too soon the sun’s rays slide
over earth’s edge
leaving me orphaned,
slumped in darkness
beside my window.
Deep into December, darkness drags me
into the abyss,
like Jonah in the belly of the whale, I wrap my arms
around myself, and shiver. My memory scans a litany
Into this bleakness came light
birthed in a stable .
So lowly he came to an unsuspecting world.
That one infant, the cure for aloneness;
the joy of wounded hearts.
During this time of Advent, we’ve been having an opportunity to have personal conversations with the Lord about Light.
There is so much to learn about light and darkness, places they come up in the Bible, and places they are present in our lives.
Today, the words came to me, “without a shadow of a doubt”, and I asked the Lord what He had to show me. He taught me that when I allow my doubts to linger in the shadows, they grow and become fears. If I will expose those doubts to the light, the shadows will dissipate, and I will be able to trust.
Let me start by saying that when I see the word “rejoice,” or the Latin “Gaudete,” I do not expect the opening of this Introit chant that opens the third week of Advent. My natural inclination to expect something more instantly declamatory and “trumpeting” such as the opening of last week’s introit, “Populus Sion.” This is one of the reasons I love the chant—it shines with so many different colors of the scriptures.
Upon further study of the text, an attitude of quiet and peace is really quite perfect because this text is telling us to rejoice in the Lord, letting our modesty be seen before all men. Indeed, it carries on even further to tell us to worry for nothing—to make all of our petitions to the Lord. Truly, one can almost see the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the heart of this chant.
In fact, I do not believe a more perfect example of chant reflecting the text exists in the repertoire. Much of the chant is in the lower to middle range of the mode, with multiple indications in the ancient Einsedeln notation for lingerings over the entire first phrase. Most amazing to me is where this chant actually does rise to the top of the range—“Nihil soliciti sitis”—“Be anxious for nothing!” Finally, the chant returns gently to the lower part of the mode, highlighting the text “…but in all things, bring your petitions before God.” What better message leading to the final week of Advent.
As we enter Advent, it seems as though the scriptures are calling us to wake up, look up and prepare! No doubt, the lessons are pointing to the coming of Christ, growing with intensity in each passing week. One only need take the briefest of looks at the Introit for Week 2 of Advent to instantly see the chant reflect this same message!
The opening melody quickly leaps up a fourth and then another step underscoring this “theme of announcement” that the Lord is coming to save His people. However, what I find most moving and exciting is that it keeps right on rising as the text speaks of “hearing the Lord’s glorious voice!” Indeed, the chant sails up in the “stratosphere” for a relatively long time, before coming to rest on the phrase “in the joy of your hearts.”
Sometimes, when looking through these gems in the chant repertoire, I am amazed at the directness and simplicity of the chant and its ability to highlight a central message of the given scripture. But then, I remembered Dom Cardine’s famous statement: “The tones of the chant are drawn directly from the tones of the words.” I don’t believe there is better example than this message which we will hear next Sunday!
People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations: and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart.
Today was the first real hard frost, the kind where the frost coats everything thick enough to last past the first rays of light. In fact, it was still sparkling when I loaded the kids up for carpool to elementary school. For them, it was magical. They ran around, shuffling their feet through the icy grass, shrieking about Jack Frost until I had to yell at them to get in the car.
It reminded me how quick kids are to believe in the magical and miraculous. They don’t just believe it, they look for it. There is so much in the world they don’t understand yet, and they leap to explain it through fairies, Santa, Jack Frost and general miraculous wonder.
Then they get older, and learn that Old Saint Nick and his reindeer aren’t real and frost is just frozen condensation. . . and they (or, we) stop looking. Instead of finding the magical and miraculous, we look for explanations—and we think we do a pretty good job.
But there are still miracles all around us. The miracle of forgiveness, of grace, of the Incarnation, and the tiny gifts God gives us that don’t mean anything to anyone but us. This Advent, I’m going to try to remember to look for those, and believe.
“Let us not resist the first advent, so that we may not dread the second.” Saint Augustine, 4th century
Like all of the early church fathers, Augustine considered that the church was living between two comings of Christ—his coming in obscurity when, born of Mary, he hid his radiance behind the veil of mortal flesh; and his coming in glory when, borne on the winds of heaven, he will reveal his eternal splendor for all the world to see. How we will greet the latter coming is largely dependent upon how we have already greeted the former, and how we continue to greet the coming of Jesus into our lives. In this sense, our entire lives are an advent of preparation and anticipation, making the annual season of Advent a particularly focused reminder that “getting ready” for eternity is the primary purpose of our passing days.
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.
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.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
As many of us know, it is Great Advent! The week of O Antiphons. And tonight’s antiphon is O Clavis David — O Key of David. All week long, Paraclete Press is offering a beautiful, daily meditation on these Gregorian chant treasures, along with a sound clip, a coloring page, and a modern day interpretation from poet Regina Walton. We invite you to follow this link, and take a quiet moment to reflect on today’s words. To follow along for the rest of the week, “like” Paraclete Press on Facebook, and check your feed every morning for the next O Antiphon!