by Cantor
Tonight is our annual vow service. It is one of the most beautiful nights of the year. The church, still clothed in Epiphany garb, glows with the warmth of candle light. The vowed Community, robed with white scapulars, fill the seats on either side of the aisle the candidates will walk. And the candidates exude a light that comes with saying, “Yes.”
Everything about the service is moving, from the hymns, to the speaking of the vows, to the moment where the candidates prostrate him or herself at the foot of the altar in a moment of total vulnerability and surrender. It’s an event where the ever-moving stream of history is almost palpable and the unity with monastics across time and space is humbling to say the least. And it is a moment that reminds each of us of our own call.
One of the most beautiful moments is the chanting of the Suscipe — an ancient and traditional Gregorian chant for the final vows in a Benedictine community. The newly vowed sings it once on their own and then, in a chorus of support, the entire vowed community repeats it. It is as though, through the Latin text, we are pledging to stand with the newly professed, and they with us — a bond of obedience and dependence on God. And we sing it, knowing we will stumble, that sometimes we will want to quit, and that sometimes, we just need to stand still.
“Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam; et non confundas me, ab expectatione mea.”

Uphold me, Lord, according to your word, and do not disappoint me in my hope.

Gregorian chant, Suscipe me, Domine, Community of Jesus

Star of Wonder

by Sister Spero

The “Epiphany” we celebrate is that God revealed himself through a star. (Epiphany is from the Greek word for “reveal.”) God could have chosen any way at any time, but he chose a massive ball of gas millions of light years away to show the world that something strange and wonderful was happening. Scientists today speculate that the bright star could have been a supernova, or a conjunction—meaning that 2 or 3 stars crossed paths. Whatever caused the great light, it was so unusual that wise men (probably astronomers) traveled to find the cause. Their epiphany became the revelation of God himself.   

Lord Jesus, help us all to find our own epiphanies, revelations of you, today.

Star of Bethlehem, O Antiphon mosaic floor, Community of Jesus

Sacred Seeing: The Epiphany

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 approach 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 twelve weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life as 2017 begins!

The Epiphany

Epiphany Fresco at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image. Write down any first impressions you have. Does the image raise any questions for you? Write down what they are.

Read the Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
What features of the image stand out most to you?

The infant Jesus is radiant, and the light emanating from him washes the wall behind him and illuminates the kneeling Magi. The star, almost at the center of the image, is the other bright element, shining ten times brighter than any other star in the sky. What connection does the fresco make between the light of the star and the light of the Child?

What do you notice about Mary and Joseph? What is Mary’s part in the event? What is Joseph’s part? What do they share in common?

In the Incarnation, Jesus descends to us so that we might be raised to him. Here, Jesus is raised upon Mary’s lap and the Magi are kneeling and bowing in adoration. What does this image say about ascending and descending in the kingdom of God?

Contrary to the human penchant for rising up and taking from God (remember the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit), the Magi came to bow down and give their treasures to Jesus. Humble worship is presented here as the antithesis of sin. Perhaps this explains in part why worship can be such work, and also why it can bring us such blessing.

Look at the hand gesture of the infant Jesus, who seems to be reaching out like any baby might. But, is he reaching out to touch what is being offered, or is it to touch the hand of the one giving?

Who are the observers looking over the shoulders of the Magi? Why are they included in the story?

Heavenly Father,
you sent the Gift of your only Son,
infinite love incarnate, descending to dwell among us.
By many and various lights,
you have drawn and led me into his presence,
and as I remember each of them, I give you thanks.
Now, here before the radiant grace of your Son,
I bow my own heart in humble praise.
What I have, I offer to him in adoring gratitude,
and wait for the touch of his hand upon my soul.

A Word from the Tradition
He who enriches others becomes poor. He took to himself the poverty of my flesh so that I might obtain the riches of his Godhead. He who is full empties himself. He emptied himself of his Godhead for a brief time so that I might share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that touches me?
—Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389)

Image: ©2003 The Epiphany by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

The Inspiration of a Star

by Cantor

Late last evening, I attended a schola rehearsal in which a men’s group was preparing the Alleluia for Epiphany (Vidimus Stellam). They worked in earnest but the rehearsal did not seem to progress. We put the rehearsal on “pause” to see what we could do to change the course of this practice session.

Almost without a breath, everyone realized they had not discussed and ingested the text enough to inspire them to truly grapple with the chant and its meaning. Within moments, multiple ideas were flying around the room concerning the story of the three ancient seers who had spent years in preparation for this one fantastic moment of seeing the Christ Child. Suddenly, the rehearsal sprang to life! Now we had the inspiration to do the work needed to bring this chant “off the page.”

This was a good reminder to all of us that chant is first and foremost, drawn from the very sounds of the words which it upholds. And, in order to truly understand the chant, we must first know its text intimately. It is that understanding which under-girds our chanting and gives us genuine inspiration.

We have seen his star in the East, and we have come with our gifts, to worship the Lord.
(from Matthew 2)



In the Form of a Dove

By Sr. Fidelis

*Please scroll to bottom of this post for an exciting announcement!

The Advent/Christmas Season came to a close yesterday with the celebration of the Solemn Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast marks the beginning of his public ministry.

One of the loveliest Responsories for the octave of Epiphany brings us right to the scene of the Baptism of Jesus. The text is as follows: “In the form of a dove the holy Spirit was seen;  the Father’s voice was heard: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ V. The heavens opened over him and the voice of the Father thundered.”

