The earth is composed of layers: surface, crust, mantle, outer core and inner core. And so are we. I have a surface-self, carefully constructed of what I want others to see. Successive layers, less in my control, lead to the heart of the matter. Psalm 51:10 petitions, Create in me a pure heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, A new heart I will give you; and a new spirit I will put within you. While I’m busy trying, God is busy transforming. And I hope He finds my heart, fallow ground, plowed and waiting for the essence of Christ to grow.
The Communion for this Feast, Responsum, takes its text from the book of Luke. “Simeon had received an answer from the Holy Spirit, that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This Mode 8 piece has a great sense of mystery to it, created by the use of the lower part of the modal range, going below the home tone of SOL. Also there is an “undulating” effect created by what is known as the special torculus. The torculus is a three-note neum (low-high-low), where all three notes are normally equal. But with the special torculus, the first note is weaker and lighter, with the emphasis on the next two notes. This phenomena can be seen (and heard!) on the words accepit and Simeon. Finally, notice that the piece peaks only one time on the word mortem, on the reciting tone DO.
By Sr. Spero
The entire life of a Christian is an exercise in holy desire. St. Augustine
The Lauds reading this morning was from St. Augustine—about stretching our souls through holy desire. He used the illustration of a wineskin, the forerunner of the wine bottle, that could be stretched to hold more wine. I’ve never had to stretch a wineskin, but I’ve put too much in a suitcase, and been very grateful for a top zipper that expands my space. So I understand the concept.
St. Augustine’s point is that we are containers, of one sort or another, that should expand and stretch so that God can use us more and more. We do this through holy desire. As we desire God, we are being stretched, to be able to hold more of Him. I suspect spiritual stretching is like physical stretching. It takes effort, it’s sometimes painful, but always worth it. Lord, help me to desire you more and more, and not be surprised when I feel the stretching.
It never ceases to amaze me that there is so much creative variety in the various chant melodies — evidence that the Holy Spirit was guiding with inspiration! Week 3’s Introit, Adorate Deum, is a case in point. This is no “predictable” tune, but has surprises throughout, and there’s much we can learn from this Mode 7 piece. First to note is the DO clef, which is located unusually low on the 2nd line. This enables the complete octave range of the piece to “fit” on the 4-line stave. Mode 7 recites on RE, with a Home Tone of SOL. (A reminder that the other SOL Mode, 8, recites on DO). The opening phrase has this wonderful “pull” from DO to RE on the words “Adorare Deum,” which the Monks of Solesmes demonstrate so beautifully. It then blossoms into an 8-note rising and falling phrase on the words “omnes angeli eius.” The most unusual interval occurs on the word “angeli,” with the descent of a 4th. The interplay between DO and RE continues in the next phrase, particularly on the words “laetata” and “Sion.” The last phrase demonstrates the same on “et exsultaverunt,” and the final RE-SOL of the piece is on the word “filiae.” From there it gracefully descends from DO down to SOL.
Adore God, you, all His angels. Zion has heard and rejoiced, and the daughters of Judah exult. Ps. Verse: The Lord is king; let the earth exult, let the many isles rejoice.
By Sr. Nun Other
I recently helped remove strands of Christmas lights from a forty-four foot fir tree. I had the simple job of plugging in each strand – close to one hundred of them – to test and eliminate any that were defective. The tree climbers expertly coiled ropes of light, then piled them beneath the tree. As I retrieved them, I noticed how much each circle resembled a crown of thorns. It was a fascinating physical transformation and conveyed a distinct change in emotion that I wasn’t expecting. We rightfully honor and proclaim Christ’s birth with our best attempts at majesty and beauty. But look closely. Tucked within the ancient story are reality reminders. His life was rugged, filled with conflict, rejection, and suffering. All for us.
This week’s Communion Chant coincides with this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from John. Dicit Dominus in Mode 6 could be called a “mini” drama! The story begins with Jesus speaking to the servants at the wedding at Cana, telling them to fill the jars with water and take them to the steward of the feast. The notes are low for this section…a quasi-recitation on the Home Tone FA. One can almost picture Jesus speaking to them in low tones. The next phrase shifts, as the steward tastes the water turned to wine….(Notice the gradual shift, now moving to the Reciting Tone LA and up to DO as he speaks to the bridegroom. You can imagine his excitement and astonishment!) The third phrase rises up to a MI 3 times, as the steward exclaims, “You have kept the good wine until now!” The final phrase gracefully returns to the narrative as it descends back to the Home Tone FA, stating that Jesus made this first sign in the presence of his disciples.
