December 6 is quite a special day. It’s the feast day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children (also known as Father Christmas). In 1875, one of the great mystics of the 20th century, Evelyn Underhill, was born on this day. Fifteen years later, another mystic, the esotericist Violet Firth (better known by her pen name, Dion Fortune) also was born on 12/6. The treaty between England and Ireland marking the end of the Irish war for independence was signed on 6 December 1921, and a year later — 100 years ago today — the Irish Free State (predecessor of the Republic of Ireland) came into existence, marking the first time a Celtic country was free for centuries.
But also on December 6, 1922, the City of Birmingham Choir in Birmingham England gave the first performance of one of the most beautiful choral settings of the Latin Mass — the Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although originally presented in a secular concert setting, Vaughan Williams wrote this Mass for Liturgical use, and the music does continue to get used in worship settings as well as concert performances.
The Vaughan Williams Mass is distinctive for integrating melodies and cadences from English folk tunes into the liturgical music for the Mass, giving this particular Mass a lyrical, melodic quality that is simultaneously earthy and transcendent. It is simply a luminous and sublime expression of Christian worship — it’s my favorite Mass, and I simply adore the fact that it debuted on this particular day (yes, December 6 is a special day for me as well).
If you’re not familiar with the Vaughan William Mass, listen to it by playing the following video, or click here to listen on Spotify. You can also find some wonderful recordings of the Mass in G Minor for sale on Amazon.
Happy Birthday, Mass in G Minor!
I first heard this Mass when I borrowed the King’s College Choir recording of it from my college library, some 40 years ago now. Even though it was recorded in the 1950s, it’s still my favorite recording of this Mass.