New Mass Debuts for Walk for Life West Coast
‘It’s really a musical and liturgical celebration of the gift of every human life,’ says the composer, who was commissioned by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
This year, the Jan. 21 Walk for Life West Coast will shine even brighter with the debut of a new choral Mass setting composed for the morning Walk for Life Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, which anchors the event in prayer.
Commissioned by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and composed by Christopher Mueller, this major choral setting, Mass of St. Agnes in Thanksgiving for Human Life, in 10 movements started taking shape in the early months of 2022, when the composer was working on a music project for the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, founded by the archbishop.
“Through the process of working on that project, I came to the attention of the archbishop,” Mueller said. “He wanted to commission a new Mass setting to open the Walk for Life, a Mass in thanksgiving for the gift and beauty of human life. It’s really a musical and liturgical celebration of the gift of every human life.”
Mueller said Archbishop Cordileone wanted it to be sung by the St. Brigid School Choir. This 20-student choir sings a monthly Mass at the cathedral and at major celebrations such as Christmas. The choir, which has sung at the Vatican in the past, is scheduled to sing again at the Vatican for New Year’s 2023-24.
“The archbishop wanted this Mass written specifically for the children’s choir to sing,” Mueller explained. “And what better acoustic or aural statement than the voices of children singing a Mass that specifically celebrates the beauty of human life? Children’s voices have a particular and compelling beauty, which people find stirring in a way different than the beauty of adult singing.”
The first music he discussed with Archbishop Cordileone was the final movement of the Mass, a beautiful post-Communion reflection that focuses on the gift and importance of human life.
“I asked the archbishop if he wanted a post-Communion reflection in this Mass. He did, and he wanted to use a line from the opening of the Book of Jeremiah:
‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’ What better line of Scripture to celebrate the gift of human life and to advance the pro-life cause than that?”
The Book of Jeremiah begins as a conversation between God and the young prophet, highlighting the gift and dignity of life, including God’s statement, “And before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Mueller turned this biblical dialogue into a post-Communion motet lasting about eight and a half minutes, which he describes as “almost like a little oratorio at the end of the Mass.”
Because the children’s voices are sopranos and altos, they will sing the parts of Jeremiah; the voice of God will be sung by adult men who are tenors and basses.
To honor the diversity of the cathedral’s congregation, this movement is trilingual. As Mueller explained, “The tradition has been a trilingual Mass usually sung in Latin, with the hymns usually done with alternating English and Spanish verses. We incorporated those languages into this post-Communion motet.” The children sing their parts in both English and Spanish, while the men sing theirs in Latin.
“To close the Mass with this conversation between God and Jeremiah, the last part — ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’ — is sung in Latin, English and Spanish, all three simultaneously, then ends with the words Verbum Domini,” Mueller said.
The remaining nine movements are exclusively in Latin.
The children will also be singing several other movements of the Mass, including the Mass Ordinary — the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei — each of which has been composed utilizing differing musical techniques. This will “give variety and distinction to the different part of the Mass,” Mueller said.
Mueller’s background certainly prepared him for this choral work. Presently the organist and choir director at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville, Kentucky, he has been writing sacred music for 25 years.
While studying music in college, he wrote many arrangements for small and large ensembles, beginning his musical education as a classical musician but graduating as a jazz pianist and composer.
“My career plan was something like the Parable of the Prodigal Son,” he recalled to the Register. He planned to follow a secular career until he was in his 50s, then turn exclusively to sacred music for the Church, “which would be the best thing to do with my music training — to use it in the service of the Lord.” Things went differently.
“God plopped me into a church job when I was 27. His plans were better than mine. I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”
At that first church-music position, Mueller started writing music for the responsorial Psalms in the lectionary’s three-year cycle; then, with the choir’s prompting, he started harmonizing the Introit chants. In time, among his many credits, he became the founding director of music at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington and directed the choir and orchestra at the Mercy Center at World Youth Day 2016 in Kraków, Poland, leading the music at daily Mass for the thousands of pilgrims. He is founding director of the St. Michael Foundation for Polyphony & Chant, working to promote the use of polyphony and chant in the Mass. While organist, choirmaster and choral director for churches and other venues in and around New York City, he also acted as coordinator of marriage-preparation programs for the Archdiocese of New York.
Mueller’s congregational Mass setting, the Missa pro editione tertia, a setting of the new Mass translation that went into effect in 2011, has been used at English-language parishes around the world, from England to New Zealand, and was used at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
For this new Mass for Life, the composer himself will be conducting three of the 10 movements, those sung only by the adults — the Introit, Offertory and Communion. The remaining movements featuring the children’s choir will be conducted by the cathedral’s music director, Christoph Tietze, who also is the choral director at St. Brigid School and works daily with the students.
Mueller is looking forward to meeting and hearing the children who have been working on this for some months. Because he composes “with beauty and prayer first and foremost in my mind,” he hopes the music will be “beautiful in a way that helps people to pray.”
Above all, he is “hoping it will be quite prayerful and reverent and that the archbishop will be pleased.”
The Walk for Life Mass for will be livestreamed at 9:30am (Pacific time) on Jan. 21 and then remain available for viewing on the San Francisco archdiocesan YouTube page.
- pro-life generation
- archbishop salvatore cordileone
- benedict xvi institute
- walk for life west coast