The Holy Innocents

This is the text of this morning’s Gregorian chant hymn from Lauds for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by Prudentius (4th-5th c.). This is a tragic event in the history of God’s people. It is also referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The Wise Men reported to King Herod that they were searching for the infant king of the Jews. This threatened Herod. To protect himself against being supplanted by this infant, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows who or how many were killed, so the Church honors them as a group of martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Christmas candle tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, the Community of JesusHail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.



By Sr. Fidelis

“I ascend to my Father, and to your Father, to my God, and your God, alleluia.” As Jesus leaves his disciples in bodily form, he reminds them (and us) that his life among us and his great sacrifice have reconciled us to the Father.

This Mode 7 antiphon is both triumphant and loving! The opening phrase “ascends” a full octave on the phrase Ascendo ad Patrem the high point being Patrem. Jesus’ joy at being reunited with his Father is expressed here! The phrase turns and brings it gently back to earth on et Patrem vestrum: the major sounds of the mode clothe the text in such a way, that it creates a sense of invitation to the listener…my Father and your Father…my God and your God.


Seeing the Signs

By Sr. Fidelis

Many of the chants for this season re-tell various “scenes” from the Easter story. This is a wonderful way for us to rehearse the true miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection! The antiphon Maria Stabat reminds us that Mary stood at the sepulcher weeping and saw two angels in white sitting, and the cloth that was on Jesus’ head. The story goes no further in this Mode VII antiphon, but there is a sense of anticipation and joy and the bloom of hope is conveyed with each consecutive phrase!
The opening phrase begins with an ascent from its Home Tone SOL, to its Reciting Tone, RE, and then back again to SOL. The repeated note pattern on the text Angelos in albis, sedentes builds with excitement! For the most part this is a syllabic chant save one word, fuerat. Here the lingering emphasis reminds us that this was the cloth that was on Jesus’ head.
There’s much food for thought in these seemingly simple chants!


Be not unbelieving…

By Sr. Fidelis

The Communion for the 2nd Week of Easter comes from the Gospel of John – Jesus’ words to Thomas.

“Thrust your hand and know the place of the nails, and be not unbelieving but faithful.” is the literal translation.

There is a wonderful sense of conversation in this serene Mode 6 chant; two syllabic phrases punctuated with Alleluias.

The structural notes of LA (reciting tone) and FA (home tone) serve as the “backbone” of the piece.

One of the beauties of this simple chant is the actual Latin text.  Jesus tells Thomas to thrust his hand and know the place of the nails….not just see them, or touch them, but know them.

The original notation highlights the text in several spots.  In the opening line, there is a 3 note neum called a “torculus”, (low-high-low) on the last syllable of the word tuam. The shape of this neum indicates that there is more emphasis on the 2nd and 3rd notes, rather than them all being even.   This is called a “special” torculus, and gives a sense of lift to the word.  On the final line of the chant, we see this same sign on the accented syllable of the word fidelis, and in the final alleluia, only this time, it looks angular.  This tells us to emphasize all 3 syllables of the word.  You will hear these subtleties, which add points of interest and arrival in the overall scope of the chant.

Mitte Manum

This is My Body

By Sr. Fidelis

This week, we turn our faces toward Holy Week and the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find a depth of riches in the Gregorian chants that come from this sacred season. One of the treasures of the Church is the majestic hymn Pange Lingua, whose text is attributed to Thomas Aquinas. This chant is sung to accompany the translation of the Sacraments to a place of repose at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. The Mode 3 melody gently sweeps up and back in a way that lifts the text and gives a sense of adoration. Read this wonderful translation by J.M. Neale and others, which is found in many hymnals.

Of the glorious body telling,
O my tongue, its mysteries sing,
And the blood, all price excelling,
Which the world’s eternal King,
In a spotless womb once dwelling,
Shed for this world’s ransoming.

Given for us, for us descending,
Of a virgin to proceed,
Man with man in converse blending,
Scattered he the gospel seed,
Till his sojourn drew to ending,
Which he closed in wondrous deed.

At the last great supper lying
Circled by his chosen band,
Duly with the law complying,
First he finished its command,
Then immortal food supplying,
Gave himself by his own hand.

Word-made-flesh by word he maketh
Bread his very flesh to be;
Man in wine Christ’s blood partaketh:
And if senses fail to see,
Faith alone the true heart waketh
To behold the mystery.

