This evening, I went to a retreat house owned by the Benedictine Order for the Latin Mass. I have a deep affection for the Benedictines. One of my professors was a Benedictine monk. I very much relished my visits to his abbey. The Benedictines have been in Korea for over 100 years. Before the war, they had a flourishing monastic community in what is now North Korea. Some of the monks and nuns were tortured and even killed by the North Koreans. They set up a new monastic community not far from Daegu where they remain today.
The area of Dongguk University seems to be a strange location for a retreat house. Often, retreat houses and monasteries are in the countryside, far removed from the bustle of cities. But if one can find peace and silence in the midst of the city, I suppose that is all to the good. They have a beautiful little chapel there and that is where we had the Latin Mass.
A Gregorian Chant schola, the Concentus Gregorianus de Seoul, provided the chant. Since the Latin Mass is rather infrequently celebrated in Seoul, they had to stick to a relatively familiar setting for the Mass, the ever-popular Mass VIII “De Angelis”. Fifty years ago, the Missa “De Angelis” was likely the only Latin Mass setting that many Catholics could sing by heart. And I must say, they did sing it well. I did notice some extra syllables added that aren’t in Latin (Gloria in excelshisuh). I used to think that Italian was a language with a lot of vowels until I went to Starbucks and ordered an e-suh-puh-resso. Latin, much like English, has combinations of vowels and consonants which simply don’t exist in the Korean language. However, nobody seemed daunted and everybody tried to sing, even with the more difficult gradual and offertory chants. Everything was in Latin, save the readings and the sermon. Everything was chanted except for the readings and the sermon. A Korean Benedictine priest celebrated the Mass. I must say that I am very interested in making a visit down to Waegwan Abbey. He seemed totally at home in the Latin and pronounced everything perfectly. He chanted everything flawlessly as well. It leads me to wonder if they habitually celebrate Mass in Latin there. I was definitely impressed!
For the benefit of non-Catholic readers, I’m attaching a short video of a portion of the Missa “De Angelis”. The composer Richard Proulx once said that this Mass setting is almost a part of Catholic DNA, as it were. Of all the chant Mass settings, this one is the most popular.