Universa Laus is an international study group for liturgical music, which was influential in developing and implementing the musical aspects of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. This year was the 50th anniversary of its foundation. It was my first time attending, but I was part of a sizeable English contingent, including doyen John Ainslie, who I think has been attending almost since the beginning. We met at the enchanting Villa Cagnola in Gazzada, about 30 miles north of Milan, for a relaxed but interesting programme focussing mainly on liturgical aesthetics, including keynote lectures by Michael Driscoll and Paul Inwood. The first meeting 50 years ago was in Lugano, just over the border in Switzerland, and we had a celebratory day trip to the place where it all started, with talks on the history and the lasting achievements of the group, and Mass with the local bishop. (And the ladies of the Cathedral choir served us a sumptuous lunch, pausing only to serenade Mr Inwood with his own hymn for the Year of Mercy, Misericordes sicut Pater.)
Villa Cagnola is also home to an extraordinary art collection, donated (like the Villa itself) to the Vatican in 1850. We were treated to a private viewing, and the reward for those who endured the longueurs of the porcelain collection—evidently the life’s obsession of our very knowledgeable tour guide—was the amazing, breathtaking collection of Medieval and Renaissance painting.
En route home we called in at the Duomo in Milan for Sunday morning Mass in the Ambrosian Rite. A group of seven or eight male singers sang more or less to themselves, with no attempt to provide a role for the sizeable congregation. A nice enough sound, but not what you’d call actuosa participatio.