Vexilla Regis

by Sister Fidelis

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross last week and the hymn for Vespers that day is Vexilla regis, an ancient and very well-known piece. Written by Fortunatus, it is documented that it was first sung as part of a procession from Tours to Poitiers, France, in November 569 when a relic of the True Cross was sent from the East by Byzantine Emperor Justin II at the request of St. Radegunda.

The hymn is regularly used now for I Vespers the Saturday before Passion Sunday as well as on several Feast days through the year. The text is full of imagery and story and the tune has a flowing march-like feel. A mode I with a fairly narrow range it moves steadily from the top-most tau down to do mainly in stepwise motion or small leaps – this giving a steady movement forward. The few porecti and quilismae add a feeling of flourish. Reading the poetry reminds us again of the love that lies at the basis of our faith:

The royal banners go forth, the mystery of the cross shines,
Where, in the flesh, the creator of flesh hung on the gibbet;
Where he was also wounded by the cruel point of the spear:
That he might wash us from sin, water flowed with blood.
Fulfilled are those things which David prophesied in faithful song,
Saying to the nations: “God has reigned from a tree.”
O beautiful and shining tree, clothed in royal purple,
Chosen to handle on its worthy trunk such holy limbs!
O blessed tree, on whose arms hung the ransom of the world;
It became a balance for his body, and snatched back the spoils of hell.
Hail of Cross, only hope! In this time of the passion,
Increase grace to the faithful, and remove sin from all things.
You, fountain of salvation, O Trinity, let all living things praise together;
Cherish throughout the ages all those whom you save by the mystery of the cross. Amen.

A Reading from a Homily of John Chrysostom

We rediscovered this treasure from last year — especially appropriate in the middle of this season of hurricanes, when so many are suffering, and are now preparing for the next storm. We continue to pray for God’s protection for all of those in the path of the storm.

The 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

 

John, the Golden-Mouthed

“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”

“Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.”

“We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them, we offend God.”

The saint we know as John Chrysostom, was not called Chrysostom (which means “golden-mouthed) until after his death.  It was his golden-mouthed preaching and writing that made him a great teacher of the early church, but also caused him great personal grief. His feast day is celebrated on September 13.

As a result of his reputation as an orator, John was kidnapped from his church in Antioch in 398 and made the Archbishop of Constantinople, the center of the Roman Empire at the time.  He accepted the position as the will of God, but denounced many important leaders (including clergy) in the city for their extreme wealth and corruption. His denouncements of Roman citizens by name led to his banishment more than once, the last resulting in his sickness and death in 407.

To put John Chrysostom’s life in perspective:  Emperor Constantine issued his edict decriminalizing Christianity (the Edict of Milan) in 313.  John was born in 349, just 36 years later. It was not until 380, when he was 31, that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  He became a deacon in Antioch the following year.

What God Provides

by Sister Hannah

The Sisters’ culinary adventures in Cameroon continue, as does God’s provision and protection.

Menus this week included pitas and refried beans (from two different cultures, introduced to a third). Pitas were made over a wood fire. I’d cooked and seasoned the beans and had help mashing them. So that was dinner. However, some preferred marmalade on their pitas, so we had lots of beans left.

Next day I re-worked the beans into a soup to go over rice, but only two of us chose that option for lunch. More left-overs (sigh). And I went on to dinner preparation.

Later, four young neighborhood children who often drop by for a meal showed up, and I groaned inwardly; as we just had enough for us for dinner, I didn’t think we could give them any of it. Then I remembered the soup. Would they eat such a strange soup? One postulant thought so, and ladeled it into four bowls for them.

Soon I heard the children laughing—they had eaten and their appreciation was expressed as they enjoyed a satisfied feeling. I had tears as I sensed their grateful hearts. O, wait and see what God provides. And the licked-clean bowls stacked outside the kitchen door said a terrifically simple, “Amen!”

O gloriosa Domina

by Sister Fidelis

On September 8 we celebrate the Nativity of Mary, a feast that was established as early on as the 6th century. Once again we have a collection of beautiful hymns, antiphons, and Propers, all written very specifically for this day. The hymn for Lauds is especially lovely: O gloriosa Domina, taken from the second half of a larger hymn written by Fortunatus in the mid 500s. The four verses used at Lauds have many wonderful descriptions of Mary: glorious Lady; gentle one; door of the high king; shining gate of light….

The melody of the hymn has a very simple and gentle feeling. While it covers a range greater than an octave, it moves largely in step-wise motion or leaps of a third. The second and fourth quarters of each verse have a lovely cascading pattern of pedes and clivi rippling from re to sol and landing finally on the home-tone, la.

It’s amazing to think of this piece being sung annually on this date for close to 1500 years. Several sources state that it was the favorite hymn of St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), that the song was always on his lips, even on his deathbed (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Here below is a visual sample of the first two verses as well as a recording of Gloriæ Dei Cantores Men’s Schola singing the hymn (from the CD, The Chants of Mary).

