The Alleluia for the Feast of Christ the King

by Sister Fidelis

This past Sunday was the celebration of Christ the King, and for this next week we will be singing the Alleluia from Trinity Sunday. It is interesting to look at this piece as we come up to Advent. The text is a paraphrase taken from the three young men in the fiery furnace, and is full of praise: Blessed art thou, Lord God of our fathers, and to be praised for ever. 

Looking at the music we see a melody rippling with joy. There are numerous repetitions of pitch and repeated 2- and 3-note patterns that give this bubbly feeling. Then at the start of each phrase we see a triumphant leap up – a fourth or fifth – sounding like a trumpet call. This is a little musical motive that we often see at special feasts through the year – Christmas, Palm Sunday, Pentecost. The Alleluia is fairly short but full of exuberance, and it gives us a vehicle through which to lift up our eyes and praise.

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

A word from Enzo Bianchi

Today’s post comes from the archives — a valuable word for this time!

Morning sunlight in the sanctuary, Church of the TransfigurationOur human freedom depends on knowing ourselves! Those who know themselves are truly free because they are able to maintain well-balanced relationships with others and with reality, and because they are able to discover reasons to hope and trust in the future.

We need to take a step back from our daily life that threatens to numb us with its repetitiveness or overwhelm us with its frantic pace…. Knowing ourselves requires attention and inner vigilance, which is the ability to concentrate and to listen to silence that, with the help of solitude, helps us rediscover what is essential. Self-knowledge also means recognizing our limitations and what is negative and incomplete in us—in other words, the aspects of ourselves we usually tend to repress so that we will not have to confront them. Our knowledge of our poverty, together with our knowledge of God, can then become an experience of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. What we previously knew because we had been told about it now becomes a personal experience. For this to happen, we need to remember never to separate these two aspects of the spiritual itinerary: knowing ourselves and knowing God. Knowing ourselves without knowing God leads to desperation, and knowing God without knowing ourselves produces arrogance. —Enzo Bianchi, Echoes of the Word


The Divine Office — Lauds

by Sister Fidelis

Here at the Community of Jesus we chant the Divine Office, which for us includes: Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline. Anyone who has experienced the chanting of these Hours will know that each service has its own character, which together create a rhythm to the flow of the day.

We start with the morning service of Lauds, from Latin laudare, to praise. As Dr. Mary Berry wrote: “Lauds was the hour that sanctified the moment of sunrise.” One of the traditions of this service is the recitation of the “Praise Psalms” (148, 149, 150) as the last Psalms of each morning. Another element particular to this service is the Benedictus, the “Canticle of Zechariah” from the Gospel of Luke, chanted while standing as is customary for a text from the Gospels. The “Invitatory Psalm” is also a unique element, dating back to the time of Benedict. This is the first Psalm of the service, traditionally set apart as the time during which any monk who may have overslept could still run in, prostrate himself in penance and take his place in the choir!

Looking back in history Lauds is one of the most ancient Offices, borrowing from the Jewish tradition of praying three times a day. In our Christian history we trace our current form of worship back to Apostolic times. Early writers such as St. Cyprian, John Cassian, Etheria, St. John Chrystostum all mention it in their writings, and of course St. Benedict gives a lot of detail about this service in his Rule.

Starting my day with this service can be an exercise in will-power to focus on the words before me and not to let my mind wander to my own plans or worries. Or it can be the perfect launching platform for the day if I let myself be affected by the words I am saying–inspiring Psalms and the beautiful poetry of hymns dating back to early centuries. I can find myself uplifted and changed as I repeat the praises that thousands of Christians have recited each morning for thousands of years…

Text of hymn from Sunday Lauds
Behold, already the shadow of night is diminishing, the dawn of light is gleaming red:
Let us all keep on with every effort beseeching the Almighty.

May our compassionate God drive away all our anguish, bestow health,
And give us, by the lovingkindness of the Father, the kingdom of the heavens.

Grant us this, O blessed Godhead of the Father, and of the son, and also of the Holy Spirit,
Whose glory resounds in all the world. Amen.

Waiting for the Doors to Open

by Faithful Friar

Throughout the Triduum leading into Easter our bells ring at various times during services. At one point there is a tolling of the tenor bell, the heaviest lowest bell, a sound only heard at funerals. At another point, all the bells “fire” striking simultaneously celebrating the first “Alleluia” sung at Easter. Unlike the rest of the year, where ringing comes before or after a service, these rings come during the liturgy. In order to get the timing right, ringers attend the service until just before it’s time to head out to the tower and ring. Once in the tower, we wait for a “cue”. The “cue” in this case is the front doors of the church opening. Interestingly, the doors usually seem to take longer than expected before opening. As I was standing there, it seemed to me a microcosm of Easter. Here we are standing in the tower, looking out at closed doors, wondering what is happening inside, knowing the doors will open…and waiting. And of course what follows but a cacophony of clangorous celebration. He is Risen!

Sacred Seeing: Pentecost

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. This is the final meditation from the book. We hope that these have helped to enrich your prayer life in 2017!



Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What are your first impressions of this fresco?
What particular elements capture your attention? Why?

