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.

The Three M’s

by Cantor

As we come to the Feast of Pentecost, the last of the principal liturgical feasts before returning to Ordinary Time, it seemed a good moment to reflect on the “Three M’s” of chant: Mode, Motive, and Meaning. As we have often discussed, mode and motive in chant marry for a primary purpose — illumination of scripture. A particularly potent example of this is the Pentecost Communion antiphon: Factus est repente (Suddenly, a sound from the sky).

Just as we heard at other liturgical times of heraldic entry (such as Puer natusest on Christmas Eve or Hosanna Filio David on Palm Sunday), Factus est repente opens with a resounding leap of a perfect 5th. In fact, it drops back down the same distance before leaping up that same 5th and then up another 3rd creating a composite leap of a 7th — a quick and striking way to grasp the entire range of this mode. What better way to speak of this “mighty rush of wind” hastily bridging the gap between Heaven and earth?! Then, the chant almost floats downward in conjunct flow, in strong contrast to the opening leaps. Perhaps this seemed the finest way of showing the descent of the Holy Spirit into the room where the disciples were sitting. In balance with the opening, a swirling melodic rise underpins the concluding scripture, “they all spoke in various tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The onomatopoetic sounds of this text describing the arrival of the Holy Spirit take on musical gestures, leaving almost indefinable imagery in our spirits.

 

A Word on Obedience from Oswald Chambers

Our Lord never insists upon obedience. He tells us very emphatically what to do, but he never takes means to make us do it. We have to obey him out of a oneness of spirit with him. That is why when our Lord talked about discipleship, he prefaced it with an “IF”—you do not need to unless you like.

Our Lord does not give me rules, he makes his standard very clear, and if my relation to him is that of love, I do what he says without any hesitation. Jesus Christ will not help me to obey him. I must do it, and when I do obey him I fulfill my spiritual destiny. My personal life may be crowded with small petty incidents altogether unnoticeable and trivial, but if I obey Jesus Christ in the haphazard circumstances they become pinholes through which I see the face of God, and when I stand face to face with God I will discover that through my obedience thousands were blessed. When once God’s redemption comes to obedience in a human soul it always creates. If I obey Jesus Christ the redemption of God will rush through me on to other lives, because behind the deed of obedience is the reality of Almighty God.

Oswald Chambers

Approaching Ascension

by Sister Fidelis

Looking at the Propers for Week VI of Easter, we see a shift in message this week as we approach Ascension and Pentecost. To this point we’ve heard texts such as: “Christ has arisen,” “I am the vine and you are the branches”, and “I am the Good Shepherd” — a focus on the joy of Easter and the presence of Jesus here with us. This Sunday we open the service with a text from Isaiah, hearkening back to Advent and Christmas: “With the voice of joy make this heard; publish to the utmost bounds of the earth that the Lord has freed his people.”

Let’s spend a moment with this introit, Vocem iucunditatis. At first glance we see a strong pattern of rising and falling — five phrases in all. The long sweeping lines lend themselves perfectly to the message “publish to the utmost bounds.…” And from start to finish we feel a certain energy — the “voice of joy” — rippling throughout with numerous torculi and qualismae. The piece, typical of mode III, hovers between do and ti, but in this case settles more on ti, giving us the feeling of confidence in this message. The alleluias, flying up and down at the end add a particular zest as they circle, leap and finally land on the home tone. It’s a sense excitement that seems forward looking as we approach the feast of Christ’s Ascension!

“The most wonderful piece: Fantastic!”

by Cantor

You might wonder about the origin of the title for this week’s blog. It was actually a comment made by Mary Berry many years ago in reference to one of the most beautiful and virtuosic works in all of the chant repertory—the offertory for the fifth week of Easter:  Jubilate Deo!

The sheer length and range (an octave plus a 3rd!) of this chant tell us that this is a text of extraordinary importance. Falling within the Easter season just prior to the Feast of the Ascension, it is a full-throated outburst of praise. Twice, the opening text commands the entire world to praise the Lord. The chant follows suit, beginning in the lowest part of the mode, quickly swirling up a full octave. As the text repeats, the chant descends and rapidly rises again, this time surpassing the octave, rising an additional major 3rd. The third phrase, by comparison, is slightly truncated over the text, “Sing a psalm to His name,” though it follows the same melodic shape of the previous two, only slightly narrowed in range.

Quite suddenly, the chant leaps back up to its highest point at the text “Venite et audite et narrabo vobis” (Come and hear as I tell you what God has done). This phrase is constructed as a melodic mirror, perfectly balanced, highlighting the psalmists’ desire that everyone should hear of God’s goodness. A final melodic descent, dancing first around the note “la”  brings the chant to a gentle close as the psalmist offers one last statement of God’s goodness to his soul.

Now coming on ten years ago, I was privileged to stand and sing this chant for Mary Berry in an hour and a half of repetition, serving as “the choir” while one of my colleagues was critiqued on his conducting. That hour and a half was a true turning point in my life. I pray that you find equal blessing in this beautiful prayer.

