by Sister Fidelis
Today we celebrate the Solemn Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Here in our Community, one from the Benedictine monastic tradition, this is an especially significant day. We begin Vespers with a beautiful hymn written by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072 AD), Benedictine reformer, and Doctor of the Church. Found in the Breviarum Monasticum, the hymn is written in Mode I and has a lovely lyrical tune which sets off the stunning poetry. Damian uses phrases such as “precious jewel of the heavenly king”, “your heart fixed on the stars,” and “you work through the narrow beginnings of a strict life” as he recounts the life of Benedict.
Each verse begins with a stepwise melody in the lower range, blossoms in the middle with leaps of 4ths and 5ths, and then settles back to a repeat of the opening phrase. It sticks to the typical features of Mode I – beginning and ending on Re and at points hovering around La. The clarity and simplicity are the perfect backdrop for the hymn text and a beautiful tribute to a man who influenced monasticism and thereby chant in such a significant way.
by Sister Victoria
Yesterday was a special and blessed day for our postulants of the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany here in the village of Kuvlu. These beautiful girls have taken the step from aspirants to postulants and with that step have received their new habits.
For the past couple of months, Sr Hannah and I have been busy putting together a new psalter with antiphons so that this new Community can begin singing the psalms.
Also, this past week began a rather intense two-week “music camp”. The girls have had beginning piano lessons with a visiting instructor, and I have been teaching them to chant the psalms. Meanwhile Sr Hannah has worked on alterations to their new habits, giving them their final pressing with a charcoal iron!
At church I sat behind them and admit, my eyes welled up a little thinking of the privilege and joy it is to be a part of their lives; young women wishing to serve God.
by Faithful Friar
Speaking of the 4th of July (which we all have been this week!)… Did you know that the tenor bell at the Community of Jesus bell tower was cast in the same pit in which the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast 265 years ago? That’s right – in 1752, Lester and Pack (later known as Whitechapel Bell Foundry) of London, England received a commission for its creation from the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, along with the request to have the bell lettered with, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land to the Inhabitants Thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). The cost then was a little over 150 pounds, or the equivalent of over 21,000 pounds today.
Although there is no record of it having been rung on July 4, 1776, it was believed to have been rung on the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8th, 1776. Bells throughout the land rang in celebration of America’s newly declared freedom. The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds. It is formed from 70% copper and 25% tin, and the remaining 5% from lead, arsenic, zinc, gold and silver. John Philip Sousa, inspired by this bell’s history, composed The Liberty Bell March and debuted it on July 4th, 1893 in Chicago.
Sadly, Whitechapel Foundry closed its doors forever in May of this year. It was known as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570 when Elizabeth I was Queen, and they had been in continuous operation since that time. We will miss them dearly and all their help in our newly established tower. BUT, we are proud to have Whitechapel Bells in our midst, ringing every day, and equally proud of our bells’ connections to their more famous cousin, Liberty.
by a Cantor
This next week’s communion antiphon – Gustate et videte – O taste and see that the Lord is good – is one of the most beloved and familiar of scripture texts and chants. In “Chants of the Vatican Gradual”, Dom Dominic Johner notes that this is the oldest communion chant to be found with its psalm in the liturgy of both eastern and western church. (as quoted by Jeffrey Tucker on The Chant Cafe).
by Sister Hannah
At the Convent of the Emmanuel Sisterhood, when we have stayed there, I took a short walk almost every day.
I had a glimpse of God’s delight in His creation along the path, the red earth adorned with small and various rocks.
Along the way I looked up at some of the trees as I walked, laden with mangoes and guava, and then went past a short row of stately cedars. Here I discovered something very exciting. In the last cedar, I saw what was possibly a small orchid, and stepped off the path and looked more closely. Yes, it was an orchid, and then I found many other trees had them. Orchids are slow growing, and I hope during future visits to see many of them in bloom. The plants are less than half the size of those sold in supermarkets and florist shops, so, to me, all the more exquisite.
God planted them (or allowed them to take up residence on these trees) for His own enjoyment and to bless those who have time to see as they pass by. This humble little flower provided such a blessing: a reminder to all of us to take time to stop and smell the flowers — whatever might be growing near you!
