The first time chant roused my senses occurred on a 5 day Ignatian Silent retreat. I remember being entranced by the music—the repetition, the words, the rhythm. We were allowed to sing only for Mass and during the Stations of the Cross. It was a small chant from the ecumenical Taizé community that mesmerized me as we walked in the candlelit night from station to station. I remember singing it to myself over our winter break and in the weeks after.
What was this Taizé community? I researched Taizé online and, to my surprise, was bombarded with YouTube videos and hundreds of songs from the community located in the Burgundy region of France. I ordered two of their CDs online and soon listened to nothing else.
I grew more and more in my love for anything monastic: silence, routine prayer, chant, the Divine Office. I began starting my days with silent prayer, going to daily Mass and listening to chant rather than my usual list of Top 40 Hits. The music had a way of easing my heart, elevating my soul, transporting me to a higher world. I remember telling my bewildered roommate once as I got ready for the day, “You just don’t hear music like this anymore. This brings you to contemplate something bigger than yourself!”
I continued to intersperse monastic spirituality into my days throughout the rest of my college experience and thereafter. While in Paris the summer after graduation, I stopped into the Church of St. Gervais for evening vespers and got lost in the beauty of the chanting of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, an order which entered the old church in white robes that glimmered underneath the stained glass windows. From there, I spent a week at the Taizé community I had come to love. My spiritual quest continued that summer after I flew back to the United States and spent a month at a Benedictine monastery who chanted the Divine Office in Latin. The music became the breath and heartbeat of my prayer life, an easy medium through which I could converse with God. The chants enabled me to praise and thank God with phrases that frequently came straight from Scripture, giving me words often better than my own and breathing new life into Word of God.
Gregorian chant takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose feast we celebrate today. Though historians argue over his precise role in the history of chant, Gregory the Great has been named a Doctor of the Church—joining St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Gregory, who entered a Benedictine monastery in Rome and eventually became an abbot, was the first pope to be elected from a monastery. During his life, he founded 6 monasteries on his estate. Though Gregory’s association with Gregorian chant is disputed, his love of the monastic life cannot be. (American Catholic)
I can’t help but connect with Gregory’s monastic background; and I understand his love of it. I spent much of my summer after graduation as a pilgrim or guest at several spiritual havens because my soul yearned to spend time with God amidst nature, the sacraments and routine prayer. The music and chant were the glue that held these beautiful pieces together during my journeys—adding an almost mystical quality to my prayer life. As a result, I learned what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess. 5:17). The words of chant often stuck in my head, I learned how to sing, to pray, unceasingly without ever having to open my mouth. Chant has a way of ingraining itself into your very heartbeat.
We can learn much from the monastic life, which has guided thousands of men and women like Pope Gregory the Great towards holiness. By incorporating silent prayer into our days, we are better able to dialogue with God. I invite you this week to start or end your day with 5 minutes of silence in the presence of the Trinity. Rather than asking God for anything, try instead to simply thank, praise or accompany Him. Below is a link to one of my favorite songs from the Taizé community. May it help you in your journey towards praying unceasingly.
I remember the day, many years ago, that my pastor came around to the fifth grade classrooms wanting us to sign up for the training for altar servers. He explained that it was a tradition in our parish for the fifth graders to begin assisting with this important liturgical role. Most of the class eagerly signed up and we embraced our new role with gusto. Despite only being 10 years old, we knew that we had an important role to play in the Mass by assisting with the celebration of it. Throughout my time in grade school, I developed a love of serving at Mass. I found that through being involved in the liturgy, I grew in appreciation for the ceremony and tradition that surrounds Mass. I learned the parts of the Mass and was taught firsthand by the priests why we do the things we do at liturgy.
Fast forward 13 years after I first began altar serving, and I am still an active altar server at a basilica in my city. I am fortunate that the staff of the basilica has been extremely supportive of my involvement as an altar server. There is a camaraderie among the liturgical ministers that I have found to be one of the many benefits I have gained from my time as an altar server, and one of the reasons I keep coming back each weekend. Women in the Church today are becoming more involved and fulfilling more leadership roles. We are a crucial voice in today’s Church, and it is important to recognize and appreciate the role women play in the liturgy.
Every time that we go to Mass we must recognize that just the simple act of celebrating the Mass takes place because of the efforts of lectors, musicians, cantors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, sacristans, servers, and countless others. Each of these liturgical ministers finds joy in the role they fulfill at Mass. I encourage you to consider volunteering at your own parish! In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Each time we go to Mass we are given the chance to connect with Christ on a personal level. We bring Him our joys and sorrows, we listen to Scripture, and we become one with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Being involved in liturgical ministries is a way to bring a new dimension to your personal experience of Mass. By serving in various roles at the liturgy, we can come to Christ in a more intentional way.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
There are many places in life where we find joy. Often times, I find joy in my family – going home for holidays and being with the people that I love the most. I find joy in my friends – a second family that arguably knows me best. I find joy in my work – encouraging others to support an institution that means so much to not only me, but also to the Church in the United States.
When I think of my Catholic faith, I can only think of joy. This was especially evident during the election of Pope Francis when I saw the entire world rest its eyes on our Church. It gave me great joy to answer people’s questions about my faith, help them to learn more about what it means to be Catholic, and strengthen my own faith. Joy in our faith can be found in a variety of different contexts.
The one place where I find the most obvious joy, however, is within the hymns and songs of praise that are sung so beautifully in churches throughout the world. Over this past Triduum and Easter Sunday I heard magnificent music that brought people to tears.. One thing which astounds me every time I attend Mass is that it doesn’t matter if you can sing or not – liturgical music is meant to be sung by anyone. The entire congregation is meant to join in and sing their praise to God. You can see visually the people around you either belting their notes or perhaps listening intently to those around them. Whichever way one chooses to participate, there is no doubt that you can find Joy within the music both sung and played.
One of the things I like to do immediately upon entering a pew is to figure out what hymns are going to be sung as the processional and recessional. If I don’t know the hymns, I try to hum the notes to myself in an effort to learn before the music starts. When the organist starts playing, I am transported – if only for a few brief moments – to a place of Joy. The people singing around me are all focused on one thing: praising God, saying thank you for giving us this day, and joining together to start off their week on the right foot.
As I was writing this post, I stopped to go to Mass in downtown Washington, DC. Again, the music chosen immediately brought me into the moment. Each liturgical season brings with it an amazing group of hymns. Everyone I’ve spoken to have their favorites, especially at Christmastime. As for me, I’m a sucker for Easter hymns. Whatever the case may be, liturgical music has a way of bringing us closer to God in so many ways. Next time you’re at Mass, take it in – notice that everyone around you is all focused on the same thing: praising God and thanking him for giving us this day.
What’s my favorite hymn? Too many to choose from, but I’ll leave you with this beautiful piece of music that I think anyone can appreciate – especially when you least expect it.
Chris Pierno is the Media & Marketing Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 25, 2013
My entire life I have always had a yearning in my heart to become a teacher, and this summer was the beginning of that dream becoming a reality. I spent all summer soaking up every classroom management technique I was given, as well as learning the best ways to make math fun for secondary students. I entered the classroom in August, and I realized that implementing those tools was nothing less than difficult. I pray that my students learned half as much from me as I learned from them. Although this job is not easy, my students inspire me to wake up every day and teach them something about translating algebraic expressions, but even more so, about love and the goodness of life.
However, my teaching cohort met at the end of the semester to pre-plan for January, and we were reminded that inspiration is not enough to do this work. We need passion and drive to see us through this work so that we may do it well. Every. Single. Day. One professor challenged us saying, “Your teaching is a song. What song gets you going every single morning and keeps you going throughout the day? The week? The month? The year?”
I realized that our faith, too, needs a song. We need an Advent Song – a gift from the beginning that continues to fuel us throughout the day, the week, the month, the year. As Advent comes to a close, we celebrate the joy of Christ’s birth, but after that, will we continue to live our Advent Song each day?
In yesterday’s Gospel, we learn of Mary’s Advent Song – “The Magnificat.” She sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” (Luke 1:46-47). Her life was exemplified by this song. If you read beyond today’s Gospel, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, also sings out, “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people” (Luke 1:68). Each sing of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, which we know endures forever.
As you reflect on the close of this Advent season, transitioning into Christmas, ask God what song will keep your heart burning and returning to him throughout the year. What will help you know the Lord each day and what will help you give Him to others? What song will fill you with joy so that you may also sing with Mary and Zechariah?
As Advent comes to a close, know of my prayers for you: that you may find your Advent Song and sing God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout the year long.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington DC.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resource Page!
This past Sunday, we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Christ. This Advent season also signals the beginning of the liturgical New Year. Now, I’m the kind of girl that has been secretly listening to Christmas Carols since mid-November (with headphones and lowered volume so no one knows my secret!) so Advent is one of my favorite times of year. As a little girl, I loved the buildup to Christmas and loved helping my mom prepare our house for the torrent of annual Christmas events. From decorating the tree to baking cookies, I loved it all.
When we were little, my mom modeled an activity we did in school, placing an empty manger on our mantle with a bowl of straw. She explained to my brother, sisters, and me that Advent was about preparing for Christ’s birth and we had to prepare a comfortable crib for him by filling the manger with pieces of straw. She encouraged us to do kind things for those we knew and when we did to place a piece of straw in the manger. Throughout Advent we delighted in finding ways we could add more to the manger. The one rule that she had was that we could only place straw in the manger quietly, without bragging of our good deeds to each other, and we had to decide personally what qualified to place straw in the manger. The straw grew and grew and by Christmas the manger was full, ready for Christ. Although this activity seems small in the hustle and bustle of the Advent season, it taught my siblings and me a lot about what the season was really about.
Even as children, my mom strove to make sure that while we could get involved and excited about preparing for Christmas, we had to understand the true meaning behind the season. Advent, she always explained, was about preparing for the coming of Christ and not simply getting excited for Santa to visit. While we celebrate Advent and Christmas in many different ways, the important thing to remember is just how miraculous the Incarnation truly is. The miracle of the Incarnation is that Christ was made known to us in human form, to ultimately sacrifice Himself for us.
While this time of the year has many stresses as we try to prepare for all that is expected of us, keeping the “true meaning of Christmas” in mind throughout Advent is a good habit to get into. As you begin this Advent season, I encourage you to take some time to remember what we are preparing for. The selfless love that Christ demonstrates is what we celebrate this Advent season. Take a moment to step back and reflect on how you can prepare yourself for His coming.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
For more information, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Advent Resource Page!
When I was 12 years old, my favorite movie was Godspell, a fantastic 1973 version of a Broadway musical based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. My family knows the songs and performances so well, and in Church we will look at each other and pantomime what the actors do in the movie. Usually, this makes us look like goofballs, but honestly, it has given me a better and long-term understanding of these important parables and gospels. Needless to say, today’s Gospel is featured in the film, and I know it well.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matt 5: 13-16
This gospel is full of insights to help us understand how to live out the light of Christ in our lives. Think about it. We are the salt of the earth. We, filled with faith in God, are the salt with which all delicious food is seasoned! If we are not adding flavor to the world and sharing our faith, we will become like dirty road salt under cars and feet. We are called to love as Christ loves, to show that we have not only heard the Word of God, but are now going out to season the world with our faith. Likewise, we are the light of the world! Light illuminates the darkness, so how do we illuminate the world around us? In a world that can be so dark at times, what comfort and support do we give to others? How do we exemplify the love of the Father through us? Christ calls us to not only shine our light before all, but illuminate the world and give our all, to all.
Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have spoken about the necessity to brighten all corners of the world with our light of faith. The New Evangelization is helping to renew the flicker of faith in our hearts, transforming them into raging and unstoppable flames. As Pope Francis says in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, “once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim….We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.” We must remain on our lampstand, careful not to slowly drift under bushel baskets. We can avoid dimming our light by attending Mass frequently to hear the Word and receive the Lord, confessing our sins regularly with a priest, discussing and asking questions about our faith to learn more fully, going outside of our comfort zones to reach those in darkness, and, finally, remaining true in our love and compassion to imitate Christ’s own life. We are the Light of the World, so let’s go act like it!
Krissy Kirby is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Early Childhood Education.
Alleluia! Doesn’t it feel great to be able to exclaim that again? After forty days of restraining ourselves from singing it either as part of a hymn or before the Gospel reading was proclaimed, we are finally permitted to once again raise our voices in this superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Soon-to-be Saint John Paul II boldly announced, "We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song,” and as such, how can we keep from singing?
On Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Easter, the most important liturgical celebration of the year. So grand, so significant is Easter that each Sunday of the year is a reflection of this feast to some degree. Each and every holy sacrifice of the Mass, though, is a memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection (cf. CCC 1330). It is important, then, to realize what sets apart the celebration of Easter from the rest of the year, apart from the colorful dresses and elaborate dinners that have become traditional for this time of year.
On Good Friday, Jesus Christ, the Son of God sent to ransom the world for our sins, hung on the Cross and, after three hours of agony, “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (Jn:19:30). Though Jesus had warned His followers of His necessary death, they were unable to understand what He was saying and were utterly shocked at what finally happened outside Jerusalem’s walls on that dark day. What a turn of events from when that very city had joyfully embraced Christ’s entrance only a few days earlier! Separated from their teacher and friend, and struggling to deal with the chaotic incomprehensibility of that Passover weekend, the disciples of the Lord locked themselves in the Upper Room of their Last Supper, fearful of what awaited them outside and in the future. Imagine their surprise, then, when Mary Magdalene burst into their presence and breathlessly announced that Jesus’ body had been taken from where it had been laid. Immediately, Peter and “the beloved disciple” ran to the tomb of Jesus, not prepared for what awaited them. What comes next would alter both their and our lives forever.
Jesus was dead. There was no doubt about that. The news that Jesus was not in His tomb must have inspired those two disciples with a much needed measure of hope, if not curiosity and wonder, as they boldly ran through the streets to see the sight for themselves. Jesus’ Resurrection was unprecedented, that is, totally and radically new— no one had ever been raised from the dead like this before! Though they were not yet able to fully express, let alone comprehend, what had happened, the disciples would have had their hearts aflame with the news, a combination of joy, relief, praise, excitement, comfort, and hope that needed to be shared with the other followers of the Risen One.
Upon their return to the Upper Room, Peter and the beloved disciple, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women with her, become the first evangelizers— proclaimers of the resurrected Christ to the world. Here we find the origins of the Resurrection language Christians used two millennia ago and continue to speak through today. As part of the New Evangelization, we too are called to share the Good News of Christ’s victory over death with everyone, friends and family, peers and enemies alike. It is impossible (if not selfish) to keep such wondrous news to ourselves— we need to share the joy and enthusiasm of the disciples as they gradually began to recognize the significance of the Resurrection, initially in the empty tomb and later through their encounters with the living Jesus. How, then, can we ever become complacent in our celebrations of Easter? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we anticipate Christ’s first coming into the world with carols, treats, and gift-giving. Easter is so much more important! As the Catechism states:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ’s works and teachings. All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised… The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (651, 654)
It is often said that without Easter there would be no Christmas (Or Good Friday). This day celebrates the most important event in all of history, when our lives were changed forever. Now living in the promise of eternal life, we are called to obey Christ’s great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt: 28:19) This isn’t confined to the octave of Easter (which is technically an eight-day celebration) or one liturgical season, but each and every moment of our lives, through our thoughts, words, and actions. The Resurrection of Jesus is not merely a moment in time, but the very definition of time itself. No matter how dark or painful our lives may seem, we can find comfort in the joys of Easter and carry the spark of that day each day of our lives, to be shared with all. Let us cry out in song that Christ has been raised from the dead: Alleluia!
