Laetare Sunday

by Sister Fidelis

Today, we reach the 4th week of Lent which begins with the celebration of “Laetare Sunday.” This tradition dates back more than 1,000 years and is honored as a break from the penitential season on which people may take a day off from their “fasts” or other Lenten observances. The piece that gives the day its title is the introit Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice, Jerusalem).

As I listened to the chanting of this piece this morning, I found much to enjoy and ponder.  This Mode V introit has some unique and beautiful qualities. It does not open with the typical and triumphant major triad but rather with a porrectus – leaping a 4th and circling around sol – giving a slightly warmer feeling. This is followed by step-wise passages descending and ascending as we hear “rejoice Jerusalem.” Then the melody bubbles at the top of the range as the words continue with “come together.” From there the piece flows melismatically up and down with the text – many joyful torculae and porrectae (3 and 4 note neumes) expressing the words! We hear the flatted seventh (tau) throughout – an unusual quality, which seems to give depth and sweetness to the piece and helps us embrace the meaning.

The text calls to “all who love Jerusalem” and to “anyone who has been in sorrow” to “take up the song of rejoicing and be filled with consolation.” As we turn toward the rest of Lent and Holy Week may we keep this thought in our hearts!


The Influence of the Bells

by Faithful Friar

This year, Spirit Winter Percussion has incorporated handbells into their show, “The Etchings of a Soul: A Russian Illustration.”

It made me think about the history of church bells in Russia, how they were silenced and became the object of continuous attacks. How difficult that must have been for the people who loved and appreciated their bells so much.

I found an article that stated in old times when there was an epidemic or terrible devastation, bad harvest, and other calamities, it was prescribed to continuously ring the church bells. In recent scientific studies, it shows the timbre and vibrations of bell ringing influences the entire living world around us. In the days of old, they commented that even mice, rats, and some insects feared it. Hating the sound of the bells, many carriers of diseases would run away further from the belfry and populated areas. The clear, purifying sound the church bells make exerts good influences also on people. This is one of the reasons the Russians loved bells so much. In these days where there is so much division and strife, perhaps the beauty of the sound of the ringing bells will help to clean our souls from spite, envy and impatience which will help us to live a better life.

Sacred Seeing: Pentecost

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. This is the final meditation from the book. We hope that these have helped to enrich your prayer life in 2017!



Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What are your first impressions of this fresco?
What particular elements capture your attention? Why?

Read the Scripture: Acts 2:1-13
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
How does this image speak to your own experience of the Holy Spirit?

The image itself is fairly serene, but the Acts of the Apostles records: a sound from heaven; a mighty wind filling the house; fire; speaking in tongues; and, enough noise to attract the people of Jerusalem. What do the images of wind and fire and words to say to you about the Holy Spirit?

There are 10 people and 10 tongues of fire pictured in the fresco. What do you make of the fact that, as the book of Acts tells us, “The fire was distributed and rested on each one of them”? (Acts 2:3)

Mary is seated at the center of this gathering. What is the artist saying through this placement? (See also Acts 1:14)

Also in the center is one disciple who is pastor is entirely different from everyone else’s. What might be happening here? And, if this is something about the variety of responses there can be to receiving the Holy Spirit, what might these responses be? What have your responses been?

This fresco is directly across from the image of the Epiphany (and the placement of all the frescoes in relationship with one another was done purposely). What relationship do you see between the Epiphany and Pentecost?

Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Come, Holy Spirit. You are the burning fire of the Triune God – ignite the embers of my heart with faith. You are the life-giving breath of the Father – fill the lungs of my soul with hope. You are the pure water of eternal life – drench the ground of my spirit with love. You are the winged dove of heaven – fly to me, and make your nest.

Mary and the disciples waited, Lord, just as you told them to do — “Stay, until you are closed with power from on high.” Now, it seems to be my time to wait. They were afraid, but they believed in you and in your promise – “I will not leave you desolate.” Now, it is time for me to believe. They praised you when they were filled with the Holy Spirit – “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Now, it is time for me to rejoice.

Lord, I thought I could do something about this. But once again I am face-to-face with another mountain. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Lord, I believe you can do something about this.

