Thursday of Lent V from “According to Your Mercy”

From According to Your Mercy by Fr. Martin Shannon

Thursday of Lent V
Psalm 55

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” v. 22

Commentators on the Psalms as early as Athanasius in the fourth century have observed that they give utterance in prayer to every conceivable human sentiment and emotion. Psalm 55 expresses one of the most universal among them: the longing to run away from all pain and suffering. It is the most natural reaction in the world, and the poet captures the desire in language of flight and escape: “O that I had wings life a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6). What one of us has not imagined successfully escaping the “raging wind and tempest” (8) of life’s sometimes crushing circumstances? If it were possible, would we not “make haste to escape” (Ps. 55:8, BCP) and remain a safe distance from all that disquiets us? In the face of his fear and trouble, the poet simply imagines himself to be somewhere else, but in the end he realized that this is not to be. He cannot hide. His fervent prayer, therefore, is that God not hide from him (1).

What causes the Psalmist such grief and anguish? We come to realize it is not the usual pain of suffering at the hands of an enemy. Were that the case, he says, he could have borne it (12). No, this is the sharpest hurt of all: the betrayal of a friend—and not just an ordinary friend but a “familiar friend,” a “companion,” what Psalm 41 tenderly calls a “bosom friend.” The psalm reveals that theirs was a friendship with much shared in common, built upon a mutual love for the things of God (14). No wonder the blow leveled against the psalmist strikes so deep in his soul. No wonder he would like most of all to run from it. It is the destructive blow of treachery and deceit.

These verses describe the treachery experienced by Jesus at the hands of Judas, a treachery so central to Christ’s passion that the apostle Paul summarizes the evening of the Lord’s Supper as “the night when he was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23). There were many other horrific events that night, but they were all set in motion by the bitter kiss of a friend.

The verses of Psalm 55, therefore, go back and forth between describing the betrayer’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness. “There are friends who pretend to be friends,” says the writer of Proverbs, “but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). It is to this eternal Friend that the psalmist turns in his confusion: “He who is enthroned from of old” will hear me (Ps. 55:19). And his hope will not be disappointed. In the end, though he has been tripped up by the treachery of a friend, the Lord will bear up his burdened soul, and the souls of all who put their trust in him (22).

From the Fathers
If you believe that God makes provision for you, why be anxious or concerned about temporal affairs and the needs of your flesh? But if you do not believe that God makes provision for you, and for this reason you take pains to provide for your need separately from him, then you are the most wretched of all men. Why even be alive or go on living in such a case? “Cast your care upon the Lord, and he will nourish you.” Isaac of Nineveh

Father, let me never despair so much in my feelings of betrayal that I grow numb to the betrayer in my own heart. May my soul never be dried from tears of repentance for the false kisses I have given you.

Meet the Author: Fr. Martin Shannon, Community of Jesus

The Entry of the King

By Cantor

This coming Sunday, we celebrate Palm Sunday, remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The traditional chant which opens the celebration is  one of the most famous in the repertoire: Hosanna, filio David — Hosanna to the Son of David! The opening upward sweep of this chant is unique, suggesting a celebratory call announcing an event of great importance and impact:


We heard that same upward sweep not long ago on Christmas in Puer natus est nobis — A boy is born to us:

puer natus

Here we see — or rather, hear — one of the most extraordinary qualities of chant: its ability to teach by simply offering a sound in relationship to a particular text. Just as the Palm Sunday chant gives musical depiction to the “entry of the King”, so the Christmas chant tells us the same, the entry of the “infant King” Jesus into this world. What an elegant manner in which to teach such a basic and simple truth, that this man on the donkey is the same person born 33 years earlier in Bethlehem.

Friday of Lent IV: Psalm 142

From According to Your Mercy by Fr. Martin Shannon

Friday of Lent IV
Psalm 142

“Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” v. 5

The cry of the poet in Psalm 142 is directed to his only hope in a time of loneliness and faintheartedness. The superscription attached to this psalm suggests that it was written by David “when he was in the cave.” The exact circumstances are unclear, but the two incidences we have recorded in Scripture of David in a cave — 1 Samuel 22:1 and 1 Samuel 24:3–4 — are related to the time when he was fleeing for his life from a jealous and vengeful King Saul. Most praying this psalm are not in such dire conditions, though even today in many parts of the world faith in God is lived at the risk of losing everything dear, even one’s own life. We can pray these desperate words at any time in the name of those who suffer such persecution.

