Approaching Advent

by Sister Fidelis

As we approach Advent, days becoming shorter and the church year coming to an end, I’ve been looking ahead to the rich repertoire of pieces we have for this season. Mass XVIII, assigned to the Advent Season, is one of the “simpler” but well known and beloved Masses. It is interestingly also used in Lent and has been borrowed or expounded upon by many composers over the ages—Palestrina, Fauré, Duruflé, to name a few.

It is interesting that although the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, were not composed together—not even within the same century—they have many similar qualities. For one, the narrow range is notable: the Kyrie covers the distance of a seventh, the Sanctus a fifth, and the Agnus Dei a mere third! 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, which adds 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 Advent?  As we take some time this season to prepare for the coming of Christ we can let these pieces lead us and point our hearts towards the simple manger of Bethlehem.

Nativity, 1622, Gerard van Honthorst

An Open Door

by Sister Nun Other

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I am. Not for what I have, not for what I’ve achieved or hope to achieve, but simply because I am. I am opens immeasurable possibilities: participation in a sunrise, interaction with a friend, an occasion for laughter (or tears.) Today I might enjoy beautiful music, lucky dip a scripture that fits just right, or encounter kindness when I least expect it.

All because I was, I am, and will be forever.  All because God extended his arms and invited me in.

Community of Jesus

Feast of Saint Hilda, Abbess of Whitby

by Sister Spero

One of my favorite stories is told by the Venerable Bede about Hilda (Abbess of Whitby from 657–680) and the servant Caedmon, who herded the monastery’s cows. Caedmon kept to himself, and usually left a room when “the harp was passed” for singing and reciting poetry. One night he fell asleep among the animals and dreamt that a man told him to get up and sing a poem about “the beginning of created things.” He told Abbess Hilda, who was as amazed as Caedmon was himself with the poem. The Abbess brought him into the monastery, where he continued to sing and write poetry for the rest of his life. His poem is the oldest in the English language, and he is now considered the “Father of English poetry.”

I think of Hilda as a very wise woman, Abbess of several monasteries of men and women, who nurtured the gifts of all that were under her care.

New Tower Bell Ringing Mark

by Faithful Friar

This past weekend for the first time a band of Community of Jesus bell ringers (pictured) were able to achieve an extended method ring in our church’s bell tower without visiting teachers or experienced ringers to help guide us. Good-sounding change ringing is a complicated business especially as you seek to extend a basic method (particular pattern of interweaving the tuned bells) by increasing either the number of bells or the length of ringing time. The complication may be traced to 2 main factors: the difficulty of learning to manage a heavy bell for both ease and precise striking, and the requirement to do it in coordination with a whole group of others. Both take a great deal of patience and perseverance, and one can see why advancing further only brings more difficulty. So why bother one may ask? Good question!…might be the reply. Two equally-connected reasons could be offered: the possibility for a tremendous satisfaction if/when the desired result is achieved, and the fact that it yields both a grand lovely sound and a sort of public witness to a hard-won unity. So even though the happy smiles in this photo are ones of anticipation before we began to ring, a photo taken 2 1/2 hours later would have revealed both stresses and strains we experienced, but also a sense of deeper contentment gained during that period of time. Enough to carry us on toward the next challenge….  (Sound familiar any of you Christians?)

So be it, I say to you!

A blog from the archives! We haven’t heard the Mass propers for several weeks now, but this just makes us all the more eager for the chants of Advent that we’ll be singing before we know it.

By Cantor

We often hear the phrase “chant is so peaceful.” Certainly, many chants do have an inherent sense of peace about them. But not all of them — sometimes the chant demands our attention, insisting that we stand up and listen!

Last week, the communion antiphon at the Church of the Transfiguration began with the text “Amen, dico vobis.” Translated, that means “So be it, I say to you.” These words of Jesus are not set to a gentle recitation but rather burst forth on a trumpet-like motive that leaves no room for doubt that we need to listen to Jesus’ words that follow.

All week, I found myself “hearing” that trumpet motive from other times of the church year. In fact that same sound occurs in the communion for Pentecost — “Factus est repente de caelo sonus” (A mighty sound came rushing out of Heaven); the introit for Christmas Day mass — “Puer natus est” (A boy is born unto us); the procession for Palm Sunday — “Hosanna, Filio David” (Hosanna to the Son of David), to name a few. In moments, I had been taken through much of the church year, reminded by a simple musical motive of the Kingship of Christ.

holycross

The Turn

by Sister Spero

I’ve heard that the Psalms reflect all the emotions of the human heart. I saw an example of this at Lauds a few weeks ago. We chanted Psalm 57 — “I am in the midst of lions . . . men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” Then “they spread a net for my feet — I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path.” This all sounds pretty grim.

