“A recent and in many ways innovative addition to this body of music comes from the USA, from the pen of Frank La Rocca – a Mass composed with the aim of incorporating references and inspirations from the Spanish-speaking Catholic population of the Americas. Drawing on celebrations and songs from Mexican-American festival customs, as well as the native Nahuatl language of Central America – but weaving all these elements into a texture clearly descended from Catholic polyphonic traditions – it is a synthesis that says much about the nature of contemporary America.
I spoke to Frank, and to conductor Richard Sparks, to find out more.
Frank, can you tell us about how this Mass came to be, and what the connection is with the Benedict XVI Institute?
FLR: The Institute was nominally founded in about 2013, though it didn’t properly get off the ground until 2017. Its mission is to try to improve the quality of the music sung at Catholic Masses – especially in the Archdiocese of San Francisco where Archbishop Cordileone presides.
In May of 2018, the Archbishop said that he had his first commission for me: A “Mass of the Americas.” As he explained: In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, on the Saturday nearest to the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (which is December 12th), the Mexican and other Spanish-speaking Catholics have a remarkable pilgrimage that they undertake through the city. It stops at various shrines, praying at churches, and involves banners, costumes, even men on horseback – it’s all evocative of celebrations that might have taken place closer to where the apparitions of Our Lady occurred in 1531 [Tepeyac Hill, today in the northern suburbs of Mexico City] at that time.
2018 was going to be the thirtieth such Cruzada Guadalupana, as they’re known, and it so happened that that Saturday was December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. So this gave the Archbishop an idea – as a gift to these people who had been conducting their cruzada all these years, for their faithfulness and devotion, a Mass that somehow expressed the essential unity of all Catholic worshippers regardless of their mother tongue, regardless of whether their principal veneration of the Virgin Mary was in the form of the Immaculate Conception or Our Lady of Guadalupe. In Mexico and countries to the south, the Guadalupe aspect of the Virgin Mary really permeates everything – not just among the religiously observant, but all the way down into local cultural features.
And indeed this is true of the devotional hymn La Guadalupana that I use here – that had morphed over time, to become a tune sung by mariachi bands – crooning trumpets, violins, great big guitars, that robust Mexican harmonisation in parallel thirds – and you hear this on the streets, on the radio, at weddings, and at other celebrations.…—David Smith