Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!

Many of those who have toured the Church of the Transfiguration, attended a concert, or joined us for worship have told us that their visit was an opportunity for peace, recollection and spiritual refreshment. As most of us in our nation (and indeed across the globe) are currently at home, we wanted to continue to share the gift of the church with short, meditative videos of music and art. 

There are countless settings of “Old 100th” or, what we have come to call “The Doxology.” This short hymn of praise is a wonderful antidote to fear and anxiety and a reminder of God’s blessings.

Click through to hear Robert Lau’s setting of this work, played by Jim Jordan on the E.M. Skinner organ at the Church of the Transfiguration and read more about the text and tune below…

Really, any hymn verse which sings praise directly to each person of the Trinity is called a “doxology” (just like the final verses of Gregorian Chant hymns from the Liturgy of the Hours.) But, this text and tune, which are not original to each other(!) have become part of “us”, regardless of our denominational background and one of our earliest examples of singing hymns in the vernacular!

The tune itself is first found in the Genevan Psalter (1541), attributed to Louis Bourgeois, a Parisian who moved to Geneva and was actually the church musician working directly under John Calvin. This tune was originally set with Psalm 134, later used with Psalm 100, “All People that on earth do dwell”, made most famous in the last century in Ralph Vaughan William’s setting for choir, orchestra, organ and congregation for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, you can open almost any hymnal and find this hymn – perhaps our best known and most oft-sung hymn of praise!

 

The Annunciation of Our Lord — Feast Day March 25th

“Do not be afraid”, these words spoken by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary over two millennia ago, still resonate in the human heart. Imagine a young Jewish girl, the daughter of Anne and Joachim, possibly trained in the temple, experiencing this Visitation. There is no record in the Scriptures of anyone who was spoken to as she, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you”, and then, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”. Mary, barely out of childhood, believed deeply in God. And although she was astounded to learn she would conceive and bear a son, she listened intently before asking how this would be possible. 

Gabriel answered, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be holy; He will be called the Son of God.” And he went on to say that her kinswoman Elizabeth, although long barren, had conceived a son six months earlier. She was encouraged to believe and accept what the Angel had said, but was also free to choose.

Her simple reply, “Let it be with me according to your word” still stands as our example of fully embracing a call full of mystery and the unknown. This was an integral part of the Good News which had been promised hundreds of years earlier in Genesis. So when the Angel Gabriel left Nazareth, Mary went immediately to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea. Elizabeth, who was well beyond child-bearing age, was already in her sixth month and awaiting the birth of a promised son. It was there that Mary, after greeting Elizabeth, was filled with the Holy Spirit and responded exultantly with God’s promise for Mary and many others: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant… He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever”.  Her response, known as The Magnificat, remains a beloved vespers canticle in Christian liturgy.

The Annunciation was celebrated as early as the 4th century. Since then, many havemeditated upon this significant event; musicians, iconographers, artists, and others have captured some of its beauty and significance. In recent centuries musicians, Pachelbel in the 17th century and Mozart in the 18th century for example, have beautifully conveyed God’s faithfulness in moving Vespers antiphons. And there have been numerous inspired icons of the Annunciation. Many iconographers have fasted and prayed while creating their works.  One well-known icon is in Tinos, an island off Greece, and there are many other celebrated icons in Russian churches. All these are wonderful reminders that “God is compassionate and gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

Annunciation Icon painted by a Sister at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod

Icon of The Annunciation painted by Sr. Faith from the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod

Feast of St. Joseph – March 19

Saint Joseph is known by many titles: the Worker, the Carpenter, Patron of the Universal Church (in Catholicism) and Descendant of King David.  Perhaps he should also be called Saint Joseph the Listener, the man who believed an angel messenger when told he would be earthly father to the Son of God. When warned of impending violence against the Holy Family, Joseph immediately obeyed instructions and fled to Egypt.  And there, when he heard of Herod’s death did as the angel told him and returned to the Holy Land with Jesus and Mary. Avoiding the dangers of Bethlehem, they settled in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. The Gospels describe Joseph as a tekton, the traditional name for a carpenter.  It’s believed that he taught his craft to the young boy, Jesus.