But immediately it turns: “They have fallen into it [the pit] themselves.” “I will sing and make music! Awake my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! [I will be so loud and excited that] I will awaken the dawn.” All this happens in five verses — deep sorrow turns into deep joy.

No wonder the Psalms are so beloved, and are prayed and chanted daily by so many. They remind us that God knows what we’re going through, and knows how to turn it around.  

Salve Regina

by Sister Fidelis

As we approach Advent my mind turns to the many Marian chants that come with this time of year. Salve Regina, a very beautiful and well-known piece is one of four Marian Antiphons sung at Compline. It is traditionally assigned to be sung from the Saturday before Trinity Sunday until the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent. I have memories of chanting or hearing this sung in a number of different monasteries and churches. In Italy it seems that everyone knows the Salve Regina by heart!  

A mode V antiphon, the melody of this piece has a simple feel – for the most part one note per syllable. At the same time it has long phrases that spin up and downwards and then finally seem to climax with the final three statements: O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Here below is a link to the antiphon sung by Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola on the CD Chants of Mary, and a translation of the text written in 1000 AD.

Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy,

our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve;

to you we send up our sighs,

mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn, then, most gracious advocate,

your eyes of mercy toward us;

and after this, our exile,

show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

To Be a Pilgrim

by Sister Nunother

We are the Magi bearing precious gifts, the shepherds tending  flocks, the angel chorus on a star-lit night, the carpenter father, the tender mother. We are conversely Herod and his soldiers, rumors of war, haters of holiness, lovers of iniquity. We arrive at rehearsals with our back-pack burdens of musical score, pencil, bottled water, energy bar, and unruly emotions about to be stirred.

I turn to my bible and explore the profound effect of Bunyan’s he Pilgrim’s ProgressI choose Hosea 14:1-2. Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to Him, “Take away all guilt; accept what is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips.”

It’s such a privilege to sing and listen to powerful words united with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music in his opera, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Life is a difficult journey, filled with danger real and imagined, temptations blatant and subtle, sorrow, grief, a longing for home, and a search for love that forgives. It’s all present here—visible and audible—lovely in its simplicity and candor.

In January 2017, my beautiful niece lost her life in unspeakable tragedy. Her manner of death left a trail of tears for others’ grief to follow. I see her now in House Beautiful and hear Bunyan’s words, An open door shall be set before thee and no man may shut it. Come thou blessed, enter into the joy of the Lord. A treasure of joy and gladness, joy and gladness be given to thee. A room is prepared for thee; the window shall be toward the sun rising, and the name of the chamber shall be peace.    

I end with this question to myself, “Who am I to argue?”

A Sister
Member of the Chorus

The Feast of All Saints

by Sister Spero

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

All Saints Day is a celebration of the communion of saints—all those who have died in Christ, known and unknown. Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this feast honors everyone who has served.

The commemoration of saints began with the early Christian martyrs.  Wanting to remember their slain brothers and sisters, churches began to celebrate a yearly remembrance of a martyr’s death. As Roman persecutions continued, and the numbers of martyrs increased, it became impossible to grant a feast day for each of them. So, as early as the fourth century, the church celebrated one day for all the martyrs, to ensure that all were properly honored. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel “to all the martyrs” in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on November 1st.  Since that day, November 1st has been the day that the western church celebrates “All Saints Day”—a celebratory and inclusive memorial, in thanksgiving for all the Christians who have gone before us.

 

All Saints Day

by Sister Fidelis

November 1 is the Solemn Feast of All Saints – a holy day whose tradition dates back to the 4th century AD. In the earliest centuries it was celebrated during the Easter season and came originally from liturgies held in honor of the martyrs in those times. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory set the date as November 1 which in the Western church has continued up to today. In a number of countries it is still a national holiday and very much a part of life, with special services and family traditions.

There are many pieces of Gregorian chant connected with this Feast – Litanies, Masses, Propers, and Antiphons – too numerous to mention them all!  One lovely and well-known Antiphon that has a connection with this day is “In Paradisum” a chant traditionally sung at funerals as part of the Mass for the Dead. It is a very simple piece, Mode VII, composed as a mainly syllabic melody with a clivis or pes interspersed at points.  The lack of ornamentation draws our focus right to the text:  “May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.” The melody lofts upwards from the very start and hovers in the higher range giving a heavenly sense. There is a sweetness and feeling of reassurance to the prayer being offered up for those who have now become Saints. Below is a link to this chant sung by Gloriae Dei Cantores schola members.

We wish you a happy All Saints Day!