Saint Cecilia, patron of music

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Recycled from 2014

Today is the memorial of Saint Cecilia, an early Roman saint, virgin, and martyr of the Church. Briefly Cecilia was a vowed virgin who was married and wished to keep her virginity. She told her husband of an angel which he asked to see, and to which she replied he needed to be baptized. He did see that angel who spoke to him and gave him red roses and white lilies, as a reward for Cecilia’s love of chastity. Her husband Valerian then had his brother converted to the faith. When the prefect, Almachius, heard of the conversions he ordered them imprisoned and put to death. Cecilia’s tomb was found in 822 and her body incorrupt was transferred to a church bearing her name. The sculptor Stefano Maderno carved a sculpture of that body precisely as it was found when the cypress coffin was opened. It now adorns her tomb.

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of composers, music, musicians, musical instrument makers, poets, and singers. She is the patron of a few others, but these are the ones of interest to me. I think about her and music especially concerning liturgical music. I think of her as I think of a small debate goes on about that sacred music, and I think about the saint and those listed that she is the patron of. One of the arguments that is taking place regards the types of musical instruments fitting for liturgy. There are those that embrace the organ as the instrument of the church, and they feel that this instrument has a special place in the churches. I cannot argue that the pipe organ is strongly associated with liturgical music, but the limiting the instrumentation of the Church to that solitary instrument leaves me a bit divided. It is a grand instrument of the Church, and much sacred music has been composed for it.

 Saint Cecilia though would have never heard music from that instrument, the organ occurs in history probably 1000 years after her death. That is the part that leaves me divided. Cecilia is frequently pictured holding a lyre, and that instrument is related to the harp, and then the violin and guitar. Lyres and tambourines were instruments of the Old Testament. Plainsong and Chant were the foundation of early Christian music. The organ actually occurred late in the Churches musical history. I think of Saint Cecilia too when I think of continents that have no equivalent to that Church organ, but instead have their own assortment of musical instruments. I wonder, what is the traditional music for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? What are the musical instrument traditions of those devout Catholics in places like Korea, China, India, and the South Pacific?

When thinking of that patron saint of music, and instrument makers I do think of the roles of sacred and secular music, and I do think of how music should be applied to the liturgy. I also think of how it is misapplied. I wonder why it is that the popular styles of Church music are not played before and after the liturgy, and why plainsong and chant have diminished during the liturgy, and why the pipe organ fell out of favor for a time. I also wonder why the concertina, and the violin, and the renaissance recorders are used little during Mass, and why the folk guitar is so popular.

oud_frontI add the picture of the oud because it is the ancient instrument of the Middle East that eventually became the L’Oud, and then the Lute, and then the guitar. According to legend the instrument was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. String instruments have a long history in Middle Eastern cultures and religions. Ouds, harps of varying kinds, percussion instruments (doumbek), cymbals, tambourines, and wind instruments such as the Moroccan Oboe all play a part in religious celebrations. Arguably they are the original instruments of the Church. Some might have a spittle flecked nutty, but this is the modern guitars ancestry in the Church. For the lyrics, and style of the contemporary, that’s another story. 

Presentation of Mary

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Here is a recycled post from 5-years ago:

According to tradition the childless Joachim and Anne, received a message from an angel that they would have a child. In fulfilling a vow for the gift of their daughter, they brought the three year old Mary to the Jerusalem Temple so that she might be consecrated to God. Tradition tells that Mary remained in the Temple until twelve years of age, at which point she was assigned to Joseph as guardian. The tradition also says that she remained in the temple to be educated in her role as the mother of God. The presentation of Mary reemphasizes the holiness of Mary as Mother of God, an importance commemorated by the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This memorial of the Presentation of Mary celebrates Mary’s dedication to God from her infancy, through the Holy Spirit, who filled her with grace at her immaculate conception. Mary’s role as mother of God did not begin with the Nativity of Christ, it begins with her immaculate conception and was strengthened at her temple presentation. In presenting herself to God and accepting Gods plan for her, she was able to accept the annunciation and all that follows. In that she is the image of church, the new temple. Through the presentation she accepted and prepared for her role as Mother of God. In a sense this is the beginning of Mary’s Advent as presenting oneself before God is the first step to receiving the Christ of the Nativity. Advent begins in 16-days.

Peter and Paul (recycled from 2012)

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The celebration of these two disciples seems to be a fitting summation of this past weeks readings.  It was Saint Irenaeus who was instrumental in guaranteeing the Apostles gospel message received from Jesus was faithfully transferred to the following generations. It was Paul that delivered this message outside of his own culture to a gentile people eager to understand Jesus teachings.It was Peter who was first instructed to tend to Jesus’s flock.  I continue to notice that Jesus did not preach to only one group, or one nationality.He preached to all who were receptive to Gods word. The teachings applied to all, and I keep taking away the message that the underlying message was that God is available to all, that Jesus continuously opens up the God of the Israelites to all people.

Peter and Paul,”Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church..” Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter is the one that walked with Christ while Paul’s experience was with the Easter Christ. Peter started out as a disciple, yet frequently stumbled in his faith. He grew into the faithful preacher of the Gospel and defended the word with his life. Paul started out as a persecutor of Christianity ,”Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” . Paul ends up preaching and defending this teachings of Jesus.Peter and Paul start out in different paths, yet reach the same destination.They enter the narrow gate and follow the narrow path. Peter who delivers this message to its original and intended Jewish  recipients ; and Paul who also delivers the message to its intended Gentile people.

