Imagine yourself as a living house

From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

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.

Paraclete House under construction at the Community of Jesus, 2005

O Clavis David

by Cantor

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!

Blessed Great Advent!

Daily meditations on the O Antiphons from Paraclete Press at the Community of Jesus

Great Advent

As we approach Great Advent, which begins this Saturday, here is a word from Kathleen Norris excerpted from “God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas”, which helps to explain this important week leading up to our celebration of the Nativity of Christ.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Kathleen Norris

For the prayers of this fourth week of the Advent season, I have employed the traditional  “O Antiphons.” These brief but potent prayers, which so beautifully weave together all the many themes of Advent, have been used at Vespers at least since the seventh century. Monasteries are among the few remaining communities still singing these antiphons to mark the week beginning December 17 as a special time in the Advent season. Some Benedictine hospitals keep this tradition as well; only in the pediatric ward will you see a Christmas tree before the 17th of December.

Scripture
Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 23; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

As we begin this week, let us keep before us the prayer that begins the O Antiphons:
O Wisdom, O holy word of God,
you govern all creation
with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Already sick of Christmas by the time we come to this week, we sometimes feel as if we’re in the home stretch of an exhausting race we have no hope of winning. Carols have assaulted us in malls, elevators, and supermarkets for well over a month, and the full-force frenzy of last-minute shopping, cooking, and family gatherings has yet to begin. In the fourth century, however, Christians were asked to mark December 17 as the beginning of a twenty-one day period, ending at the Epiphany, in which they focused on the great mystery unfolding in the life of the church, the mystery of God incarnate in human flesh. They were asked to turn away from distraction, from either staying at home and losing themselves in domestic chores, or traveling and being continually stimulated by a change of scenery. Christians were to seek out the church as a place where they could gather as a community not merely to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to allow the power of the Incarnation to penetrate their lives. How can we even imagine such a thing? How can we make this season holy, when the world tells us that Christmas is over in just a day, and then we rush toward New Year’s Eve, and merchants, begin putting out goods for Valentine’s Day? We might start, presently and simply, by picturing in our mind’s eye the great sign prophesied by Isaiah: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

This is the genesis of the Christian story, which is also our story. In the iconostasis of some Orthodox churches, the prophet Isaiah is represented by an icon based on this passage, “Our Lady of the Sign.” Mary stands, with her arms upraised, palms up, in a gesture of peace. Her womb is depicted as a circle enclosing the Savior, who replicates the gesture. This mother and child embody for us the Wisdom that was with God at the beginning of the world, the Wisdom that moved Moses and the prophets, the Wisdom that is the Word. This is the new genesis, and the new creation, the promise that inspired Paul to say, joyfully, to the Romans that they were called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be saints.

On this day, we are all inspired to say that God is not distant or inaccessible, but chooses to come into our midst.

Prayer
O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

Detail, mosaic floor, Community of Jesus

©2007 “God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas,” Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe. Published by Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA. To purchase, visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7077/god-with-us.aspx

Gaudete Sunday!

by Sister Fidelis

Many of us are familiar with “Gaudete Sunday” (the 3rd Sunday of Advent) and the Introit for which the day was named: Gaudete in Domino semper, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” This Sunday has traditionally been a special day set apart specifically to celebrate God’s goodness in his coming.

Our Gregorian chant group has had a great time preparing this introit, including discussions about the meaning and how it is married with the melody. The entire piece is sprinkled with short melismas bubbling around in step-wise or small intervallic leaps. There is a sort of rippling energy which flows through the piece – Rejoice! Rejoice! It starts lower in the range, grows to a couple higher points, climaxing at “have no anxiety about anything,” and then closes with a slightly lower intimate tune as we sing “but in everything by prayer and petitions make your requests known to God.” A wonderful reminder that God comes to each of us in the midst of whatever dark or difficult moments we may be experiencing, bringing light to our darkness; our reason to rejoice!

gaudeteskitch

Advent II: Get up and chant!

by Cantor

We had a very interesting talk in our schola rehearsal concerning the nature of the Advent II Propers for Eucharist. It seemed that the chants were not just gently speaking to us, but rather, yelling to us to pay attention! No matter whether it was the introit with its bold declamation of, “People of Sion, the Lord comes to save the Gentiles,” or the Communion antiphon Jerusalem surge with its musical command that Jerusalem should, “Stand up!”, the opening of each chant says it all:

Advent II Introit, Populus Sion, Community of Jesus

Advent II Communion, Jerusalem surge, Community of Jesus

Many of our chant schola members either have teenage children or have worked with them and everyone seemed to agree that these chants sounded like they were addressing “sleepy teens” who just didn’t quite want to get up for school!

