Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor 

Threads of Connection

I recently had the privilege of giving a seminar in my hometown on Gregorian chant and various chant book publications. The seminar was at a bookstore which is owned by a gentleman only three years my senior. We have had occasional talks over the past few years concerning chant and chant publications as part of our everyday business.

Recently, we started talking about our mutual hometown, discovering along the way we had attended the same high school and the same junior high, only four years apart. That led to the next discovery that we had grown up only three blocks from each other in this large mid-western city! Instantly, we had a connection — a common thread. It was this thread that led to an invitation for the seminar.

However, while setting up and conducting the seminar, we discovered a stronger bond — the mutual love of chant and its importance in both of our lives. What had begun as an everyday business relationship had become a shared passion for chant and chant education! I now have a new friend in my old hometown whom I would never have discovered without chant to draw us together.  Chant had been a mutual thread in both of us for decades before our paths crossed — what a joy!

The Community of Jesus








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Keeping Godly Perspective

By Sr. Nun Other

I frequently tell people how busy I am, how stressed, how overwhelmed with important tasks. And I’m not the only one. Our younger sisters often say, “I was given a huge project today — HUGE!” When questioned, this can range from painting a bathroom to making several dozen cookies. And then, I happened upon Psalm 65. Let’s look at a day in the life of the God we love:

Psalm 65 Paraphrased                              Perspective Statistics (Googled)

He hears our prayers,                                   World population  7.125 Billion
And forgives our sins

He stills the roaring of the seas,                  Earth in square miles 57,491,000
The turmoil of the nations.

He cares for the land and waters it;            One year’s water consumption
He enriches it abundantly.                           3,622,439 liters

God fills our streams with water,                 Food consumption 11 million pounds
And provides grain for the people.              per minute per day

I receive a quick lesson in humility, now overwhelmed by my insignificance. And then I realize, all of the above is for me. And you. One additional verse from Psalm 65:  Where morning dawns and evening fades, He calls forth songs of joy. And gratitude.

The Community of Jesus


Autumn of the Soul

By Renaissance Girl

I stepped outside for a quick breath of fresh air this morning and found a patch of sunshine. The warmth on my back felt wonderful, having emerged from an air-conditioned office. I think I sighed out loud which only my dog heard — a moment of relief.

The moment was shattered by a gentle gust of cold air, a whispered reminder that today is the last day of summer and we turn our face towards autumn, my favorite, and then winter. I shook off the breeze and headed back inside. And the thought blew across my mind — Truth is like that sometimes.

Sometimes we’re tempted to seek out a tiny patch of sun in our life and curl up to soak it in, halting any forward motion.  In that moment a cool breeze passes over us carrying with it a word of truth we need to hear, or a poke to get us to keep going so we don’t settle for the little bits of sun.

And the question is, will we turn up our collar and tuck our head down to keep it out?  Or will we let the breath of God shake our branches free of old leaves so they are ready to bloom again?

The Community of Jesus


Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The Beauty of Discovery

The choir, Gloriae Dei Cantores, is currently rehearsing for a recording of late Medieval and early Renaissance choral music. One of the works is a setting of the offertory for the first Sunday of Advent, Ad Te Levavi (Unto Thee do I lift up my Soul). As the rehearsal of this piece progressed, I found myself more and more stirred to track with the Gregorian chant proper of the same name.

The parallels between the chant Ad Te Levavi and the choral work were amazing! The melodic motives, lengths of phrases, and soaring melodic lines seemed to have been inspired by the chant. Perhaps most amazing was just one small point. At the text “non confundar” (to not be confounded), the choral work goes on for a great deal of time, constantly restating this outcry. When I looked at the ancient notation in the chant, under the word “non” was the letter X. In this particular notation, the letter X means “expectare” — to wait. I was amazed that at this moment in the chant, the indication was to slow down, lingering upon this text. The choral work did exactly the same thing!

Clearly, the composer of the choral work knew and understood not only the structure of the chant, but the truth contained within it. Without simply being a direct copy, the chant inspired a choral work to further explore the depth of the scripture which it so faithfully served.

The Community of Jesus







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Six Times Five Years

By Sr. Nun Other

Six Times Five Years At Lauds on Sunday, we celebrated The Feast of the Holy Cross. The bright, summer-remnant September day seemed out of sync with the singing of Good Friday’s traditional Latin Hymn. Perhaps the unfamiliar setting freed the words for new interpretation. I shed my usual somber Lenten reflections, newly fascinated by these translations:

Verse 1: Six times five years now completed, the time of the body fulfilled, choosing himself to be born for this, given over to the passion, the lamb on the cross is lifted, crucified on the tree. And from Verse 5, You alone were worthy to carry the ransom of all time, and, as a captain, to prepare a port for the shipwrecked world.

Think of it!  Jesus was just thirty years old — at least according to the hymn writer — when he shouldered the burden of a world gone wrong. His worthiness outshone my unworthiness, his courage outweighs my fear. The cross, no longer an instrument of death, glows as a symbol of unbridled life.

The Community of Jesus

O Happy Fault!

By Melodious Monk

Last Sunday, was the feast of the Holy Cross.  The Old Testament reading was a familiar story about Moses following God’s command to make a snake and place it on top of a pole for people to look in order to save their lives. But why a snake?  Why did God choose to have Moses’ people (and I dare say us today) look at the fiery serpent to be healed? The story is almost too simple to be true. The only thing the people had to do was go and look. For us Christians, perhaps we make our salvation more complicated then it needs to be. If I make the choice to go to the cross, to go look at the fiery serpent of my sin, and in so doing, realize that I need Jesus, I can live freely.

This 14th century poem by a Franciscan monk talks about this journey. He describes how marking ourselves with the sign of the cross is in a way like looking at the serpent and being healed. In having the courage to look at our sin, in the poet’s words, we are being giving a “shining bough,”  and with this bough comes an invitation to a joy-filled life.

How We Exalt the Holy Cross

There is a tree planted by God which we call Love.
You there, you I see up in its branches-
Show me where I can begin to climb,
that I might leave this darkness behind.

I climb so slowly that if I stop to speak to you
A puff of wind will blow me down.
I have a long way to go;
Indeed, there’s a hard struggle ahead.

The glory of the ascent, I know, is God’s, not yours,
But help me work free of this swamp-
If thanks to your aid I come to serve God
It will be you who has won me back for Him.

To the praise of God I tell you,
And as a friend,
That in fear of the Enemy
Was I led to this tree.

I looked at it in my mind’s eye
Meditated on it at length,
And burned with the desire
To climb that measureless height.

I could not even guess
How high the branches reached;
The trunk was straight and smooth.
I saw no place where I could get a hold,

Except for one branch
That curved down to the ground;
A poor despised little bit of a branch,
It bore the mark of humility.

was ready to climb when suddenly
I heard a voice; “Do not touch me
Unless you have first confessed,
Cleansed yourself of all mortal sin.”

Contrition flooded my heart,
I cleansed myself with confession
And with the help of God
Made satisfaction.

Coming back to the tree I felt fear and misgivings,
In anticipation of the exhausting effort;
I devoutly prayed to God for help,
For without His aid I could not climb the tree.

“Sign yourself with the sign of the cross,”
Said a voice that came from Heaven,
“And take hold of the shining bough,
A branch that is pleasing to God”

Brother Jacopone Da Todi, O.F.M.


Unburdening — Like The Rising Mist

By Renaissance Girl

I’ve always been intrigued by the verse in Genesis that says, “but there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” It puts this beautiful image in my mind of the Garden of Eden, colors alive with newness, in full bloom, and a fine mist hovering over it all catching the light. (I wonder if God gave a sneak preview of his rainbow).

I was up before the sun this morning — working on a project until it was time to take my dog out. I went a slightly different route than normal and arrived at the harbor around 6:30. The sun had just barely left the horizon, and was splashing the water with streaks of pink and gold. I stopped and my dog sat quietly. I turned my head to look towards the end of the harbor and there it was. Rising up from the water was a fine layer of mist, gently moving with the currents of air and rising to follow the sun. And, somehow, I felt some of my anxieties of the day lifting with it.

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Pay it forward!

What FUN it was to speak to a group of University music majors last week about the need to have some understanding of chant in order to work effectively in the world of sacred music! It was wonderful to see their reaction as we chanted together the Credo Cardinale (sometimes nicknamed the “Jazz Creed”), and the two-voice setting of the tune of O Come Emmanuel, which Mary Berry discovered some years ago in a 15th century Processionale. It was so clear that these young people had NEVER experienced chant like this!

As I watched their faces and listened to them chant, I noticed the face of my own composition teacher of thirty years past, who had offered me the invitation to come and speak to these students. He was as enthusiastic as they were! What a joy it was to see. In offering something that enlivened interest and enthusiasm to his current students, he, too, was enjoying their reactions. The choral director, also an old friend, said that this hour had opened his eyes to chant in a completely different way!

Through all of their reactions and responses, I could almost hear Mary Berry’s voice saying, “You must pass this on,” remembering how much she enjoyed seeing someone make a new discovery. I can only believe that this experience was a living reminder to me to pay forward all of the love, enthusiasm, knowledge, and sheer joy which she so generously gave to so many of us!

The Community of Jesus








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Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

By Sr. Nun Other

As a child, Pennsylvania born, I enjoyed warm afternoons under the shade trees in our yard. My sister and I would picnic on peanut butter sandwiches and watch the sky dance between branches. As an adult on Cape Cod, I gravitated toward sunny beaches and beautiful sunsets without regret; however, circumstances recently led me to a lawn chair beneath a cluster of oak trees. It was a fascinating experience, both the present reality and the memories it evoked. Two squirrels shared the space, swinging from tree limbs, juggling acorns, and chattering to one another. Perhaps they sensed my presence; one chunky fellow suddenly fastened himself head-down on a tree trunk. Flattened against the bark, a natural camouflage, he was all but invisible.

I sometimes do a human version of this disappearing act. I flatten myself against an inward wall, facial expression neutral, unreadable and unreachable, emotion and reactions restrained. While the squirrel was protecting himself from possible predators, I protect myself from the reality of who I am unfiltered. In so doing, I block my need for Jesus and His desire to transform my life.

The Community of Jesus

Uncontrollably Unabashed

By Melodious Monk

This past Sunday, our marching band was part of a parade celebrating the 350th anniversary for a nearby town. Marching down the narrow streets, I noticed a particularly happy group along the side of the road — young kids! It’s fun to see how the rhythm of the drums, or the sparkle of the uniform, or the sound of the instruments, the twirling flags, or just the sheer size of the long marching unit makes kids smile.

You know when a toddler or infant is excited and they just start flailing their arms and body with lots of energy and smiles?  They aren’t controlled enough yet to do much else, but when something inside is sparked to life, they respond with a type of dancing (of sorts!) and there is absolutely no care of what they might look like! Some of us older kids, I’m afraid, are often too embarrassed to follow this impulse to dance. We care what we look like, and perhaps we are afraid we might look like the uncontrolled toddler trying to dance. The young child doesn’t care about pride, or how they look — they’re just excited and want to express that innate joy. Marching in the parade, I wondered if this instinctive response to express, to dance, to let oneself be sparked by joy, is part of what Jesus means when He tells us to live child-like.

So I wonder, what form of control often robs me of this unabashed joy as an adult? Is it simply pride?

The Community of Jesus



By Renaissance Girl

I was thinking about God’s will, and the focus and discipline that it takes to see His vision and follow it no matter what. Focus and discipline are two words I do not say lightly, or with a lot of joy. I am just starting to be willing to believe that they are the avenues to spiritual freedom, although it takes every ounce of my energy to choose them over my desire for ease and independence.

And suddenly, I had a picture of a kaleidoscope. As if that is what it is to see God’s will. I have to narrow my scope, cut away the extra little plans I’m holding on to, and be willing to look through the small little hole.  Because each explosion of color and design that surprises you on the other side are more than worth it.

The Community of Jesus



Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Have mercy on me, O Lord

Miserere mei Deus, secumdum misericordiam tuam – Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to Your loving kindness. (Psalm 51). We begin the Divine Office of Lauds every Friday morning with this psalm. I was praying about what to write this week and then, quite gently, the antiphon for this psalm started going through my mind.

This particular antiphon, which is comprised of just the first three words of the first verse – Miserere mei, Deus – is a simple chant. It is made up of only three notes. Those three notes are the same ones we hear in the opening of “Mary had a little lamb” or “Three Blind Mice.” This is a chant I find myself unwittingly humming while running between activities!

I am amazed that this is one way in which chant becomes daily prayer. Not just sitting in the church, but going through the various activities of the day. It is so simple and child-like that the words which it upholds go through my mind without effort or even conscious thought. It is as though the chant is speaking to me and redirecting my thoughts back to God.

The Community of Jesus





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Gifts That Keep On Giving

By Sr Nun Other

Galations 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’d like to add one other: the fruit of beauty. Not just that achieved through man’s creative efforts, but the beauty of a soul transformed. I watched as hydrangeas outside our kitchen window passed through their cycle of life. From the first budding of leaves, to a radiant burst of blue, purple and pink, they quietly moved toward the delicate colors of fall, the petals no longer supple, more like lace that can be broken.

The Community of Jesus



By Melodious Monk

Today I woke up angry at God, wishing for another Labor Day, wanting to sleep more, and wondering why it was so humid again. Trying to rev up for the day, but still feeling a bit grumpy, I thumbed through a daily devotional by Hal M. Helms, stopping at today’s date.

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?       -Jeremiah 23:29

My word is like a hammer, breaking up the hardened crust of your heart. I want you to have a tender, feeling heart, able to be touched with the pain and sorrow of others. You have built up walls of deadness around your heart to protect you from pain and to avoid looking weak. Your weakness, My child, is My gift to you. Your strength is your rejection of that gift. There is a world of difference between your strength and Mine. I will show you that difference when this breaking and hammering have done their work. 

After a few slow breaths, and a silent Amen, I’m now ashamed to be angry at God. I have so much faith to gain. There’s a constant war inside. I say Amen to these words, and in the next moment fight to keep the crust of self-protection around my heart. I hate feeling weak. It makes me angry, aggressive and selfish.  But as Fr. Hal reminds me, the weakness is a gift from God, a loving force telling me it’s okay to not have it all together. I need to allow God’s Word to be the fire, strength, and comfort that it is meant to be.

The Community of Jesus

Merit or Mercy

By Renaissance Girl

I am one of those people that struggles not to live on a merit system. Time and time again, I compare myself with those around me, and evaluate who gets what, and why I don’t have what I think I deserve.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of the Community’s founders, Mother Cay and Mother Judy. I was too young to have taken in their teaching at the time, and it’s a gift to be able to hear their words — spoken to individuals who lived what they heard and became the founding generation of our Community.

There was a lot to take to heart, but one phrase stood out to me about my constant comparing.  In speaking about control, Mother Judy said “you negate Jesus Christ when you live according to a merit system.”

It seems so clear, but hearing it again had a fresh impact.  Why do I assume God’s role, and decide what I should and shouldn’t have?  And where does that leave space for the mercy and love of God?

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor 

Chant as Prayer

Looking toward the fall and the new school year, it seemed a good time to reflect on chant as prayer.

The following text is a short excerpt from Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant by Dom Jacques Hourlier. Based upon a series of college lectures from 1975 given at the Abbey of Solesmes, this excerpt is from a chapter entitled “Gregorian chant as Prayer”:

The statement that Gregorian chant is prayer has been repeated so often that it seems commonplace. Nevertheless, it is a profound truth, corresponding fully to the inner needs of our lives as Christian . . . {Chant} has a beauty which never wearies. Its originality and cyclical nature . . . help create the impression of something very dynamic – the public prayer of the Church.

Each Gregorian piece is an invitation to prayer. It nourishes that prayer day by day. It shapes the very depths of your being. At the same time, it bursts from your heart and lifts you, in mind and in heart, towards heaven. Is prayer supposed to be anything else? In the words of Auguste Le Guennant: “Prayer has become music.”          (pp. 10-12)

The Community of Jesus








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