Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

 A Great Visionary

We owe much of the restoration of the chant to the zeal, vision, and inspiration of Dom Gueranger, the first Abbot of the reopened Benedictine monastery of Solesmes, France in the 1830’s. In the wake of the French Revolution, monasticism had come close to total extinction.Yet Dom Gueranger had a tremendous sense of call to re-claim what had been almost lost, and founded a monastic and liturgical revival that spread through France as well as other parts of Europe.

He charged his monks with the task of restoring the chant to its former beauty. This restoration consisted of two primary components: The study of ancient manuscripts and the development of a lighter style of chanting, as opposed to “plainchant.” This lighter style enabled the words to take on their true meaning, and the musical phrases recovered much of of their natural suppleness.
 

By the 1850’s,  Solesmes monks were copying chant manuscripts from all over Europe.  By carefully comparing manuscripts containing the ancient neumes to manuscripts containing lines and notes, they were able to determine how the chant would have been sung in its original form. This on-going work was the first step in attempting to re-claim the origins of the chant — a search for truth that continues to this day. 

 
Gueranger

Ancient Paths

 by Melodius Monk

On Mondays over the lunch hour I help with a carving project of saints being created for our community’s cloister. This week St. Augustine is being translated from drawing to cypress wood panel.  I knew St. Augustine wrote his “Confessions” a long time ago, (over 1,600 years ago!)  but that’s about all I knew of him.  With a little research, it’s staggering to learn how much God used this one saint for the development of western Christianity and philosophy. As I carve away some of the background detail on Augustine’s figure, I wonder what God may be trying to teach me today.

The word “confess” can be defined a few ways: to tell or make known, to acknowledge, to declare faith in. Perhaps Augustine’s honest conversation with God is at the heart of why his books and philosophy have helped so many pilgrims over the centuries. I struggle to be honest with God.  It’s difficult to sort out and to admit to myself (and to God) my true, honest feelings about life, what I want out of it, and what I really believe or don’t believe. St. Augustine was persistent to keep the conversation going.

 

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee ”

~ Saint Augustine of Hippo

augustine2

Vows

by Melodius Monk  

This is a particularly special and significant week for our monastic community, because it is the week in which novices, and simple professed members can make their professions.  

The Rule of Life of the Community of Jesus states, “Though in its essence Christian discipleship is a vocation common to all believers, the vows made in a monastic life give that discipleship a distinct form.”  The next page continues on to say,  “Following centuries of monastic tradition, membership in the Community of Jesus is built upon three primary vows: obedience, conversion, and stability.”

Hearing these professions serves as a reminder to me of the life-choices I have committed to in this particular place. I think it can also serve to remind all Christians of their daily choices to follow Christ. Each morning I’m given anew the choice to step into the endless stream of the unceasing love, mercy, and creativity of God. The choice is mine to reject — or to wade forward on faith: the opportunity is always newly presented. Many days I have to remind myself to re-choose this discipleship, to choose to believe in God’s promised goodness as a backdrop for my life today. 

Simple Choices

by Melodius Monk  

One of the hallmarks of the Benedictine life is Obedience. I guess for all followers of Jesus, as we try to live his instruction to “come, follow me,” obedience is a part of life. Obedience is a fresh daily choice, even for those of us that have taken life-long vows of obedience to in a monastic community.

I’m not talking about life-altering choices.  It’s often the little things. Did I take the time to go back to a friend I was upset with and get resolved? Did I give my best effort at my afternoon work assignment, even though I didn’t like the job? Did I prefer my brother, or my co-worker’s request for help, over my busy “to-do” list? Did I forgive that annoying person that hurt my feelings this afternoon?
 
Many times I choose not to do these things, sometimes unaware of the choice I’m making, sometimes aware.  Yet even if I make a wrong choice, in the struggle for obedience my faith grows. I learn a little more about Jesus, about how simple and freeing his obedience can be, all the while still wrestling daily with how tough these simple choices can feel.

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

The end of the Church Year

This Sunday marked the final week of the Liturgical Year.  It is known as “Christ the King” or “Christ in Glory” Sunday. As we reflect on Christ’s kingship, we prepare for  Advent when we celebrate his second coming in glory, as well as his first coming as the lowly babe.  In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast partly because of the rise of secularism at the time. At II Vespers on this particular Sunday, we chanted the following text as Antiphon to the Magnificat. On his garment and on his thigh he has written: The King of Kings and Lord of lords. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Life Layers

by Sr Nunother  

It seems to me that life is composed of layers and that each layer is contingent on the one that came before.  This is perhaps my Thanksgiving musing!  I think of the things I love, and yes, even the things where I consider myself  most proficient.  When I look closely, I see that I grew from the vision and risk taking of others, learned from their expertise and mistakes, and added my two cents of creativity.  No credit to me except in my willingness to listen and recognize the cost of before and the potential of now.

 

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

The other great branch of the tree

We’ve been exploring the Divine Office, specifically the service of Compline.  But there is a whole other treasury of Gregorian chants that for centuries have surrounded and beautified the Eucharist. These chants range from simple pieces, similar to Office Antiphons, to great florid melodies written expressly for solo cantors. Today, the Mass chants are all found in a book called the Gradual Triplex. This wonderful collection is of great value to us today because it contains the music written in square notation, as well as the ancient signs or neumes, found in the original manuscripts! Below is a page from a 14th -15th century Gradual, written in square notation, featuring the introit Gaudeamus omnes.

Day by day, nourished with bread from heaven, we say:”Taste and see how good is the Lord.” — St. Jerome

 

Individually United

by Sr Nunother  

There are currently sixty-four sisters at the Community of Jesus, and we’re in the process of completing sixty-four quilts. Each quilt has it’s own complex design of color patterns and fabric choices.  No two quilts are alike and this can also be said of the sisters making them!  We differ in size and shape, eye and hair color, age and process of aging, likes and dislikes, environmental and genetic influences, energy levels and opinions. A roomful of quilts with similar color affiliation creates a warm and beautiful harmony, even as each quilt maintains it’s individuality.  And sisters, united in the common goal of serving Christ, have an opportunity to do the same.  To see the richness in differences, to not demand that another person think and see things as I do, is my daily work and prayer.

Out of Sync – Out of Sorts

by Sr Nunother  

There is a natural rhythm to monastic life, framed by the liturgy of the hours, the wearing of a habit, set meal and bedtimes, and periods of silence. These are wonderful and necessary, but I’m aware of my own predilection for structure. When routine is interrupted (and it often is), I become out of sorts.  This week forced me to think outside myself, to pray for those most affected by Hurricane Sandy, and to realize just who it is that ultimately calms the storm.

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

 
The Elements of the Divine Office
 

We’ve talked a lot about the Divine Office.  There are four essential elements in every Office.  Whether it is one of the pillar Offices of Lauds or Vespers, or a smaller, shorter Office, like Compline, these four components are:

Psalmody:
The mainstay of the Office is the Psalmody.  In his day,  Benedict carefully arranged the Psalms so that all 150 could be recited in a week’s time.  The early hermits recited them in a day.  Many monastic houses today, including ours, chant them over a 4-week period.  Included under the umbrella of psalmody are texts known as Canticles.  Taken from both the Old and New Testaments, Canticles are sacred songs, and are a regular part of the day’s psalmody. 

Hymns:
We know that hymns appeared very early in the Christian church.  Some of the most beautiful poetic texts were set to metrical tunes.  Several weeks ago, we looked at some verses from a Lauds hymn, penned by Ambrose, a prolific hymn writer, who established their regular use in the Divine Office.  We’ll be looking at hymns in more depth later on.

Reading:
Listening is such an integral part of chanting the Office.  After the psalmody, we listen as one officiant chants either a portion of Scripture, or a reading from one of the early Church Fathers.  We are constantly being nurtured by this input of God’s word.

Prayers:
The prayers begin and end the Office.  There are set prayers which are taken from Psalmody, as well as daily Collects, and of course, the Lord’s Prayer.