O Doctor optima

On the 15th October we celebrate the solemnity of St Teresa of Avila (also called St Teresa of Jesus). St Teresa is one of only four female Doctors of the church, named in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, and is given the title Doctor orationis, Doctor of Prayer. Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila in 1535 but soon found herself at odds with the lax observances of the cloister. The reforms of the Carmelite Order she instituted during her lifetime through her own example and in the monasteries she founded ultimately led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites shortly after her death; it is they who minister to our parish today.

In recognition of St Teresa’s veneration as a Doctor of the Church, we sing the text of the Magnificat antiphon from the Common of Doctors, O Doctor optime, making the necessary adjustments for the female saint:

O Doctor óptima, Ecclésiæ sanctæ lumen, beáta Terésia, divínæ legis amátor: deprecáre pro nobis Fílium Dei.

O blest teacher, light of the holy Church, Saint Teresa, lover of God’s law, pray for us to the Son of God.

In 2015 the Choir premiered a specially commissioned setting of the text by Colin Mawby. This year we are singing the setting of the text by the Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero who was active during St Teresa’s lifetime. Any solemnity deserves to be adorned with music that is out of the ordinary and the Mass setting sung by the Choir today certainly matches that description. Featuring 11 voices and instrumental accompaniment, Spanish Baroque composer Francisco Valls’ Missa Scala aretina is an undoubted masterpiece, one that caused controversy through its bending and breaking of established rules of harmony. It seems a fitting piece to sing for a saint who, through her strict observances and her mystical writings, herself courted controversy.