Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Lent III: Sounds from Advent and Pentecost!

The Sunday introit for the third week of Lent, Oculi mei semper ad Dominum (I will my eyes always to the Lord) has audible connection to the introit for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (O People of Zion) and the Communion (There came a mighty sound ) for Pentecost.

During this past Advent, we looked at several pieces whose incipits (opening motives) could be likened to a trumpet call. It is a unique sound in the chant repertoire and immediately demands your attention. Further, we looked at how this motive often appeared in chants speaking of the kingship of God.

Advent, Lent, and Pentecost are all seasons of waiting — waiting for the appearance of the Lord, waiting for His action of Resurrection upon our lives, and waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Each of these chants speaks of waiting with excitement and expectation. With just a few notes at the opening of these chants, they remind us that we are not waiting on just anything but on God himself, coming to us in so many different ways.

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Image credit:  Gregorian Chant –
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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

We have found the Messiah!

Can you imagine a relative or friend coming up to you and saying “We have found the Messiah!”

The Communion chant for last week is exactly that — Andrew telling his brother Simon that he had found the Messiah.   Perhaps like some of us, Andrew did not know what Simon’s reaction would be. Certainly, the chant gives that impression!

The chant itself is in three sections. The outer two sections are simply narrative, beautifully setting the scene. Their melodies are simple decorations of the reciting tone. However, the second sections — the actual words of Andrew — are quite emotionally and musically charged.  At the words “Invenimus Messiam” (We have found the Messiah), the chant jumps to the top of the mode and just as quickly leaps to the bottom of the mode. You can almost hear Andrew making certain that Simon would not ignore his words!  The text following — “who is called the Christ” sweeps right back up again to a modal high point on the word “called” and then gently descends into the final section of the chant.

I am always amazed that chant has the ability to make these famous words of scripture come to life in a small cocoon of musical drama.  Andrew’s words will be ringing in my ears for weeks to come!

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Wrestling with stupid questions

By Melodious Monk

This week’s Gospel reading was the story of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to be his disciples.  Jesus says to come and they drop everything and immediately follow him. In Sunday’s Eucharist bulletin we were given a short meditation by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“The Story of the call of the first disciples is a stumbling-block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events. By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between them. Something must have happened in between, some  psychological or historical event. Thus we get the stupid question: Surely they must have known Jesus before, and that previous acquaintance explains their readiness to hear the Master’s call.”

I still laugh each time I read the humorous line “what a stupid question!” There’s much in the ways of God that we cannot understand, and I think it a bit humorous at times to laugh at some of our attempts to rationalize God’s doings.  Bonhoeffer goes on to explain why he believes that the disciples so quickly dropped everything at Jesus’ beckoning:  “…for the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, they follow at once.” 

As Bonhoeffer alludes, our tiny reasoning brains are finite. God is the architect of all things, with a capacity to orchestrate much more than I can even imagine. Perhaps my daily questions don’t need to ask how God’s plans will work out or how I might recognize Him; rather maybe my job today is to stop asking so many questions.  Questions that only get in the way of what our hearts are intuitively designed to do.

I had a trumpet teacher who’s favorite mantra was KISS, short for Keep- It-Simple-Stupid!  It was his way of getting rid of unnecessary questions and tensions that get in the way of one basic truth of trumpet playing – simply that you must start with a good resonant sound, always. I often think of this “kiss” method in regard to the spiritual life.  In many ways, Christianity can be very simple. Jesus is Lord, God of the universe, and I am not. He created me, loves me and has the best purposes for me, even if, and especially if I feel lousy today!  This isn’t to say life here on earth can’t be very complicated, for there certainly are many gray areas, and lots of questions arise for all of us.  But scripture tells us that on earth we barely see a glimpse of our future glory.  It tells us that all things, yes all things can be used for the glory of God. We forget who created us, and that He promises to make us whole.  Simply put, we need to have faith in Jesus and follow him. If we choose to let our hearts trust, then like the disciples, we will recognize Jesus exactly in his timing, and follow him immediately. Now of course we don’t always want to follow Jesus and we rebel and so forth–but that does not change God– and certainly does not change God’s promises to us.  I think both Bonhoeffer and my trumpet teacher would agree on at least one life philosophy, Keep It Simple!

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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The introit for the first Sunday of Advent began with a beautiful, upward sweeping intonation on the words “Ad te levavi animam meam” (To Thee I lift up my soul).  Similarly, the introit for the final Sunday of Advent — “Rorate caeli desuper” (Drop down from Heaven above) —  quickly rushed upward to the highest notes of the mode. Then, it slowly descended, offering a softened image of the text “et nubes pluant justum” (and rain down the Just One).

Sunday introits have the function of setting the stage for the Eucharist of the day as well as the week to follow.  They can also tell us the story of an entire liturgical season. In the case of Advent, we began with lifting our souls to God. That was followed by the announcement that “The King is coming” and our response should be great rejoicing! Finally, we heard the gentlest of all the antiphons in which the Heavens were implored to rain down “the Just One,” Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this week.

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Credit for image:New Liturgical Movement
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Stand up for The King!

By Cantor

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.

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Pieces of Prayer

By Melodious Monk

Jesus once told us, “Truly, I say to you, ‘Everything you ask for, praying, believe that you will receive (it), and it will be done for you.’ ”

All this week during communion we sing these words from Matthew in the Communion proper for the day.  As I stand waiting to receive communion, I’m aware of who’s in my immediate vicinity, a Catholic man from New Jersey, a Methodist from Texas, and several elementary and middle school aged kids, all of us singing this prayer together.  I don’t know why it caught my attention, but it struck me that all of us from very different backgrounds and age groups were being united through prayer and through this song.

And I wonder what each of us was asking God this morning? Perhaps a wide variety of things.

Among many, one thing on my mind was the headline to the Boston Globe I saw on the way out the door this morning; that 5 people were killed in a synagogue in Jerusalem, four of them while praying, and the 5th man trying to protect the others.  I wonder what these men were asking of God in their house of worship.   I wonder how God’s “in-box” works for all the requests he must receive. Does he sort them by the ones that are sent with belief, and the ones without?  I find comfort in praying. But in my pieces of prayer tossed to the heavens, do I actually believe that they can and will happen?  Or do I only ask?

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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Follow the theme!

Friday Lauds opens with Psalm 51, perhaps the most famous of all the penitential psalms — Have mercy on me, O God. As we began Lauds last Friday, I thought again about the fact we always begin Friday morning asking God’s mercy. However, as we continued through the service, the word mercy began to present itself in other places — in the opening of the 2nd psalm # 143, O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in the brief response, Make me to hear your mercy in the morning; in the Gospel antiphon, By the inmost mercies of our God, the rising sun has visited us from on high; and the 4th verse of the Benedictus, to show mercy to our fathers. I realized that we had been moved through an entire service by the theme of God’s mercy!

This idea of a theme throughout a worship service — the Divine Office or the Eucharist —  is not new. On the contrary, it is quite old! But the power of a theme to speak is not diminished by time, only enhanced. Mary Berry used to call these themes the “hidden gems.”

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Credit for Chant Image:Concert of Gregorian Chant – Mdina, Malta

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An Ecounter With Joy

By Sr. Nun Other

If I were to write a musical, I would juxtapose two hymns that are beautifully simple, and simply beautiful. Our Communion hymn for last week was the 18th. century Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts.  I stood near the altar during the singing of it, surrounded by delightful mosaic tile flowers, insects, butterflies, mammals, and sea creatures. They swirled and flourished beneath my feet with enviable freedom and energy, content to be as God created them. Mind and imagination took over, and I added my own (non auditory!) touch as we sang: ‘Tis the gift to be simple,’tis the gift to be free…all things bright and beautiful…’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…all creatures great and small…in the place just right….all things wise and wonderful…in the valley of love and delight… the Lord God made us all!  Creation interrupts our busy, sometimes chaotic lives, to teach simplicity of heart, humbleness of spirit, and unfailing trust in God.

The Community of Jesus

 

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Chant When Needed!

I just had the privilege of being part of a chant schola that participated in a liturgy for mission outreach. There were many choirs singing in the service but only one chant schola – ours! The clergy asked us to choose a piece we thought appropriate for the occasion and almost instantly, one of our schola members suggested the Communion chant:

“Andrew said to Simon, his brother: I have found the Messiah who is said to be the Christ: and His name is Jesus.”  John I: 41-42  (Communion for Week II, Ordinary Time, Year B – found on page 263 of the Graduale Triplex).

The room fell silent as we chanted this beautiful text.The chant echoes Andrew’s outcry to his brother and also highlights the name of “Jesus” with the most extraordinary melodic shape and motive.  This was a great example of chant composed for one purpose able to serve for a completely different one. We should never pass up the opportunity to chant when and where we are needed!

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Image Credit: Chants from a choirbook from Florence – Victoria and Albert Museumwww.vam.ac.uk

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor 

Listening

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in Sunday Eucharist felling quite preoccupied. I found myself chanting more out of rote than with my heart engaged. The schola that was chanting the service was doing a lovely job and I really wanted to listen but had a hard time doing so.

The time came for the Gradual. The text that morning referred to Christ. Suddenly – it seemed to me – I was hearing the musical motive from the opening of the famous Christmas Eve chant introit, Dominus dixit ad me. That gentle chant for Christmas eve was now a trumpet call in my ear.

At that moment, I felt that God had reached straight through that chant, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Remember that I am right here”. God had regained my attention and it changed that entire worship service for me! Once again, the chant was God’s own voice, calling me to listen.

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