Thursday, December 31, 2015

Interfaith Days: Watch Night

This post concludes my year-long project: following the holidays of world religions, based on the calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis. I started this journey last year with this post, and I posted 117 short descriptions altogether. The DAP has already published its calendar of interfaith holidays for 2016. See all their work at their website,

Tonight, we look with hope to the new year. On the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Eve is a night of festivities and gatherings to welcome the new year. In some Christian churches it is also a occasion for a "watch night service," for confession, review of the just-past year, and prayers and resolution for the new year. John Wesley, for instance, began in 1740 what he called Covenant Renewal Services for prayers, readings, singing, and worship. The United Methodist Book of Worship has the liturgy for this service. Other churches have similar occasions.

Watch Night became important for African Americans congregations, as well, because slaves waited in churches on December 31, 1862, for the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect the next day. In this contemporary moment, when the call Black Lives Matter is raised around the nation, prayers for justice and liberation will take on all the more urgency this night.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For All the Saints: Thomas Becket

In Roman Catholic churches and the Anglican communion, Thomas Becket is honored today, the anniversary of his assassination. he was born in 1119 or 1120, and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1164. That same year, King Henry II acted to achieve a lessened connection of the English church to Rome and also less clerical independence. He was able to gain the consent of all the higher clergy of England---all but Becket. Over the course of the next few years, Becket still would not give his formal consent, and when Henry expressed his frustration aloud---one version of what he said is, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"---four of the king's knights took the words as an order to kill Becket, which they did at Canterbury on December 29, 1170.

Becket was canonized quickly, by 1172, and his reputation as a faithful servant and martyr grew through the years. The poets Alfred, Lord Tennyson and T.S. Eliot and the dramatist Jean Anouilh wrote plays him. A famous quotation from Eliot's play (Murder at the Cathedral) comes from Becket's struggles with pride and right motives.

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tamir Rice Grand Jury

A few articles today about the Tamir Rice case. Twelve-year-old Tamir was holding a toy gun on a Cleveland, OH playground when a police officer shot and fatally wounded him. The grand jury announced today that no charges would be filed against the officer and his partner. The prosecutor argued that the law favors officers who must decide quickly if their lives are in danger or not. Here is a story about the announcement:

Here is the story in The Atlantic:

Here is a powerful observation by Charles Blow, from last January, in his NYT piece:

Here is an NPR piece about the way such cases are handled: "[S]ince Ferguson, there's been a growing sense that the real conflict of interest is higher up — at the level of the local prosecutors.For prosecutors and grand juries, the decision to charge a cop is different from deciding whether to charge a civilian. There are good legal reasons for this — after all, cops are allowed to shoot people, if circumstances warrant. But ...'Prosecutors do not seem to approach police shooting cases the way that they approach ordinary shooting cases'…"


And a story about the boy's family:

And yet another thought-provoking essay:

And… a good article that argues "there never was a war on cops"

A Year's Music: Finzi's "Dies Natalis"

In this post a few years ago, I wrote about the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). There, I quoted a music critic who wrote,  “Finzi’s music is rooted in the tradition of Elgar and his lifelong friend Vaughan Williams. It was his response to words, however, that gave his music is particular individuality, resulting in music that seems inevitably to mirror the essence of the poet’s thoughts.  As in … Thomas Hardy, a sense of urgency can be felt in the music reflecting his keen awareness of life’s frailty. A further preoccupation wash is believe that adult experience tarnishes the innocent wonder of childhood."

I love "Dies Natalis", a cantata for solo soprano or tenor and string orchestra. The four texts, which follow a beautiful orchestral introduction, are by the 17th century Metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne. Here is a lovely performance of the piece:
Good ol' Wikipedia provides the texts:

Will you see the infancy of this sublime and celestial greatness? I was a stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys: my knowledge was divine. I was entertained like an angel with the works of God in their splendour and glory. Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator's praises, and could not make more melody to Adam than to me. Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world than I. All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. All things were spotless and pure and glorious.

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The green trees, when I saw them first, transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things.

O what venerable creatures did the aged seem! Immortal cherubims! and the young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! I knew not that they were born or should die ; but all things abided eternally. I knew not that there were sins or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. I saw all in the peace of Eden. Everything was at rest, free and immortal.

The Rapture
Sweet Infancy!
O heavenly fire! O sacred Light!
How fair and bright!
How great am I
Whom the whole world doth magnify!

O heavenly Joy!
O great and sacred blessedness
Which I possess!
So great a joy
Who did into my arms convey?

From God above
Being sent, the gift doth me enflame,
To praise His Name.
The stars do move,
The sun doth shine, to show His Love.

O how divine
Am I! To all this sacred wealth
This life and health,
Who rais'd? Who mine
Did make the same! What hand divine!

How like an angel came I down!
How bright are all things here!
When first among His works I did appear
O how their glory me did crown!
The world resembled His Eternity
In which my soul did walk;
And every thing that I did see
Did with me talk.

The skies in their magnificence
The lovely, lively air,
O how divine, how soft, how sweet, how fair!
The stars did entertain my sense;
And all the works of God, so bright and pure,
So rich and great, did seem,
As if they ever must endure
In my esteem.

A native health and innocence
Within my bones did grow,
And while my God did all His Glories show,
I felt a vigour in my sense
That was all Spirit. I within did flow
With seas of life, like wine;
I nothing in the world did know
But 'twas Divine.

The Salutation
These little limbs, these eyes and hands which here I find,
This panting heart wherewith my life begins;
Where have ye been? Behind what curtain were ye from me hid so long?
Where was, in what abyss, my new-made tongue?

When silent I, so many thousand, thousand years
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie, how could I smiles, or tears,
Or lips, or hands, or eyes, or ears perceive?
Welcome, ye treasures which I now receive.

