Christmas Hope

By Sr. Spero

The Christmas message can seem like a paradox. On one level, it’s the story of a young pregnant girl who is forced by her government to travel many miles in difficult and crowded conditions, and then give birth in the only shelter available—with the animals. It is also the story of great splendor—angels appearing on a hillside in all their radiance and glory, proclaiming tidings of great joy. The first sounds pretty grim, the second so extraordinary it is beyond description.

Which is real—the difficulty or the splendor?

The Christmas message is both. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Darkness is real, but light wins. The angels are singing through the darkness, piercing it with light. The canticle for Lauds during the Christmas season is from Jeremiah 31 and contains these verses: “For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they;” and “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”

Christmas hope does not deny evil.  During the Christmas season, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the slaughter of young children who became martyrs for the sake of Christ. We can celebrate this event because we know that evil is overcome, and the message of the angels is true. No matter what the outward circumstances, we have heard “tidings of great joy.”

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and innocents

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and innocents

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Pastoral Dialogue

By Sr. Fidelis

The Lauds Antiphons for Christmas Day and Week begin with an amazing question: “Whom did you see, shepherds?”

The drama of the text is heightened as a second question follows. “Speak: Announce to us who has appeared on the earth?” Then the answer comes from all the shepherds, “We have seen the newborn One, and choirs of angels praising God together, alleluia, alleluia”.

This wonderful bit of dialogue puts us right in the scene! Can we possibly imagine the joy, excitement and wonder in the faces and voices of the shepherds, returning from their visit to the Bethlehem stable?

The antiphon is a simple one: 4 notes in Mode 2, which are repeated and  give a “conversational ” quality to the tune, illuminating the dialogue.

Quem Viditis

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The Dawn of the Tiny King

By Il Fratello

What should I do with all this Christmas news
that dawns like fire-light on ice
that makes a change and says to change–
will I allow the pitiful child, born in a cattle pen
to steal upon the near-hardened strings of my callous heart?
let my eyes see what I at first don’t see
strain my deafened ears to listen once again
for small tender, deep down things?

or casually sleep the night, assuming it to be
like any other night. and say upon accounting
I never saw or heard or knew he came?

low, low, low, low down things
manure and straw, dirt floor and the cold draft
of winter ice-wind through barn boards
who will keep warm the infant savior of the world?
I even I, who most needs saving, can give my cloak
stand watch outside the door,
lean against the drafty wall and block the cold
get mary water, run for joseph’s gentle requests

in the balance of the night I will choose
to scoff or to love
to turn away or to help
to pass by or to stop
and let my heart be struck-smitten-cracked
open by the incarnation of Love

what wild song the angels sing
dancing on the breezes of the midnight star-sky
that calls to us a sweeter sound like
love-struck joy, like earth heaving
mountain ache of now rightly-set things.
They sing salvation come to us in darkest hour
a tiny King, his dawn is fire-light.

Mother&Child

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From A to O

By Sr. Fidelis

We began Advent  with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”

There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.

Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David  (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)

The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.

Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel.  Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.

O Emmanuel

OEmmanuelchant

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From A to O

By Sr. Fidelis

We began Advent  with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”

There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.

Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David  (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)

The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.

Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel.  Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.

O Emmanuel

OEmmanuelchant

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ADVENT IV: The Great Mystery

In the fourth century, Christians were asked to mark December 17 as the beginning of a twenty-one-day period, ending at the Epiphany, in which they focused on the great mystery unfolding in the life of the church, the mystery of God incarnate in human flesh. They were asked to turn away from distraction, from either staying at home and losing themselves in domestic chores, or traveling and being continually stimulated by a change of scenery. Christians were to seek out the church as a place where they could gather as a community not merely to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to allow the power of the Incarnation to pentrate their lives. How can we imagine such a thing? How can we make this season holy, when the world tells us that Christmas is over in just a day, and then we rush toward New Year’s Eve, and merchants begin putting out goods for Valentine’s Day? We might start, presently and simply, by picturing in our mind’s eye the great sign prophesied by Isaiah: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

By Kathleen Norris

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

Madonna of the Book

The Madonna of the Book (c.1480) Sandro Botticelli

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Advent’s Thief

Jesus is coming as a thief in the night – “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven…” (Matthew 24:36)

“But how the heck can you be ready for something you don’t know is coming? How can we be ready for the unexpected? Well, we can’t.

“So maybe being awake and alert and expectant—all themes of Advent—has nothing to do with knowing or certainty or prediction, but has a lot to do with being in a state of unknowing. My instinct is always to use me knowingness—my certainty I’m right….—as a sort of loss-prevention program, a system by which I protect myself from the unknown and the unexpected. Which works approximately none of the time.

     “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“Here’s the thing; like the house owner, knowing what to look for as a way of avoiding being robbed is only advantageous if we assume being robbed is a bad thing. But perhaps having an unknowing brain allows us to be taken unaware by the grace of God, which is like a thief in the night. Maybe it’s good news that Jesus has been staking the joint and there will be a break-in. The promise of Advent is that in the absence of knowing everything, we get robbed. There was and is and will be a break-in because God is not interested in our loss-prevention programs but in saving us from ourselves and saving us from our culture and saving us even from our certainties about God’s story itself.

“This holy thief wants to steal from us, and maybe that is literal and metaphoric at the same time. Perhaps, during Advent, a season with pornographic levels of consumption in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand, the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of our stuff is really good news. There’s just a whole lot of crap in my house—again, both literally and metaphorically—that I could well do without.”

I pray that we are caught unaware by the grace of God this Advent—that this thief be allowed to rip into our houses, and steal from us the hurts, fears, jealousy and wants, and replace these with love, peace, and Joy.

Scripture from NIV; other all other quotations from Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Copyright 2015, Crown Publishing/Convergent Books.

20151004_084239

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Advent

Fly down the hill
That separates me 
From you
On horseback or wing 
I am listed to be saved
These stones 
I’ve built up 
Around me 
Matter little 
To a love 
like yours
 
Regret 
That old advisor 
Must go violently 
(With joy)
To a dungeon
I once kept for righteous men
 
And I 
(Undoubtedly)
Will step out 
From this gray keep
Of centuries sin
Barefoot 
Unburdened 
To the victory green 
To meet my judge 
My jury and my lover 

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Hope

By Sr. Spero

One of the most hopeful verses I’ve ever read is in the Lauds Canticle on Sundays during Advent. It is from Deuteronomy 32: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.” The passage refers to God coming to Jacob, but in the layers of meaning in all Scriptures, it is also about us. This is where God finds us, or we find him. Not in plenty, or when we are feeling good about life, but when it seems like a desert.

How good of God, and the ancient chant compilers, to remind us in Advent, the great season of preparation, which is often hectic and full of activity–that although he may give us gifts of celebration, family and presents, he finds us when we feel barren, and in a howling waste. This is also the message of Christ’s birth–in a stable when there was no room at the inn. This is the hope that when we feel most forsaken, we will be found.

desert

 

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Rorate Caeli

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 Desuper

Rorate Caeli

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