Saint Joseph listened and obeyed because he first loved God. If we’re forced by circumstances to sometimes “take a back seat,” we should consider Joseph. Entrusted with the care and protection of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, Joseph remained faithful, steadfast, and anonymous. He is last mentioned in the Gospels frantically searching for the child Jesus, lost in Jerusalem.  Our final glimpse of Joseph is of a confused and bemused father, confronted by the questions, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

On Saint Joseph’s Day, let’s pray together for patience to listen, the grace to accept what we hear, and the wisdom of humility to recognize our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s plan.

Icon St. Joseph Church of the Transfiguration Cape Cod

Hand-painted icon of St. Joseph at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Feast Day of St. Patrick – March 17th

Saint Patrick is a greatly loved and celebrated saint. Why is that, and why is March 17th so significant?  One reason is that he lived a life filled with truth and simplicity; another was his willingness to give his all even in challenging circumstances. Born in late fourth century Britain, he grew up as a Roman citizen, his father, a deacon, and his grandfather, a priest. But at sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and taken to the West coast of Ireland.  He was forced to work as a herdsman for six long years, similar to many other young men.

Patrick, however, began realizing that he had rebelled against the teachings of Christ and gradually turned more and more to prayer. He saw that God was with him in his difficulties and was indeed his Father and Protector. Then in a dream, a voice told him he would return to his native land, and in another, that his ship was ready. After much hardship and a brief sojourn in what was probably France, Patrick joyfully reunited with his family in England. But this was short-lived. For he had a vivid dream in which he heard the voice of the Irish people begging him to return, reminiscent of St. Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man pleading for help. 

Patrick was deeply moved but in great turmoil. He felt greatly hampered by his limited education and his many shortcomings. Finally, throwing off every doubt, Patrick plunged into his call, traveling all over Ireland, even to wholly pagan places, baptizing and confirming thousands! Among his converts were young men who became monks, and young women, often daughters of chieftains whose fathers often opposed their choices. Believing strongly in monasticism, Patrick approved the prominence of monastic houses in the Irish Church. A later and famous example of answering a monastic call was another patron saint of Ireland, St. Brigit of Kildare, who defied her chieftain father.

Knowing the power of petty chieftains, and lawgivers, Patrick learned to give many gifts, thereby guaranteeing the safety of the clergy. But he accepted no gifts in return. Always straightforward, he was much trusted. Nonetheless, his life was threatened. One time he was put in chains by those who wished to kill him, but was finally set free by the intervention of influential friends. Nor was he spared criticism. After becoming well-known in Ireland, he was charged by his superiors in Britain that he was seeking religious office for its own sake. Patrick was deeply grieved and replied that “in exultation of heart before God… I never had any motive except for the gospel and the promises of God …” 

His life and legacy are clear proof of the words of Jesus: “By their fruits, you will know them.” (Mt 7:16.)

Community of Jesus

Feast Day of Saint Gregory the Great — March 12

Pope Gregory I, was a man of many virtues and accomplishments.  Credited for organizing the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, He also reached many through his prolific writings, more than any of his papal predecessors. During his papacy, his considerable administrative skills significantly improved the welfare of the Roman people.

In the the Middle Ages, Gregory was referred to as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his devotion to the improvement of the Divine Liturgy.  Pope Gregory was instrumental in the standardization of Western Plainchant, later renamed Gregorian chant in honor of his work and dedication.

Gregory was born in the city of Rome, around the year 540.  His was a Patrician Roman family, wealthy and with close connections to the church. His father, Gordianus, served as a senator and for a time Prefect of the City of Rome. His mother, Silvia, and two paternal aunts attained sainthood, and his great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III, making Saint Gregory’s family the most distinguished clerical dynasty of the time.

While contemporaries and historical biographers referred to him as Pope Gregory the Great (Magnus), he called himself “servant of the servants of God.”  He lived a devout life, punctuated by humility and sensitivity of spirit in spite of a long list of human accomplishments. Plagued throughout life with chronic illness, he never allowed physical pain to interfere with the plan to which God called him.  Not even imminent death deterred his sacred work.

