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!

Pentecost

PentecostFrescoImage

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?

Prayer
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.

Time

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

AscensionFresco
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

Prayer
“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!   

FrereJacques

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?
Prayer
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

Listen in to an interview with our cantors!

by Sister Fidelis

This week Jim Jordan and Sr. Evangeline, two of our cantors, were invited to share about Gregorian Chant on a the EWTN radio program “Morning Glory”. They will be featured on radio programs on EWTN, speaking about Gregorian chant, all month long! Enjoy this clip from this week’s program.
EWTNgraphicforchantblog

Sacred Seeing: The Crucifixion

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 Crucifixion

Crucifixion fresco, Silvestro Pistolesi, Church of the Transfiguration

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is the general feeling you get from this fresco?
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: John 19:25-34
25 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ Side Is Pierced

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
What details do you see in this image? Choose one, and spend some time prayerfully considering its meaning.

Consider the stark contrast between light and dark in this fresco. What is the artist saying?

What does the position of Jesus’ body say to you?

Often, the two thieves are pictured side-by-side with Jesus, but in this fresco they are some distance away, and with their backs to the viewer. We cannot make our their faces. Consider what meaning this might have.

In the image, and according to John’s record, there are four people at Jesus’ feet. By what you see in the fresco, what is each one of them feeling and thinking? Now, imagine yourself as one of them. Which one would you be? Why?

Jesus said, “It is finished.” What has God done in your life that remains unfinished? What is finished?

Prayer
Lord, once you asked if I would value – in the way of your cross – and I said, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, I will.” You knew then how my heart would faint and my will with falter, once I followed you this far, once we got to this awful hill. Here, where darkness gathers, and the birds start to circle, and the Father’s voice falls silent, you bend. You look at me. Now you ask again, if I will follow you – in the way of my cross – and I say, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, your will.”

We are adore you, O Christ,
And we praise you,
For by your holy cross,
You have redeemed of the world.

A Word from the Tradition
What God promises us for the future is great, but what God has already done for us in Christ is greater still. Who can doubt that he will give us his life, since he has already given us his death? Why is human weakness so slow to believe that we will one day live with God? After all, a much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for us. –From a sermon by Augustine (354–430)

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

Missam Pro Defunctis – Weekday Mass for Lent

By Sister Fidelis

As we approach Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent this week, I’ve been looking at Mass XVIII – Missa pro defunctis, which we use during the Lenten season. While this is one of the “simpler” masses, it is also very beautiful and has been borrowed or expounded upon by composers over the ages – maybe one of the best known being Fauré in his Requiem.

It is interesting that although the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, were not composed together – not even within the same century, they have several similar qualities. For one, the narrow range is noteable. The Kyrie covers the distance of a 7th, the Sanctus a 5th and the Agnus Dei a mere 3rd! Looking through the entire repertoire of ordinary Masses we don’t find any other Mass with such a narrow range. We also see in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei almost entirely syllabic writing – adding to the feeling of humble simplicity.

Then we find a motive – a repeated pitch followed by a whole step – which appears both in the “eleison” of the Kyrie throughout, and twice at the start of the Sanctus. The reverse of that same motive is the intonation of the Agnus Dei – two repeated pitches followed by a whole step upwards! There is something comforting and calm about the way in which this motive weaves in and out and in the way  the overall compositions seem to rise and fall. What is it about this music that lends itself so well to the season of Lent? Could it be connected to the thought of narrowing our focus or simplifying our lives?  Maybe the chant itself will inform us of something in these next weeks…

Click here to hear samples from this mass, and other Gregorian chants from the Requiem, on a recording by Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola.

Missa Pro Defunctis

Sacred Seeing: The Last Supper

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 Last Supper

TheLastSupper

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
Write down any first impressions you have.
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 26:20-29
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
The scripture reference for this image records two major events taking place at the table in the Upper Room – the betrayal and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. How does the fresco express them both?

If you were to imagine yourself as one of these disciples, which one would it be? Why?

Judas is unmistakable in this image. How does the artist depicted the characteristics of his betrayal? What details does he include? What message do you draw from this?

In the Gospel, Jesus refers to everyone at the table sharing from the same dish. Why is this significant?

What does this image tell you about the Eucharist?

The brilliant light around Jesus – radiating from Jesus – is not unlike the light that shone at the Transfiguration. How are these two events related and what does this say about every celebration of the Eucharist?

 

Prayer
Which side of the table in my sitting on today, Lord?
I want to be close by your side,
but if these men didn’t have the strength to stay with you,
how can I?
I can at least sit with you today,
in the wash of your light,
even if I am afraid my choices may someday betray you…
will someday betray you.
I can at least come to the Meal.
Whenever you serve it, I can come.
And I will keep on coming, Lord,
until your side of the table
becomes the only place for me to sit.

O sacrum convivium
O sacred banquet!
In which Christ is received,
the memory of his passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge a future glory to us is given.
Alleluia.
– Thomas Aquinas

A Word from the Tradition
With complete confidence let us all partake of the body and blood of Christ. For in the type of bread his body is given to you, and in the type of wine his blood, that by partaking of the body and blood of Christ you may become one body and one blood with him. Thus, when his body and blood or imparted to our bodies, we become Christ bears. As the blessed Peter himself said: we become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
– From instructions to the Newly Baptized, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313–386)

Image: © The Lord’s Supper by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration