Friday, December 31, 2010

The True Artist

I recently stumbled on a blog by Deacon Daniel Varholy, the president of the website Corpus Christi Watershed, and I am very much liking what he has to say. He is very sympathetic towards the heart of the artist - a kindred spirit, I suppose - and has some beautiful advice for us to keep in mind as we work, especially when we become discouraged by the ugliness of the world.

"True artists by nature are sensitive to beauty, and they seek to do something beautiful for the Lord as an offering to try to give answer to the problems of pain and sin that mar the beauty of creation. It is heartbreaking to witness pain and ugliness if we do not see with them a sense of redemption and hope. Yet it is precisely out of this cry of heartbreak that the Lord hears our prayers: 'The Lord hears the cry of the poor. | The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; | And those who are crushed in spirit he saves' (Ps 33: 19). "

To read the rest of Deacon Varholy's blog post, please click on the link below:

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Teachers

I recently purchased a collection of poetry by Robert Frost titled You Come Too, published in 1959. I intend to give it as a Christmas present, but before giving away the forward caught my eye. The forward is written by a man by the name of Hyde Cox, who as a young man was acquainted with Robert Frost. Cox has some passages and phrases that particularly caught my eye.

For example, as he describes his relationship with Frost, I couldn't help but recall a certain professor of mine. Going to a university, you take classes from a variety of teachers. Some are good, some are bad, some are fickle graders, lax graders, fair graders, etc. Some are dry, some are engaging. Each one has their quirks, faults, and virtues. But the best teachers, to me, are those for whom you especially want to apply yourself. These teachers care deeply about what they teach and about passing on their knowledge to the next generation. They want you to do well and they inspire you to give them your best. When my professor sees his students apply themselves and that they are serious about music and their studies, you are no longer just a student. You have earned his respect and are considered a colleague. Cox puts this far better than I do, however, when he speaks of Robert Frost:

"With certain people older than yourself you feel that something is expected from you that you cannot give. With [Robert Frost] it is otherwise. In his company you will find yourself giving forth the best you have in you. You are all attention. You feel that he is letting you in on secrets, and he is so natural a teacher that when he says 'You come too' you go willingly. When he teaches you something, he makes you believe that you thought of it yourself. He makes you feel that you knew it all along."

Poulenc's Litanies of the Blessed Virgin

This piece was performed by the University Chorale this semester and I found it so intriguing, I had to post it here. The Litanies a la Vierge Noire were composed by the French composer Francis Poulenc in 1936 after a friend and fellow composer died in an automobile accident. The circumstances under which Poulenc was composing this piece are quite apparent as one listens to its performance and reads the text. One can hear the composer grappling with death, grief, despair, and hope as Poulenc alternates between sharp dissonances and piercing harmonies. When I listen to it, it reminds me of the tragedies and horrors of the Second World War, which is why I posted an image of the railroad in winter at Auschwitz beneath the translation. I'm almost certain that when I see Auschwitz, Poulenc's Litanies will be sounding in my head. To listen to a recording, click on the link below.
Litanies a la Vierge Noire
1936, Francis Poulenc


Lord, have pity on us.
Jesus Christ, have pity on us.
Jesus Christ, hear us.
Jesus Christ, grant our prayers. 
God the Father, creator, have pity on us.
God the Son, redeemer, have pity on us.
God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier, have pity on us.
Holy Trinity, who are one single God, have pity on us. 
Holy Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Virgin, queen and patron, pray for us.
Virgin, whom Zacchaeus the tax-collector made us know and love,
Virgin, to whom Zacchaeus or Saint Amadour raised this sanctuary,
Pray for us, pray for us. 
Queen of the sanctuary, which Saint Martial consecrated,
And where he celebrated his holy mysteries,
Queen, before whom knelt Saint Louis
Asking of you good fortune for France,
Pray for us, pray for us.
Queen, to whom Roland consecrated his sword, pray for us.
Queen, whose banner won the battles, pray for us.
Queen, whose hand delivered the captives, pray for us.
Our Lady, whose pilgrimage is enriched by special favours,
Our Lady, whom impiety and hate have often wished to destroy,
Our Lady, whom the peoples visit as of old,
Pray for us, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, pardon us.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, grant our prayers.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, have pity on us.
 Our Lady, pray for us,
To the end that we may be worthy of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Great Antiphons of the Octave Before Christmas

If you have a devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours, you may find this intriguing - and even if you don't have a devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours, you may still want to read and learn a thing or two! The "Great Antiphons" also known as the "O Antiphons" (titled as such because each antiphon begins with the exclamation "O!" began this Friday. The Great Antiphons are seven antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, and are said during the octave preceding the vigil of Christmas. Each one of these antiphons addresses Christ by one of the titles given Him in the Sacred Scriptures. These antiphons are wonderful meditations to help us prepare for the coming of Christ. In the words of the great liturgist, Dom Gueranger, "Let us enter into the spirit of the Church; let us reflect on the great day which is coming; that thus we may take our share in these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, to which He at length yields."

The First Antiphon, December 17th
O Sapientia, qun ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; 
veni, ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, 
reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things sweetly 
come and teach us the way of prudence.

The Second Antiphon, December 18th
O Adonai, et dux dominus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti :
veni ad redimendum nos in barchio extento.
O Mighty Lord and leader of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush,
and on Sinai gave him the law,
come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

The Third Antiphon, December 19th
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur: 
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people,
kings stand silent in your presence,
whom the nations will worship:

come to set us free, put it off no longer.

The Fourth Antiphon, December 20th
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel,
who open and no one shuts, who shut and no one opens:
come and bring out the captive from the prison-house, 
him who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The Fifth Antiphon, December 21st
O Oriens, 
splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: 
vei, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra.
O Dayspring, 
splendor of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice:
Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death. 

The Sixth Antiphon, December 22nd
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, 
lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem di limo formasti.
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations,
You are the cornerstone that binds two into one.
Come, and bring wholeness to man whom you fashioned out of clay.

The Seventh Antiphon, December 23rd
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, 
exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: 
veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
Emmanuel, Our King and Lawgiver,
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For more on the Great Antiphons, please see Dom Mark Daniel Kirby's blog, Vultus Christi, and the blog New Liturgical Movement. The painting is Murillo's The Annunciation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beata - A Song from Heaven

God reveals himself through music in so many ways, from the magnificence of Mozart's Requiem or a Bach Cantata to the still, soothing melodies of chant. I'm just beginning to discover what a vast treasury of beautiful music the Church holds, especially for the season of Advent. 
Take, for example, the Gregorian chant Beata Viscera Mariae Virginis, so appropriate for the coming of the Lord on Christmas (read the Latin, then see the translation below). This particular chant, when sung by the skilled voices of the a capella choir, Chanticleer, is a gem among gems. This is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard and will ever hear this side of eternity. Please take the time to listen to the link that I have posted below: to be still, and to know that He is God.

Chanticleer, Beata (Plainsong).
Can be found on the album Chanticleer: Sound in Spirit released 2005.


Beata viscera Mariae Virginis,
quae portaverunt aeterni Patris filium.


Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary
that bore the Son of the everlasting Father.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

O Sleeper, Awake

Taken from a friend's former status on Facebook. This reminds me of the J.S. Bach Cantata Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme, which is based on Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25:1-13.

"I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated."

-Jesus speaking to Adam, an Ancient Easter Homily.

"The Valiant Never Taste of Death But Once"

During the fall semester, my school's drama department put on two one-act plays. Now usually the one-acts tend to be the highlight of the semester, at least for my friends and I, so I was very excited to see them. This semester they put on The Sniper and The Valiant. Both of them were very well done, and both had a priest as a key character. The Sniper was a dark story about how a poor man's losses during the evils of World War II drove him to despair and death, despite the urgings of his priest friend. The acting was quite good, but the story over all was very sobering and grim. The second one-act, The Valiant by Holworthy Hall and Robert Middlemass, also had a dark ending, but it was much more uplifting.
The Valiant takes place about a half hour prior to a murderer's execution. The scene opens on the Warden and the prison chaplain discussing the prisoner. Due to the amount of publicity this case has received, thousands of letters have been written and phone calls made asking who this man is. The two men decide to bring the prisoner to the Warden's office to try one last time to discover the man's identity. But the prisoner, James Dyke, is determined to take his secret to the grave. No one knows who he is or where he came from, and he plans to keep it that way. But as he waits his fate on death row, a strange young woman comes to the prison requesting to see him. As the Warden questions her, the audience learns that she has come with the hope of finding her long lost brother.
What struck me about the play was the main character, James Dyke. He is a fascinating individual. As the play unfolds, we learn that neither the hardened warden nor the gentle chaplain desire his death. There is no doubt that Dyke is guilty. However,not only does Dyke fully and unabashedly admit that he is guilty, but he also admits that he does not regret his crime. He truly believed that his victim deserved to die. He planned the deed well and executed it with precision. Dyke knew the consequences, and he is perfectly willing to live with them. As the warden and the chaplain speak with Dyke, you see Dyke's character, that he is a man of honesty, courage, and integrity. He is a tragic hero who does not seem to deserve such a fate. But Dyke is noble and heroic, unafraid to face death.
The arrival of the young woman, Josephine Paris on the scene proves even more Dyke's noble spirit. She is a beautiful young lady of pure spirit, determined that he is her brother. Dyke is sorry to disappoint Josephine, but throughout the conversation he shows her nothing but honor. Dyke denies that he has ever met or known her, but both characters derive a great deal of comfort and consolation from the few minutes they have together. Dyke has not seen a woman in several months, and towards the end of the visit, he gently requests that he might say good bye to Josephine the way he would say good bye to a mother or daughter. "I had forgotten how much women are like angels," he says softly.
The play concludes with a stirring line from Shakespeare as Dyke is lead to his death: "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once."

The Cloister Cemetery in the Snow

Monastery Graveyard in the Snow- Caspar David Friedrich, 1817-1819.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

J.S. Bach

"I thought this art was dead, but I see that in you it still lives." - Johann Adam Reinken to Johann Sebastian Bach after his audition in Hamburg at St. Jacobi's Church in 1720.