Veni Sancte Spiritus

by Sister Fidelis

This last week in preparation for Pentecost we practiced “Veni Sancte Spiritus” at our weekly chant class. By now this sequence is familiar to everyone in our Community and feels like an essential part of the celebration. Sometimes called the “Golden Sequence”, the text dates back to the 13th century and has been attributed to Pope Leo III, or maybe more likely Stephen Langton the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1228.

While the poetry of this hymn is quite developed, with an interesting rhythmic and rhyming pattern, the music is quite simple, enhancing the text. There are 5 different musical phrases, each repeated twice. The piece covers a large range (more than an octave), with many of the phrases moving in scalar motion from top to bottom or bottom to top.  For the most part we see syllabic writing with a few duple or triple neume patterns which gives a feeling of strength matching the powerful message: Come, Holy Spirit!

The overall visual shows a constant rise and fall to the extremes of the range in long phrases, and we also see large leaps of a sixth or even an octave at several of the cadence points. The prayer unfolds in a similar way: the rise and fall of a prayer calling to the Father, Son, and Spirit to console, refresh, cleanse, bend, melt, guide, all leading toward heavenly joy.

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.

 

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 Holy Innocents

This is the text of this morning’s Gregorian chant hymn from Lauds for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by Prudentius (4th-5th c.). This is a tragic event in the history of God’s people. It is also referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The Wise Men reported to King Herod that they were searching for the infant king of the Jews. This threatened Herod. To protect himself against being supplanted by this infant, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows who or how many were killed, so the Church honors them as a group of martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Christmas candle tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, the Community of JesusHail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.

 

Ringing for “Ogni Santi”

by Faithful Friar

Last week at the feast of All Saints part of our ringing band at the Church of the Transfiguation rang some plain courses of Stedman doubles for the very first time to help celebrate the day with special ringing. Plain courses are the basic pattern of a method without having any calls from a conductor to swap individual bells onto different tracks in order to extend it. The Stedman pattern (“method” – technically a “principle”) is one of the most ancient compositions in English change-ringing and is also considered among the most pretty or tuneful. Our rendition may not quite have reached that level, but it’s a start (literally)!
Ringing for All Saints put me in mind of being stationed at our community’s mission house in Barga, Italy last year (Villa Via Sacra, whose purpose is to house and host outreaches in sacred art and spirituality). All Saints — Ogni Santi — is a huge feast in Italy where families unite to honor their dear departed with the most elaborate floral displays in all their cemeteries. And as one might expect the campanelli (bell ringers) in Italy’s churches have developed special and elaborate ringing traditions for it as well.
I was privileged to do some simple ringing with members of the Barga band in the belfry of its main church (Duomo) near the villa. It is a venerable tradition over there, and every church small or great has its gruppo campanile. Attached is a video showing my 2 Italian ringing teachers Christian and Franco performing their style of All Saints ringing in the Duomo campanile. With all of life’s uncertainties it’s good to find oneself in a stream of tradition. And hopefully the ringing itself can encourage others!

Tolling

by Faithful Friar

While reading her favorite book to a blind, elderly friend of mine, I came across this description of bell ringing in their little town of Church Enstone in England in the early 1900’s. It seemed especially appropriate as we approach the time of All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day…..

As soon as anybody died the family ‘ud send for Thomas to toll the church bell. Our St. Kenelm’s has six bells. They was recast in 1831 but some retain their original inscriptions. Thomas’s favourite was ‘I to the church the living call, and to the grave do summon all.’ It were widely believed in the old days that the sound of bells ‘broke the power of lightnings’ and ‘drove away thunder’, and that the air were the Great Highway of evil spirits waiting to snatch the soul of a dead person before it could reach the haven of heaven. Thomas’ tolling kept ‘em all at bay. He’d let you know which soul had fled by giving three lone knells before tolling regular for a man, two lone knells before tolling for a woman, and one for a child. How long he went on tolling ‘ud tell everybody the status of the dead person in the parish. Thomas were a proper ringer, tolling full-bell, ringing on the sally. If he warn’t able to ring, swinging the whole bell, he’d tie the rope on the clapper for a volunteer toller to hit the clapper against the bell, waiting a whole minute between claps for the note to die away. I done that for him many a time.

the_parish_church_of_st_kenelms_enstone_-_geograph-org-uk_-_1323879

The Parish Church of St. Kenelm’s, Enstone

(If you’d like to read more, see Lifting the Latch by Sheila Stewart, Oxford University Press, 1987)

Death Has No Sting!

holycrossby Sr. Spero

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the day we sing the Lauds antiphon that captures the essence of Christianity.

O great work of love! Death died at the same time, when life died upon the tree.

If I can grasp the full meaning of this paradox, then my life will be totally different. Death and darkness will have no power, and I will live in a state of gratitude for the sacrifice of the cross.

 

 

A Reading from a Homily of John Chrysostom

chrysostomThe waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats; I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.

I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.

The Feast of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople — September 13, 2016

 

Swept Up Higher!

By Sr. Fidelis

No matter how many times I have chanted the chants for the Feast of the Transfiguration, I feel like a little kid all over again when I hear them! The chants for this feast have such exhilarating, text-coloring melodies, it’s difficult not to be swept up with them. Let’s take a look at just one example — the 1st Vespers Hymn — Quicumque Christus Quaeritis.

Here is the first verse:
Whosoever you are who seek Christ, raise your eyes on high;
there, you will be allowed to see a sign of eternal glory.

The hymn begins in the lowest part of the mode, as though “bowed over.” However, it gently and quickly rises higher until the very word “there” — as though carrying us along to the exact point at which we might see Christ — before returning to where it began.

However, and perhaps even more amazing, the musical shape of this hymn echoes the story of the Transfiguration itself. If you recall, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him up Mt. Tabor (a long climb if you have never experienced it!), where they saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah speak together, and heard God’s own voice — in all senses, a “mountain top” experience! Also, remember that Peter wanted to remain on the mountain but Jesus said that was not possible — they must descend and return to their daily lives with this experience.

This is EXACTLY what the chant does in sound — melodic motion to a specific high point on the word “there”, a moment of lingering and, like I said earlier, a floating descent to its final cadence. When I hear this hymn, I feel as though I am being retaken on that same, living journey. I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts and benefits of the chant: its ability to lift us out of where we are, take us to a new place of conversation with God, and return us to our daily lives, transformed.

Have a blessed week and Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

TransfigHymn

Blessed Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

The Risen One
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Until his final hour he had never
refused her anything or turned away,
lest she should turn their love to public praise.
Now she sank down beside the cross, disguised,
heavy with the largest stones of love
like jewels in the cover of her pain.

But later, when she came back to his grave
with tearful face, intending to anoint,
she found him resurrected for her sake,
saying with greater blessedness, “Do not –”

She understood it in her hollow first:
how with finality he now forbade
her, strengthened by his death, the oils’ relief
or any intimation of a touch:

because he wished to make of her the lover
who needs no more to lean on her beloved,
as, swept away by joy in such enormous
storms, she mounts even beyond his voice.

Donatello Mary Magdalene