By Fr. George Welzbacher
April 29, 2007
To cite an aria from Puccini's Tosea in the context of a distinguished prelate's death will seem to those who know the opera's plot a little startling, to say the least. But I must confess that when I heard the sad news of the death of my friend Monsignor Richard Schuler what flashed into my mind, unbidden and yes! unreproved, was a passage from the aria, one of the most dramatic in all of opera, sung by Tosca at the end of Act Two: "Vissi d'arte! Vissi d'amore! I have lived for art! I have lived for love!"
Needless to say, some fundamental distinctions are in order here. The art to which Monsignor Schuler devoted his formidable talent and an astonishing outlay of energy and time was not the art-for-art's sake fetish worshipped by the secular humanist. Rather the art to which Monsignor Schuler devoted so much of his life was the art of sacred music, cherished as a means of glorifying God and of stirring God's people to a more exalted sense of God's grandeur and awesome holiness. And the love that inspired and sustained his life-long dedication to sacred music, to its serious study and its glorious performance, was no earth-bound, merely human love but a love that responded to God's love for us, a love definitively made manifest in the sufferings and death of God's only-begotten Son, Who paid the price for our redemption in His blood. Thus understood, those words of Tosea describe quite well the are of Monsignor Schuler's life.
His love for the Lord Christ was a faithful love, an obedient love, one that accordingly would prompt him to the vigorous defense of the immensely rich repertoire of music that glorified Christ. But it was also a love that would brook no compromise with those who would "trim" Christ's teachings to suit the mood of the hour or to follow the latest divagations of "I'll do it my way" theologians. Both in the classroom and in the pulpit Father Schuler-the title he always used for himself- was the antithesis of the "Cafeteria Catholic" for whom the revelation of the Supreme and Eternal Logos is subject to review at the court of the human mind. The saving words of' Christ, to be transmitted by His Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit until the end of time without loss and without corruption-that was the bedrock on which Father Schuler's faith stood, and it was the sole and singular foundation on which he would base his preaching to those whom God entrusted to his care.
And there you have the secret of his phenomenal success in fostering vocations to the priesthood. Combining beauty, dignity, reverence and often splendor in the liturgy with, in his preaching, an unswerving loyalty to the revelation of Christ, with no suppression or evasion of its more difficult demands -or its deeper mysteries, Monsignor Schuler offered idealistic young men, eager to commit their lives to a noble cause, the attractive mission of leading others to Christ through a coherent expounding of the purpose of human life and of the means guaranteed by Christ for the achievement of that purpose, a presentation clothed in sacred ceremonies that conveyed, as far as anything earthly can, the reality of a higher world. Energizing this whole program in a vitally important way were the prayers for vocations offered daily at all of the public Masses celebrated at the Church of St. Agnes throughout Monsignor's third-of-a- century pastorate, a policy maintained by his successors. (On the human level Monsignor's legendary hospitality is worthy of mention, too.) All of this helps to explain the unbroken succession of First Solemn Masses that have been offered at the magnificent high altar of the Church of St. Agnes year after year, within a physical setting that was itself much enhanced by Father Schuler's good taste to provide a more splendid environment for worship in accord with the aesthetic of the European Baroque.
Widely known and respected in the world of sacred music at both the national and the international level thanks to his many years of service as an official of the Consociatio of Catholic Church Musicians and as sole editor of the journal Sacred Music, Father Schuler offered his own parishioners a rich and diverse musical program. Founder in 1956 of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale and until very recently remaining its director- Professor Robert Peterson is now his very able successor-he presented on many Sundays of the year the great orchestral Masses of the Classical and Romantic Eras, with instrumental accompaniment provided by musicians of the Minnesota Symphony, and with Paul Levoir's Schola Cantorum singing in Gregorian Chant the Proper of the Mass and, on those Sundays when the Chorale did not sing, the Common of the Mass as well. Regularly at the Saturday evening Mass Donna (Mrs. James) May's Renaissance Chorale presented (and continues to present) great masterworks of polyphony. And high praise is due to Mary LeVoir, one of the Twin Cities' most brilliant organists, who effectively exploits the resources of St. Agnes Church's wonderfully versatile instrument.
Richard Joseph Schuler, as a Fulbright Scholar and a musicologist with a master's degree from Rochester's Eastman School of Music and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in the History of Music, was frequently invited to give lectures on sacred music at various colleges and universities, and he was a frequent participant in national and international conferences focused on that topic. And throughout the dismal years of the Great Cultural Demolition that thrust itself forward in the mid-1960's he resolutely stood in the breach, a kind of Horatio-at-the-Bridge, resisting the onslaught of vulgar banality and self-celebration that came to prevail in all too many parishes, presenting itself falsely as in accord with the Second Vatican Council's mandate for liturgical reform. Fortunately he lived long enough to see a counterrevolution set in, a program for the restoration of a distinctive Catholic culture that enjoys the blessing of the man (whom Monsignor came to know quite well) who reigns now as Pope Benedict XVI.
Monsignor Schuler was fond of saying that our liturgies here on earth should seek, as best they can, to provide at least an intimation of the heavenly liturgy. Let us keep this great priest in our grateful prayers, asking Our Lord to welcome him now to the glorious and transformative worship of the Beauty that springs eternal in a life that never ends.