The Music of the Papal Inauguration Mass


I have just watched the Papal Inauguration Mass on Sky News. Sky has the added advantage that you can watch Holy Mass and keep an eye on the FTSE at the same time.  Always useful.

I was thrilled when l saw the Mass booklet the other day for the Inauguration. There has been a great deal of speculation on the direction the liturgy could take under Pope Francis. Some had feared we could see a return to the ‘low church’ days of the 1970s with ghastly hymns and South American dancing. Today, was a liturgy perfect in its simplicity, just choir and organ and plenty of Gregorian Chant. Chant was sung that could be heard in parishes around the world – the Missa de Angelis, Credo III, Te Deum, Christus Vincit, Ave Verum Corpus, Salve Regina; music that should be sung so regularly we should all know it off-by-heart.

The cermonial details for today’s Mass described the music as:

 When the Pope enters the Basilica silver trumpets will ring out the “Tu es Petrus”. The Laudes Regiae will be chanted during the procession from St. Peter’s tomb to the “Sagrato”. A 14 piece brass ensemble will play at various moments of the celebration. During the Offertory the “Tu es pastor ovium” (You Are the Shepherd of the Sheep) motet composed by Pierluigi da Palestrina precisely for the Inauguration of the Pontificate will be sung. At the conclusion, the “Te Deum” will be sung with verses alternating between Gregorian chant and a melody by Tomas Luis de Victoria. As it will not be held on a Sunday, there will be no Angelus after the Mass.

It is abundantly clear that our new Pope does not sing; a cantor intoned both the Gloria and Credo. This should not be seen as a criticism, not all are blessed with the gift of song. What the Holy Father didn’t sing, the choir certainly made up for. The music were quite operatic at times; dramatic flourishes of polyphony from Mgr Massimo Palombella only served to highlight that the simplicity of the chant is always the finest music that can be sung in the liturgy. When they were not singing Fr Palombella’s epic musical touches then we did hear some of our Renaissance greats –  Palestrina, Victoria et al. The chanting of the Gospel in Greek was a poignant moment, something that has never been done before at a Papal Mass (or so they kept saying on Sky News.)

These are exciting times. Pray for our new Pope, Pope Francis I.



2 thoughts on “The Music of the Papal Inauguration Mass

  1. Stan says:

    To clarify: Sky was close, but didn’t get it exactly right. Chanting the Gospel in Greek is a standard part of solemn papal Masses. The novelty was that it was not also chanted in Latin as is the norm.

    But I agree with your take on the music. Apart from Palombella’s 19c operatic bits – Libera nos, Domine! – the music was simple, tasteful and a nice blend. One might find a number of details about which to quibble, but overall it was well done.

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