STAMFORD—When Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone wanted a pro-life Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of the overturned Roe v. Wade decision, he commissioned Christopher Mueller, former music director of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and of St. Mary of Stamford Parish.
Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco envisioned something written for children’s voices to heighten the emotion of the 2023 Walk for Life West Coast Mass, which he will celebrate on January 21 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.
“The Archbishop wanted a Mass specifically to celebrate the gift of human life,” said Mueller, who is currently music director at Saint Louis Bertrand Church of the Dominican Friars in Louisville, Ky. “He wanted a pro-life Mass to be written for children’s voices to heighten the emotionality of the liturgy … This is the largest set of movements that I have done, and that makes it stand out. It was a great honor to be asked to do it.”
Mueller’s recently composed choral setting was written for the St. Brigid School choir program, which has 40 students. Adults will sing some parts of the Mass, which is a 10-movement work that will be sung in English, Spanish and Latin in the Gregorian chant tradition, but with a contemporary and Renaissance approach.
A composer, conductor, organist, choirmaster and former jazz musician, Mueller lives with his wife Constanza and three children in Indiana.
Because of his work with the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, Mueller was approached by the Archbishop, who started the institute, which has a mission of “opening the door of Beauty to God.”
“Perhaps the most interesting piece in the Mass was the very first movement that the Archbishop and I discussed: He wanted a special post-Communion reflection,” Mueller said in an interview with the newspaper for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Five verses from the opening of the Book of Jeremiah are used, during which God told the Old Testament prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
“The beginning of the Book of Jeremiah is a conversation between God and Jeremiah,” Mueller said. “God says, ‘I am giving you this task, to go and be a prophet to the nations … do not say “I am a youth,” for I am with you to deliver you.’”
Adult male tenors and basses will sing the voice of God in Latin, while the children sopranos and altos will sing Jeremiah’s words in Spanish and English.
“The idea is to have the children sing as much as they can,” Mueller said.
They will sing the four movements in the Ordinary of the Mass, the post-Communion reflection and the Alleluia. Mueller will conduct three of the movements, and the rest will be done by the cathedral music director Christoph Tietze.
“How powerful it is for people to pray a Mass with beautiful music,” he said. “It has the power to lift up people’s hearts and minds, to give them a sense of something that is transcendent and prayerful.”
The children’s choir performs at archdiocesan Masses, and before the COVID lockdown, they sang at the Vatican, which they will do again during the New Year’s observance in 2024.
The Walk for Life West Coast Mass is celebrated annually. Generally, 40,000 to 50,000 people take part in the march in San Francisco, which follows the Mass at the cathedral.
“The Mass is the single largest event at the cathedral every year,” Mueller said. “So many people come out that usually the church can’t hold any more.”
Mueller has written several congregational Masses, including one performed by churches and cathedrals all over the English-speaking world. He also wrote the music for his own wedding Mass, and some movements from that piece have been performed in concert settings.
Mueller, who worked many years in the New York area, was founding director of the music program at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, where he established a program of liturgical music for the daily and Sunday afternoon Masses.
He was also founding director of the St. Michael Foundation for Polyphony and Chant, which promotes its use in Roman Catholic Masses. Since December 2019, he has been organist and choirmaster at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville.
He directed the choir and orchestra at the USCCB Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Fla. in 2017, in addition to the choir and orchestra at the Mercy Centre at World Youth Day 2016 in Kraków, Poland, where he led the music at daily Mass for 18,000 pilgrims. This past August, he was clinician and conductor at the seventh annual Extraordinary Music Workshop in Kraków.
From 2012 to 2017, Mueller worked in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He was the principal organist at St. Mary’s in Stamford, and organist and choirmaster of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist. In addition, he has served as organist and choirmaster for the Church of Notre Dame in New York City and as director of music for the Columbia University Catholic Campus Ministry.
By Joe Pisani