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On the Feast of Stephen

Lots of people have sung about the Feast of Stephen, which takes place on Dec. 26. It was on that day, after all, that Good King Wenceslas looked out.

This year, you can celebrate the Feast of Stephen in high style. On Wednesday evening, the Harmonia Chamber Singers are performing a rarely heard Mass by the German Renaissance master Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). The Mass, “Missa Super Dixit Maria,” will be performed as part of a Tridentine Latin Mass taking place at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church on Grand Island. 

You can preview the Hassler Mass in the video up above. It is performed there by the Ensemble Vocal Européen, Philippe Herreweghe conducting.

The Mass at St. Stephen's is a grand finale to the 150th anniversary celebrations held over the course of 2012 by the historic parish. It will be held in the historic church, which dates to 1862. The Rev. Paul Nogaro, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church, will be the celebrant.

The occasion marks the third time that Harmonia Chamber Singers have sung at a Tridentine Mass. The virtuosic choir, which jokes that it sings music “from the Renaissance to Rockapella,” previously sang Palestrina’s famous “Pope Marcellus Mass” at St. Louis Church, and the Rorate Mass, a traditional Advent celebration, at St. Ann’s Church and Shrine.

“It’s one of our offshoots, our side jobs, doing Latin masses,” said Robert Pacillo, the director of Harmonia. “It’s great when you can take music and put it in its intended setting. Especially the Masses, it’s a rarity to have them performed in a Mass setting. It’s probably more common in the bigger cities.”

Pope Benedict XVI, a musician himself, has been encouraging greater use of Latin, Gregorian chant and music by great Catholic composers of the past, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Two Sunday Tridentine Masses are currently being celebrated in the Buffalo area. One is at 9 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church downtown, and the other is at 1:30 p.m. at Our Lady Help of Christians in Cheektowaga.

Harmonia’s performance of the Hans Leo Hassler Mass is part of a religious celebration but is open to all. There is no admission charge. Go and imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages. St. Stephen’s Church is at 2100 Baseline Road, Grand Island. For info, call 773-7647.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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