Joseph Gelineau, SJ
October 31, 1920 - August 8, 2008
October 31, 1920 - August 8, 2008
Fr Joseph Gelineau, who died at the hospital in Sallanches in the French Alps on 8 August 2008 at the age of 87, was born on 31 October 1920 in the village of Champ-sur-Layon in the French département of Maine-et-Loire. Right in the heart of the vine-growing area of Côteaux du Layon, the Gelineau family had owned a vineyard for over 400 years; and Père Joseph occasionally brought a bottle with him to meetings of the Universa Laus Praesidium – the author remembers one fabulous Chenin Blanc with a real taste of pears. Many sources and commentaries have mis-spelled Gelineau with an acute accent on the first ‘e’. There is no accent.
The young Joseph was a frail boy who suffered in his adolescence from tuberculosis, keeping him out of school for an extended period. During this time he lived a segregated existence in what he described as a “hutch” at the bottom of the garden. To strengthen his lungs during this time, he took up playing the horn. Evidently this had the desired result, since he later smoked a pipe for many years without noticeable ill effects, eventually giving it up in the 1980s. Despite the educational setbacks, he had made up enough ground by 1941 to enter the Jesuit novitiate, having been deemed unfit for French military service during World War II. He studied at the Jesuit major seminary at Fourvière in Lyon, spending his tertian year of formation in Florence (which allowed him to become fluent in Italian, of great benefit later in his later international work); and a wise Provincial allowed him to take courses in composition and organ at the École César-Franck in Paris (where one of his fellow students was Jacques Berthier, of Taizé music fame). He obtained a doctorate in theology, the subject of his thesis being Psalmody in the Syrian Church in the 4th-5th centuries; and he was influenced throughout his life by Gregorian Chant. He was ordained a priest in 1951.
It was while the young Joseph was studying in Lyon that Fr (later Canon) Aimé-Georges Martimort, the distinguished French liturgist who was one of the two co-authors of Sacrosanctum Concilium, encouraged him to explore ways for people to sing the psalms in the vernacular; and it was as a result of his first initiatives in this area that he was invited to work on the text of the psalter of the French Jerusalem Bible, which had already been released in 1950. In collaboration with three other scholars, Gelineau developed a revised version of that psalter which respected the rhythms of the Hebrew original. The revision appeared in French in 1955 (a year ahead of the complete Jerusalem Bible) and in English as the world-renowned Grail Psalter in 1963, edited by two Dutch Cistercians together with Hubert Richards, a scripture scholar and catechetical pioneer who was then a priest of the diocese of Westminster, and Dom A. Gregory Murray OSB, well-known in the field of liturgical music.
In conjunction with this work, Gelineau had already begun writing the psalm settings which would make him a household name all over the Catholic world. Many places still use these settings today, although in lesser quantities than at one time. His most celebrated psalm setting is undoubtedly Psalm 22(23) with its antiphon Le Seigneur est mon berger, “My shepherd is the Lord”. This was in fact the first psalm that he wrote, in 1949, and in some ways (as he himself would openly acknowledge) is not typical of the settings that followed, in particular because of the flowing contrapuntal melody in the accompaniment to the psalm tone. But already the “pulsed tone” technique, with a variable number of syllables between the main pulses, is in evidence. Also present is a precise metronomic relationship between the antiphon and the psalm tone, something which is still today overlooked by many who use these settings.
1953 saw the publication in French of his 24 Psalms and a Canticle, rapidly made available in English. This was quickly followed by two other collections of psalms and canticles. The English versions include some of Gelineau’s own antiphons together with others, notably by Dom Gregory Murray OSB, Clifford Howell SJ, Fr Wilfrid Trotman, and Guy Weitz, following the French pattern where a number of prominent liturgical composers had been involved by Gelineau in providing settings of the antiphons. The author first encountered these psalms in 1958, by which time they had already spread throughout the British Isles and to the USA and beyond, though they could still not be used during Mass. As well as Psalm 22(23), Catholics across the world soon became familiar with Psalm 41(42) “My soul is thirsting for the Lord” (Like the deer that yearns), Psalm 99(100) “Arise, come to your God” (Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth), Psalm 135(136) “Great is his love, love without end” (O give thanks to the Lord for he is good), ferial and festal settings of the Magnificat, and many others, which formed a corpus of psalmody ready for use in parishes when the first vernacular lectionaries started to appear in the USA in the mid-1960s. The original edition of the hymn book Praise the Lord (ed. Trotman, pub. Geoffrey Chapman, 1966) incorporated a supplement of Gelineau psalms at the back of the book, and in the USA Worship (pub. GIA) included a much larger selection. (In fact the Americans have consistently used Gelineau psalmody more extensively than the English and continue to do so.)
