Plainsong : the sound of prayer

That great Church architect, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, is arguably the finest Church architect in recent times. He attempted to recreate the beauty of Church architecture that existed before the reformation. So much had been lost during these religious upheavals, most notably during the Puritan period in England when all imagery and artistic beauty was swept away. Pugin wished to restore English architecture to its original glory.

But it was not simply architecture that was the concern of Pugin. It is said that Pugin, incensed by the music provided at the consecration [31st August 1846] of  the Parish Church of Saint Giles, Cheadle [one of his most famous creations] stormed out of the Church, since he felt, the music provided was not appropriate for the Church. That, Pugin maintained, was Plainsong.

This attitude may be considered extreme to our modern sensibilities, but Pugin had a point. The simplicity of plainsong, like his architecture lifts the mind, body and soul into the presence of God. I have been unable to find out the Mass setting used at the consecration of Saint Giles which probably was polyphonic or one of the great mass settings such as Mozart or Monteverdi. Personally, I love these Mass settings, but I must agree with Pugin that the previous simplicity of the Church is lost whereby the words of the Mass cannot be ascertained within a polyphony of sound. 

Sadly, we rarely hear Plainsong in our churches today.  I remember, many years ago now in my parish, we used to chant the office every morning and evening using the ‘Manual of Plainsong’ prepared by H.B. Briggs and W.H. Frere. Daily, the sound of prayer lifted our minds, souls and bodies towards the beauty and a taste of heaven.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariate in accordance with the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus on the 4th November 2009 which provided its distinctive liturgy in English that was both agreeable to the modern ear yet uses a language and ceremony that was in tune with the beauty and simplicity of the spirituality of previous generations.  The Ordinariate use of the liturgy lends itself perfectly to Plainsong.

Whenever we can, the Sheffield Ordinariate Group meet every first and third Saturday at the Catholic Church of The Mother of God and Saint Wilfred on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield and the Mass is sung to the Ordinariate Use in English to a setting by John Merbecke [1510-1585] and the Propers are sung to ‘The English Gradual : Part II’, again in English.

We would like anyone who wishes to explore the possibility of singing Plainsong to join us.  Plainsong is not difficult to master.  The melody, ‘if I can call it that’ never goes beyond the natural range of the human voice. If you feel that this might be for you and that you might want to explore more about Plainsong please contact Father David Stafford [[email protected]] or just come along to one of our Masses.

 Please check for up-to-date details on the Ordinariate website,

Father David Stafford
Sheffield Ordinariate