Desert Beauty

By Sunset Septuagint

Last week, we had a funeral for one of our earliest religious Sisters.  At the burial site, someone mentioned her love for the desert. That struck a chord with me, because I have had a love for the desert ever since I traveled one day over the desert from Amman, Jordan to Cairo, Egypt, and then another time from the North to the South of Israel. I felt the power of the desert, the force of shifting sands, the strength to survive that only God can give, I also saw the beauty in the desert, often in small and hidden plants dependent on God for their blooming. I was reminded of several scriptures from Isaiah: the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. . . . they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. . . I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?


All Angels

By Sr. Fidelis
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. In both the Divine Office and the Mass, scriptural references to angels and their unique call appear in the day’s chants, reminding us of their importance in our lives! One of the most beautiful chants concerning angels is a Mode VII antiphon, taken from the Office of the Dead, In Paradisum.

“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and may they lead you into Jerusalem”.

Mode VII recites on RE, with a Home Tone of SOL.  A “clue” that the chant is in Mode VII, is that the DO clef always appears on the 2nd line down from the top, so the RE, and any pitches above that, fit on the staff. Mode VII pieces often have a bright, expansive sense to them because the modal range encompasses pitches that sound like a portion of a  modern major scale. (SOL, LA, TI, DO, RE ).  In paradisum begins with this gentle upward movement from SOL to RE. This movement up to RE appears again on et perducant te (and may they lead you).

Listen to this uplifting chant, followed by recitation of Psalm 114 in Mode VII.  You’ll notice how the Psalm Tone goes above and below the Reciting Tone at the mediant cadence, and then returns to the RE at the ending –  a wonderful example of the sense of “ascending” that can come with Mode VII!

In Paradisum

I think it Begins with “R”

By Sr. Nun Other

This week a word came to mind, a word I’d never spoken. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting what it was. Hours passed, then it would reappear, only to disappear before I could write it down. I did, however, know it was similar to “restoration”. So hoping to spark the proper synapse, I tossed that word around for awhile. In the end, I consulted a list of synonyms and there it was: reclamation. Because of its unfamiliarity (and persistence), I carefully considered its significance. Reclamation is the conversion of wasteland into ground suitable for cultivationGenerally, the return to a former, better state, where more is received than has been lost, and the final product greater than the original.

This is much the same as God works with us. In several Psalms of deliverance, the writer unabashedly admits his own shortcomings and ensuing results. He calls on God, who sorts through the debris with great precision to build and restore, not just equal to, but better than. One such Psalm affirms: I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.  Psalm 40:1-3

IN MEMORIAM – Sister Christina Humphrey

On Monday we celebrated the life of one of our earliest Sisters. Sister Christina became a sister in 1971 and had a lifelong love of beauty, poetry and art. Here is one of her poems, inspired by the Pascal (Easter) candle.

Paschal fire

O Christ
the springtime
of my heart,
You did not wait
my turn to light,
You overruled
My wintered days
that they might
receive your
untimed spring.
The early Paschal fire
Has burned
My way to joy.

Sr. Christina

Her full obituary is online at the Cape Cod Times.


Rest in Peace

By Sr. Fidelis

Today is the Funeral for one of our older sisters, Sister Christina. She requested that the simple Requiem Mass be chanted.  The Kyrie is a perfect example of Mode 6—the next in our brief “tour” of the Modes and their characteristics. Mode 6 has a narrow range, reciting on LA with a home tone of FA.  As we can see (and hear) in the opening Kyrie, the melody passes seamlessly between these structure pitches.  We often see the flattened TI, or TAU, in Mode 6 pieces as well. The opening motive is often described as a sigh or lament.

Requiem Mass - Kyrie

Little Friend – a poem for today

little friend if you truly knew me
would you look up so expectantly
so hopefully, if you knew
my limited strength, my weaknesses
my need, would you sleep so calmly
in my lap, conformed to the circle of my arms

you run ahead of me
in so many ways, you want to
let me know what is fun
you want me to let go of the day
and join you in this moment

and when you stray off in silly passions
you bear my imperfect correction
with avid repentance

my little friend you teach me all
of what you know, free of learning
free of arduous study and heavy doctrine
with your eyes and your wagging tail
your tongue-licks of minute assurances
you speak the truth knit in your bones
and so we go together, my friend,
into this good day.