Religious communities have also made substantial use of Gelineau psalmody; and a little-known fact is that Gelineau tried out many of his early psalm settings on the community at Taizé in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the start of a long relationship that was to bear an unexpected and astonishing fruit through Gelineau’s introduction of Jacques Berthier to the community in 1955. Berthier initially wrote settings for the use of what was then still a monastic community of about twenty men. Two decades later, by which time he had become Gelineau’s parish organist in Paris, Berthier was asked to write a different kind of music that the community felt it now needed to enable the prayer of the young people from many different countries who first started coming to Taizé in large numbers in the mid-1970s. The rest is history...
As a composer, Gelineau did not confine himself to psalms. He wrote many cantiques for the French Church, collections of hymns and other music for the Office, and a score of mass settings. Little of this reached the English-speaking world, and some specially-commissioned settings – an English mass setting published by Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crewe, and an Our Father (D4 in Sing the Mass, ed. Nicholas Kenyon, pub. Geoffrey Chapman, 1975) – did not find their way into the English-speaking mainstream repertoire either. There are also half a dozen hymn settings in the World Council of Churches hymn book Cantate Domino (1974, full music edition 1980). After the death of Jacques Berthier, Gelineau himself wrote some Taizé chants in a similar style; but his musical forms were often somewhat more complicated and were not always received as well as Berthier’s music had been. Gelineau was also responsible for the original adaptation into French of the Rimsky-Korsakov homophonic Our Father, which entered the English-speaking repertoire when Fr Daniel Higgins, then precentor at Westminster Cathedral, encountered it while on sabbatical in Paris, brought it back to England and produced the first (and still the best) English version. (Other versions published subsequently by Kevin Mayhew and Decani Music are inferior, derived from incorrectly-remembered performances of the Higgins original.)
But Joseph Gelineau was not just a composer, he was also a liturgical scholar. 1962 saw the publication in France of Chant et musique dans le culte chrétien, translated by Clifford Howell and published in English as Voices and Instruments in Christian Worship (1964). This book proved to be very influential in the way people would henceforth think about music in the liturgy. With impressive scholarship, Gelineau opened up the history of music in the rite in a way that had not happened before, and treated liturgico-musical genres and forms in great detail. The book paved the way for (for example) the re-introduction of the responsorial psalm form into the Mass after an absence of some 1500 years.
At the same time, he was contributing a vast array of articles in journals such as Eglise qui chante (which he helped to found), La Maison-Dieu and many others. 1962 also saw the first meeting of an international group of liturgist-musicians which would bear fruit in the foundation in 1966 of Universa Laus, the tremendously influential international study group for liturgical music. Of the triumvirate of founding fathers, Joseph Gelineau was the last survivor (Erhard Quack had died in 1983, Luigi Agustoni in 2004). He was also the author of Universa Laus Document I (1980), Music in Christian Celebration. While the Second Vatican Council was in progress, he had been a member of the working group of the Consilium that dealt with the revision of the Order of Mass, and he himself had special responsibility for the Eucharistic Prayer. It was Gelineau himself who was responsible for the re-introduction into the canon of the acclamation after the consecration (the eventual aim of adding further acclamations has yet to be realized, except in the case of Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children).
In the field of liturgical studies, Gelineau edited a huge Italian tome entitled Nelle vostre assemblee (“About your assemblies”) in 1970, translated into French as Dans vos assemblées (“In your assemblies”) in 1971. This was a detailed pastoral-liturgical discussion of all the revised Roman rites issued thus far, and at one time Geoffrey Chapman considered publishing it in English (in the event, they commissioned Pastoral Liturgy: a Symposium, ed. Harold Winstone, 1975, which covered the same sort of ground). In 1995, Gelineau completed a massive revision and updating of the French version, which now had to be published in two volumes. On a smaller scale, in 1976 he published Demain la liturgie, which appeared as The Liturgy Today and Tomorrow (pub. Darton, Longman and Todd, 1978). Despite an inadequate English translation, it contained important reflections on parish liturgical practice, and for the first time dared to mention such controversial topics as whether churches were too large to form real communities, and other models than the clergy as rulers/providers and the laity as nothing more than consumers. The standard English-language liturgical students’ textbook The Study of Liturgy (first edition 1978) included a chapter on music and singing in the liturgy by Gelineau.
1999 saw the publication of Libres propos sur les assemblées liturgiques, translated by the present author under the title Reflections on Renewal, and in 2001 Les chants de la messe dans leur enracinement rituel (The chants of the Mass and their ritual roots), translated by Bernadette Gasslein. These two small books were combined together by Pastoral Press/OCP Publications to form Liturgical Assembly, Liturgical Song, pub. 2002. (The first of them is in effect Joseph Gelineau’s last will and testament, as he reflects in a free and wide-ranging manner on different aspects of the life of liturgical assemblies, while the second one gives an analysis of the different sung parts of the Mass and discusses various possibilities of bringing them to life.)