Listen to the monks of Solesmes as they chant this amazing Communion, including a psalm verse from Psalm 65.
A month ago today Yoshio Inomata, one of our vowed brothers, entered the paradise chapter of his life. Yoshio is from Japan, so in addition to the usual monastic traditions around the liturgies and proceedings, we knew there would be special touches – flowers in the church, food at the reception – from his homeland. At the graveside, we always have a special time of telling stories and placing flowers as we fill the grave. In the middle of December flowers are rare to be found, so some of us had the idea of having the kids make paper cranes for Yoshio. They did a beautiful job, and we had baskets full of the brightly colored birds they passed around to all of us gathered there. As I watched everyone place their birds in the earth with Yoshio, the antithesis struck me: Yoshio’s soul and spirit were flying to heaven even as his body was placed in the earth, and these birds—meant to soar—buried there with him. I suddenly remembered this poem that another of our members had written years ago. Requiescat in pace, Yoshio!
With hollow bones a bird learns how to fly
Not once despising frame all delicate,
But pushed without the nest his wings to try,
Fast finds the air till flight’s inveterate –
And pauses not to ponder nor to care
How fragile are his limbs amidst his flight,
But boldly lifts his wings against the air
And mounts the wind all ignorant of fright.
And so each day, until he dies, he lives.
He soars aloft, aloud, and all replete,
Content with gifts that his Creator gives,
His weakness making all his life complete.
Who curses frailty wisdom needs implore,
For only those whose bones are hollow soar.
By Faithful Finch
I love it when things fall into place when I’ve been trying to figure something out. That happened for me today.
I haven’t been able to get the central work of Frammenti, our present art exhibit, out of my mind. It was like it was trying to tell me something, and I wasn’t hearing it. I knew that the cross was a traditional form that was associated with baptistries, and that there were bands of gold and red to suggest steps descending and ascending.
When I would go into church, I would look at our baptismal font and think about the steps going in and out of the baptismal water and associate it with the cross.
Last night, I went back and read the Frammenti book that explains the pieces in the exhibit. It says, “the baptismal experience itself evokes both a descent into the tomb and the triumph of resurrection,” and “that the resurrection is a daily movement as the confession of sin and the desire for renewal are met by the mercy of God.”
I think I forget to climb back up the steps and come out of the tomb sometimes. Above the cross are fragments that hold such beauty and joy; beauty and joy that I forget are part of the process.
I had no idea that Sunday was the “Feast of the Baptism of our Lord” until I got to church. It felt like a real celebration — a celebration that if we will stay in that “river of grace”, He will bring us home.
By Sr. Fidelis
*Please scroll to bottom of this post for an exciting announcement!
The Advent/Christmas Season came to a close yesterday with the celebration of the Solemn Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast marks the beginning of his public ministry.
One of the loveliest Responsories for the octave of Epiphany brings us right to the scene of the Baptism of Jesus. The text is as follows: “In the form of a dove the holy Spirit was seen; the Father’s voice was heard: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ V. The heavens opened over him and the voice of the Father thundered.”
The Responsory follows a particular pattern: the first section of the piece is chanted, after which a verse is sung, usually by a single voice. Then all begin at a point halfway through the first section, and chant to the end.
This Mode 2 Responsory has an almost plaintive quality to it. You’ll notice the FA clef, so often used with Mode 2 chants. The high point of the chant comes on the text paterna vox — the voice of the Father. If you look closely at the chant below while listening to the recording, you’ll notice that in some instances, the notes differ from what is written in square notation. This particular piece was chanted and recorded according to the ancient neumes, taken from the Hartker Antiphoner — a manuscript from around the early 11th century! Listen to it a second time, while looking at the ancient neumes written above the square notation, and you’ll “see” what you are hearing! It is fascinating to note the slight variation in the melody and how it has changed over the centuries.