Therefore we, before him bending,
This great sacrament revere:
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
Honor, might and praise addressing,
While eternal ages run;
Ever too his love confessing,
Who, from both, with both is one. Amen


A Place to Dwell

By Sr. Fidelis
During this 4th week of Lent, we look at another one of Jesus’ teachings, taken from the Gospel of John. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him, says the Lord.” Scripture tells us that this was a hard saying, indeed. The Jews murmured against Jesus and disputed amongst themselves. But through the lens of Lent and approaching Holy Week, we see Jesus’ loving preparation, even if they did not understand, for what he was about to do in the Sacrament of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.

This Communion piece gives us a greater understanding of Jesus’ words. Set in Mode 6, the opening intonation rises quickly, giving a sense of energy and joy, which then peaks on the words sanguinem meam (my blood). Here is a loving invitation to dwell in him.  Then, the most important words of all, et ego in eo (and I in him), give a sense of humility and intimacy in their low range. The piece ends with a lovely descending passage to its’ final cadence. Listen to Qui manducat.

Qui manducat

Leaving All

By Sr. Fidelis

“You who have left all things and followed me, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”

This Gospel quote from Matthew takes on a new perspective during Lent. Whether we be leaving our agendas, our control, our comfort zones, to follow Jesus, he promises us much more in unlikely ways, including the promise of eternal life. Whatever we cling to so closely needs to be “relinquished” into his hands.

This Mode 1 antiphon begins on the Home Tone RE, and gently rises to its peak on centuplum (one hundred) one pitch above the Reciting Tone of LA. The pitch of TI gives this word an “acidic” edge as it descends to the FA MI on the last syllable, outlining an augmented 4th. Here is a classic example of Mode 1, utilizing the lower part of the range and giving a somber and mysterious element to the tonality of this antiphon.

Vos qui reliquistis

Feast of the Presentation

By Sr. Fidelis

Detail of “The Presentation” by Fra Angelico

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation, and it is one of my most favorite times of the Church Year. There is rich symbolism in the beautiful chants, with texts taken from the Psalms as well as other sources. This feast is thought of as the last day of the Christmas Season, coming 40 days after the celebration of Christ’s birth, and celebrates Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple. This is the time when the Church candles for the year are blessed. The connection between Christ and the “light”, represented by the candles, is very strong.

The Communion for this Feast, Responsum, takes its text from the book of Luke.  “Simeon had received an answer from the Holy Spirit, that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This Mode 8 piece has a great sense of mystery to it, created by the use of  the lower part of the modal range, going below the home tone of SOL. Also there is an “undulating” effect created by what is known as the special torculus. The torculus is a three-note neum (low-high-low), where all three notes are normally equal. But with the special torculus, the first note is weaker and lighter, with the emphasis on the next two notes. This phenomena can be seen (and heard!) on the words accepit and Simeon. Finally, notice that the piece peaks only one time on the word mortem, on the reciting tone DO.


“We have seen his star in the East…”

By Sr. Fidelis

…. and have come with gifts to worship the Lord”.

This simple Communion for the Solemn Feast of Epiphany is a gem in miniature.  A wonderful example of Mode 4, the first phrase literally “paints” a picture of the wise men’s long journey with drops of a 4th, giving it an exotic flair.

The second phrase peaks on the word venimus (have come), and again gently descends a 4th as it leads to its final resting place on the words adorare Dominum (worship the Lord).


Rorate Caeli

By Sr. Fidelis
One of the later gems of the Gregorian repertoire is the Advent prose, Rorate Caeli, most likely composed by the Paris Oratorian Pere Bourget in the early 1600’s. The text takes its inspiration from the Book of Isaiah. This simple Verse and Response expresses our deep need and longing for the Savior.

The chant begins with the response which is then repeated between verses. This arching melody in Mode 1 leaps up a 4th on the word caeli”  (heaven), followed by an eight-note gentle descent to the Home Tone RE, perfectly depicting the text taken from Isaiah 45:8 which reads, “Drop down, dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the just One.”

The verses in between the response are woven together from a variety of Scripture sources, including Lamentations, Exodus, and several verses from Isaiah. The verses recite on both LA and DO. Listen for this change, which increases the sense of longing both from the captive (verse 1), and from the Redeemer, (verse 2). The leap of a 4th is also heard in the verses, almost as an echo to the opening response.

V) See, Lord, the affliction of your people, and send him whom you are about to send;  send forth the Lamb, the Lord of the earth, from the rock of the desert to the mountain of the daughter of Zion, and he himself may take away the yoke of our captivity.

V)  Be comforted, be comforted my people; your deliverance will come quickly. Why are you consumed with grief, that your sorrow has been renewed? I will save you, do not be afraid; I myself am indeed the Lord your God, the holy One of Israel, your Redeemer.

Rorate Caeli