A Word from the Tradition
Simple and himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
–Basil the Great, “On the Holy Spirit” (330–379)

Image: © Pentecost by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Ubi Caritas

By Sister Fidelis

Now that we are midway through Lent my mind is turning towards Holy Week and the Triduum.  One of the real gems found in these liturgies is Ubi Caritas, chanted on Maundy Thursday, and often used to accompany the foot-washing ceremony.

The directions for this piece printed in the Graduale Romanum are lengthy and specific, suggesting alternating cantors, and choir responses. Typical of Mode VI it is simple in nature and it is that simplicity which so beautifully illuminates the text. Written by an unknown Italian author in the 9th-10th century, this hymnody-style poem about God’s love and charity between brethren provides the perfect backdrop to the memorial of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and the institution of the last supper.

The clip attached here is from Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola.


By Sister Spero

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of people say that when they visit the site of an old monastery that is no longer active (it may have become a ruin, or even a museum), they still sense the presence of God. This is true of old church sites as well. Today, I read a verse from the Psalms that confirms this idea as something more than active imagination. The second half of Psalm 93:5 says, “Holiness adorns your house for endless days.”

My prayers may feel weak and ineffective, but, according to this scripture, prayer (“holiness”) in God’s house has the power to transcend time. Our collective prayers—the collective prayers of any church or community—will adorn His house “for endless days.” This is a powerful encouragement for me to persevere in prayer, whether or not I ever see its result. Who knows if, in a future generation, someone at the site of our prayers could experience God’s love because of what we pray and how we worship today.  

Apse of the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Sacred Seeing: The Ascension

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Ascension

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What immediate thoughts does it evoke about the Ascension?

Read the Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
If you were standing among the eleven, what would you have been feeling? What thoughts and questions would have gone through your mind?

Imagine yourself as one of the apostles in the image. Which one would it be? Why?

Who is the central figure in the fresco? Why is he pictured in this location?

Both the fresco image and Luke’s account tell us that the apostles were looking into the sky. Why? And why does the angel challenge them about this? What does this mean in your own life?

Directly across the nave is the fresco of the Baptism. How are these two events – our Lord’s Baptism and Ascension – related? What do they tell you about how God works in the world? About how he works in your life?

The Ascension speaks to us of heaven, as do the stories depicted on the spandrels below it – Elijah and the fiery chariot, and Jacob’s ladder. In connection with these images, what do St. Paul’s words mean to you when he says that, “our Commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”? Philippians 3:19-21

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Lord, sometimes it feels like I am carrying sandbags. My soul feels as heavy as my feet, which never leave the ground. I cannot imagine being lighter than air. It’s true – I am a child of the earth, and dust is my destiny. But dust and clay and the ground are not the full story. So, today, I look up. I look for you. I look to Heaven. And I wait for the day… anticipating… when I will fly. Until then, prepare me for the place where you are.

O Christ our God, when you had fulfilled your work for us, and united things on earth with things in heaven, you were taken up in glory, in no way parted, but remaining inseparable, you cried to those who loved you, “I am with you and there is no one against you.”
—an Eastern Orthodox hymn for the Feast of the Ascension

A Word from the Tradition
We are commemorating the day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. Today we have been made possessors of paradise, having gained more through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost to the devil’s malice. Our enemy drove us out of the bliss of our first abode, but the Son of God has placed us at the right hand of the Father, with whom he lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
—From a sermon on the Ascension of Leo the Great (c.400–461)

Image: © The Ascension by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Are you sleeping?

by Faithful Friar

Did you ever learn the translation to the childhood song “Frère Jacques?”  It hit me as we were ringing bells in our tower one night to mark the end of Vespers. The literal translation goes something like this: Brother John, are you sleeping? Sound the bell for Matins! Ding, Dang, Dong! This dates back to the duty of the monks to ring the “pre-service” bell to alert their communities to the service that will begin shortly. Poor Brother John must have been very tired because he slept heavily and ignored his sonorous duty to his Brothers! We have our own Brother John in our Community, and he is often responsible for ringing the pre-service bell! (So far he hasn’t slept through his commitment.) We ring the bell prior to our Midday Office and Vespers services.   

The tune for Frère Jacques was first published around 1780 in France, and the words were first seen in 1825. The tune is so familiar as to be claimed as a national folk song in many countries around the world, with Frère Jacques’ name changed to fit the country….Bruder Jakob,  Fra’Martino,  Panie Janie, and Mester Jakob to name a few.

So, whenever Br. John rings our pre-service bell, we are fitting right in with years of “Frère Jacques” tradition!   


Coming soon: Gregorian chant retreat!

by Cantor

Last week, Sr. Evangeline and I had a marvelous talk with Deal Hudson about our upcoming Gregorian Chant Retreat at the Community of Jesus, April 5-8, 2017. The chants we will be covering during the retreat are taken from Lent and Holy Week — some of the most sublime of the entire Gregorian repertory. Take a listen!


by Sister Spero

I recently had eye surgery to correct my vision, and the change is remarkable. Colors are brighter, lines are sharper—I see intricate patterns in tree bark I didn’t notice before. At the same time, I am aware of more cobwebs and dirt in corners that need my attention. This has started me thinking about vision—both physical and spiritual. I am sometimes envious of those who have spiritual vision, awed by their capacity to see truth and beauty. I realize now that this gift is as much a capacity to see ugliness, and comes with the responsibility to do something about it, so I should be praying for them, not envying them. I also judge others for not “seeing” something I think is obvious. Now that my physical vision is clearer, I realize how much I haven’t been able to see, without being aware of it. So next time I’m tempted to judge, I’m hoping to remember we all have different eyes, and to choose compassion instead.


Sacred Seeing: The Resurrection

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Resurrection

The Resurrection, fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi, Church of the TransfigurationSpend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What thoughts and feelings does this image evoke for you?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 28:1-7
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
How would you describe the expressions of the two women? Take some time to imagine your own experience if you had been with them. What is it like approaching the tomb? Finding it open? Going in? What do you see, hear, smell, touch? What is happening to you?

What does this image say to you about the Resurrection that you have not considered before?

Look at the contrast between the angel and the black-garbed women. What does the contrast of light and dark in this image say to you?

Tradition tells us that the stable in which Jesus was born was likely a cave or grotto. How are these two caves – the place of birth and the place of resurrection – related? Consider one further connection: Emmanuel Chapel is also a “cave.” What does this say to you about the nature of this space?

In what place in your own life right now do you need to hear the angel’s message: “Do not be afraid.” The angel said to the two Mary’s, “Come see the place where he lay.” Jesus said something similar to Andrew, “Come and see.” (John 1:39) What does this invitation mean to you today?

Notice the pieces of rock on the ground. What stone in your own life needs to be shattered so that you can see the resurrected Lord?
Lord, you said that you would rise again.
I thought maybe it was just a metaphor;
something to make me feel better
as the road got rougher,
as the sky grew darker,
and death drew nearer.
But you really meant it –
not just that things would get better,
but that the roughness, and the darkness, and the death
actually had a purpose – have a purpose.
Because of your cross, mine.
Because of your resurrection, mine.
Because you live, I will live also.

“Go and tell them that he has risen.” 
Lord Jesus,
you have asked me to be a witness of your resurrection.
But I wasn’t there.
I didn’t watch them lay you in that tomb.
I couldn’t feel the earthquake.
And I haven’t seen an angel pointing to your empty grave clothes.
No, but you have made my heart your tomb,
the place of your repose,
and there I have seen you rise, again and again.
I am a witness of your resurrection.
Tell me today, who you want me to tell.

O God,
who for our redemption
gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
has delivered us from the power of the enemy:
Grant us to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him,
in the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
–Gregory the Great

A Word from the Tradition
An angel descended and rolled back the stone. He did not roll back the stone to provide a way of escape for the Lord but to show the world that the Lord had already risen. He rolled back the stone for the sake of faith, because it had been rolled over the tomb for the sake of unbelief. Pray, brothers and sisters, that the angel would descend now and roll away all the hardness of our hearts and open up our closed senses and declare to our minds that Christ has risen, for just as the heart in which Christ lives and reigns is heaven, so also the heart in which Christ remains dead and buried is a grave.
–Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna (c. 380–c. 450)

Image: © The Resurrection by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration