The Life of Christ in Chant
We have just experienced the most amazing of weeks in the liturgical year — Holy Week leading to Easter.
The chants composed for this week audibly take us through each of the various parts of the week. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was heralded by one of the most famous of all chants, Hosanna, Filio David (Hail, Son of David!). Maundy Thursday, on which Christ gives “a new commandment,” was characterized by the chanting of Ubi Caritas (Where true love is, God himself is there.) > On Good Friday we had the ancient Gospel Passion chanted for the Veneration of the Cross. Holy Saturday opened with the well-known response Lumen Christi (Christ, Light of the World), followed by the Exultet in which the history of our salvation was chanted. Ultimately, we heard chanted the most famous Gregorian Hymn — Victimae Paschali Laudes (Christ, the Paschal Victim) to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection!
This is the richest time in the entire church year for which Gregorian chant does her most beautiful work of illuminating Christ’s life.
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Introit for Easter Day: Resurrexi,
By Melodious Monk
God is God
…should we forget our Savior’s praise, the stones them-selves would sing!
As we finished the final stanza of James Montgomery’s hymn on Sunday, I turned to the person next to me to point out the humor and multiplicity of meanings to this last line. I was chuckling at the literal picture of a singing stone, and two other aspects as well: firstly, how it puts us in our place; and secondly, how it shows the bottomless depth’s of God’s love for us. Let me explain.
How quickly I forget that God is God. God loves us — but he doesn’t need us. I’m reminded of a conversation I had earlier this week were I was discussing how disappointed I feel with myself when I so often turn bitter and angry in certain situations. I fall again and again into the same trap of accusation and self-pity. It feels pathetic, and I assume God surely feels the same way about me. Or does he? A wise friend suggested to me that since God continually seems to be calling each of us to move on with him, maybe He doesn’t care about my failings the same way I do.
Which brings me back to the stones. Why does God even bother to care for us? After all, he has the stones, or the ability to just create someone else who would be better at praising him! But God hasn’t given up on me, even though I give up on myself all the time – and I don’t know why, I just know he hasn’t. God calls us to life. The remembrances of Holy Week, especially, remind us of how much God wants each of us to live our lives to their fullest potential.
Hosanna Filio David!
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion. It carries incredible drama and meaning as it announces the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem, and sets the stage for all that happens in the ensuing days.
We will be heralded into the service by one of the most famous of all Gregorian chants — Hosanna Filio David! (Hosanna to the Son of David). This introit chant opens with the famous “trumpet call” motive which we have explored over the course of the past few months. In fact, it bears extraordinary resemblance to the chant which opens Christmas morning mass — Puer Natus est (A Boy is Born). The sound of the chant reminds us that Jesus is King. However, its liturgical placement reminds us that this King came as a child and was welcomed into Jerusalem by children as well as adults. I find myself amazed that this chant is able to give us such beautiful parallels, bringing to mind the innocence and humility of the King of Heaven.
Have a blessed Palm Sunday!
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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.
by Sr. Nun Other
I was thinking about praising the Lord. Obviously, it’s not something I do on a regular basis, or I wouldn’t be considering it! I find it curious that it’s so much easier for me to complain and express negativity than to praise. Psalm 118 instructs us to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Its writer found himself in an unthinkable situation: enemies swarmed around like bees; he was pushed to the brink and beyond. Not to worry. He cried to the Lord and was rescued from his enemies. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be freed from his enemies, especially the inner ones of fear, doubt, and mistrust. I want to make the distinction that we praise because He loves. It isn’t always love as I wish it to be, but it’s a thorough love that addresses my deepest needs.
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.
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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.
Be anxious about nothing
Yesterday, the beginning of the 3rd week of Advent, has long been known as “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday. The chant introit, Gaudete in Domino (Rejoice in the Lord always), is something of a surprise. Rather than being a boisterous and rousing paean, this chant is quite gentle in comparison to last week’s introit trumpeting the arrival of the King.
This chant remains primarily in the lower part of the mode, save for the word “nihil” (nothing) within the text “Be anxious about nothing.” Also, rather than sweeping up to this high point with a horn-call motive, it is actually reached by a slowly climbing melody from which this highest note springs as the natural climax. What an incredible underscoring of this text which tells us to rejoice in all situations.
Equally important is the humility portrayed in this chant, rising only to its highest point at this blessed command from God to be anxious about nothing. Otherwise, the rejoicing we find here is not so much exuberance as assuredness that God himself is coming.
By Sr. Nun Other
Today we celebrated the Feast Day of Simeon, a man to be admired for his simplicity of heart. Fame, fortune, and great accomplishments were not on his resume; instead, we find written these words, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”