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.

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

LENT II: God is a Storm

God is a storm. That is what leaps out at me from the psalmist’s imagery: God’s stormy thundering voice breaks the cedars. During the rest of the week, we will be encountering images in the Psalms of God as a refuge from the storms. Those are more appealing images. I prefer them to images of God’s storminess.

Yet, somehow both are true. God is a refuge from the storm, and God is the storm.

I’d rather skip the stormy images altogether. But Lent is an apt time to encounter the psalmist’s insistence on the God who is not just a harbor, but also a storm.

For Lent is a journey into unprotectedness. Lent is being willing to expose ourselves to storminess. Jesus moves from seeming unprotectedness in the wilderness to utter vulnerability on the cross. And Lent is an opportunity to ask how much energy we pour into protecting ourselves — from the storms we encounter on the path to true self-knowledge, from the storms we encounter when we genuinely love our neighbor, from the storms that are God, and the storms that God protects us from.

By Lauren Winner

Excerpted from God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press)


LENT I: But How Do We Understand Lent?

Sometimes the etymology of a word can be helpful. Lent is derived from an Old English word meaning springtime. In Latin, lente means slowly. Therefore, Lent points to the coming of spring, and it invites us to slow down our lives so as to be able to take stock of ourselves. While that captures some of the traditional meaning of Lent, the popular mindset generally has a different focus, looking at Lent mostly as a season within which we are asked to refrain from certain normal, healthy pleasures so as to better ready ourselves for the feast of Easter.

To further our understanding, perhaps the foremost image for this is the biblical idea of the desert. Jesus, we are told, inorder to prepare for his public ministry, went voluntarily into the desert for forty days and forty nights, during which time he took no food, and, as the Gospel of Mark tells us, was put to the test by Satan, was with the wild animals, and was looked after by the angels.

Clearly this text is not to be taken literally to mean that for forty days Jesus took no food, but that he deprived himself of all the normal supports that protected him from feeling, full-force, his vulnerability, dependence and need to surrender in deeper trust to God the Father. And in doing this, we are told, he found himself hungry and consequently vulnerable to temptations from the devil, but also, by that same token, he was more open to the Father.

Lent has for the most part been understood as a time to imitate this, to metaphorically spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, unprotected by normal nourishment so as to have to face “Satan” and the “wild animals” and see whether the angels will indeed come and look after us when we reach that point where we can no longer look after ourselves.

Excerpt b2014-02-16 09.16.14y Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, From God For Us, Paraclete Press