The upcoming Communion antiphon Inclina aurem tuam (“Incline thine ear”) may indeed hold the title as the shortest Communion chant in the repertoire. I believe the brevity is quite intentional as the chant is a simple, decorated Mode IV recitation. The melody weaves continually between the pitches fa and la, giving a sense that the person praying may be rocking back and forth while making this supplication to the Lord. Perhaps the most touching moment is the way in which the composer highlighted the word accelera, by placing a tenere over several of the notes thus purposefully slowing down the word which means to hurry! What a delightful way to underscore the prayer’s desire that the Lord hurry and listen.
by Sister Victoria
Just recently we made the long journey from Kuvlu to Bafut to attend the consecration service for three of the Emmanuel sisters. What an event that was! It was a whole day affair, beginning with the service at 9:30 in the morning followed by a meal for all and then drumming, singing and dancing well into the night.
It is an event for all the families, who were distinguished by wearing outfits of the same flamboyant fabric, many neighboring villagers and friends, other religious including 20 clergy, and no doubt some walk-ups. All in all, there had to be no fewer than about 500 guests.
We were blessed to experience another slice of African life in this event, very much like a large wedding where the families “gave” their daughters away to be brides of Christ.
by Sister Fidelis
Missa De Angelis, or Mass VIII, is one of the best known Gregorian Chant Masses today. As with most of these Mass units the various pieces, Kyrie, Gloria, etc. were not composed together but rather grouped at a certain point in history, assigned a number and title. This particular Mass seems to have been gathered together in the 18th century, though the Kyrie is likely a 15th century Norman composition, the Gloria from the 16th century, the Sanctus again from Normandy in the 11th or 12th century and the Agnus Dei, 15th century, from the Rouen area of N. France. Most Masses are named for a “trope” that was sung before or after the mass, but this is one is unique and takes its name from the tradition of celebrating a Mass in honor of the Holy Angels on Mondays. This was a devotion especially practiced by the Franciscans.
It is interesting to see the characteristics of the various pieces here. The Kyrie and Gloria in Mode V and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Mode IV. The Kyrie and Sanctus, melismatic in style with the Gloria and Agnus Dei less so. And really with the exception of the Gloria it is not a “simple” mass so it is interesting that it has become one of the well-known favorites in many churches, not to mention one of the standard Masses used in the Vatican. Having been assigned as a “Festive Mass” I think there is a certain feeling of celebration attached to it and certainly we see that reflected in the chant throughout. For example the 12-note jubilus at the outset of the Kyrie, the continuous rise and fall of smaller melismas and repeated notes in the Sanctus, and the many torculae in the Agnus Dei. In celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of our church we sang this Mass on Sunday and it brought a real sense of joy to the morning.
by Faithful Friar
Many visitors to our bell tower comment on its cleanliness, which is in part because the tower is relatively new, and also because we clean it. I mentioned to a friend about how often I hear ringers comment on the tower’s cleanliness, and she responded, “The question will be, what will they say in 100 years?”
I was thinking about 100 years of cleaning while power washing the porphyry stone floor in preparation to re-seal later this week. The trick is, I’m not expecting any of us will be here to be sure things are spic and span in 2117. Not to mention, there is actually quite a bit to do right now, this year, today even.
All this cleaning isn’t something that can be done all at once. As with so many things in life, the only way to do it is bit by bit, a little at a time. Hopefully we can make it a habit for generations.
Here are a few pictures from our cleaning times this weekend — a few angles we don’t get to see very often!
by Sister Spero
The vines we grow to make Communion wine are teaching me more about Jesus. He said to his disciples that he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. I’ve always understood this as a statement of how powerful God is, and how inconsequential we are, unless we connect to the vine. Walking by the grape vines, I’m beginning to see this differently.
The only time I notice either the vine or the branches is during the winter, when they look like dead sticks. As the green leaves appear, they hide everything else. And when the clusters of grapes are out, they are all I notice. If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, where are they? Hidden. The fruit is what we admire. Calling himself the vine is a statement of Jesus’s great humility. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you [not “we”] will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) The Creator does not take credit for the fruit, but gives the credit to the branches. By nature, I want to be the cluster of grapes. Lord, help me to be more like the vine that supports and sustains, and the branches—abiding in God’s humility, as well as his strength.