Here I Am, Lord

by Sister Victoria

Just recently we made the long journey from Kuvlu to Bafut to attend the consecration service for three of the Emmanuel sisters. What an event that was! It was a whole day affair, beginning with the service at 9:30 in the morning followed by a meal for all and then drumming, singing and dancing well into the night.

It is an event for all the families, who were distinguished by wearing outfits of the same flamboyant fabric, many neighboring villagers and friends, other religious including 20 clergy, and no doubt some walk-ups. All in all, there had to be no fewer than about 500 guests.

We were blessed to experience another slice of African life in this event, very much like a large wedding where the families “gave” their daughters away to be brides of Christ.

 

Mass of the Angels

by Sister Fidelis

Missa De Angelis, or Mass VIII, is one of the best known Gregorian Chant Masses today. As with most of these Mass units the various pieces, Kyrie, Gloria, etc. were not composed together but rather grouped at a certain point in history, assigned a number and title. This particular Mass seems to have been gathered together in the 18th century, though the Kyrie is likely a 15th century Norman composition, the Gloria from the 16th century, the Sanctus again from Normandy in the 11th or 12th century and the Agnus Dei, 15th  century, from the Rouen area of N. France. Most Masses are named for a “trope” that was sung before or after the mass, but this is one is unique and takes its name from the tradition of celebrating a Mass in honor of the Holy Angels on Mondays. This was a devotion especially practiced by the Franciscans.

It is interesting to see the characteristics of the various pieces here. The Kyrie and Gloria in Mode V and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Mode IV. The Kyrie and Sanctus, melismatic in style with the Gloria and Agnus Dei less so. And really with the exception of the Gloria it is not a “simple” mass so it is interesting that it has become one of the well-known favorites in many churches, not to mention one of the standard Masses used in the Vatican. Having been assigned as a “Festive Mass” I think there is a certain feeling of celebration attached to it and certainly we see that reflected in the chant throughout. For example the 12-note jubilus at the outset of the Kyrie, the continuous rise and fall of smaller melismas and repeated notes in the Sanctus, and the many torculae in the Agnus Dei. In celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of our church we sang this Mass on Sunday and it brought a real sense of joy to the morning.

100 Years of Cleaning

by Faithful Friar

Many visitors to our bell tower comment on its cleanliness, which is in part because the tower is relatively new, and also because we clean it. I mentioned to a friend about how often I hear ringers comment on the tower’s cleanliness, and she responded, “The question will be, what will they say in 100 years?”

I was thinking about 100 years of cleaning while power washing the porphyry stone floor in preparation to re-seal later this week. The trick is, I’m not expecting any of us will be here to be sure things are spic and span in 2117. Not to mention, there is actually quite a bit to do right now, this year, today even.

All this cleaning isn’t something that can be done all at once. As with so many things in life, the only way to do it is bit by bit, a little at a time. Hopefully we can make it a habit for generations.

Here are a few pictures from our cleaning times this weekend — a few angles we don’t get to see very often!

Vine and Branches

by Sister Spero

The vines we grow to make Communion wine are teaching me more about Jesus. He said to his disciples that he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. I’ve always understood this as a statement of how powerful God is, and how inconsequential we are, unless we connect to the vine. Walking by the grape vines, I’m beginning to see this differently.

The only time I notice either the vine or the branches is during the winter, when they look like dead sticks. As the green leaves appear, they hide everything else. And when the clusters of grapes are out, they are all I notice. If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, where are they? Hidden. The fruit is what we admire. Calling himself the vine is a statement of Jesus’s great humility. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you [not “we”] will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) The Creator does not take credit for the fruit, but gives the credit to the branches. By nature, I want to be the cluster of grapes. Lord, help me to be more like the vine that supports and sustains, and the branches—abiding in God’s humility, as well as his strength.

 

The Immensity of God’s Throne

by Cantor

It is truly amazing what is both hidden but then revealed about scripture within chant. Often, we tend to look for such things only in the liturgical “seasons”, forgetting that Tempus Ordinario – “Ordered Time” – is in fact the longest of those seasons.
We find ourselves now entering the tenth week of Ordinary Time with the themes of the chant having to do with God’s protection, most beautifully said in the opening line of the introit “Dominus Illuminatio” – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 26:1-3) And it is this chant which sets the stage for the focus of this week’s blog – Alleluia, Deus, qui sedes super thronum – “Alleluia: The Lord who sits upon His throne.”

