by Sister Fidelis
Tomorrow, February 2, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation. One of the best-known pieces from this feast is Lumen ad revelationem gentium, (“A light to enlighten the Gentiles”), a very simple mode VII antiphon, paired up with the verses of the Nunc dimittis.
This is one of my favorite Gregorian chant antiphons and brings back two very clear memories. My first introduction was in a class with Dr. Mary Berry at age 10. Dr. Berry herself created an indelible impression — a stately white-haired woman, arms gesturing, as she peered over her glasses and led us in song. We were caught up in the stories and history she told — a magical world to 10-year-olds. She had us all happily marching up and down the church, arms up and down in patterns of 2s and 3s, and the piece and the moment and the stories were all burned into our childhood memories….
Years later in a church in Italy some of our Brothers were asked to chant on the Feast of the Presentation. In a small ancient church in Tuscany we watched as they joined the procession of priests, deacons, acolytes, and various children, following the cross to the altar and chanting. The Brothers stood in their robes front of the altar with billows of incense rising around them…Lumen ad revelationem gentium…another moment out of time.
And then we come to the true moment for this piece and the story is even more wonderful — a man named Simeon and a prophetess meeting the Messiah and his parents in the temple. Ancient prophecies fulfilled and new prophesies spoken, mysteries, prayers, praises…
The simplicity of this music is interesting for such a special moment — a narrow range and almost completely syllabic. Sometimes it seems that mysteries bring us to a simple and childlike frame of mind. We come like a baby, simply being carried into this moment of God meeting man. May we each take a moment to remember our child-likeness on this Feast of the Presentation.