Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) - A few years ago, Bishop James Conley asked that the Latin Mass parts be used in parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln during the season of Lent.
Students at Blessed Sacrament School in Lincoln have had the opportunity for learning the Mass parts through the new Latin Chant Club.
Students in the Latin Chant Club meet once a week after school to practice the Mass parts and learn what they mean. Those students then lead the congregation from the choir loft, but all of the students at Blessed Sacrament participate in Latin Chant during Lent.
Mark Hansen, a junior high English teacher with a background in music and classical literature, is the leader of the Latin Chant Club, and said that the club has been a collaborative effort.
Last summer, Hansen attended a Latin chant camp taught by Nicholas Lemme, the Latin chant director at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, to learn more about chant itself and how to teach it to students.
“I knew a little bit of Latin because I took two years at the University, but that was even first-century Latin, not Church Latin, so I didn’t pronounce it the way chant should be pronounced,” he said.
Julie Main, the junior high computer teacher at Blessed Sacrament, coordinated the Latin Mass parts with the priests and made cards for all of the students to read off of during Mass.
“It’s cute because they’re still learning the Pater Noster (Our Father),” Hansen said. “I’m still learning, too, because it’s hard. I still mess up a part of it, so it’s good to have the kids there to keep me grounded and on track with things like that.”
Seventh-grader Felicity Suelter has a passion for music, and jumped on the opportunity to participate in the Latin Chant Club.
“She loves singing and knew this would be a wonderful way to share any gifts that God has given her,” said her mother, Sherri Suelter.
Sherri said Felicity has enjoyed learning and singing with her friends, and that she is grateful to Mr. Hansen for starting the Latin Chant Club.
“Latin Chant Club has given Felicity the opportunity to not only learn Latin and its meanings, but also the vocal beauty of the language itself. She has always loved music and singing in all its forms, but learning and singing Latin has broadened her knowledge of the musical spectrum.”
Hansen said one of his favorite parts of the Latin Chant club is helping the students understand the meaning of Latin words by connecting them with other languages.
“The first time we met, we went through all the language and I tried to connect that to English,” Hansen said. “I’d say, ‘okay, Pater Noster: what’s Pater? Well, what’s Padre in Spanish?’ They said, ‘Oh that’s father or dad. I said ‘Spanish is just newer Latin,’ and that helps sometimes because they know some Spanish.”
Hansen also explained the ending phrase, “sed libera nos a malo” – liberate us from evil. He said many of the kids connected the root word, mal- (evil), with the movie character, Maleficent. This same root is in malevolent, maltreat, and malice, and Hansen has used examples like this to help students learn and remember Latin words.
“As a teacher, I love making those connections from Latin to Spanish, to English, to French, to Italian, and so I like the fact that I can use that to help kids understand,” he said. “They were interested in how the Latin connected with English and Spanish, or even characters in movies.”
Although Hansen is too young to remember when Mass was always celebrated in Latin, he realizes the importance of Latin Chant in today’s society.
“I think it’s really important for our kids to realize that our faith reaches back 2,000 years, and it’s the same,” Hansen said. “One of the reasons that we had the Latin Mass for so long is because if you went to Mass in Lincoln, it was pretty much the same as you saw in Boston, or Madrid, or Vietnam. It was universal.”
Sherri Suelter agreed with Hansen on the beauty and universality of Latin Chant.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn and recognize the reverent beauty of Latin chant,” she said. “It is the universal language of the Catholic Church. What they are singing unites them with their fellow brothers and sisters all over the world. But some day when they are attending Mass in a different part of the world, or even World Youth Day, this beautiful language will be what everyone prays together.
“And there is an angelic beauty to the sound of Latin Chant,” she continued. “It’s truly meditative.”
While the language of Latin Chant is one aspect, the actual musicality is another transformative aspect that lifts hearts into a deeper meditation on Christ.
Hansen said: “I remember when I first heard chant, and my brain and my ear were so attuned to pop music that I was like, ‘no you’re ending it wrong! It’s not resolving like I think it should resolve.’ That takes us out of our world and takes us into that Heavenly world where we’re putting those things away. Some of the new hymns feel more like pop songs. I mean, there are songs that remind me of the Beatles songs; I hear it and I start singing the Beatles in my head, and chant doesn’t do that.
“Chant was made to praise God,” he stressed, “and for that very reason, we’re not taking a pop song and sticking that paradigm on our worship of God. We’re using the stuff that was made to worship God. From the language perspective, it helps us get beyond our own small world. From a musical perspective, it’s the same thing. It helps us get beyond the very contemporary things that happen and helps us enter more deeply into the worship of God.”
Hansen said he enjoys seeing leadership develop in the members of the Latin Chant Club, and he hopes to continue the club next year.