The Responsory follows a particular pattern: the first section of the piece is chanted, after which a verse is sung, usually by a single voice. Then all begin at a point halfway through the first section, and chant to the end.

This Mode 2 Responsory has an almost plaintive quality to it. You’ll notice the FA clef, so often used with Mode 2 chants. The high point of the chant comes on the text  paterna vox — the voice of the Father. If you look closely at the chant below while listening to the recording, you’ll notice that in some instances, the notes differ from what is written in square notation. This particular piece was chanted and recorded according to the ancient neumes, taken from the Hartker Antiphoner — a manuscript from around the early 11th century! Listen to it a second time, while looking at the ancient neumes written above the square notation, and you’ll “see” what you are hearing!  It is fascinating to note the slight variation in the melody and how it has changed over the centuries.


*The Season of Lent is rapidly approaching, with Ash Wednesday falling on February 10th.  We are offering a three and a half day Chant Workshop at the Community of Jesus, February 17th-20th,featuring the Chants of Holy Week and the Triduum, to which all are welcome to attend! We’ll be exploring these treasures of the Church in depth, as well as attending the Liturgy of the Hours and Daily Eucharist in the Church of the Transfiguration. Stay tuned for more information!

“We have seen his star in the East…”

By Sr. Fidelis

…. and have come with gifts to worship the Lord”.

This simple Communion for the Solemn Feast of Epiphany is a gem in miniature.  A wonderful example of Mode 4, the first phrase literally “paints” a picture of the wise men’s long journey with drops of a 4th, giving it an exotic flair.

The second phrase peaks on the word venimus (have come), and again gently descends a 4th as it leads to its final resting place on the words adorare Dominum (worship the Lord).


Feeling Sheepish?

By Sr. Nun Other

While doing dishes in Bethany Guest House, I noticed a parade of fabricated sheep on their way to storage. Realistically-made and life-sized, they stood sentinel during Christmas and Epiphany, silently guiding the way to the manger. Sheep are not perfect and sometimes described in 3D: Dumb, Directionless, and Defenseless. Yet God gave them a prominent place at the birth of His Son. An often used biblical metaphor is that of shepherd and sheep. Perhaps my favorite is John 10:14 – I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and my sheep know me. We are chosen to be humble and to follow Him who knows our greatest need.

The Community of Jesu

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The musical color of Epiphany

This coming Sunday is the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the day on which we celebrate the arrival of the three Wisemen at the manger, who come to adore Christ and offer their gifts. For many centuries, it has also been  a day on which there are  pageants acted out within the liturgy to show the arrival of these Wisemen.

The more ancient mystery plays employed some of these Epiphany chants. The Gradual — “All those from Sheba shall come” — creates a marvelous musical scenario, depicting the landscape through which this royal procession traveled.  The first word “Omnes” (All) is set to a chant which slowly rises and descends through mode. Then, the next two words “de Saba”  (from Sheba) similarly rises and falls, but rises higher and descends even  more slowly.  It is easy to imagine in these sounds, the hills of sand that these desert travelers encountered which made for some difficult travel. Within the next phrase, the chant quickly ascends even higher as it speaks of the incense given to Jesus. Finally, the chant explodes upward on the text “Arise and Shine” as though the Wisemen could no longer contain their praises after such an arduous, yet thrilling, pilgrimage.

This Gradual is one of the most famous chants in all of the Gregorian repertory. From a musical point of view, each successive phrase is an elegant outgrowth of the previous one, climaxing on the words “illuminate” and “Lord.” It is the astounding wedding of this musical structure to the text that makes the chant so colorful and so easily understood! It is the musical color of Epiphany.

The Community of Jesus









Credit for image: New Liturgical Movement: What is a Mystery?: Epiphany or the … www.newliturgicalmovement.org1600 × 1086Search by image Epiphany or the Manifestation of the Divine

A Step Beyond Logic

by Sr Nunother  

I’m not the most inquisitive person in the world and therefore, until yesterday, never questioned why Christ’s baptism is celebrated in January, just after his birth. We know from scripture that Jesus was baptized not as an infant, but as a young man, just prior to beginning his public ministry. Logically, I would have left a few months between the celebrations of birth and baptism to emphasize the age difference. I decided to research the date choice for this important feast and discovered its symmetry. There are four major epiphanies or revelations of God to man: the Birth of Jesus, which revealed Christ to Israel; the visit of the Magi, who represent the Gentiles; the Baptism of the Lord, which unveiled the Trinity; and soon to come, the wedding miracle at Cana, manifesting Christ’s transformation of the world. These four events create a perfect circle with God’s love at its center. 




Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Cantor

Ordinary Time: Not so ordinary!

We have just finished celebrating the feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. In liturgical terms, we move into what is known as “Ordinary time” — or, perhaps more accurately — “Ordered time.” We will be here until Ash Wednesday, with much of our attention turning to preparations for Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

This morning, I was looking at the upcoming chant pieces for Week II of Ordinary time. I was quite struck by the setting of  three words “adoret” (to adore), and “nomini tuo” (Thy name) in the Introit. Though separated within the text itself, the extraordinary rising melodic patterns on each word seem to create an audible subtext for this chant — “Adore Thy name”. It is no mistake that these words are musically highlighted and are instantly recognizable to the ear as they rise up from their surrounding texture.
How easy it would be to miss the beauty and impact of this message, and this is but one example of how the chants of these next weeks teach such basic spiritual lessons — if we have ears to hear them. It seems important to take note of this as we transition from one major liturgical season to another. 
Blog photo for January 12