Thomas Wong is a student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
"The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death" (Porta Fidei, 13)
Death is often something that we do not like to discuss, especially in the context of the New Evangelization. These two concepts might seem like they don’t mix well, but I hope to show how they are. It is quite natural that we try to deflect the topic of death and dying and why we do not want to face the reality of a difficult situation. But, when death comes into our lives we have no control and it is something that we must handle. After the wake and the funeral are over, and the family goes home, the void is sill there. The sense of loss does not want to go away and it seems like we cannot move on from the loss.
On March 7th, I went though this pain for the fourth time this past year with the passing of my paternal grandfather and namesake. I lost two grandfathers, a cousin, and a close family friend who I consider more like an uncle. Each of these individuals have greatly impacted my life and I would not be who I am without them. Recently I have done a lot of reflecting on what these lives have meant to me. Time and time again I go back to the number of lessons that my grandfathers' have taught me. They taught me some of the classics like fishing, a love for music and art, gardening and the importance of a good cup of British Tea or Italian coffee.
But it was not these lessons that are the most import that matter. These two men also taught me the importance of family, tradition, love, and faith. My maternal grandfather was a great lover of music; he was singer and a violinist. He introduced me to the Masses written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi. Through his love, he showed me how music can represent a love for God and his creation. Music has come to affect my life and how I pray to God. He broadened my horizons and taught me about musical tradition that dated back centuries, and his love for this went far beyond the music itself. It helped one transport oneself to become close with God. My paternal grandfather taught me two different aspects of faith: a devotion to Mary and the importance of service. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease, which caused great pain and eventually an almost complete loss of memory. There were only four things he could remember before he passed away; his brother, his wife (my grandmother), his personal motto, which was “great and grateful no matter what”, and how to pray the Hail Mary. His devotion to the Blessed Mother was a quiet one. His service to others was like his devotion, a quiet one. He was just as happy serving on a board of trustees or picking up trash at the church picnic as long as it helped others.
On the night before my paternal grandfather's funeral, one of our parish priests began the prayer vigil. He offered a short reflection on what this meant and there was a part of it that has stuck with me. This young priest said that our relationship with the dead was not over, but rather was changed. The relationship was now through the eternity of Jesus Christ. Our faith teaches us that Christ connects us regardless of time and that life continues after death. The New Evangelization is a reminder of this hope and comfort. Pope Emeritus Benedict got this right in Porta Fidei, it is the joy of love that conquers death and gives us hope. This hope is found in our faith, and fills the void from the loss. While the sting of death will always be present, it is Christ, who walks with us at every step, who takes away the sting and returns our capacity to love one another.
Pat Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Midnight Mass. As a student of the Church's liturgy, some of the externals certainly contribute to this: darkness, incense, singing, a full church. Yesterday was no different. The outside air was cold, the church full, the music beautiful as always. With the exception of a blaring fire alarm because of of a smoking thurible being placed too close to a sensitive smoke detector, Mass went off without a hitch!
But why do we gather in the middle of the night on one of the longest nights of the year? Why do we celebrate this great solemnity year after year? What can we continue to learn from "Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father...born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary" (Proclamation of the Birth of Christ)?
The collect (opening prayer) from the "Mass during the Night" beautifully illustrates the reason that we gather on that holy night:
O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries
of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
God's light came to earth as an infant over two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is miracle and pure gift, but it is also human. "Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis—And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Word, Christ himself, was, as the Nicene Creed says, "incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man."
In his Midnight Mass homily, Pope Francis said, "The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey." Emmanuel, God with us, was born in a manger fully human and fully God. Jesus Christ is not some distant, historical figure. He experienced the joys and sorrows of daily living just as we do today, and is as alive today as he was in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
As we celebrate the octave of Christmas, let us not forget the great miracle of the Incarnation of the light of the world. "The Word became flesh, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:14). May the glory and joy of Christmas remain alive in our hearts and in our lives today and every day.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.