On May 30, the archdiocese of San Francisco sent out its First Announcement of Archdiocesan Clergy Appointments for 2013. The announcement is a list which includes names of new pastors and administrators, pastors reappointed to a second three-year term, pastors continuing in their current parish, newly named parochial vicars, retiring religious, religious named to special ministries, personnel board electors, priests beginning sabbaticals, priests returning from sabbaticals, priests in residence, and priests leaving the archdiocese.
Among the names in this transition, one jumps out: the appointment of Reverend Samuel Weber, OSB to a teaching position at St. Patrick’s Seminary. Father Weber is perhaps the most highly regarded liturgical music expert in the country.
He most recently served as the founder and director of the Institute of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which was established in 2008 at the direction of then-archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke. Its purpose is the promotion of the sacred liturgy, and especially Gregorian Chant. Father Weber served at the institute until 2011, when he had to leave to care for his sister, who was gravely ill. At that time, another liturgical music expert, Jeffrey Tucker, wrote: “Father Weber is truly one of the greatest and most inspired Catholic music scholars, composers, and practitioners of chant in the English-speaking world.”
Father Weber has been studying and singing Gregorian chant since 1953. In August 18, 2010, the New Liturgical Movement website profiled Father Weber and the Benedictine sisters of St. Mary Priory in Nauvoo IL, with whom Father Weber studied.
Father Weber reminisced: “…every day we studied Gregorian chant. This is how it worked. On Monday morning Sister Germain would write on the blackboard (at the very top) the new chant we would learn that week. She even used colored chalk for the initial at the beginning! Very artistic. First we repeated the Latin text after her. Underneath the Latin text, with a different colored chalk, she had written the English meaning. And she would explain that to us. Then we repeated the chant melody after her. Everything was done by imitation, as simply as possible. Explanations were kept to a minimum. We never did sol/fa or chironomy or anything like that. Just imitate Sister and let it slowly soak in. The practice sessions were short, but frequent. Frequent repetition was the key. Whenever we had a break, or would begin a new subject, we would start by singing the ‘chant of the week.’ By Thursday morning we pretty much had it all memorized. On Friday afternoon around 2:15 p.m. we cleaned up our desks and the classroom. This included erasing the blackboard. So we said good-bye to the ‘chant of the week.’ By this time we didn’t need to see it anymore. It had been planted in our hearts.”
The article also included a vignette of Father Weber’s return to the priory: “Some forty years later I was assigned to give the retreat to the Benedictine sisters at Saint Mary Priory. I was never so frightened in all my life. Imagine. Giving a retreat to the very sisters who had known you since you were six years old, who knew everything you had said and done during those years!…
“At one point during a break I was having a cup of tea with Sister Jane. I asked her if she remembered that day in 1953 when she had come into our first grade classroom. Oh yes,’ she said. ‘When I was principal, I made a point of going to every first grade classroom on the first day of school and handing out the little red books for the Divine Office. I always did this myself. I wanted this important moment to be personal and special, so that every student would remember it throughout life.'”
Sister Jane’s approach apparently worked. In the same article Father Weber said: “By the providence of God, today, as the founder and first director of the Institute of Sacred Music, I have been given the opportunity to continue the work of promoting the sacred liturgy and Gregorian Chant that the Benedictine sisters of Saint Mary’s Priory, Nauvoo IL, began… The Institute of Sacred Music was established by Archbishop Raymond Burke, who, as it happens, also was educated by Benedictine sisters (these from a priory in Wisconsin), and has a story to tell similar to my own. The goals of the institute are to carry out the directives of the Second Vatican Council and papal documents regarding the role of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony in the life of the Church. To this end, I teach courses in Gregorian chant, liturgical Latin, and other pertinent topics in the institutions of the archdiocese, especially the seminary, religious houses and parishes….”
For those interested, a number of Father Weber’s works may be found on YouTube.