World Premiere Celebration of a New Mass Honoring St. Junipero Serra by Frank La Rocca

  • Celebrant: Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
  • July 1, The Feast of St. Junipero Serra, Noon
  • Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores), founded by St. Junipero Serra
  • Richard Sparks conducting, the Benedict Sixteen Choir and Choral Ensemble

This Mass is a gift of Terry Caster in honor of his late, beloved wife, Barbara Caster. We ask you all to pray for the repose of Barbara Caster’s soul.

Last year, as statues of St. Junipero were being defaced, toppled, and even decapitated, Archbishop Cordileone decided to commission a new Mass honoring St. Junipero Serra by Benedict XVI Institute’s composer-in-residence Frank La Rocca.

Integrating St. Junipero Serra’s favorite Marian hymn (the lesser-known Salve Virgin Pura), using the simple instruments available to the Franciscan friars in California, incorporating the traditional Latin rite as St. Junipero Serra would have prayed, the Missa Sancti Juniperi Serra will be celebrated for the first time in the world on the Feast of St. Junipero Serra, July 1, at the Mission St. Junipero Serra helped found in the year 1776: Mission San Francisco de Asís, the mission which gave birth to the great city of San Francisco.

This capstone Mass of the Sacra Liturgia San Francisco conference is open to the public. Space is limited and by registering you will help us plan.

A new painting by Bernadette Carstensen “St. Junipero Serra and the American Saints” will be set up as a shrine. The nine saints chosen convey the deep roots of Catholicism in America as well as the diversity of the Catholic Church, the world’s most diverse institution: St. Junipero Serra, St. Damian of Molokai, St Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Fr. Augustin Tolton, Blessed Fr. Michael McGiveny, St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, St. Rene Goupil and the unknown Indian martyrs.

These new works will be featured in a new EWTN documentary on St. Junipero Serra as America’s Other Founding Fathers with Archbishop Cordileone this year on the Fourth of July.

As always we welcome your presence, free of charge and are grateful for your prayers. If you can reasonably afford it, we ask for a gift of $25 or more, in lieu of ticket price, to help Archbishop Cordileone continue to evangelize, build, love and create anew with the Benedict Sixteen Choir and Orchestra.

Q and A with Frank La Rocca:

1. What was the genesis of the Missa Sancti Juniperi Serra?

It was commissioned in Fall of 2020. When Archbishop Cordileone commissioned my first work for the Institute, the Mass of the Americas, he said he wanted me to follow the model of the Franciscans at the Missions. The Mission churches are clearly places of worship — sacred spaces any European would have recognized — yet they incorporate materials and designs used by the native peoples of this continent. In a similar way, he wanted the music to breathe the same air as the treasury of music the Church has given birth to over the centuries, yet be based on popular devotional melodies, such as “La Guadalupana.” 

For Mass of the Americas I did consult with Mission-era musical experts, though not in live interviews. My primary source was a book generally recognized as the first thoroughly researched musicological study of the music of the Missions, “From Serra to Sancho: Music and Pageantry in the California Missions” by Prof. Craig Russell of Cal State San Luis Obispo. It is a landmark work for anyone interested in this topic.

So I was already acquainted with excellent background material when I was asked to do this current Mass. For the Missa Sancti Juniperi Serra, I dug more deeply into Russell’s book, I bought a collection of hymns from the Mission Era published by the Franciscans, and also consulted a local Southern California expert, Steven Ottmanyi – who has written a 1000 page dissertation on this topic. I also carefully researched the musical instruments that were played at Mass by the Native Americans – instruments they themselves crafted after being introduced to European violins and flutes.

2. What would you say was your overall intention, in terms of musical expression, when composing the St. Serra mass?

My overall intent for this Mass was to honor St. Junipero with music he would recognize, in the only form of the Mass he would recognize (what we now call the Usus Antiquior). I do this in several ways: first, incorporating the chants from Missa Orbis Factor (certainly among the most likely chanted Ordinaries in the missions) into a newly composed Ordinary; second, using “original” instruments to accompany the voices — actual 18th century-style strings and flutes, which are notably different from the modern versions. Finally, most of all, I based the musical ideas of the Mass on what is known to have been St. Junipero’s favorite hymn: “Salve Virgen Pura”, a vernacular hymn to the Virgin Mary. The Mass begins with a processional Prelude (my new arrangement of “Salve Virgen Pura”) and the Agnus Dei recalls this Prelude, so the hymn serves as bookends to the music of the Mass — a procedure some might be familiar with in Bach’s Goldberg Variations — surrounding numerous variations of the hymn tune woven into the music of the Mass.

3. Do you think St. Serra assisted you in any way, with the St. Serra mass?

Shortly after beginning work on the Mass, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Let me hasten to add it was caught early and I am cancer-free, Deo gratias. I composed this Mass during the weeks and months of uncertainty about the outcome, and so I felt very, very close to God. Indeed, working on the Mass was a profound comfort to me, reminding me of my dependence on grace not just for my health, but for musical inspiration. I did pray to St. Junipero, asking for his blessing on the work and to intercede for a good outcome to my illness.

From Eventbrite.