HE MADE A CHOIR OF 200,000
By Fr. Clifford Howell, S.J.
IN 1950, on arriving in Vienna, I was told by the British security officer that it would take about a fortnight to get my passport stamped with a Russian permit allowing me to go to Kiosterneuburg, just the other side of the Iron Curtain. Most annoying—for I had only three days in hand and had set my heart on going there. Why? Anybody who is au fait with matters liturgical will know at once : Klosterneuleurg is where Fr. Pius Parsch lives. To be within a few mile's of him, and not to he allowed to visit him was an intolerable situation.
The difficulty was solved by the advice of a couple of Austrian men who knew Vienna well. They enabled me to slip through at a point which was unguarded, and my ambition Of spending a week-end with Fr. Parsch was fulfilled.
Moreover, I was not caught coming back—otherwise I would not be here to write this article. which is occasioped by the news that Fr. Parsch has died.
Man of action
PARSCH was an Augustinian
Canon; Klosterneuburg is an Augustinian monastery, a tremendous place up on a hill overlooking the "Blue Danube" (which is actually a dirty yellow). It was originally founded in 1106 for Secular Canons; Augustinian Canons have been there since 1133; so has the present abbey church: but the present monastery dates from 1730 and is a marvellous example of baroque architecture, sur
mounted by three enormous copper cupolas.
The gentle, friendly and humble man whom I thus met in his 66th year was one of the most famous liturgical leaders in the world. No one would rank him among the famous scholars or research workers, even though his knowledge was very great. He came to the fore as an apostle, a man of action.
PARSCH was a chaplain with
the Austrian Army in the first World War and became obsessed with the conviction that his men were dismally ignorant both of the Bible and of the Mass. Returning to civilian life, he started Bible classes and Mass instructions in the village near the monastery and found that those who came to them were intensely grateful; this was just the kind of thing for which they had been hungering. After about a year he had an enthusiastic group of something like 100 people of both sexes and all ages so united in their interest in Bible and Liturgy that they constituted a sort of community. Fr. Parsch obtained the use of an old chapel (St. Gertrude's) near the monastery, fitted it up with the aid of these people, and trained them in active participation in the Mass.
That was but it beginning. The idea spread into Vienna. whither he often went to give lectures on Bible or Liturgy or both. Soon he invented a "Liturgical Week" for parishes. For this he was in constant demand. In some parishes the clergy continued his methods and so his work bore permanent fruit.
THE more he preached and lectured, the more he studied. Soon he began to write. If the people were to understand and take an active part in the liturgical services, they had to he provided with texts. Hence many booklets with the words, with cornmentaries and sometimes with music appeared from the pen of Fr. Parsch.
He wrote articles explaining to other priests the principles underlying his methods. These obtained widespread popularity throughout Austria, and spread into Germany.
Fr. Parsch was fortunate in that his superiors appreciated the importance of his wode and actively encouraged him by riWtting at his disposal the needed resources. Thus he was able to start an organising and publishing centre known as the Volkliturgisches Apostolut, through which he could publish texts, articlas, brochures, booklets and even full-scale books dealing with the biblical and liturgical movements which he ever kept closely associated. He founded a monthly review called Bibel and Liturgie (intended principally for priests) and a weekly paper called Lebe nut der Kirche ("Live with the Church") intended chiefly for the laity. It was an explanation of the Sunday and feast day Masses of the ensuing week.
From a slim booklet of 30 pages and an edition of 500 copies in 1922, it reached, in 1929, the status of a book of 800 pages and an edition of 30,000 copies. Now it has taken a permanent form as a book called Dos Jahr des Hells ("The Year of Salvation").
In 1950 more than 150,000 copies were sold. It has been translated into almost every known tongue, has a phenomenal sale everywhere, and has won more adherents to the liturgical movement than any book ever written.
Alas, it is almost unknown in England. It is not published here, but the American Benedictines of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., have recently brought out a translation.
AN important book by Fr. Parsch which is known here (though not as widely as it deserves) is -The Liturgy of the Mass," published by Herder. Another superb piece of work is his "Breviary Explained" (also Herder) which every priest would do well to study.
The trouble with both these books is their price. I feel that Messrs. Herder would find it well worth while to bring out a cheap edition of each. The French have cheap papercovered editions of both and they are "best-sellers" (Editions Casterman),
Fr. Parsch has been such a prolific writer that a list of the mere titles of his books and pamphlets fills 11 octavo pages of small print. When he died he was at work on an 11volume treatise on Liturgical Preaching. Six volumes have already appeared. Let us hope he has left materials for one or two more, that they may be edited and published posthumously.
'Shocking novelty' IT was about 1928 that Fr. Parsch wrote an article in Bibel und Liturgie mooting the idea of a reform in the Holy Saturday service and its restoration to its proper time as a Paschal Vigil. At that time the notion was widely opposed as a shocking novelty, but increasing numbers of priests came to see its intrinsic reasonableness. It became a "live issue" in the periodicals of Austria and Germany, and then spread to France, Belgium and Holland. The upshot, in 1951, we all know.
Ile was very early in the field campaigning for an increased use of the vernacular in public worship and sew his ideas hear fruit in the partly vernacular Rituale granted to Austria in 1935, and the still more radical version approved for Germany in 1949.
How he must have rejoiced to hear of the conclusions of the Lugano Conference last September, in which Cardinal Lerearo, supported by Cardinal Frings, Cardinal Feltin and Cardinal Lienart, petitioned the Holy See for vernacular Scripture readings even in the Mass.
Ilymn-M MSS PARSCH had many remark". ahle acl-Cevernents in the practical sphere. He is likely to be remembered best for his development of a certain form of communal public Mass called the Betsingmesse ("Prayer-hymn-Mass"), which has now spread throughout the whole of Austria and Germany. This is a very practical and logical combination of two forms already in use, the Dialogue Mass and hymn-singing during Mass. Ile found Dialogue Mass deficient in that it contained no singing; he found hymns-during-Mass deficient in that the hymns were unsuitable and not integrated into the thought and action of the Mass itself. He gave this matter much study and tried many experiments. The final result is a triumph. He has based his whole concept on the form to be found in High Mass. Analysis of this shows that different parts of it are allotted to different functionaries; and the singing is of two kinds—that which is "proper," namely the "processional chants" of the Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion; and that which is "common," namely the Kyrie. Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
He proposed, therefore, to have just two tunes for any given day. One should he a "people's tune" to which they should sing German metrical translations of the Common chants; the other a "choir's tune" to which they should sing metrical translations of the actual liturgical texts of the Proper,
In between these hymns (sung by the correct functionaries at the appropriate moments) the people would make the answers to the priest, and lectors would read the Epistle and Gospel, as also thc Collect, Secret and Post Communion.
Thus there would be singing only when there is singing at High Mass; and it would be constant or variable just as at High Mass, and whenever the priest prays aloud in Latin there is a lector to translate his words to the people. Thus the complete structure of the Mass is preserved, and all activities— musical or verbal—are integrated into it. Everything incidental is avoided. and everything essential is included.
Choir of 200,000 Tobtain his hymn words and his tunes, Fr, Parseh ran a widely advertised competition among poets and musicians. He tried the results on his own liturgical group at St. Gertrude's, and finally produced a "Mass Hymn Book" containing 12 settings of the Common and a Proper for all the Sundays and chief feasts of the year.
At the Catholic Congress in Vienna in 1933 a crowd of 200,000 people, without any previous practice. took their part admirably in the Betsingmesse. It was a tremendous success, and from that day it has never looked back.
Now that the Lugano Conference has asked also for vernacular singing during High Mass we may hope that some day we may perhaps have a popular Mass-form analogous with that devised by the great pioneer Fr. Pius Parsch. who is doubtless actively participating now in the eternal liturgy of Heaven.