Before he was thirty, Saint Gregory was made prefect of Rome but resigned the office after five years.  He subsequently founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and served as a Benedictine monk at his home in Rome.  An ordained priest, he became one of the pope’s seven deacons and served six years as a papal representative in Constantinople.  He was then called home to become abbot, and at the age of fifty was elected pope. In spite of great secular and religious success, he stated that his happiest years were those spent as a simple monk, a beloved calling he sacrificed to serve God.

The Immensity of His Love

This Lent, as I’ve been asking the Lord to turn my heart more towards Him, these words that our Prioress spoke in regards to sacred arts keep coming to my mind:

  “The sacred arts come from an expression of the soul that has found itself loved. That soul, in answer, longs to return to God the immensity of His love. The creative arts give voice, eyesight, color, wings to that ardent response of the heart.” Mother Betty Pugsley, CJ

I’ve especially pondered the word “found.” Is it a passive or aggressive word?

Am I suddenly surprised by my soul having an overwhelming reality of unexpected, undeserved love from God? Yes! Definitely! Do I sometimes need to aggressively seek for God’s love, patiently waiting?  Do I become impatient, asking questions, looking for hope and answers (sometimes even doubting or getting angry)? Yes! Definitely!

In both cases, when I allow the layers of superficiality to be stripped down to my broken and needy heart, those cracked places that are soft will let light in. Those places can let the Beauty of Jesus heal me, and the response can be none other than ardent love for the one who heals.

 

Emmanuel Chapel Doors, Church of the Transfiguration – Fr. Kim En Joong

And Don’t Forget…

Detail-oriented. Ever been called that? It’s something I hear a lot, and not always as a compliment. I’ve struggled with the reputation because I know it can be perplexing both to myself and others. I can trip over twenty details in five minutes, no problem. I’m a giant interruption to what I should be doing. When we have a special event, and I get my mitts on it, there isn’t a fork out of line or a flower out of place. When assigned to Sisters’ Sunday lunch, usually a casual affair, I apply the same modus operandi. The other Sisters say, “It’s okay. She almost can’t help herself.” (What do they mean almost?)  

For several weeks, I’ve been reading the books of the Bible dedicated to Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…Ezekiel, now there’s a man with whom I sympathize. He saw four living creatures (four faces, four sides), wheels within wheels, and dry bones stand up and walk. But perhaps his most amazing accomplishment was the amount of detail he observed and processed. Chapter 40 begins the Vision of the New Temple. If you think details are irrelevant, give it and subsequent chapters a read! Here’s a three-verse example:

The man said to me, “Mortal, look closely and listen attentively, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you…The length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length; so he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep.” Ezekiel 40:4-6   

And that’s just the beginning of what Ezekiel had to remember.

This morning I prepared for an event along with another sister, who tried hard to follow my directions. She sometimes looked puzzled and harried. I finally assured her, “Don’t worry, there’s always a reason behind my madness.” When we had completed the job, all that entered the room commented on how warm, welcoming, and beautiful it looked. I believe God is often in the details, and beauty enhanced by attention to the perceived insignificant. This concept applies to our spiritual journey and interactions with one another as well.

 

Saints Cyril and Methodius Feast Day—February 14th

Celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on May 11th, the Catholic and Anglican churches chose a February feast day for the two brothers, Cyril and Methodius.  Born in Thessalonica, Greece, both men spent the majority of their missionary years in Eastern Europe and were instrumental in the translation of the Gospels into Slavic languages.

Cyril (825-869) was primarily a philosopher and later an ordained priest.  Methodius (826-884) served five years as governor of a Slavic region in the Greek empire and eventually became a monk.  In 861, both men traveled as missionaries to Russia.

Cyril developed the Cyrillic alphabet, which enabled the Slavic translation of the Psalms and the New Testament and gave the brothers’ the ability to preach and celebrate Mass. They wrote a Slavic Civil Code as well to improve the lives of the common people.  The Cyrillic alphabet is still used in modern Russia and other Slavic nations. For their dedication and work, Cyril and Methodius earned respect and the title “Apostles to the Slavs.”