Read the Scripture: Acts 2:1-13
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
How does this image speak to your own experience of the Holy Spirit?

The image itself is fairly serene, but the Acts of the Apostles records: a sound from heaven; a mighty wind filling the house; fire; speaking in tongues; and, enough noise to attract the people of Jerusalem. What do the images of wind and fire and words to say to you about the Holy Spirit?

There are 10 people and 10 tongues of fire pictured in the fresco. What do you make of the fact that, as the book of Acts tells us, “The fire was distributed and rested on each one of them”? (Acts 2:3)

Mary is seated at the center of this gathering. What is the artist saying through this placement? (See also Acts 1:14)

Also in the center is one disciple who is pastor is entirely different from everyone else’s. What might be happening here? And, if this is something about the variety of responses there can be to receiving the Holy Spirit, what might these responses be? What have your responses been?

This fresco is directly across from the image of the Epiphany (and the placement of all the frescoes in relationship with one another was done purposely). What relationship do you see between the Epiphany and Pentecost?

Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Come, Holy Spirit. You are the burning fire of the Triune God – ignite the embers of my heart with faith. You are the life-giving breath of the Father – fill the lungs of my soul with hope. You are the pure water of eternal life – drench the ground of my spirit with love. You are the winged dove of heaven – fly to me, and make your nest.

Mary and the disciples waited, Lord, just as you told them to do — “Stay, until you are closed with power from on high.” Now, it seems to be my time to wait. They were afraid, but they believed in you and in your promise – “I will not leave you desolate.” Now, it is time for me to believe. They praised you when they were filled with the Holy Spirit – “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Now, it is time for me to rejoice.

Lord, I thought I could do something about this. But once again I am face-to-face with another mountain. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Lord, I believe you can do something about this.

A Word from the Tradition
Simple and himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
–Basil the Great, “On the Holy Spirit” (330–379)

Image: © Pentecost by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Ubi Caritas

By Sister Fidelis

Now that we are midway through Lent my mind is turning towards Holy Week and the Triduum.  One of the real gems found in these liturgies is Ubi Caritas, chanted on Maundy Thursday, and often used to accompany the foot-washing ceremony.

The directions for this piece printed in the Graduale Romanum are lengthy and specific, suggesting alternating cantors, and choir responses. Typical of Mode VI it is simple in nature and it is that simplicity which so beautifully illuminates the text. Written by an unknown Italian author in the 9th-10th century, this hymnody-style poem about God’s love and charity between brethren provides the perfect backdrop to the memorial of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and the institution of the last supper.

The clip attached here is from Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola.


By Sister Spero

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of people say that when they visit the site of an old monastery that is no longer active (it may have become a ruin, or even a museum), they still sense the presence of God. This is true of old church sites as well. Today, I read a verse from the Psalms that confirms this idea as something more than active imagination. The second half of Psalm 93:5 says, “Holiness adorns your house for endless days.”

My prayers may feel weak and ineffective, but, according to this scripture, prayer (“holiness”) in God’s house has the power to transcend time. Our collective prayers—the collective prayers of any church or community—will adorn His house “for endless days.” This is a powerful encouragement for me to persevere in prayer, whether or not I ever see its result. Who knows if, in a future generation, someone at the site of our prayers could experience God’s love because of what we pray and how we worship today.  

Apse of the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Sacred Seeing: The Ascension

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Ascension

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What immediate thoughts does it evoke about the Ascension?

Read the Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
If you were standing among the eleven, what would you have been feeling? What thoughts and questions would have gone through your mind?

Imagine yourself as one of the apostles in the image. Which one would it be? Why?

Who is the central figure in the fresco? Why is he pictured in this location?

Both the fresco image and Luke’s account tell us that the apostles were looking into the sky. Why? And why does the angel challenge them about this? What does this mean in your own life?

Directly across the nave is the fresco of the Baptism. How are these two events – our Lord’s Baptism and Ascension – related? What do they tell you about how God works in the world? About how he works in your life?

The Ascension speaks to us of heaven, as do the stories depicted on the spandrels below it – Elijah and the fiery chariot, and Jacob’s ladder. In connection with these images, what do St. Paul’s words mean to you when he says that, “our Commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”? Philippians 3:19-21

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Lord, sometimes it feels like I am carrying sandbags. My soul feels as heavy as my feet, which never leave the ground. I cannot imagine being lighter than air. It’s true – I am a child of the earth, and dust is my destiny. But dust and clay and the ground are not the full story. So, today, I look up. I look for you. I look to Heaven. And I wait for the day… anticipating… when I will fly. Until then, prepare me for the place where you are.

O Christ our God, when you had fulfilled your work for us, and united things on earth with things in heaven, you were taken up in glory, in no way parted, but remaining inseparable, you cried to those who loved you, “I am with you and there is no one against you.”
—an Eastern Orthodox hymn for the Feast of the Ascension

A Word from the Tradition
We are commemorating the day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. Today we have been made possessors of paradise, having gained more through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost to the devil’s malice. Our enemy drove us out of the bliss of our first abode, but the Son of God has placed us at the right hand of the Father, with whom he lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
—From a sermon on the Ascension of Leo the Great (c.400–461)

Image: © The Ascension by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration