This week our women’s chant group has been practicing an Alleluia for next Sunday, Ordinary Week 4: Alleluia Adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum: et confitebor nomini tuo (I will adore [bow down to] you in the temple and praise your name).
We’ve done all sorts of exploration personally and as a group – everything from speaking the text aloud, singing it silently in our heads, to finding an image or vignette that brings it to life. It’s a wonderfully expressive Mode VII piece, peppered with leaps of 4ths and 3rds.
Right from the start we can visualize the story: Adorabo – I will adore – rises up and then cascades down like a person in prayer rising and falling in worship. The thought continues up and down like a prayer “in your holy temple.” The next phrase starts simply and low, and suddenly becomes the focus of the pieces as the composer uses no less than 57 notes to express the word, “Praise!” The word bubbles, turns, and twists with joy! (This of course takes work on our part to move it along with energy, unity and purpose in order to express it adequately.) And then the final part – “your name” – another beautiful melismatic rise and fall settles us back to the home tone at the end.
The organ has been called the voice of the church. The bells are an exterior voice of the church, and are considered part of the worship. The bells are rung to call people to worship, in times of praise and celebration, in times of mourning, and when members take vows.
Recently, a peal of bells was rung for the first time in over two years in the Northern Iraq town of Bartella after they recaptured it. Bartella was once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians who fled after the Islamic State seized control as part of a lightning blitz in the area.
St. Matthew’s Church had had the crosses removed from the steeples and the bell tower and the religious statues defaced. What a joyous occasion to be able to ring the bells after reclaiming the town.
I am blessed to be working on an international Symposium on Ecumenism and the Arts occurring in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, in four countries and six different cities. I have been asking the Lord to give me the vision of the significance of this event in our time.
The world situation is certainly more dangerous than at any other time in my lifetime, and maybe ever, with the capability of a nuclear holocaust. And yet, we have recently had a reconciliation brought about after 1,000 years – that of the encounter between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Finally! We are brothers,” the Pope exclaimed. Seemingly, this meeting took place because of the persecution of Christians worldwide. One Orthodox cleric said, “We need to put aside internal disagreements at this tragic time…”
So hopefully in these dark days with the rise of secularism growing, the light of Christ will shine ever more brightly – that we might all be one!
We have just experienced the most amazing of weeks in the liturgical year — Holy Week leading to Easter.
The chants composed for this week audibly take us through each of the various parts of the week. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was heralded by one of the most famous of all chants, Hosanna, Filio David (Hail, Son of David!). Maundy Thursday, on which Christ gives “a new commandment,” was characterized by the chanting of Ubi Caritas (Where true love is, God himself is there.) > On Good Friday we had the ancient Gospel Passion chanted for the Veneration of the Cross. Holy Saturday opened with the well-known response Lumen Christi (Christ, Light of the World), followed by the Exultet in which the history of our salvation was chanted. Ultimately, we heard chanted the most famous Gregorian Hymn — Victimae Paschali Laudes (Christ, the Paschal Victim) to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection!
This is the richest time in the entire church year for which Gregorian chant does her most beautiful work of illuminating Christ’s life.
Two weeks ago, the Introit intonation chant for the feast of Christ in Glory was reminiscent of a trumpet call. Last week, the first week of Advent, the chants sounded full of incredible supplication and beauty.
Now, in the 2nd week of Advent, the “trumpet” intonation returns in the Introit Populus Sion, ecce Dominus veniet et ad salvandos gentes (People of Sion, behold the Lord comes to save the Gentiles.) This introit, unlike that from last week, is a regal pronouncement, meant to get our attention and give us the answer to the outcry heard in Ad te levavi.
Like many of the chants through the church year, the melodies and the texts of the Advent chants are meant to take us on a journey. The sound of this introit tells us that this is no ordinary person coming to save us, but a person of great power. Advent presents us with both the human and divine personality of Christ. The sound of Populus Sion leaves no doubt that the King who is coming is God himself.
The first week of Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year and opens with one of the most famous and beautiful Gregorian chants: Ad te levavi (Unto Thee. O Lord, do I lift up my soul). This chant has even been designated by some chant scholars as the “summit of spirituality in Gregorian chant.”
“Ad te levavi” deserves special attention because of the extraordinary way in which it illuminates the text. The opening text phrase — Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam (Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: in thee I place my confidence; let me not be confounded) — opens with a quick, upward sweep to the word “animam” but then immediately rises one note higher on the word “meus.” Instantly, our ears tell us that someone is crying out to God, lifting their voice in emphasis on “my soul” but, even more so on “my God.” The chant does not descend until “non erubescam.” The person crying out bows his head at that moment, in hope of hearing a response. In this opening phrase, the chant has placed us in the position of need as we lift our prayer upward.
Dom Eugene Cardine, one of the great 20th century chant scholars, stated that the sound of the chant was literally “extracted” from the sound of the words. We have a moving example of this as we open the new church year.
Image Credit: Abbey of St. Peter of Solesmes, Paleographie Musicale
We often hear the phrase “chant is so peaceful.” Certainly, many chants do have an inherent sense of peace about them. But not all of them — sometimes the chant demands our attention, insisting that we stand up and listen!
Last week, the communion antiphon began with the text “Amen, dico vobis.” Translated, that means “So be it, I say to you.” These words of Jesus are not set to a gentle recitation but rather burst forth on a trumpet-like motive that leaves no room for doubt that we need to listen to Jesus’ words that follow.
All week, I found myself “hearing” that trumpet motive from other times of the church year. In fact that same sound occurs in the communion for Pentecost — “Factus est repente de caelo sonus” (A mighty sound came rushing out of Heaven); the introit for Christmas Day mass — “Puer natus est” (A boy is born unto us); the procession for Palm Sunday — “Hosanna, Filio David” (Hosanna to the Son of David), to name a few. In moments, I had been taken through much of the church year, reminded by a simple musical motive of the Kingship of Christ.
One of the beauties of chant is that it teaches through sound. It is difficult for most of us to realize, without considerable effort, what life would be like if we could not read — it seems unimaginable. Yet, in the centuries when many of our most ancient chants were newly composed, only the educated minority could read. So, in an effort to teach the chant, composers often united certain sounds with certain texts or seasons. In this way, through repetition, people started to learn things such as the seasons of the church year, feast days, etc., through association with sound.
However, these composers did not just wake up one morning, get out their “catalog of modes” and say, “today, I shall compose in Mode II.” The definition and categorization of modes actually came after the chant already existed. It was a subtle skill they employed which was based upon a sense of using particular sounds to evoke or underscore certain emotions, thoughts, or ideas.
The image below is actually a chart with simple, modal descriptions of some of the great music theorists and composers of the last 1000 years: Guido d’ Arezzo (11th century), Adam de Fulda, (15th Century) and Juan Espinoza (17th Century). If you look at these descriptions and then take a look at some of your favorite chants, you might find you have a fresh perspective of some pieces that you know quite well!
Image Credit: Mode Chart copyright Community of Jesus, Inc, 2014.
The church is full of so many riches. After morning Lauds and Eucharist, I’m asking myself, “why do we so settle for so little?” Beautiful prayers, full of profound and extraordinary possibilities, mystery and hope roll off our tongues. But I know at crossroads throughout the day, the prayers and beliefs I’ve just spoke will be temporarily sidelined. I’ll forget to include God moment by moment in the conversations of the day and will settle for less then He would give me. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.” Our faith in the promises of heaven and God’s intended future for us, gives us every reason to smile today. We have countless examples gone before us of the power and might of God; the bible’s many heroes and heroines of faith, over 2000 years of history since Christ’s coming and we have each other. We must not forget the transfiguring hope God brings us each day, for as In the wisdom of St. Benedict, “each day we begin again.” Let us not brush aside the routine treasures of our faith, for they have the capacity to give rich value and meaning to our every moment.
Lord God of power and Might
Nothing is good which is against your will,
And all is of value which comes from your hand.
Place in our hearts a desire to please you
And fill our minds with insight into love,
So that every thought may grow in wisdom
And all our efforts may be filled with your peace.
Yesterday, November 2nd, was the Feast of All Souls. I have always found the Divine Offices for this feast to be mystifying and moving. Unlike the Feast of All Saints, which is an extraordinarily elaborate celebration, the chants for the Feast of All Souls are quite simple. In fact, the chants for this feast day bear considerable resemblance to the Divine Office chants of Good Friday. On these two days, there are no opening prayers, no doxology verse at the ends of the psalms, and no closing sentences. The services begin in silence without a signal from the Superior of the monastery, and there are no opening sentences which are common to all other other Divine Offices. In addition, antiphons are often completely removed.
That which remains is the psalmody, the scripture readings, the confession and the Lord’s Prayer. Only that which is of most significance — the true heart of the Divine Office — remains in place. How appropriate and inspired that the Church Fathers saw fit to relate the Divine Office of the day when Jesus himself bore the sins of everyone to the Divine Office of remembrance for all souls! It is also a timely marker of the coming of Advent, only four weeks following this feast, that Jesus came for all mankind. And finally, we are reminded that these chants — these prayers — are truly for all of us.