From dust I rise and out of nothing now awake,
These brighter regions which salute my eyes,
A gift from God I take, the earth, the seas, the light, the lofty skies,
The sun and stars are mine: if these I prize.

A stranger here, strange things doth meet, strange glory see,
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange, all, and new to me: But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.

Interfaith Days: Holy Innocents

In Christianity, this day commemorates the Holy Innocents, the tragedy recorded in the Gospel of Matthew where King Herod orders the killing of all the young male children in and around Bethlehem in order to slay Jesus. Matthew uses the story (which apparently has no historical evidence apart from the gospel account) as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and it connects the baby Jesus to the baby Moses, who also escaped a similar massacre. This is also a day of commemoration on Western church calendars; Orthodox churches commemorate the Holy Innocents on December 29th.

This site gives some of the historical information about the day.

Tomorrow (December 29, 2015) is also the 125th anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee, another kind of slaughter of innocent persons.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

For All the Saints: John the Apostle

In the Western Churches, John the Apostle is honored today. He is honored on May 8th in Orthodox Churches. He was one of Jesus' twelve students, brother of the apostle James, and son of Zebedee and Salone. Traditionally, he is said to be the only of the apostles to die a natural death. Also by church tradition, he is considered the Beloved Disciple of the Gospel of John, and also the author of that account, as well as other New Testament writings. The Roman Catholic site has this nice account of John.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

For All the Saints: Stephen

Today is St. Stephen's Day in many Western Churches; in many Eastern churches, his day is tomorrow. Stephen is considered the first martyr of Christianity, according to the Book of Acts; he was executed on a charge of blasphemy after he gave a lengthy speech about biblical history and Jesus (Acts 7). Another significant thing about his speech and death is that Saul of Tarsus, whose story is also told in Acts, was nearby. He was also among the first deacons selected to serve the needy of the church. St. Stephen's Day is a public holiday in several countries.

The site of Orthodox Saints adds: "According to holy tradition, the martyrdom of St Stephen occurred exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His body was taken and secretly buried by Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhendrin and secretly a Christian.

"Saint Stephen's relics were discovered by the priest Lucian in 415 following a vision. They were translated to the church built for them in Jerusalem by the Empress Eudocia, and later taken to Constantinople."

Interfaith Days: Kwanzaa, Zarathosht Diso

In the Zoroastrian religion, today is Zarathosht Diso, the anniversary of the death of the prophet Zoroaster. It is a day of prayers, along with discussions on and remembrance of the prophet's life. This site provides more information.

Today is also the beginning of Kwanzaa, the pan-African celebration created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in 1966-1967. As the official site indicates, "As an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world African community, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense." Here are the seven core principles of Kwanzaa:

Friday, December 25, 2015

Interfaith Days: Christmas

Of course, today is Christmas (from "Christ's Mass"), or Christmas Day, the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, and is the beginning of Christmastide, the twelve-day period following. This site provides historical information about the holiday and its development.

I've posted this sermon selection in previous years: "Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

"No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no person free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he received the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

"In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown humankind.

"And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God's goodness, what joy should it not bring to lowly hearts?

"Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh... Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom."

(From a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, I, Advent Season and Christmas Season, pp. 404-405. I made the language inclusive in three places.)

A Year's Music: RVW's "Hodie"

Hodie Christus natus est: hodie salvator apparuit
(This day, Christ is born: Today the Savior appeared)

I got up early this morning to listen to this piece, one of my favorite works by Ralph Vaughan Williams. He composed the cantata "Hodie" in 1953 and 1954, his last major choral work. (He died in 1958.) The cantata is in sixteen movements. The text blends biblical texts about Jesus' birth with poetry by Thomas Hardy, George Herbert, John Milton,   Ursula Vaughan Williams, William Drummond, and other texts. This site provides most of the texts, while this site, a doctoral thesis, gives detailed analysis of the work.

Here is the work on YouTube. I particularly love Milton's poem, "It was the winter wild" (at 8:42 on this video), and Herbert's poem, "The shepherds sing" (29:26).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Old Sears Wish Book

When I was ten in 1967, I got the notion that I wanted to save that year's Sears Christmas catalog "for posterity." I was a nerdy kid, interested in science but more interested in history than I realized. Partly aided by the fact that my parents rarely threw anything away, I managed to keep the catalog all these years, although I hadn't seen it lately. It reappeared this past summer when I sorted boxes in our basement storage room.

How interesting to look at the prices of things: board games were around $3, construction toys 8 to 10 dollars, talking dolls about $10, men's suits about $30, an 18-inch TV about $120. I found this site which features several representative pages. That year, the catalog was Dennis the Menace themed. After I placed this picture of the catalog on Facebook, a classmate commented she had fallen in love with a big toy collie in that same catalog and had begged her parents for it. I found it on page 582 and shared the picture with my friend.

I leafed through the pages and smiled at the different clothing styles, especially the 60s women's dresses. I wondered whether I'd recognize any of the toys I might have gotten for Christmas that year, and I'm guessing I got the chemistry set and the microscope. From this site, I see that 1967 was the last year the catalog was called the Christmas Book; in 1968 it officially became The Wish Book, as it had been informally called for years. Enterprising preservationists have scanned several vintage catalogs for their site

For as long as they were produced, the big semi-annual catalogs from Sears, Penney's, Montgomery Ward, and other stores were enjoyable for many of us. But the Christmas catalogs were especially thrilling for generations of kids. Although A Christmas Story's Ralphie didn't reference the Wish Book, his joyful declaration about Christmas expresses humorously the feeling many of us had when the catalog came: "We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice." What a wonderful, shared cultural experience of searching the pages of toys, games, and other treasures in advance of Santa's arrival!

Interfaith Days: Tenth of Tevet
In Judaism, today is the Tenth of Tevet, a fast day. It commemorates the 6th century BCE events at the end of 2 Kings, when Nebachadnezzar II of Babylon besieged Jerusalem and ultimately destroyed the First Temple and conquered Judah. As this site indicates, "More recently, 10 Tevet was chosen to also serve as a “general kaddish day” for the victims of the Holocaust, many of whose day of martyrdom is unknown."

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Year's Music: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Continuing until Advent 2016, I plan to listen each week to at least one musical work with some sacred or spiritual dimension, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline.

These past few days I've been listening to Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248), but it's a piece I enjoy all year, at least sampling among the several numbers.

In December 2013 and January 2014 I wrote on this blog about Bach's Advent and Christmas cantatas. Wonderful as these are, we've even more Bach seasonal music in the oratorio, which was written for the 1734 season. The six sections are for each of the major feast days from Christmas to Epiphany: Jesus' birth, the annunciation to the shepherds, the shepherds' visit, Jesus' naming and circumcision, the Magis' journey, and the Magis' adoration.

I forget when I first listened to the piece, probably the Decca LP set with Karl Münchinger conducting (Peter Pears, tenor, Helen Watts, alto, Tom Krause, bass, Elly Ameling, soprano). I've always loved the sound of the opening words: so German!

Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage
(Shout for joy, exult, rise up, glorify the day!)

But I also particularly love the alto aria in Part II, "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniesse der Ruh" (Sleep now, my dearest, enjoy now thy rest), as well as other numbers.

Here is the whole piece, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, who is such a master at Bach performance and scholarship:

The Bach Cantatas site has a lot more information about the pice, as does good ol' Wikipedia.

For All the Saints: Procopius of Vyatka

I found an interesting saint, honored today on the Orthodox calendar: Saint Procopius of Vyatka, Fool for Christ. What a calling! That site reads:

"Saint Procopius, the son of devout peasants, first feigned madness to escape a marriage that was being urged on him. He spent his life in the streets half-naked, slept wherever night overtook him and would never accept the shelter of a house. He used signs to make himself understood and never spoke a word, except to his spiritual father, with whom he would converse normally as a man in possession of all his faculties. When he was given an article of clothing, he wore it for a while out of obedience and then give it away to someone poor. When he visited the sick, he set fire to the beds of those who were going to get better, and rolled up in their sheets those who were going to die. He made many predictions, often by means of disconcerting prophetic signs, whose meaning became clear with the event. He spent thirty years in foolishness for Christ and, having foretold his death, fell asleep in peace in 1627." (Synaxarion)

Interfaith Days: Yule

Today is Yule, or Yuletide, originally a Germanic festival connected to the god Odin and also the Anglo-Saxon festival Modraniht. Some of the festival's aspects, notably the Yule log, entered into Christian observance of Christmastide, and the word "yule" has entered into other languages (e.g., Jul in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) in connection to the holiday.

In modern Neopaganism and in Wicca, the festival centers on the winter solstice. This site, for instance, gives several aspects of the Wiccan observance. This site is also informative.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

For All the Saints: Katharina von Bora

In Lutheran churches, Katharina von Bora is honored today, the anniversary of her 1552 death. Born in 1499, she was educated in monasteries and became a nun, but she became interested in the reform movement and asked Martin Luther for help in fleeing the monastery. Luther did so, and in fact, Luther soon married her (1525). They lived at a former monastery where Katharina administered the continuing business aspects of the facility, including a hospital and a brewery. She had six children by Luther, three of whom grew to adulthood, and they also raised four orphans. She survived Luther by six years and led a a turbulent, eventful life. She is said to have declared on her deathbed, "I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth." See also this site and this site.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

For All the Saints: William Lloyd Garrison, Maria W. Stewart

On the Episcopal calendar, two prophetic voices are honored today. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was the editor of the famous abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, which began in 1831. He was a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. During his career he faced death threats and mob violence as he continued to call for "immediate emancipation" of American slaves. After the Civil War, he continued a long-time interest in women's suffrage.

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1880) was a former domestic servant who became a prominent African American journalist and lecturer. She was the first African American woman to make public lectures and first American woman to speak to a mixed audience of whites and blacks and women and men. Garrison's newspaper published her pamphlets. She was also a leader in women's suffrage.

Monday, December 14, 2015

For All the Saints: John of the Cross

On Western Christian calendars, St. John of the Cross, O.C.D., is honored today. This Spanish friar and priest lived from 1542 till 1591. He was a significant figure in the Counter-Reformation, including his reforming work for the Carmelite Order. He and St. Teresa of Avila founded the Discalced Carmelites mendicant order. Suffering privation during his life and also imprisonment, he therein found the love of God which he expressed in hundreds of poems, some of which are classics of Spanish literature. The phrase "dark night of the soul" originates from the poem of that title, which traces the soul's journey to God. His other works include Ascent of Mount Carmel, and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul. He is considered one of the "doctors of the church," those who contributed significantly to the church and its theology. Salvador Dali's painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross is based on a drawing by St. John.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Year's Music: Hovhaness' Magnificat

Continuing until Advent 2016, I plan to listen each week to at least one musical work with some sacred or spiritual dimension, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline.

This morning, our pastor preached on Mary and the Magnificat. Over the weekend I've been listening "Magnificat," by a favorite composer, Alan Hovhaness, about whom I write here.

This site, describing the recording to which I'm listening, provides information about the piece, for instance: "Hovhaness shows us another side of his spirituality in 'Magnificat,' of which he says 'I have tried to suggest the mystery, inspiration, and mysticism of early Christianity in this work.' His blend of Eastern and Western styles allows him to suggest the Near Eastern and Orthodox elements of early Christianity in this music, which is as haunting, as mesmerizing as we’ve come to expect from Hovhaness – perhaps even more so with its chant-like vocal lines."I particularly love the "Gloria" section at the end.

Here is a recording of the piece, on YouTube:
There are many other Magnificats in music, and I hope to get to others during the upcoming year.

For All the Saints: St. Lucy

On nearly all Christian calendars, today is the day St. Lucy (in Italian, Santa Lucia) is honored. Wikipedia provides many of the kinds of celebrations of St. Lucy's Day, including Scandinavia and Italy. One of the eight women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass, she was about twenty when she was martyred, circa 304 in Syracuse, during the Diocletian Persecution. The earliest accounts of her life are from the 400s, Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea. By the Middle Ages, legends developed that her eyes were  gouged out (or that she removed her own eyes) prior to execution, but that her eyes were miraculously restored when her body was taken for burial. The legends implicitly connect eyes with the Latin word for light (lux, plural luces) and her name, as does the prayer at this site:

Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation -- every corner of our day. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

For All the Saints: Karl Barth and Thomas Merton

Two significant and prolific Christian thinkers are honored on some church calendars today, the anniversary of their deaths. They both died on the same day, in fact, December 10, 1968.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) is close to my heart because I did my doctoral dissertation on his theology, and I visited his hometown and grave this past summer. He was a Swiss Reformed theologian who began as a pastor. Discouraged by the popular liberal theology of his time, he wrote a commentary on the letter to the Romans, Der Römerbrief (1919, revised 1922), which unexpectedly propelled him to the center of theological discussion. His "dialectical theology" developed through the 1920s and early 1930s, and during the 1930s he was also a leading voice against Hitler and National Socialism. Ordered to leave Germany, he returned to Switzerland and, aided by his assistant and companion Charlotte von Kirschbaum, he embarked on his magnum opus, the Church Dogmatics (1933-1962), at over 9000 pages one of the longest works of systematic theology.  

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was born in France, his father was from New Zealand and his mother from the states. His mother died when he was young, and his somewhat absent father also died, and subsequently, Merton lead a life of travel and discovery, with some dark chapters of drinking and womanizing, for instance, during his Cambridge years. He came to the U.S. to study at Columbia, and the cultured and interesting but still lost young man developed an interest in Catholicism. Eventually that interest led him to become a priest and monk at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. He wrote an autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain (1947) that became an unexpected best-seller. He was passionate about spirituality, monastic practice, prayer, art, world religions, and social issues. Although he died accidentally at the age of 52, he wrote many books of theology, essays, literary criticism, and poetry, as well as private journals that were eventually published. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Interfaith Days: Bodhi Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception

In Roman Catholic Christianity, today is a holy day of obligation, celebrating the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to this doctrine, Mary was conceived without original sin. The doctrine has long been held but was finally defined dogmatically in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

Today is also Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday commemorating the attainment of enlightenment by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. After years of seeking enlightenment (bodhi) he found it through meditation, awakening to the truth after 49 days of meditation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

For All the Saints: St. Ambrose

All the church calendars this week honor St. Ambrose on this day, December 7th. The Orthodox site that I use tells us about Ambrose:

"….Brilliant and well-educated, he was made a provincial Governor in 375 and took up residence in Milan. In those days, the Arian heresy was still dividing the Church, despite its repudiation at the Council of Nicaea in 325. When the time came to elect a new Bishop in Milan, the Orthodox and Arian parties were so divided that they could come to no agreement on a new Bishop. When Ambrose came as Governor to try to restore peace and order, a young child, divinely inspired, called out 'Ambrose, Bishop!' To Ambrose's amazement, the people took up the cry, and Ambrose himself was elected, though he tried to refuse, protesting that he was only a catechumen (it was still common in those days to delay Holy Baptism for fear of polluting it by sin). He even attempted to flee, but his horse brought him back to the city. Resigning himself to God's will, he was baptized and, only a week later, elevated to Bishop. Immediately, he renounced all possessions, distributed all of his money to the poor and gave his estates to the Church. Straightaway, he entered into a spirited defense of Orthodoxy in his preaching and writings to the dismay of the Arians who had supported his election. Soon he persuaded Gratian, Emperor of the West, to call the Council of Aquilea, which brought an end to Arianism in the Western Church…

"Saint Ambrose, by teaching, preaching and writing, brought countless pagans to the Faith. His most famous convert was St Augustine (June 15), who became his disciple and eventually a bishop. Ambrose's many theological and catechetical works helped greatly to spread the teaching of the Greek fathers in the Latin world. He wrote many glorious antiphonal hymns which were once some of the gems of the Latin services…."

With Gregory the Great, Jerome, and Augustine, Ambrose was one of the four original "doctors of the church" as first declared in 1298. He is the traditional author of the Te Deum hymn and is credited for bringing Eastern hymnody to the Western church.  

A Year's Music: Schütz's "Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi"

Dresden's Frauenkirche.
Schütz was buried in
the previous church.
Continuing until Advent 2016, I plan to listen each week to at least one musical work with some sacred or spiritual dimension, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline.

The past few days I've listened again to Heinrich Schütz's "history of the birth of Jesus Christ," or simply, The Christmas Story. Schütz (1585-1672) of Dresden was a teacher of many composers and is regarded as the greatest German composer prior to Bach. His Christmas story, which probably premiered in 1660, is a lovely little piece (about 40 minutes long) which weaves together texts about Jesus' birth from Luther's Bible translation. The composer uses the tenor Evangelist the role of narrator, as Bach did later in his own work. This essay gives a good account of the background and character of the piece, concluding that once we've ODed on traditional holiday fare, it would be good to give time to music like this!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Interfaith Days: Hanukkah
This year Hanukkah begins tonight (December 6) at sundown and continues until Monday, December 14. The festival commemorates the Maccabean Revolt of the Israelites over the Syrian Greek army in 165 BCE and the subsequent restoration of the Jerusalem Temple---including the miracle that a single vial of oil, enough for a day, lasted for eight days. It is not a major Jewish holiday and the commemorated events happened after the period of the Tanakh. The Judaism 101 site, which includes more information about the holiday's background and observance, includes this comment: "Chanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar."