On a more personal level, there are at least two significant elements of this psalm that anyone can understand. The first is the utter sense of loneliness, of abandonment even. Not only is the psalmist in trouble but no one cares. He looks for consolation, for someone to offer compassion and reassurance, and is bereft of all good company. “There is none who takes notice of me,” he laments, adding “no man cares for me” (Ps. 142:4). One translation reads, “There was no patron for my soul” — no advocate, no ally. However independent and self-sufficient we may consider ourselves to be, the human heart recoils in grief at such times of loneliness. In such bitter times the heart yearns for a companion.

A second place we can all perhaps relate to is found in verse 3 (emphasis added): “When my spirit is faint.” The word appears eight other times in the psalms, referring variously to the psalmist’s heart, flesh, soul, or spirit. In other words, he says: I am so tired — in body, mind, and spirit — that I don’t think I can go on. If one’s heart can be bone-tired, that is what this word means. For the psalmist, a brisk walk in the way of the Lord has reverted to a tenuous shuffling. His fears make each step slow, and his loneliness makes each step uncertain.

In fact, however, the psalmist does have company in his condition. Despite his fear, he knows that there is one who knows his path, one who hears his cry (6). For the psalmist, this is no theological platitude. Placing hope in the Lord is the utter conviction of his heart. There is nowhere else to turn and, notwithstanding his vacillation between despair and trust, he expects God to bring his soul “out of prison” (7). The psalmist uses an interesting word when he describes the Lord as his “portion in the land of the living” (5). It is the same Hebrew word used to refer to the inheritance of land apportioned to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In other words, like one who lives off the land, the psalmist “lives off” God. With such bountiful provision at hand, the psalmists expects that the Lord will renew his strength, so that, now surrounded by the heartening company of the righteous (7), he will once again “walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

Now when the enemy of righteousness, the foe of the human race, . . . that is to say, Satan, the opponent of all virtues, and the hater of the upright life of the children of humankind, saw that this brother was overcoming and bringing to naught all his crafty designs by the might of his simple obedience . . . he made a plan to lay snares for him in the path of his spiritual excellence.

Only you know the path that is set before me, Father.
So, when it is desolate, and when it is dangerous,

— and when I am dog-tired —
you need to be the first one I turn to.

Meet the Author: Fr. Martin Shannon, Community of Jesus


According to Your Mercy is available from Paraclete Press and from Priory Books and Gifts.

Laetare Sunday

by Sister Fidelis

Today, we reach the 4th week of Lent which begins with the celebration of “Laetare Sunday.” This tradition dates back more than 1,000 years and is honored as a break from the penitential season on which people may take a day off from their “fasts” or other Lenten observances. The piece that gives the day its title is the introit Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice, Jerusalem).

As I listened to the chanting of this piece this morning, I found much to enjoy and ponder.  This Mode V introit has some unique and beautiful qualities. It does not open with the typical and triumphant major triad but rather with a porrectus – leaping a 4th and circling around sol – giving a slightly warmer feeling. This is followed by step-wise passages descending and ascending as we hear “rejoice Jerusalem.” Then the melody bubbles at the top of the range as the words continue with “come together.” From there the piece flows melismatically up and down with the text – many joyful torculae and porrectae (3 and 4 note neumes) expressing the words! We hear the flatted seventh (tau) throughout – an unusual quality, which seems to give depth and sweetness to the piece and helps us embrace the meaning.

The text calls to “all who love Jerusalem” and to “anyone who has been in sorrow” to “take up the song of rejoicing and be filled with consolation.” As we turn toward the rest of Lent and Holy Week may we keep this thought in our hearts!


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.

Missam Pro Defunctis – Weekday Mass for Lent

By Sister Fidelis

As we approach Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent this week, I’ve been looking at Mass XVIII – Missa pro defunctis, which we use during the Lenten season. While this is one of the “simpler” masses, it is also very beautiful and has been borrowed or expounded upon by composers over the ages – maybe one of the best known being Fauré in his Requiem.

It is interesting that although the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, were not composed together – not even within the same century, they have several similar qualities. For one, the narrow range is noteable. The Kyrie covers the distance of a 7th, the Sanctus a 5th and the Agnus Dei a mere 3rd! Looking through the entire repertoire of ordinary Masses we don’t find any other Mass with such a narrow range. We also see in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei almost entirely syllabic writing – adding to the feeling of humble simplicity.

Then we find a motive – a repeated pitch followed by a whole step – which appears both in the “eleison” of the Kyrie throughout, and twice at the start of the Sanctus. The reverse of that same motive is the intonation of the Agnus Dei – two repeated pitches followed by a whole step upwards! There is something comforting and calm about the way in which this motive weaves in and out and in the way  the overall compositions seem to rise and fall. What is it about this music that lends itself so well to the season of Lent? Could it be connected to the thought of narrowing our focus or simplifying our lives?  Maybe the chant itself will inform us of something in these next weeks…

Click here to hear samples from this mass, and other Gregorian chants from the Requiem, on a recording by Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola.

Missa Pro Defunctis

Good Friday

By Il Fratello

Today is good
And the hands of the church
Hold me
As I walk over these stones
We cannot do much
But make our way
Like the blind
Feeling texts written in raised letters

In fits and starts
I align myself with Christ
And tragically
To comprehend it all
I am most successful in slumber
Under the cloaks of the apostles

All of you in pain,
All of you suffering,
All of us,
Stop in our tracks
At the mystery
Of his willingness

The mystery of his blood rimmed eyes
That find me, you, each
Hidden in the crowd–
The only one who knows what I have done
And what of his inflicted pain was mine alone–
To say spirit to spirit
I forgive you

Maundy Thursday: A Shared Meal

Maundy Thursday engages us in deep remembrance. Looking at Moses and Aaron as they prepare the first Passover meal in Egypt, we better understand what acts of remembrance can mean for a people, and a religion. The Passover seder is still at the heart of Jewish faith and tradition. And in that Passover supper in Jerusalem depicted in Luke we witness the birth of our own Eucharistic meal.
But I want us to pay attention to what happened not in Egypt or Jerusalem, but in the desert of Exodus, depicted in Psalm 78. God had worked many wonders for the people fleeing from slavery in Egypt: parting the Red Sea, leading by fire and by cloud, drawing water from hard rock to quench their thirst. Still, as time goes by and the hardships continue, their faith in God’s providence fails. In their hunger they doubt, and ask, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” In response, God sends them manna, bread from heaven.
We have been given so many great gifts in our lives, and in the lived tradition of our faith communities. The opportunity to gather in worship with others at the eucharistic table is a blessing beyond compare. But we often take it for granted, and when we face a desert journey – through illness, divorce, job loss, or any unwelcome change – we are still capable of asking if God can provide enough nourishment to see us through.
Even worse, we may be so distracted, enslaved by a desire for worldly goods, that we, like Jesus’s disciples, fail to comprehend the gifts are right before us. Any meal shared with those we love, whether it be at the altar or around a kitchen table, can be a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come, if only we will heed the words of the traditional Maundy Thursday hymn, “Ubi Caritas”, which asks us to set aside our bitterness and quarreling and remember that “where charity and love are found, there is God.”

By Kathleen Norris
excerpted from God For Us, Paraclete Press

Passover fresco spandrel by Silvestro Pistolesi

LENT III: A prayer

Holy God, as we enter into another week of our slow preparation, anticipating your saving passion, we turn our eyes away from our own sore insufficiency and lift them to your Holy Cross. We seek all the more earnestly to relinquish our dim will to your illumination. We ask you to help us to shed our petty self-concern, our failed self-sufficiency. We ask for your uplifting care.

In Paradise, our ancient home, a tree once stripped us utterly of life, for by giving us its fruit to eat, the enemy fed us death and we partook.

Today the Tree of thy most Holy Cross is raised upon the earth, filling all the world with joy and with thanksgiving, that we, partaking of its holy, life-giving fruit might once more be made whole, infused with your life.

We lift our living voices, praying: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen

From God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter Paraclete Press