A Very Present Help

I have distinct memories of the morning, some forty-six years ago, when my father died. Every facet of that life-changing day is carved in heart and memory, and I expect always will be. Our family gathered in the waiting area outside intensive care, anxiously awaiting word. When the doctor arrived, my mother asked, “Is there any hope”? His kind (and wise) reply was, “We hope he’ll live forever.” For me, it was a moment of decision–insist on what was, or move forward with graceful acceptance. I give this as an example of the difference between hope and Hope: that is, the I want versus what God’s mercy ordains.

When viewed through the prism of hope, life is a shifting pattern of beautiful colors and images. Big picture Hope. The kind I can’t distort or negatively impact. It moves silently ahead, checking dark corners and clearing a path. You can lose your way, lose perspective, lose your wallet — lose any number of things — but my advice? Never lose Hope.


What is Art?

By Sr. Spero

Those of us who have passed through several decades seem to have one unanswered question that circles through the years.  Mine is “what is art”?  I tried to answer the question in school with a confusing course on Aesthetics.  That didn’t work, and now, many years later, I’m no closer to the answer.  I have learned a couple of things though—that what I like and don’t like has little to do with art; that what moves me, or makes me cry, is not a test of art.  That what disgusts me is just as likely to be called great art.  And that art takes all forms—the visual arts, music, poetry, dance, theater, as well as the culinary arts, the art of smells–incense or perfume, and many more, such as flower arranging, architecture, and so on.  As a monastic at The Community of Jesus, I am surrounded by many forms of art; most recently, the art of making yogurt!

Tolstoy said “a writer [artist] is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul.”  I am pondering this as a definition of art.  Is that quality, so hard to pin down, recognizable in great art, simply a revelation of the “workings of the [artist’s] soul,” wrought through creative struggles with paint, sound, words, movement, even food?

I welcome your comments, thoughts and opinions.  

My next big question is “is all art subjective?”  or is there an objective measure – to which we can all say, “yes, that is great art.”  

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 - 1890 ), Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 – 1890 ), Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Public Domain.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

By Sr. Fidelis

Today is the Feast day sometimes called “Holy Cross.” The origin of this feast is found in Jerusalem at the commemoration of the finding of the True Cross of Christ, and Constantine’s building of churches on the sites of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary. In 335, these churches were dedicated on the 13th and 14th of September by all the bishops with great solemnity. By the end of the 7th century, this feast appeared in Rome as well.

In both the Divine Office and the Eucharist, we find many elements for this great Feast from the Holy Week and Good Friday Liturgies. It is a wonderful “remembrance” of these events in our Lord’s Passion. The hymns for both Lauds and Vespers are the ones used during Holy Week.

The Gradual for Holy Cross, Christus Factus Est, is the same one chanted on Palm Sunday, and then again sung in 3 segments during the Divine Office of the Triduum. The text is Philippians 2:8 & 9, Christ became obedient for us, unto death, even to death upon the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him, and given him the name which is above every name.

This chant is in Mode 5, with a reciting note of DO and a home tone of FA. Despite its complexity, one can find these anchor pitches easily, especially in the body of the piece, which begins and ends on FA. The versicle, which opens the 2nd part of the chant, also begins on FA, but notice that the clef has been moved down to the 2nd line! This is to incorporate the high range of this piece, especially on the word “illum.” Christus Factus Est is one of the most famous of all Graduals for its expression and meaning. Listen and follow along, as it transports us back to Holy Week and the Triduum.

Christus Factus Est

All Things Bright and Beautiful

By Hummingbird

Genesis and several of the Psalms remind us that God created our animal friends and gave us dominion (responsibility) over (for) them. This carries a serious understanding to care for them as God cares for us. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of how God has lovingly and carefully planned in the creation of the world for each of his creatures to be fed. How much more does he carefully supply our needs in all things. We so often forget, believing ourselves to be our own providers and producers.

Like many of you have experienced, my animal friends have taught me so many things about Jesus and God our Father: loyalty, steadfastness, sensitivity, joy, trust, availability, never changing love, patience, longsuffering, and dependence are but a few. They are always fully themselves, live in the moment, trust me to love and keep them and intuitively respond to God’s presence and direction, leaving many of us breathless at some of their seemingly wise actions and tender responses to us. With a full heart, I thank God for his provision for me through the animals he has put in my care.