For All the Saints: St. Nicholas

On most if not all Christmas liturgical calendars, today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. It's also on my
Interfaith Calendar from . I wrote about Nicholas last year:

Friday, December 4, 2015

For All the Saints: John of Damascus

Here's another saint honored on both Eastern and Western (including Protestant) calendars, the Syrian saint named John of Damascus. He was born in 675 or 676 and died on December 4, 749 (or 760, according to this site). He is honored by Catholics as a Doctor of the Church, as a strong defender of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the Eastern Church commemorates his defense of icons. He was a skillful theologian and also a skillful poet, writing hymns that are still used, for instance, in Orthodox Pascha services. Before his service as a monk and priest, he had been a civil servant for the Muslim caliph in Damascus.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Year's Music: Vaughan Williams' "The First Nowell"

Continuing until Advent 2016, I plan to listen each week to at least one musical work with some sacred or spiritual dimension, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline.

When Advent arrives, this piece is typically the music that I play first! There is a little bit of nostalgia associated with the piece.
During the early 1980s, I was just beginning to become devoted to Ralph Vaughan Williams' music. That was also the time when Beth and I were engaged and making plans. Sometime in 1983 or 1984, I shopped a favorite used vinyl store in Carbondale, IL and found an LP of RVW's "nativity play," The First Nowell. One of his final works (not quite finished, in fact, at his death in 1958), the piece uses traditional English carols composed together to form the Christmas story. Roy Douglas completed the score and the piece premiered in December of that same year. The sections are:

1. Prelude. God rest you merry and The truth from above
2. The Sussex Carol
3. Gabriel's Message (Angelus ad virginem)
4. Salutation Carol
5. Gabriel's Message
6. The Cherry Tree Carol
7. As Joseph Was A-walking
8. O Joseph Being an Old Man
9. In Bethlehem City
10. Bring Us in Good Ale
11. On Christmas Night (Sussex Carol)
12. The Shepherd's Farewell ("Tidings true there be come new")
13. How Brightly Shines the Morning Star
14. The Procession of the Kings to Bethlehem
15. The First Nowell

I purchased that used LP and cherished it for years. It is a Musical Heritage Society release from 1973 (MHS 3262, LCCC: 75-750825), not a record company release. The Choir of Calvary Presbyterian Church of Riverside, CA and the Pro Musica Orchestra are the performers. I could find no other LP recordings of the piece, and this was at the very beginning of CDs. I actually belonged to that record club in the 1980s and 90s, but this recording was no longer available through the club. So, knowing I might not find another copy, I took gentle care of the LP, played it every Christmas, and still have it. But now, the piece can be found on two CDs by other orchestras and choirs.

I like the recording on the Chandos label, with Richard Hickox conducting the City of London Sinfonia, and the Joyful Company of Singers. That CD has two other premieres: a string-and-organ arrangement of the already-well-known Fantasia on Christmas Carols, and a never-before-recorded masque, On Christmas Night, that tells the Dickens' Christmas story. There is also a recording on the Naxos label, which I've not yet heard.

For All the Saints: Francis Xavier

Honored today on both Roman Catholic and Protestant calendars is Saint Francis Xavier, SJ (April 7, 1506-December 3, 1552). He was co-founder of the Society of Jesus, was thus a friend of Ignatius of Loyola, and was among the first seven Jesuits who took their vows in 1534. Canonized in 1622, he is known as a missionary to Asia. See:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For All the Saints: Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford
Since this past All Hallows' Tide (a time of remembering the saints of the church), I've been writing briefly about persons who are honored on different liturgical lists. A "saint" can mean someone formally canonized by the Roman Catholic church, or any servant of God who became historically memorable.

On the ELCA liturgical calendar, four women martyred in El Salvador are honored today, the anniversary of their deaths. Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. (b. 1939), was an American Ursuline Religious Sister and missionary to El Salvador. Sister Maura Clarke, M.M. (b. 1931), lay missionary Jean Donovan (b. 1953), and Sister Ita Ford, M.M. (b. 1940), were beaten, raped, and murdered by members of the El Salvador military on December 2, 1980. The soldiers were tried and convicted, and the US-supported El Salvadoran government was brought into world scrutiny. The day before, Ford had quoted in her conference talk a passage from Archbishop Óscar Romero: "Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive - and to be found dead."

Monday, November 30, 2015

For All the Saints: St. Andrew

In many churches, both West and East, today is the feast day of St. Andrew. The Orthodox saints site has this to say about Andrew:

"He was the brother of the Apostle Peter, from Bethsaida on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Andrew left his fisherman's trade to become a disciple of St John the Baptist. Soon after the Forerunner had baptized Jesus, he said to Andrew and his other disciple John the Theologian, 'Behold the Lamb of God!' At this, both disciples followed after Jesus. After conversing with Christ, Andrew hurried home and told his brother Simon Peter, 'We have found the Messiah.' For being the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ, St Andrew is called the First-Called.

"After Pentecost, Andrew was appointed to preach the Gospel around the Black Sea and in Thrace and Macedonia, traveling as far as Lazica in the Caucasus. According to Slavic tradition his travels took him even further, into the land that was later to be called Russia.

"In later travels the Apostle preached throughout Asia Minor with St John the Theologian, then traveled to Mesopotamia, then back to Sinope on the Black Sea, and finally to Patras in the Peloponnese, where he soon established a large community of Christians. One of his converts was Maximilla, the wife of Aegeates, the Proconsul of that region. Aegeates was so angered by his wife's conversion that he had the Apostle arrested and crucified head downwards on a cross in the shape of an 'X.' The holy Apostle rejoiced to be allowed to suffer the same death as his Master.

"The holy relics of St Andrew, after various travels, were returned to Patras in 1964, where they are now venerated.

"In the West, St Andrew is venerated as the patron of Scotland: in the Middle Ages, more than eight hundred churches in Scotland were dedicated to him."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Interfaith Days: Advent Sunday

On the Christian calendars, today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and also the Sunday following the Feast of Christ the King. It is the first day of the liturgical year.

Advent, in turn is the Western Christian season of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. "Advent" comes from adventus, a Latin translation of the Greek parousia, all referring to the arrival of Christ, both as a baby at Christmas and as the returned Messiah in the future. The Advent season implies expectation both for the Christmas incarnation and for Christ's eventual return.

In the Eastern Church, the season does not begin the liturgical calendar in the same way, and in many Eastern churches, the Nativity Fast has already begin.

I love to observe Advent Sunday as the beginning of the Christian year. I've written about it several times on this blog, for instance:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

For All the Saints: Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was honored yesterday by the Lutheran Church and today by the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. An English theologian and hymn author, he wrote about 750 hymns. Although churches of his time used biblical poetry in worship services, Watts developed a style of original hymns (poetry) noted both for theological appropriateness and genuineness of emotions. He also set the biblical Psalms into meter that could be sung by congregations. Some of his many hymns still hung include "Joy to the World," "Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove," "O God, Our Help in Ages past," "When I survey the wondrous cross," "Alas! and did my Saviour bleed," "I sing the mighty power of God," and others.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Year's Music: Rachmaninoff's Vespers (All-Night Vigil)

What a lovely piece! Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye in only two weeks in January-February, 1915. With the Russian Revolution two years later, the piece became a line drawn between an earlier and later era of Russian religious life. The title means All-Night Vigil but has also been translated Vespers and Vesper Mass. In Russian churches, all-night services are held on the evening of holy days, and (from my reading about this piece) although Rachmaninoff was not a church attender, he was influenced by church music and considered this piece one of his best compositions. Largely based on chant, a notable aspect of the piece is the fifth section, "Nunc dimittis," where the basses descend to the low B-flat two octaves below middle C.

I don't remember how I learned of this piece, but now I listen to it frequently---the music is so lovely and evocative! I am listening to the Telarc CD with a performance by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers conducted by Robert Shaw himself. Here is another performance, from YouTube:

Here is the Russian text and English translation:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

For All the Saints: St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, the saint of musicians, is honored today in the churches like the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox. Historical information about her is less abundant than legends, but she was probably martyred, in either the 2nd or 3rd century. It was said of her that she "sang in her heart to the Lord." Because of her association with music, musical events have traditionally happened on November 22, her feast day, and composers like Purcell, Gounod, Britten, and Finzi, among others, have written music to St. Cecelia. Here, for instance, is a piece by Handel:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

For All the Saints: John Merbecke, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis

On the Episcopal calendar, three musicians are honored today. John Merbecke (c. 1510- c. 1585) is known as the writer and musician who provided musical uniformity for the first Book of Common Prayer. His work was rediscovered and published in the 1840s, and again in the 20th century.

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585), was another English composer. His choral music has been widely anthologized. Although Roman Catholic, he was able to find favor among succeeding 16th century monarchs because of his stylistic adaptability. One of his melodies was made famous by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his piece Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Tallis worked with the younger composer William Byrd (c. 1539 or 40 - 1623). Byrd wrote Catholic as well as Anglican sacred music. Among other pieces, his three masses are available on contemporary recordings.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Year's Music: Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time"

News of terrorism in Paris, debates concerning international help for Syrian refugees, and concerns about justice for African Americans in this country, reminded me recently of the oratorio A Child of Our Time, composed by the British composer Michael Tippett (1905-1998). I haven't listened to it for several years and wanted to again.

Tippett wrote the piece in 1939-1941 in response to Kristallnacht, the anniversary of which was earlier this month. Tippett was a pacifist who went to prison during World War II, and some of his message of non-violence and reconciliation are part of this work, which also expresses solidarity with oppressed and homeless peoples of the world.

The title, which Tippett borrowed from a novel Ein Kind unserer Zeit, refers to the refugee boy Hershel Grynszpan, whose shooting of a German diplomat precipitated Kristallnacht, that 1938 Nazi persecution and destruction of Jewish communities. In the oratorio, the boy symbolizes Grynszpan as well as victims of inhumanity generally. Interestingly, Tippett uses American spirituals in sections where a composer like Bach or Handel would have used chorales. The spirituals further convey the themes of oppression and liberation. Tippett, who wrote the libretto as well as the music, also incorporated Jungian themes of shadow and light into the piece, notably in the third section where conclusions are explored; the other two sections had dealt with the sad state of the world and the plight of persecuted peoples, and the attempts at achieving justice. The final piece is a spiritual, looking to a final redemption:

Deep river, my home is over Jordan,
I want to cross over into camp-ground, Lord!

The Wikipedia page, from which I found much of this information, details the oratorio's composition and performance histories, as well as providing a list of the individual numbers.

I've been listening to the recording (on the Chandos label) by Richard Hickox conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with black soloists. There are classic recordings by Sir Colin Davis as well. Here is a performance by the BBC Choral Society on YouTube:

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Year's Music: Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony

During the upcoming year I plan to listen to a variety of works that I broadly call "sacred"---classical church-related pieces, or ones that are otherwise deeply spiritual. This week I'm listening to a piece for the first time: Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 "Kaddish." I remember inspecting the LP at a record store when I was in my teens or early twenties, probably the version conducted by the composer himself. Instead of that disc, I purchased Bernstein's Mass, a long-time favorite which I write about here. This is a new recording of Kaddish on the Naxos label, by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestral conducted by Marin Alsop, and the Washington Chorus directed by Julian Wachner, with narration by the actress Claire Bloom.

The kaddish prayer is, of course, the Jewish prayer for the dead, though the prayer itself contains no reference to death but instead refers to life and the praise of God. This symphony (Bernstein's third of three) was completed and premiered in 1963 and dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy. Bernstein subsequently revised the piece, but Alsop returns to the first version. An unusual symphony, unlimited by the form's conventions, the piece begins with a wordless chord cluster from the chorus and, shortly, a spoken invocation in which the speaker (originally stipulated to be for a woman) addresses God. She wants to pray a kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, but she wants to pray it for herself, lest there be no one later to pray for her. At this point, the chorus enters, singing words from the prayer itself.

After the first movement, the speaker returns in the section called "Din-Torah"---a Jewish legal judgment---in which she accuses God of violating God's promises to humankind.

"Are You listening, Father? You know who I am:
Your image; that stubborn reflection of You
That Man has shattered, extinguished, banished.
And now he runs free—free to play
With his new-found fire, avid for death,
Voluptuous, complete and final death.
Lord God of Hosts, I call You to account!
You let this happen, Lord of Hosts!
You with Your manna, Your pillar of fire!
You ask for faith, where is Your own?
Why have You taken away Your rainbow,
That pretty bow You tied round Your finger
To remind You never to forget Your promise?

"'For lo, I do set my bow in the cloud ...
And I will look upon it, that I
May remember my everlasting covenant ...'
Your covenant! Your bargain with Man!
Tin God! Your bargain is tin!
It crumples in my hand!
And where is faith now—Yours or mine?"

(This is from the Bernstein website; all the lyrics and spoken words of the symphony are found here.

But in a little while, the speaker returns in a more conciliatory mood, and the soprano soloist sings a gentle melody to God, as if singing God to sleep. In the sections of the final movement, the speaker describes the kingdom of heaven to God, and subsequently depicts a dream to God, challenging the sleeping God to believe in her vision. Finally, God and humanity are affirmed to be in covenant with one another, with God needful of humanity as humanity is needful of God.

"O my Father, Lord of Light!
Beloved Majesty: my Image, my Self!
We are one, after all, You and I:
Together we suffer, together exist,
And forever will recreate each other.
Recreate, recreate each other!
Suffer, and recreate each other!"

The concluding choral fugue and final chord are dissonant, suggesting continuing effort rather than resolution. The Bernstein website provides a more full summary and analysis of the piece, here.

The Kaddish Symphony anticipates Mass both stylistically and in terms of subject matter. The three short sequences that begin the piece remind me of motifs in Mass, and at one point, when the speaker breathlessly says, "Amen, amen…" my mind filled in the words of Mass' celebrant, "a'm in a hurry and come again…." The themes of the questioning of faith and the possibility of a rediscovered or reconfigured faith is certainly the driving force of that later, longer piece.

An interesting interview of conductor Alsop appeared in the September 2015 issue of Gramophone magazine (pp. 52-53). She cites a Bernstein lecture in which the composer was "convinced that the first word ever uttered was sung, the substructure of all language…So having the chorus begin like this [the wordless chord that commences the symphony] was very important to him. The song without words. And language only gradually emerges."

Alsop notes, "The journey of this symphony, from atonality toward totality symbolized a huge issue for Bernstein…in this piece atonality becomes a symbol of crisis, an erosion of fundamentals and of faith, while tonality symbolizes unity and hope." She points out the choral cadenza in the Din-Torah section, in which eight sections of the shores have their own tempos. "'Din-Torah' is really about ambiguity… the choral cadenza is really an anticipation of the cathartic breakdown in Mass, when the celebrant shatters the chalice." But after this, the speaker speaks amiably, as if her shaky faith found solace---and a renewed covenant----in giving God comfort.

Interfaith Days: International Day for Tolerance

Today is the International Day for Tolerance, a United Nations interfaith observance that affirms tolerance as a basic principle for respect, rights, and well-being among cultures and nations. This site provides background on the day, established on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), so this is the twentieth anniversary of the day. See also:

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For All the Saints: Albertus Magnus, Francis Asbury, George Whitefield

My very first experience teaching at the college level, was the year I served as a teaching assistant at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT (1981-1982). At the time it was still a women's college. On the Roman Catholic calendar, that school's namesake, Albert the Great (1206-1280), is honored today.  This site , no longer available, had this: "Students of philosophy know him as the master of Thomas Aquinas. Albert’s attempt to understand Aristotle’s writings established the climate in which Thomas Aquinas developed his synthesis of Greek wisdom and Christian theology. But Albert deserves recognition on his own merits as a curious, honest and diligent scholar…. His boundless interests prompted him to write a compendium of all knowledge: natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics…[He] is the patron of scientists and philosophers."

On the Episcopal calendar, Francis Asbury and George Whitefield are honored. Asbury (1743-1816) was one of the first two Methodist bishops when the movement was founded as a denomination in 1782. He worked for many years as a leader and preacher of the church. Whitefield (1714-1770) was an Anglican preacher who helped spread the Great Awakening in the British colonies and, although Calvinist rather than Arminian in his outlook, was associated with the Methodist movement.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Year's Music: Ginastera's Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta

I like the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), as I write about here. A while back, I ordered a 2003 CD on the Guild label, "Oratio: 20th Century Sacred Music from Spain & Latin America," with Carlos Fernandex Aransay conducting Coro Cervantes. I'll probably write about some of the other pieces eventually but this time I listened to Ginastera's piece based on selected texts from the biblical book Lamentations. The CD notes indicate that many of the pieces are informed by the Spanish experience of Civil War, while Ginastera's was a response to the composer being removed from his teaching position during the regime of Juan Peron. While temporarily in the U.S., the composer wrote this piece, which the CD notes calls "a true symbol of the Zeitgeist of of a century which has ended with as many musical and social uncertainties as those with which it began."

I began to write this before the news of the Paris terrorist attack of Nov. 13th, and today (the next morning), the piece, and the book of Lamentations, seems fitting for the uncertainties of our present time.

