Friday, February 15, 2013

A great priest who interpreted correctly Vatican II

Rev. Mro Alberto Borg OSA, known as ‘Patri Bert’.
Fr Alberto Borg OSA: a priest that should be emulated.

In this historical week, Pope Benedict XVI argued that, after the Second Vatican Council, the liturgy was trivialised and sacredness was understood as a purely pagan thing and these outlooks became fixed ideas. “The translation and trivialisation of the idea of the Council – he went on to explain – led to the event being read outside the context of faith.” (meeting with parish priests in Rome, 14 February 2013).
Fifty years after the Council, this false vision is now melting away, letting the “real Council” shine through. The Pope therefore urged clerics to ensure that the Council finds full expression in today’s world as well.

Unlike what some people might think, Pro Tridentina (Malta), albeit in favour of the Tridentine Mass, is not against the Novus Ordo Missae. It is against the abuses that a number of priests indulge into during its celebration (be it lack of reverence, hastily celebrated Mass, etc.).

The following extracts are from an article on the Sunday Times about the late Fr Alberto Borg OSA on the first anniversary of his death. May others follow the example of this generous priest, (who I remember in his last years at St. Augustine's Church, Valletta). This article clearly shows that Fr Borg interpreted correctly the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, by not neglecting Latin as well as enhancing the Novus Ordo Missae in Maltese.


Musicians have an important and necessary function in the liturgy. Whether fully trained professionals or enthusiastic amateurs, all must remember that the purpose of the music is to implement the liturgy, and not to entertain the faithful or glorify themselves. The motto of all ought to be: Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam! (Not to us, Lord, but to your name be all glory!).

... With his death a year ago, on February 11, 2012, at the age of 92, Malta lost a true example of a great priest and a dedicated musician.

... In January 1945, after obtaining his A.Mus.LCM diploma, Archbishop Michael Gonzi nominated Fr Borg maestro di cappella of both the Mdina and Valletta Cathedrals and as music teacher at the Archbishop’s Seminary (a post he held until 1992).

In 1946, Fr Borg was sent to Rome to complete his musical studies at the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra, founded by Pope Pius X, graduating as Master in Gregorian chant and in composition in 1949. He always considered himself lucky to have had teachers such as Licinio Refice, Ferruccio Vignanelli, Luigi Ronga, Hubert Descrocquettes, Joseph Gajard and Igino Angles, all well known in the musical world.

... In 1979, Fr Borg was appointed part-time lecturer at the University of Malta, and in 1985, at the Augustinian Institute, Valletta. He also directed the Sacred School of Music. As teacher, composer and director, reviving old music from the Maltese music archives was a matter very close to his heart.

... Fr Borg was deeply convinced that Gregorian chant was the music that most befitted the Roman Catholic Church, and thus went all out to teach it to seminarians and religious. In this he had the enthusiastic support of the late Mgr Albert Pantalleresco, who served as rector of the Major Seminary between 1951 and 1963. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, when many were taking up the vocation to the priesthood, the Seminary choir was renowned for its interpretation of Gregorian music.

Apart from his love for Gregorian chant, Fr Borg also taught and conducted music by 20th- century composers like Refice and Lorenzo Perosi. His main contribution, however, was his ability to instil in seminarians and religious a love for sacred music. In fact, after their ordination, many of these went on to set up reputable choirs in their parishes. The most noteworthy choirs were those of Żurrieq, St Julian’s, and Ħamrun (St Cajetan), led by Fr Michael Damato, Fr Guido Calleja and Fr Joseph Cachia, respectively.

As maestro di cappella he was greatly admired and esteemed by both Archbishop Gonzi and Archbishop Joseph Mercieca. Besides, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him the cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for promoting sacred music in Malta.

Fr Borg also composed different Masses in Latin and Maltese, including Quddiesa tal-Mejtin and Quddiesa tal-Poplu t’Alla.

A member of the Metropolitan Commission for Music for several years, Fr Borg composed all the liturgical hymns of the missal, including the Exultet. In response to the liturgical reform designed by Vatican Council II, he joined up with Oliver Friggieri, a student of his, to produce hymns in Maltese, such as Ħenn Għalina and B’Qalbna Safja, which soon became staples in Maltese churches.

He also composed antiphons, introits, graduals, motets, psalms and polyphonic compositions for Holy Week and the Easter triduum such as the Turba dei Giudei, Amicus Meus and Velum Templi. Most of these were presented in an evening of Polyphonic Chant for Holy Week at St John’s Co-Cathedral on March 12, 1986, directed by Mro Borg himself.

It is due to Mro Alberto Borg, OSA, that to this day we can benefit from the sacred music which adorns the whole liturgical year with popular hymns which Maltese and Gozitans alike still sing and know from memory.

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