The spiritual impact of Msgr. Richard Schuler's priestly leadership and example

The spiritual impact of Msgr. Richard Schuler's priestly leadership and example

Fr John T. Zuhlsdorf

The spiritual impact of zealous priestly leadership and example have been underlined in the long career of Monsignor Richard J. Schuler of the Minneapolis-St Paul Archdiocese, who celebrated his 60th Jubilee of priestly ordination on 30 October 2005 at the Church of St Agnes where he had been parish priest until his retirement in 2001.

Highly qualified in the field of Church music, with an MA from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and a doctorate in musicology from the University of Minnesota, Msgr Schuler was honoured by Paul VI in 1970 with the title "Monsignor" for his work in organising the Holy See's first international Church music conference after Vatican II. In 1969 he succeeded Msgr Rudolph Bandas as the eighth parish priest of St Agnes Church in St Paul.

Msgr Bandas had been a theological advisor through all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council and knew first hand what the Council Fathers really intended in their documents. He was thus immunised against the feverish "spirit of Vatican II" which so devastated Church music and liturgical practice in many places.

Returning well-armed from the Council, Msgr Bandas did not eliminate Latin from the parish and when liturgical directives came from Rome he implemented what the documents actually said, avoiding an aberrant approach of change for the sake of change. This meant that the parishioners of St Agnes were not subjected to liturgical or doctrinal chaos.

When Fr Schuler came to St Agnes as parish priest in 1969, bringing with him the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale which he had founded in 1956, he found a solid foundation in place. And when the Novus Ordo Mass was implemented in 1969 and 1970, the transition was peaceful, in accord with the Roman tradition and precisely what the Council had asked for.

He clearly understood and put into practice at St Agnes one of the most important of all the Church's liturgical goals: to promote full, conscious and active participation in the holy rites of the liturgy.

So often this concept of active participation has been incorrectly reduced to a mere outward or exterior, physical participation. What the Church understands as true "active participation," however, begins with being interiorly receptive to what Christ has to give through the Church's sacred mysteries.

One of the most active ways of participating at Mass is listening, with mind, heart and will engaged, to the prayers, the readings, the preaching and the sacred texts of music which is truly artistic and appropriate for use in church.

On about 30 Sundays of the liturgical year and on other great feasts, anyone who comes to St Agnes Parish can participate in the orchestral Masses of the Church's treasury of sacred music.

To people who objected that the beautiful music - by such composers as Mozart, Haydn and Schubert - "distracted" them from the prayers of Mass, Msgr Schuler responded that the music itself is prayer and an integral part of the Mass: "You can't be distracted from prayer by prayer."

Msgr Schuler also fostered the development of an a cappella polyphonic choir which sings the masterworks of Renaissance polyphony, while a Gregorian chant schola cantorum provides the proper chants every Sunday of the year, support for congregational singing of Gregorian chant on Saturday mornings and also Solemn Vespers on Sunday afternoons before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.

In the parish high school, there is a fine student choir dedicated to singing sacred music from all periods.

The program of orchestral Masses of the Viennese school at St Agnes is more ambitious even than what one might find in Vienna. And it would be difficult to find in Rome a Mass sung in Latin with Gregorian chant or polyphonic music that would rival the excellence and solemnity to be found at St Agnes Church.

By their experience of the beauty of these Masses not a few non-Catholics (including the present writer) have come to be first interested in the content of the Church's faith, resulting in many conversions and many vocations.

Priestly vocations

Together with his work as a church musician in a parochial setting, Msgr Schuler is also distinguished for the many vocations to the priesthood he has fostered and, on many occasions, defended from attack.

In the last three decades, there have been some 30 first Masses at St Agnes Parish. Year after year, in attending ordinations of priests, I have seen Msgr Schuler step forward to help a new priest put on his chasuble for the first time. Many of these men are now in charge of their own parishes and, as one might expect, they are beginning to produce vocations as well.

Last year's Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist concerned itself with the shortage of priests and what needs to be done to reverse the trend.

On the other side of the globe, Msgr Schuler adopted a relatively simple approach: celebrate Mass not just well but with splendour, promote and defend service at the altar by boys and young men only, provide sound preaching, hear confessions, provide ample occasions for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, look and act like a priest by wearing a cassock or black suit, at every Sunday Mass have the whole congregation kneel and recite a prayer for vocations, and when men show interest in the priesthood keep the rectory door open and the coffee on.

In his service as a priest, Msgr Schuler has been both a noted Church musician as well as an exceptionally successful "fisher of men." In his effort to promote true sacred music in his parish, he has always striven to adhere to the Church's legislation about the same, always understanding that sacred music is not just an "add on" to the liturgy, but rather it is an integral part of the liturgy itself.

Edited and shortened from a much longer article published in 'The Wanderer'.

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