Bend My Heart

by Sister Victoria

For the past couple of weeks, I have been at Our Lady of Bamenda Monastery studying how they sing their daily office. I will then begin the task to teach it to the aspirants of a beginning Community, the Sisters of Bethany, who are currently in our care here in Cameroon.

Although a cloistered Cistercian Community of about 30 monks, I have had the rare privilege of being invited to join them in the choir for their offices. As I sit among these men, there is something that stirs me. While listening to their rough voices, I think what I sense is their humility. Why do we avoid humility in ourselves yet can be blessed by and even admire the humility in others? That is something I am asking myself.

I believe it is no accident that this week I have come across several times the verse in Psalm 119, “Bend my heart to your will and not to love of gain”. Bending is an act of humility and that is becoming my “go to” prayer, that it may someday become real in my life.

 

A reading from a work of Clement of Alexandria

In our sickness, we need a savior, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water, which quenches forever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus!

The ruler of the universe and the Word of the Father calls himself the shepherd of the sheep. Pasture us children like sheep, Lord. Fill us with your own food, the food of righteousness. As our guide, we pray you to lead us to your holy mountain, the church on high, touching the heavens. “I will be their shepherd,” he says. We who are passing over into immortality shall not fall into corruption, for he will preserve us. He has said he would, and to do so is his own wish. Such is our Teacher, both good and just. He said he had not come to be served but to serve.

 

Adapted from Journey with the Fathers

Good Shepherd Sunday

by Sister Fidelis

There is something comforting about the thought of the Good Shepherd, and this Sunday morning at the Church of the Transfiguration his presence seemed to be everywhere!  Variations on the text from John 10 appeared in the Lauds the Gospel Antiphon, option B for the Alleluia, the Communion piece, and of course the Gospel reading at Eucharist.  As we worked on the Communion piece in preparation for the service it seemed to embody all the best qualities of this story – a simple tune, a light and joyful sounding melody, and little outbursts of thanksgiving as the word Alleluia punctuated the end of each phrase.

A mode II piece, we see here the typical FA clef and a melody circling around FA at the opening and RE at the end. The use of liquesents throughout adds a kind of lilting quality, and the porrecti and torculi also give us a kind of bubbling and carefree sense.  The composer seems to be telling us – don’t worry little sheep – we have a good shepherd and he’ll take care of everything!  This is a thought I’d like to remember through the week…

Some history on change-ringing

by Faithful Friar

As reported in prior posts, bell-ringers from the Community of Jesus who ring in the Church of the Transfiguration bell tower are preparing to attempt a first full peal as our own band later this year in conjunction with events marking the 5th centenary of the start of the protestant reformation. The art of English-style change ringing happens to be a direct descendant of said reformation in that following the dissolution of the monasteries in England there were untouched rings of church bells available for local young people to go ring. This became a new activity and soon spawned an interest in developing the rules and style of moving tuned bells in set ways to make patterns…”change ringing.”  This is why the oldest and most prestigious associations of bell-ringers in England have in their title the word “youths”, e.g. Ancient Society of College Youths. It was only later that change ringing began to find its place back in Church of England steeples where most such rings of bells are now to be found—in other words for devotional purposes rather than purely for sport. To be sure there remains a healthy mix of both. Bell-ringers today show up Sunday after Sunday to welcome and/or send worshipers on their way. Then they meet again at a weekly “peal night” to try and “get” another peal, learning new methods along the way. Devoted ringers count their peal totals in the hundreds or even thousands. By such measures we here are at humble beginnings. Yet perhaps humble beginnings is OK since we are also tying back into the devotional monastic practices from which the whole activity sprang.

Have a seat

by Melodius Monk

“We as followers of Christ don’t have some kind of special super power. We are not the spiritually elite. We just have the authority to show up. To show up and proclaim the nearness of God that scatters the darkness. And we can show up for life and for each other and for the world because what we need for healing and sustenance is always the same as the simple, ordinary things right in front of us—that’s just the way God works.“     -Nadia Bolz Weber

Early this morning, I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and already knowing the end, I started losing focus when surprisingly the story grabbed my imagination—as if to say, “don’t be so bored”—I have more to teach you. Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.”

And I started thinking of Nadia’s quote in relation to being seated. Being seated is simple un-profound, and not hard to do. The people with Jesus that day simply had to show up, sit, and Jesus did the rest.

Daily I’m crying out to Jesus, where are you?  What are you saying to me? Why can’t I find more answers? I want more assuredness from God, more peace, more answers, less doubt. I assume I must need to do more of “something” to gain access to God.

Sitting can be challenging. It feels unproductive, a little boring, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Yet I need not run, hide, or try to produce, but simply sit and take in what God puts right in front of me today.

Perhaps in the rootedness of staying put, we open ourselves to the possibility to receive from a God who wishes to give us as much goodness as we dare to want.