Both men suffered for their faith and came under the scrutiny of the church hierarchy, led primarily by German clergy.  A contributing factor was that Saints Cyril and Methodius served the people as one of them. Called to Rome and forced to defend their actions, the papacy declared emphatically for the two brothers and not only exonerated them but sought their consecration as bishops.

Cyril died before his consecration and Methodius, though consecrated, was deposed by a German synod and imprisoned for two years. They lived, as Christian Saints often do, misunderstood for their zeal and venerated after death for that very same unquenchable love for God.

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Feast Day of Saint Scholastica—February 10

During the general time period of St. Scholastica’s birth in 480, Italy was in turmoil with the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes invading much of the land. Although these tribes used the already existing well-organized Roman political and bureaucratic system, they had much political power. 

Scholastica, born into a wealthy family in Norcia in central Italy, grew up, however, in relative peace and luxury with her beloved brother, Benedict, who was possibly her twin. As a child and later as a nun, Scholastica was deeply committed to God, becoming the leader of the first Benedictine convent, under St. Benedict’s authority and following his Rule. It is interesting to note that in that era, nuns like St. Brigid in Ireland and St. Hilda in England experienced a greater degree of independence until the Church in Rome became more powerful in Northern Europe.

Nevertheless, the obedient Scholastica proved her spunkiness and her closeness to God in what turned out to be her last meeting with Benedict. Because women were not allowed in the monastery of Monte Cassino where Benedict was the abbot, the brother and sister visited each other in a nearby farmhouse – once a year. Sensing she was nearing the end of her life, Scholastica asked Benedict to extend the visit into the night hours to continue their talk about God and heaven. Benedict refused, putting the Rule ahead of his natural affection for her. At that juncture, Saint Scholastica prayed for God’s intervention. The apparent answer was a severe thunderstorm of such incredible fury, it forced Benedict to stay the night. Three days later, St. Benedict saw Scholastica’s soul in the form of a dove, fly to heaven!

Putting God first as she had promised when taking her vows as a religious,  Saint Scholastica exemplified the teaching of Jesus that those who leave houses, or brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or fields, for his name’s sake, receive life a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Mt 19:29). Like all who follow Jesus, she proved the truth of His words.

Feast Day of Saint Marcella January 31st

Saint Marcella was born in Rome in the year 325. The daughter of Albina, an educated and wealthy woman, she emulated her mother in both piety and benevolence.  

Because of her wealth and beauty, Marcella was part of fashionable Roman society. At a young age, she married an equally wealthy aristocrat who died only seven months later.  Rather than re-marry, Marcella chose the life of a widow, devoting herself to charity, prayer, and a life of poverty and service.  

Rather than beautiful dresses of the latest fashion, she decided to wear a coarse brown garment. Her hair was of a simple style, and she wore no makeup. A community of women formed, known as the brown dress society.  They spent their time in praying, Biblical studies, singing, and serving the needy. Marcella’s once palatial home became a refuge for the poor.

Saint Jerome came to Rome in 382 and lodged at Marcella’s “hospitality house”, which Jerome referred to as her domestic church. There, with Marcella’s assistance, he spent three years on a Latin translation of the Bible.  He held Marcella in high regard, recognizing her Christian devotion and scholarship, as well as her vast knowledge. Jerome became the spiritual guide of Marcella’s Brown Dress Community. She, on the other hand, helped Saint Jerome control his legendary temper and intervened when quarrels with his opponents threatened to escalate.

In the year 410, Visigoths invaded Rome and brutally attacked Marcella in her residence.  She was scourged, beaten and suffered other tortures for riches she no longer had. Marcella and her pupil, Principia, were taken to the church of St. Paul where Marcella died the following day.

Saint Marcella, widow, and martyr, is revered for her contribution to early monasticism and her sacrifice of riches to the poor and needy.

Sculpted Stone Pillar of Saint Marcella at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Sculpted Stone Pillar of Saint Marcella