A gospel faithfully preached to all nations as Jesus intended. Paul who seeks Peters guidance in delivering this gospel to a people likely unfamiliar with Hebrew culture, and Peter who counsels his colleague.Most importantly Peter who accepts Paul as a disciple even though Paul originally was his persecutor.Just as Jesus continued to accept Peter though he denied him three times!  It is through these traditions that this message was delivered to me.It was made available to me as it was to members of all nations. It was delivered faithful to Christ’s teachings. It also rests on a firm foundation so that this tradition can continue.

the Epiphany of the Baptism of Jesus by John

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The feast the epiphany is such a powerful feast. Though Christmas is that big day that is celebrated commemorating the nativity, it many times is looked at as a birthday. If Christmas is that day of birth, it is the epiphany that marks the day of understanding who that Child in the manger was. That understanding is what makes the epiphany such a powerful day. Within the narrative of that day in conjunction with the nativity gospels, there is given so much information on discerning who that infant was. Though that  day frequently focuses on the magi, there are others who face their own epiphanies of who Christ is, and through the eyes of each of them, we too can get a glimpse of who the Christ child is. There are the eyes of Mary and Joseph, those of Anna and Simenon, the shepherds, and then also those magi. Each of those had their own epiphanies on who the Christ Child was based on their experiences and knowledge. To each of these God was manifested in an infant, they recognized God in a new life.

The next epiphany of who that child was, comes decades later at the baptism Of Jesus by John in the Jordan river. Here it is a crowd that hears “this is my beloved son whom I am well pleased.” With that thy don’t just see who Jesus is, but they also take an active part in Gods plan. With that voice of God, and the clouds parting, they truly know that God both recognizes them and is with them. At that baptism they are given that choice to listen and follow him. To think about Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, isn’t one also reminded just a bit of Moses at the red sea? Though God conversed with Moses, it was his followers that had to make the decision to follow him into the red sea, and emerge in a new freedom on the other side. That decision and commitment was as much about Moses followers as it was about Moses. The same is true when those Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the promised land; they could be led to that river but the decision was theirs to cross it. In looking at Jesus baptism, one can see Jesus taking on his ministry, and one can also see those in that crowd making a personal decision to follow him.

In the Baptism of the Lord, the epiphany that the disciples experienced is described in three events. They are the clouds opening, the spirit descending, and that voice of God speaking to them. With that they realized that God had not abandoned them, though with life as harsh as it was they had every reason to believe that he had. In that baptism their God had returned to them, and again spoke to them. That was a profound event that they were witness to. The baptism though is more than being witness. Johns baptism was also about repentance and returning to the Lord. These don’t simply speak of witness, but they speak of action. In witnessing that epiphany at the baptism they are called to change, and they are called to take action, and they are called to follow him.

In reading the accounts of this event, there is one other point that can  not be missed. In this scene there is the Father present as he says “this is my beloved Son”, there too is the spirit that descends in the form of a dove which is that same spirit that descends on creation, and then there is Jesus son of the Father. In this Epiphany the Trinity becomes manifest as one God with three distinct natures. It is the beginning of a new testament. The path that they are being called to follow is truly a new path. Epiphanies of God to the chosen people occur throughout the OT, the burning bush, in clouds, as a pillar of fire are a few examples. They are common enough that there is always the danger of glossing over the appearance of both the Spirit and the Father, while directing the focus on the Son. The danger of course is missing this appearance as an appearance of the trinity. It is so blatantly obvious, it might get lost in plain sight. To the writers, they were familiar with Gods presence in the clouds and heavens, and the spirit as a dove was equally common  to their faith. The revelation of Christ as Son of God, and the Son of God as flesh and bones was their epiphany. That is the Theophany. It is that Theophany which is the central teaching of Christian Faith, and this writing very much points towards that new faith and new direction. On one hand a person can think on a passage and meditate on all sorts of things. On the other hand these texts are the basis of a theology and dogma that is quite well-defined. Neither should be slighted. The catechism of the trinity, and of baptism do have their basis in the testament on the baptism of the Lord.

Theophany: a visible manifestation to humankind of God

>a repost from 2014

Holy Innocents

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At the time of the Nativity, they are those innocent children martyrs massacred by Herod, in his search and fear, of the Christ child. With them comes another Christmas revelation, and that is the Christian attitude towards Children. Herod’s actions two thousand plus years ago were nothing new, and in many parts of the world today similar mistreatment of children exist today. Might one of the messages of that first family be their attitude towards innocent children? Mary did after all say yes to that angel Gabriel and accepted her Son as the Savor. Joseph too decided against divorcing Mary, he listened to an angel and agreed to support her and her Child. Elizabeth accepted Jesus as Lord before birth. Jesus Christ in His teaching constantly asks that children come to him. While the Holy Family do see their Son uniquely as the son of God, Lord and Savior; I can’t help but wonder if that was not one of the characteristics of newborn Christians. Did they see hope and salvation through their children and the youth of the world. Was their view and attitude towards innocent children the exact opposite of those such as Herod? To look at today, is the Christian charism to raise children to their full potential as a  true means to give glory to God, and how does this contrast against those who view children as something to exploit? It is just one more thing to ponder while looking at that Nativity, when gazing on that Christ child. In looking at that Christ Child, can you see the promise of all children? That is part of the Christmas celebration, the celebration of children.