating stitching of great accuracy, yet shading of amazing subtlety. To view them in use is itself a prayer.

As previously stated, on St. Philip's Day there were no fewer than eleven of the twelve San Diego Brothers in attendance, Christopher Velasco particularly managing to come down from Long Beach prior to his college Graduation the next day. He served as a torchbearer at communion. Combined with Jeffrey Morse, Jon T. Velasco and James Covalt, there were fourteen Brothers and postulants involved in the ceremonies (two of them in the choir-loft).

The Brothers served the Solemn High Mass beautifully, which was well attended, and the music went off with great beauty and dignity. The ordinary was the Hassler Missa "Dixit Maria", with the Verdonck Ave Maria at offertory and the Croce "O sacrum convivium" at Communion. A quartet of men sang the chant propers. Afterwards five of the Brothers took the Father and Deacon to a local steak-restaurant (which just happens to have a 1610 carved interior of English oak) for a festive "thank you" dinner.

Believe it or not, that is only a brief sketch outline of the activities to do with this year's Philiptide in San Diego. Were the writer to elaborate this entry would be many times as long. In fact, having made St. Philip's Novena leading up to the feast, and considering the number of new venues, and strands of good will upon which it was necessary to pull in order to draw these various elements together, elements musical, material, and clerical, the true results of this year's efforts were the miraculous granting of wish after wish, desire after desire; request after request. More than once we abandoned ourselves to the disposition of the Lord and the intercession of our Saint, and each time everything came together just as we had prayed it would. Literally, nothing went wrong; well, except that the recorder failed to capture the choir's fine performance at the Mass, which is in fact nothing more than a warranted mortification of the writer's pride!

No, if I may speak personally, the visible change eminating from this Philiptide seems to be only that I have added a seventh holy-card to the lower edge of my framed Guadalupe in what I call my "Lady Chapel". Really, that's about the total extent of the tangible, observable results of all of the aforementioned, except a few left-over programmes. But when I look at that little card (itself typeset by a Brother literally half-way around the globe), it means more to me than all the gold vestments in the world. And the best part is, after all the effort, expense, and sleep deprivation it took to bring these 2009 celebrations to reality, I know I'm not the only one that feels that way.

Deo Gratias!