Though it may sound funny, that imagery worked! Everyone immediately understood and the chant swept into an entirely new life and sound! Amazing it is that chant is so profound and simple that it can touch the most commonplace areas of everyday life while speaking of the God’s truth and love!

Chant — Crossing Boundaries

By Sr. Fidelis

I just returned from a weekend “Chant Retreat” in Barga, Italy — two days of sharing together, preparing for Advent. Once again we experienced the incredible way in which this prayer can unite us in spite of language or cultural barriers. The retreat was held in both English and Italian, but really since all the chanting was in Latin we shared that common ground.

We began by singing the Salve Regina. Everyone in Italy knows this piece by heart, and no matter what their current connection with God or the church, singing these words together seems to bring a feeling of family. After this we studied some basic points of Gregorian chant, learned the De Angelis Mass and a Vespers service. Another wonderful point of meeting was that so many in Italy still have this Mass in their childhood memory so when we sang it in church that Sunday, the priest and much of the congregation joined right in!

Unlike many of our retreats in the US, the Italians were more interested in being together than studying and in that way it was a nice time of community as we learned, explored, listened. One of the poignant moments was just listening to some chants about Mary and “coloring” as we listened. No heady brainwork — just letting it wash over us as prayer.

It seems we all came away from the time renewed in some way and though we gained some knowledge about chant, it seemed to be more about experiencing the life it can give as we spend time with it — a good thing to ponder as we begin Advent…

Sr. Evangeline from the Community of Jesus leads a Gregorian Chant Retreat at the Villa Via Sacra in Barga, Italy

From A to O

By Sr. Fidelis

We began Advent  with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”

There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.

Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David  (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)

The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.

Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel.  Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.

OEmmanuelchant

ADVENT IV: The Great Mystery

In the fourth century, Christians were asked to mark December 17 as the beginning of a twenty-one-day period, ending at the Epiphany, in which they focused on the great mystery unfolding in the life of the church, the mystery of God incarnate in human flesh. They were asked to turn away from distraction, from either staying at home and losing themselves in domestic chores, or traveling and being continually stimulated by a change of scenery. Christians were to seek out the church as a place where they could gather as a community not merely to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to allow the power of the Incarnation to pentrate their lives. How can we imagine such a thing? How can we make this season holy, when the world tells us that Christmas is over in just a day, and then we rush toward New Year’s Eve, and merchants begin putting out goods for Valentine’s Day? We might start, presently and simply, by picturing in our mind’s eye the great sign prophesied by Isaiah: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

By Kathleen Norris

Excerpted from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press)

Madonna of the Book

The Madonna of the Book (c.1480) Sandro Botticelli

Advent’s Thief

Jesus is coming as a thief in the night – “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven…” (Matthew 24:36)

“But how the heck can you be ready for something you don’t know is coming? How can we be ready for the unexpected? Well, we can’t.

“So maybe being awake and alert and expectant—all themes of Advent—has nothing to do with knowing or certainty or prediction, but has a lot to do with being in a state of unknowing. My instinct is always to use my knowingness—my certainty I’m right….—as a sort of loss-prevention program, a system by which I protect myself from the unknown and the unexpected. Which works approximately none of the time.

     “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“Here’s the thing; like the house owner, knowing what to look for as a way of avoiding being robbed is only advantageous if we assume being robbed is a bad thing. But perhaps having an unknowing brain allows us to be taken unaware by the grace of God, which is like a thief in the night. Maybe it’s good news that Jesus has been staking the joint and there will be a break-in. The promise of Advent is that in the absence of knowing everything, we get robbed. There was and is and will be a break-in because God is not interested in our loss-prevention programs but in saving us from ourselves and saving us from our culture and saving us even from our certainties about God’s story itself.

“This holy thief wants to steal from us, and maybe that is literal and metaphoric at the same time. Perhaps, during Advent, a season with pornographic levels of consumption in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand, the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of our stuff is really good news. There’s just a whole lot of crap in my house—again, both literally and metaphorically—that I could well do without.”

I pray that we are caught unaware by the grace of God this Advent—that this thief be allowed to rip into our houses, and steal from us the hurts, fears, jealousy and wants, and replace these with love, peace, and Joy.

Scripture from NIV; other all other quotations from Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Copyright 2015, Crown Publishing/Convergent Books.

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Advent

By Il Fratello
Fly down the hill
That separates me 
From you
On horseback or wing 
I am listed to be saved
These stones 
I’ve built up 
Around me 
Matter little 
To a love 
like yours
 
Regret 
That old advisor 
Must go violently 
(With joy)
To a dungeon
I once kept for righteous men
 
And I 
(Undoubtedly)
Will step out 
From this gray keep
Of centuries sin
Barefoot 
Unburdened 
To the victory green 
To meet my judge 
My jury and my lover