"O dos omnes
O, all you who pass this way; behold and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. For the Lord has afflicted me, as he said in the day of his raging anger. See, Lord, I am troubled, my bowels writhe in anguish, my heart is turned within me, for I am full of bitterness; abroad the sword destroys, and at home is death. For that reason I lament, and my eye pours down water for the consoler, who may renew my soul, is taken from me. My sons are desolate, for the enemy grows is victorious. You persist in fury and you crush those under the heavens.

"Ego vir vivens
I am the man who sees my poverty under the rod of His indignation. he has led me away and suspended me in darkness, where no light is. he has made my skin and flesh old. He has broken my bones. He has put me in dark places like those long dead. But whenever I cry out and plead, He shuts out my prayer. And I said my strength and hope have perished because of the Lord.

Remember, Lord, what has befallen us, look and consider our disgrace. Turn us back to you, Lord, and we shall come back; renew our days as in the beginning. You, however, O Lord, will remain forever; your throne through the generations."

(Ginastera's text is in Latin, but this English translation and a Spanish translation is provided in the CD book.)

For All the Saints: Samuel Seabury

In the Anglican and Episcopal traditions, Samuel Seabury is honored today, the day of his birth in 1729. (He died in 1796). He was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, and the first Bishop of Connecticut. He attended Yale College and is honored at my alma mater, Yale Divinity School, with a wing on the campus' north side. He was a noted Loyalist during the Revolution, and was imprisoned for a short time at the war's beginning, but he was loyal to the new nation afterward. He helped develop the Anglican liturgy for the North American church.

In the Orthodox church, today also commemorates the Apostle Philip, Jesus' follower who figures in John 1, as well as other passages.

Seabury Wing at YDS is on the left by the leafless tree. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Year's Music: Durufle's Quatre Motets

I'll use this for the series;
Similar to the way some of my Facebook friends post "daily days of gratitude" during particular times of the year, I've been writing series of blog posts as focused spiritual disciplines. Having projects like these keep me depending upon God through the days and weeks, when life's busyness and emotional struggles like bereavement might get me off track from God's goodness. In 2014, I listened to all 196 extant sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach, on or near the Sundays and special days for which they were written, and I wrote about them on this site. In 2015, my series has been the holidays of world religions. My new series, begun this month and continuing till All Saints Day 2016, is saints and special people of the church.

I plan to do an additional series, beginning today, on sacred music. I'll listen to at least one sacred work each week and write about it---again, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline. Lord willing, I'll continue this series until Advent 2016, when I'll be in sight of my sixtieth birthday. "Sacred" is a broad term, usually meaning classical religious music: I'll probably write mostly about those, but I'll delve into other styles, as well.

My first post is about a short piece that I always love to hear again and and again: Maurice Duruflé's Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op 10 (1960). My daughter and her choir in Ohio performed these pieces, so I also associate them with my love for her. A few years ago, I wrote about the piece here.

As this site indicates, "Duruflé shows his particular genius for invoking the spiritual element of plainsong in a polyphonic context, achieving a suppleness of rhythm alongside strong characterization of each text. Ubi caritas et amor flows freely and syllabically in a meditative fashion, while Tota pulchra es (for high voices) is lighter and more sprightly, yet soft and feminine. Tu es Petrus is a rousing and optimistic work, the churches’ foundation on the rock of Peter being indicated by the building of the motet on its canonic opening to a strong and sturdy final cadence. Tantum ergo returns us to the meditative, wistful style… [and] the concluding ‘Amen’ settles as a sigh on this group of motets, crystallizing as they do the essence of Duruflé’s considered, yet inspired musical language." Emily's choir often sang that first piece (words from this site):

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the
World without end.

Here is another choir, The Cecilia Consort, performing the motets in a nicely unhurried way:

For All the Saints: Mother Cabrini, John Chrysostom

Today the church honors Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian-American sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. This order supported Italian immigrants to the U.S. After she arrived in America in 1889, she soon began to organize schools and orphanages for immigrants, and eventually also hospitals. She founded 67 institutions altogether. Although Elizabeth Seton was the first native-born American to be canonized (1975), Cabrini was the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized (1946). See also this site.

John Chrysostom, early Church Father who died in 407, is honored on several days: in the Catholic and some Lutheran Churches, in September, and in some other churches in January. In Orthodox churches, he is honored today. Chrysostom was an Archbishop of Constantinople and is considered among the great Church Fathers. He wrote commentaries on several biblical books, along with nearly 1450 sermons and 240 epistles.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

For All the Saints: John the Merciful

An interesting saint on the Orthodox calendar today: John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, who died in 619. He puts me to shame as an example of generosity and lovingkindness, so I copy some information about him here, to remind me later.

As the Orthodox calendar that I've consulted indicates: "On the day of his elevation to the Patriarchate, he ordered a careful census of his 'masters,' as he called the poor and beggars. It was found that there were 7,500 indigents in the city, and St John ordered that all of them be clothed and fed every day out of the Church's wealth…. His lack of judgment in giving to the poor sometimes dismayed those around him. Once a wily beggar came to John four times in four different disguises, receiving alms each time. When the holy Patriarch was told of this, he ordered that the man be given twice as much, saying 'Perhaps he is Jesus my Savior, who has come on purpose to put me to the test.' Still, the more generously he gave, the more generously God granted gifts to the Church, so that money was never lacking either for the poor or for the Church's own real needs. One of the clergy once gave only a third of what the Patriarch instructed to a rich man who had fallen into poverty, thinking that the Church's treasury could not afford to give so much. Saint John then revealed to him that a noblewoman who had planned to give an enormous gift to the Church had, shortly thereafter, given only a third of what she originally planned.

"Once, when he was serving the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral, the Patriarch stopped just before the consecration, instructed the deacon to repeat the litanies, and sent for one of his clergy who bore a grudge against him and would not come to church. When the man came, the Patriarch prostrated himself before him and, with tears, begged his forgiveness. When they were reconciled, he returned to the altar and proceeded with the service."