Sharing the Experience of the Congregation
David Schultenover, S.J.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


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Dave Schultenover, S.J. is a delegate to the Congregation from the Wisconsin Province, in the US Assistancy.

He is a Consultor to the Provincial of the Wisconsin Province and a professor of historical theology at Marquette University.

He is the editor in chief of THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, A Jesuit Sponsored Journal of Theology.


Ash Wednesday 2008

Rather than repeat the story of the Congregation’s celebration of Ash Wednesday (go here:, I will relate a bit about the behind-the-scenes preparation.

Our celebration took place at the great Church of St. Ignatius (, a 5-minute walk from our mother Church of the Gesù where one month ago we celebrated the Mass opening the Congregation. The Mass of Ash Wednesday, at 6:30 PM, was not advertised, so the non-Jesuit congregation was small.

The choir director, Fr. Vlastimil Dufka, S.J., from Slovakia (he goes by Vlasto) was assigned by the director of his tertianship (the last year of a Jesuit’s formation) to provide for the musical needs of the 35th General Congregation. He has a very interesting background, of which I can give only a few details. He comes from a family of musicians. As it turns out, two of his brothers had entered the Jesuits in the time of the Soviet occupation of Hungary; during that period, the Society of Jesus functioned entirely underground. Neither brother knew that the other had joined the Jesuits, nor did their parents know. Every Jesuit was told to keep his SJ identity a strict secret, even from family members, lest they be imprisoned. By the time Vlasto entered, the Berlin Wall had fallen. Only then did he learn that two of his brothers had preceded him into the order. When he informed his father that he was planning to enter the Society, his father said, “Oh no! Not a third!” Vlasto is a professionally trained musician. I don’t know how many instruments he plays, but I know that he plays a very sweet oboe and is accomplished on the keyboard and as a choral director.

When we congregants entered the aula for the opening session of the Congregation, we saw a beautiful slide of “Mission” projected on the huge screen above the dais at the front of the aula, and heard Vlasto playing on solo oboe the theme song from The Mission ( For the Mass that opened the Congregation, he had rehearsed a choir of Jesuit scholastics studying in Rome. For the Mass of Ash Wednesday, however, most of the scholastics were unavailable, so Vlasto put out a call to the Fathers of the Congregation to form an Ash Wednesday choir.

Quite a few answered the call, and, as I told him that I had also done considerable solo work, he asked me to come for an audition. He assigned me two solos. Turns out, both got dropped in the heat—or, I should say, cold—of the moment (the church was frigid). When we arrived 45 minutes ahead of Mass time to situate ourselves and run through the music (our third time), we made several disconcerting discoveries. One, the sound system was woefully inadequate and/or simply malfunctioning. The church is one of the largest in Rome and so requires amplification for the choir. The microphones were not up to the task. Two, the organ sounded awful. Perhaps it was merely reacting to the cold, but I suspect it needs a total rebuilding. It was a sad situation, because Vlasto had prepared a beautiful program and rehearsed the choir well. In the end, we mostly just turned off the microphones and did what we could.

Despite the handicaps, the ceremony was beautiful and prayerful; and, with most of the songs, the congregation was the primary voice anyway, with the choir in a largely supportive role, as is appropriate for liturgical celebrations. My solos? One was to have been a sung litany during distribution of ashes, but as the congregation was relatively small, the distribution went quickly and so did not require the litany. The other solo didn’t work because of the problem with the microphones, so the whole choir sang the piece. But Vlasto and I will probably team up next week on some psalms during morning prayer. Not so incidentally, one of the translators (French/English), Fr. Georges Cheung, S.J., from the island of Mauritius in the middle of the Indian Ocean, plays a gorgeous classical guitar. He usually accompanies the psalms and (for certain other pieces) Vlasto on oboe. The two of them add a beautiful professional quality to the music for our prayer.


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