This brief résumé of Joseph Gelineau’s output does not include many other works, ranging from small books of prayer and spirituality to a treatise on psalmody in general. Not so far published is a corpus of cantillated Bible stories for children, and at the time of his death he was in the final stages of a complete music setting of the Divine Office for the French Cistercians.
Joseph Gelineau was an experienced and beloved teacher. He lectured in liturgy at the Institut Catholique in Paris for 25 years. During much of this time, he was also the pastor of the parish of Saint-Ignace (St Ignatius) in Paris. Possessed of an incisive mind, he was not backward in making his opinions known. A notable feature of Universa Laus meetings in the 1970s and 80s was the fact that Gelineau could think on his feet three times as fast as anyone else. This could make him seem somewhat terrifying, but he was always very encouraging to any young people who were seriously trying to do or say something in the field of the liturgy and its music.
To be present at Mass when Joseph Gelineau was presiding was to witness someone imbued by prayer. He seemed to have achieved a marvellous balance between the contemplative and active dimensions of worship, conveying a spirit of prayerfulness and at the same time communicating wonderfully with the assembly. His homilies were always very deep and yet very human. He knew how to use his voice, but also how to use silence.
Many will remember the thick plaid shirts that Père Joseph often wore, even in the height of summer – sometimes underneath a jacket, sometimes as the jacket on top of another shirt and even a sweater. Another trademark was the rounded horn-rimmed spectacles with lenses that became like pebble-glass in later years. But most of all, people will remember the particular character of Père Joseph’s singing voice....
When Gelineau retired from the Institut and the Eglise Saint-Ignace, it was not to sit around and do nothing. The French bishops had recently woken up to the fact that in parts of rural France the shortage of priests had resulted in local communities electing their own “priests” to confect the Eucharist, unbeknown to the hierarchy. It was clear that serious formation in lay ministry was required as a matter of urgency, and Gelineau volunteered to become the pastor of a large cluster of rural parishes based around Écuelles, close to Moret-sur-Loing, to the south-east of Paris, not far from the village where the English composer Frederick Delius had lived from 1897 to 1934. Here Gelineau would try to create a model for the future. In fact he forged a new way of being church, glimpses of which can be found in Reflections on Renewal, mentioned above, and in the present author’s interviews with him published in Music and Liturgy, issues 314-315, summer and autumn 2004, vol 30, nos 2 and 3 (the first part also in Voices from the Council, Pastoral Press/OCP, 2004).
Gelineau’s first visit to England was in 1973, for the Universa Laus meeting at Wood Hall, near Leeds. On this occasion he encountered the late Dr Erik Routley, and was so taken with Routley’s description of the liturgical enterprise as the trajectory of a ball when it is thrown to you that he incorporated and developed this image in presentations that he gave in the years immediately following. In 1978 he returned to England for the combined Society of St Gregory / Universa Laus Congress at Strawberry Hill. In 1981, Gelineau was invited to be a guest speaker at the NPM National Convention in Long Beach, California. There he gave a brilliant presentation (unfortunately not recorded), followed by the première of his setting of Psalm 106(107) complete – far from being an antiphon + psalm tone, this was a large setting with a small orchestra accompanying it. Also present at the same convention, by chance, was another great French liturgist-composer, Lucien Deiss.
For many years Gelineau had spent his summers in the French Alpine village of Vallorcine, near Mont Blanc, close to the Swiss and Italian borders, through the kindness of one his former Paris secretaries, the flautist Geneviève Noufflard, who allowed him free use of her house, a converted cattle barn of considerable character. The clean mountain air was beneficial for his lungs, and he had been able to pray, compose, and write in peace and quiet. When the time came for him to give up his parish work in Écuelles, Geneviève offered Gelineau a permanent self-contained bed-sit in the house. His Jesuit superiors having agreed, Joseph Gelineau spent his final years in a room little bigger than a cigar-box, lined with books and music and containing a desk, a small spinet, and a simple bed, with a French horn prominently mounted on one wall. As long as his health permitted, he presided at Eucharist for the local community, whose former priest had long since died.
Père Joseph fractured a femur in late July 2008. Because of circulatory problems, surgery had to be delayed for ten days. The operation was not a great success, and in its aftermath a renal blockage developed which the doctors were unable to treat. His funeral was celebrated on 12 August in Vallorcine, and he is buried in the Jesuit cemetery in Grenoble. With his passing, we mourn the loss of a great man and the end of an era in the liturgical reform. May he rest in peace.
Tribute written by Paul Inwood.