TEXARKANA — The deep solemnity of a religious celebration can be astonishing to feel and behold.
For those of the Catholic faith, what's called a Solemn High Mass includes Gregorian chant, incense and vestments as part of a traditional Latin Mass ceremony, and for the faithful it evokes that sort of abiding reverence, a communion with the sacred.
At Texarkana's Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Thursday night, an Orchestral Solemn High Mass will be performed to include Mozart's "Coronation Mass," including an orchestra, choir and soloists. All are invited to attend.
Marc-André Bougie, music director and organist at the church, describes it as the first such celebration of this scope here in many years. It's the Mass as it was celebrated for hundreds of years before the Second Vatican Council, he said, also describing it as a sung Mass in the Tridentine or Extraordinary Form. To that, add the majestic music of Mozart.
"The great choral masterworks of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras were often designed to be performed within that context," Bougie said. "That's what is going to happen here."
All of this sounds impressive, but it also looks and feels impressive. It's a spectacle. There is an otherworldly beauty to the ceremony that can even reach those who don't share the same faith.
The Rev. Michael J. Adams serves as Sacred Heart pastor. He understands the spiritual significance and history behind this Mass.
"It used to be the normal Latin Mass before 1969 when Pope Paul VI introduced the new missal," Adams said. For hundreds of years, this had been the standard Mass in the Catholic church. But people became disenchanted and another Mass was instituted, which is the one used now with minor adaptations, he explained.
"It's always been the focus of Catholic worship, the Latin Mass, the Tridentine Mass," Adams said. Pope Pius V had established the Mass Catholics used for the last 500 years. "It was something that the Catholic world just was immersed in until 1969."
This Mass is entirely in Latin and very solemn. One other form is a Low Mass, which isn't sung and is performed without music. "It's just all recitation," Adams said. "And much of the Mass itself was sub rosa, which is in a very low voice, so people couldn't even hear it."
But for this Solemn High Mass performed Thursday, Adams serves as the celebrant who presides with the deacon and subdeacon, both priests. "Then there will be some masters of ceremony, who will be leading around," Adams said. Chanting will be done in Latin, as opposed in the vernacular used in Masses today, the deacon proclaiming the gospel and the subdeacon the epistle.
"A Solemn High Mass probably hasn't happened here, not in our diocese (of Tyler), ever. Our diocese is only 35 years old," Adams said. "It probably hasn't been done in this part of Texas, the Dallas-Houston diocese, in 50 years."
What inspired the return, for this night, of the Solemn High Mass? He grew up with it, for one thing, and keenly felt its absence.
"Not to be able to celebrate it or enjoy it or participate in a Mass that I grew up with, there's always been kind of like a hole in your heart, something that you long for," Adams said. After Pope Benedict said the Solemn High Mass could be celebrated again, Adams didn't think too much about it at first, but then he volunteered to re-learn it.
"A Solemn High Mass has got so many moving parts that it is a spectacular spectacle," Adams said. They ordered more than $15,000 of pontifical vestments for the ceremony. But it's an occasion that's beyond special.
"It elevates everything. It's sacred. There's no mundane music. The music is beautiful. Everything is at a higher standard," Adams said.
He urges Catholics and non-Catholics attend. He believes the Catholic church lost members because this Mass was discontinued, and he says young Catholics, in particular, are drawn to this ceremony.
"They want something sacred," Adams said. "So I've got it right here."
Bougie said these "moving parts" include the liturgy as a worship service. But there's also the musical aspect of the Mass, which is where the likes of Mozart or Beethoven come in with the setting of prayers, such as the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo.
"These are full prayers. Pretty much every composer in history, with very few exceptions, has done at least one musical setting of those five prayers, making one Mass at a time," Bougie said. "In the case of Mozart, he wrote close to 20 different musical settings of the same words. Because Mozart for the first 20 to 25 years of his career was in music ministry. He was doing music at the cathedral in Salzburg."
Therefore, many compositions were written in the classical repertoire for these Latin Masses, not all of them appropriate for a religious service, Bougie said. Some are concert pieces, too long for the occasion.
"But this one, the 'Coronation Mass' by Mozart, which is about 25 minutes of music, is designed to fit within the liturgy," Bougie said. In the context of a Mass, there are breaks. For the performers, this is a unique experience. Bougie said he's done it only once in his life.
And this Solemn High Mass includes a choir of about 25 singers and an ensemble of about 18 orchestral players.
"Which is very close to the number of performers the likes of Mozart, Haydn would have had back then, because they all performed this music from the choir lofts," Bougie said. "And the size of choir lofts has not changed much in 300 years." That's as it will be performed Thursday, too.
"When you say and sing those prayers in the very same language that people have been using for 1,500 years, by the mere fact that you're using that ancient, timeless language, you enter into a spiritual zone that's much different than the vernacular, as if you're uniting with generations of people who have said those actual literal words," Bougie said.
The atmosphere is solemn, contemplative and meditative. It's not like a concert where the audience sees the performers. "It's meant to be played as an act of prayer," Bougie said, noting congregants don't even see the performers. "The music is behind."
The physical geography of this performance highlights the special nature of this music. "Of a depth of expression that's rare in religious music now," Bougie said. Performers know it's special.
"Sacred music is sacred because it's unique, it's different, it fits a purpose," Bougie said, calling the Mass a "timeless moment frozen in time."
The Mass will begin at 7 p.m. A light reception will follow in the parish hall. Sacred Heart is located at 4505 Elizabeth St. in Texarkana, Texas. More info: 903-794-4444.