The Nativity of Mary

by Sister Spero

The Feast of the Nativity of Mary (or Mary’s birthday) has been celebrated on September 8th for at least 15 centuries.

We know this because of “Romanos the Melodist,” a Jewish convert to Christianity from Syria in the late 5th century. He became a deacon in Constantinople, the center of the Christian faith at the time.

There is a story told about Romanos that he felt very inadequate when it came to music, and did not like his own voice. When he was asked to lead a special service, the All-Night Vigil, he pleaded with the Mother of God to help him, and fell asleep in his prayers. He dreamt that Mary came to him with a scroll, and said, “Here, eat this.” He woke up full of joy, and the next night, at the All-Night Vigil, he sang with such a strong, clear voice that everyone was amazed. After this he wrote many hymns, including one for the Feast of Nativity of Mary on September 8th, which is how historians date this feast.

Tower Watch

by Faithful Friar

Three close friends and mentors in the art/science of English style change-ringing came to be with us for 3 days this month as they have most summers since our bells were installed 8 years ago. They might be compared to “founding guides” in our lengthy process of conversion from neophyte ringers into a true band capable of ringing methods together. Earlier years saw them taking any of us who could handle a bell rope safely and placing us one at a time in their midst to guide where practically each bell stroke should be placed. Through the years as we’ve continued our own practice, repetition of service ringing, many comings and goings, ups and downs, the summer camp teachers gradually led us to doing more and more on our own until, by nearly imperceptible increments and almost to our own surprise, this year we could field enough of us to ring half a dozen quarter peals and 2 full peals during their time with us, still needing their steady ringing and guidance, but having more of us than them for the first time. Looking back on this “founding” period, it’s often felt like an exercise in blind faith, perseverance, trust. I suppose it may have felt that way to our teachers as well, but they also understood from experience how such a worthy yet highly-complex endeavor (learning to live together in community for example!) a firm hand is needed and slow simple instructions to follow. They knew the resulting satisfaction of achieving goals in company with others of like mind and purpose…maturing together in an activity impossible to accomplish on one’s own, requiring both tenacity and patience, yet ultimately rewarding both doers and hearers.

Cast your cares upon him

by Faithful Finch

I’m the kind of person who worries if I don’t have something to worry about, so the scripture, “cast your cares upon Him, for He careth for you.”( 1 Peter 5:7) is a good reminder for me that I need to do something about those worries.
The verb, “cast” is such a great, active verb and makes me think of when I used to go fishing with my Dad, and would cast the line out as far as I could.
I find that when one is used to having worry so close by, there is almost a vacuum once you have cast it away, and there is a need to fill the space the worry has taken. I was thinking about what would be the best thing to fill this space when a sentence in a book by Henri Nouwen hit me, and I realized both what I had been doing by choosing to worry, and what I needed to do with the void once I cast my cares on the Lord!
The sentence says, “Continual complaining is more attractive than facing reality.” All these years, my worrying has been complaining that God is not enough! Facing reality is that God is there, and the answer to filling the void is to praise Him for His faithfulness, because He does care for me.

Proclaiming the sacred texts

by Sister Fidelis

In doing some research this week I came across a quote by Dr. Mary Berry, musicologist and chant scholar who taught our community so much about Gregorian chant. I found it extremely inspirational and informative—once again a reminder that it is the text, mainly Scripture, that is the motivator in this form of prayer, and how much we have to gain by participating in it.

“The first ray of hope that came to me fourteen years ago, when I launched out on teaching Gregorian Chant and 96 came when I expected 20, has been amply fulfilled. People come because they sense in the Church a malaise which actually amounts to a crisis of faith and a positive attempt to water down the basic doctrines of Incarnation and Resurrection. I’ve told you something about the research and I’ve also hinted at the extent to which people, particularly the young, find the chant relevant to their Christian lives. In coming to the Chant they find the strong affirmation of the living Christian message in all its vitality and passion and youthful vigor. My experience is that it utterly refreshes, enriches and converts anyone who sings it. The latest researches to which I have referred have laid open, like a delicate dissection, this faith proclaimed through the intricate and superlative art of generations of unknown composers, closer in time than we are to the original revelation of God in Jesus Christ. They proclaim the sacred texts in a way that reveals the Church’s deep and traditional faith in the Son of God, made Man, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified for our sake, but also risen, ascended, glorified.” —Dr. Mary Berry, CBE, from a lecture given in 1985

We Are Together

by Sister Victoria

One of the common phrases among Christians here in Cameroon is “we are together ” meaning we have one God and we share our concerns and needs. It is no different with the Muslims here in the village of Kuvlu. They represent a large sector in the village, and our little Community, the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany have been aiming at fostering a good relationship with them.

Today I met with some our Muslim neighbours, just as they were coming out of their afternoon prayers. They could not have been warmer towards me saying, “we have one God, we are together, and we love you!”