This Alleluia, a mode VII tune, opens briefly with a mode VIII intonation, but then quickly races further upward to the pitches re and fa, giving a sense of the mode VII intonation.This is intriguing, though it’s not particularly unusual as these two modes are closely related, as these sounds create a sense of “lift” before coming to rest on sol. The verse continues this same “lift” with both exact melodic repetition of the opening and then variation, climaxing in a melisma on the word thronum – “throne” – of no less than 74 notes! Equally astounding to its length is its range – a full 10th from bottom fa to upper la. There is no doubt remaining that this throne must belong to God who resides in height, depth, and everywhere in between!

It is fascinating to note that in this entire Alleluia, there are 95 notes prior to the referenced melisma and 103 pitches following. From just that quick glance, the melodic structure of the piece clarifies, revealing to the listener a most important symbol of the “most High” God. The final phrases are a melodic extension of the opening Alleluia Jubilus, carrying the text that it is this same God who is both just and the refuge of the poor. These phrases constitute one the longest and gentlest melodic descents in the chant repertoire, with no sudden turns – somewhat like a leaf gently falling to the ground on a cushion of undisturbed air. What better way to audibly reveal the justice and mercy of God.

This side of heaven

by Blue Heron

Mourning dove, your call so full of sadness. Of all birds, yours is the one that reminds me that all is longing this side of heaven. Not to say that many things aren’t beautiful, and that some things may even approach perfection. But there always is that falling short; that last brush stroke which never quite reaches the canvas.

If perfection were possible, I would probably set up my hammock and sleep away warm summer afternoons. By my good Lord seems to have left me with restlessness, a little mosquito that buzzes around my head to keep me moving. This is not a sad longing, it is a striving after something that really does exist. It it did not exist, then it really would be sad. But we have this longing inside us for fulfillment, and beauty that is real, and will not be satisfied with anything other than the real thing.

And so I find my heart still leaps when a child walks by, or when I see an osprey fly.

A whole day outside

by Blue Heron

A whole day outside in the yard; moving gravel, transplanting flowers, recutting the border of a garden. Around noontime, my back was trying to get a word in edgewise about maybe taking it easy. I was having too much fun to give heed. So after lunch I mowed half the lawn, moved rocks, washed the deck. I have no regrets, even though I move about slowly in the evening hours.

The newly opened leaves in June unravel in such delicate greens. The vegetables planted in tidy rows, standing tall and reaching into the sunlight. First fruits are still more than a month away, but if I didn’t know better, I would say they look happy as they await a future harvest.

What a wonder that green things can take in the light form the sun and convert it to food. is it any wonder that I make the analogy to Jesus the Son as the only real source of my own nourishment? If I could just plant myself each morning, in the awareness of His presence. Just take it in like sunlight, instead of running around with anxiety trying to “make food” on my own; fill in spaces that only He can satisfy.

Evening is approaching, birds are swooping around the yard, singing some final evening choruses. A chipmunk sprints across the yard with his tail straight up in the air. Oh God, may my mouth open with your praise at this close of the day. May I exhale with thankful heart, having inhaled the joys of Your creation.

Veni Sancte Spiritus

by Sister Fidelis

This last week in preparation for Pentecost we practiced “Veni Sancte Spiritus” at our weekly chant class. By now this sequence is familiar to everyone in our Community and feels like an essential part of the celebration. Sometimes called the “Golden Sequence”, the text dates back to the 13th century and has been attributed to Pope Leo III, or maybe more likely Stephen Langton the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1228.

While the poetry of this hymn is quite developed, with an interesting rhythmic and rhyming pattern, the music is quite simple, enhancing the text. There are 5 different musical phrases, each repeated twice. The piece covers a large range (more than an octave), with many of the phrases moving in scalar motion from top to bottom or bottom to top.  For the most part we see syllabic writing with a few duple or triple neume patterns which gives a feeling of strength matching the powerful message: Come, Holy Spirit!

The overall visual shows a constant rise and fall to the extremes of the range in long phrases, and we also see large leaps of a sixth or even an octave at several of the cadence points. The prayer unfolds in a similar way: the rise and fall of a prayer calling to the Father, Son, and Spirit to console, refresh, cleanse, bend, melt, guide, all leading toward heavenly joy.

A Word from Thomas Merton

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
thought I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
through I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Amen.

O Lord, Open My Lips!

by Sister Victoria

Now that I have left the Cistercian Monastery after participating for three weeks in their daily offices of prayer, we are back in the remote village of Kuvlu and music classes are well underway! In our classes we are learning the different chant modes and starting to use them with the Psalms in English. At times it can be a challenge to convey what I am trying to teach and yet rewarding when they catch on to a concept.

It is such a joy to see the delight on their faces when they realize that they are learning music, a very rare experience in Cameroon.