Go to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., on any given day and morning Mass is packed with young men studying to be priests in the Dominican Order (celebrating its 800th anniversary in 2016). Some of those student friars (distinctive for their black and white habits and study of Thomas Aquinas) have released a CD, In Medio Ecclesiae (in the midst of the Church), of songs covering the liturgical year. Brother Vincent Ferrer Bagan, a former music teacher and director and co-director of the Dominican Schola Cantorum, talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the music and the life.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Who is the Schola Cantorum of the Dominican Friars at the Dominican House of Studies?
BROTHER VINCENT FERRER BAGAN: We are a volunteer group of friars (mostly student brothers but also one priest) who rehearse chants and other choral music for an hour per week. Essentially, we are the liturgical choir for the house; we sing on most major feasts and important liturgical days.
LOPEZ: How did the CD In Medio Ecclesiae come to be? Why the name?
BROther VINCENT FERRER: With a growing number of brothers, and a growing number of brothers with musical background, we thought it would be good to record some of the more advanced repertoire we have been able to do in recent years.
Our repertoire is also not what you hear in most Catholic churches but is very much in accord with what the Second Vatican Council was calling for: continued use of the Church’s treasure of sacred music, especially chant and polyphony, as well as new works written for liturgical use. Most of the music is from the tradition, and the newly composed music is in harmonious continuity with the tradition.
In Medio Ecclesiae is the title of one of the chant tracks on the CD and is the Officium (entrance antiphon) for the feast of St. Dominic. St. Dominic always wanted his order to be “in the midst of the Church,” and we want to present this music as an offering that is not from a group on the fringe, but rather from a group that hopes to be and indeed is in the midst of the Church, doing what the Second Vatican Council has called for.
While much of the music is more advanced than what a typical seminary choir or choir of religious men might sing, it is also not done primarily by professionals, and, therefore, the music on the album is both beautiful and accessible to other choirs that might want to sing it.
LOPEZ: How is it “Music for the New Evangelization”? How does it help reawaken and renew faith among Catholics so that they can know and re-propose what the Catholic Church teaches?
BROther VINCENT FERRER: For many people in our time, the Church’s teachings about faith and morals are very difficult, and this can cause them to have great difficulty in embracing the healing and mercy and truth offered to them in the Christian life. The enduring beauty of this music that has stood the test of time, and the openness it fosters in the soul toward transcendent reality, causes it to continue to be important — and perhaps to take on an even greater importance — in drawing people of our day into the life that the Church has to offer them, which is nothing less than life with God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.