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The Glory of These Forty Days

—from the book Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (book and CD) by Anthony Esolen, Ch. 3: Who is Christ?

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed

The poetry is so straightforward that we might miss the artistry. Notice the word glory. That should surprise us. When Jesus went forth into the desert, what glory accompanied Him? No train of disciples, no fanfare, no parade, no earthquake. The glory, then, must subsist in the very absence of the manifestations of glory. It subsists in loving humility—a glory the world misses.

Thus we can understand the first part of the stanza only in the context of the last part. This is what’s glorious: Christ, by Whom the world was brought into being, Himself has fasted and has prayed. He Himself has done so. The pronoun is emphatic. The richness of the world’s being—all things—is placed in contrast with Jesus’ depriving Himself of food, and His attitude of complete openness, complete self-emptying, in prayer before the Father.

The example for us is obvious, but first the poet reminds us that the prophets before Jesus did the same:

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;

And to Elijah fasting came
The steeds and chariots of flame

That is really a magnificent stanza. The participle fasting, picked up from the verb in the first stanza, is repeated, once before the proper name and once after it: Fasting Moses and Elijah, fasting. These two, the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, appeared beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. They indicate Jesus as giver of the New Law and the establisher of the New Israel. But they were inspired in the midst of fasting: Moses on Mount Sinai, Elijah on Mount Horeb. Each man felt the hand of God. Moses received the tablets of the law, and Elijah was taken from the earth by a “chariot of fire” (2 Kgs 2:11).

The poet then turns to Daniel, who spoke of the coming of the Son of Man, and to John the Baptist, the great forerunner:

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s name.

Daniel refused the rich (and, for Jews, unclean) food provided by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and instead asked only for water and a gruel of lentils (Dn 1:12), and therefore, the poet suggests, the Lord granted him mystic sight. John went into the desert to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God, “and he did eat locusts and wild honey” (Mk 1:6).

Now the poet applies the lesson to us, who long to be with our Savior. Then we must join Him in the desert:

Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with Thee;
Our spirits strengthen with Thy grace,
And give us joy to see Thy face.

Who is our Savior? There He is, Jesus, entering the wilderness to fast and pray. Do we want to see His face? Then we must go where He has gone before. We cannot do so by our strength, so we pray for the grace of Christ to give us the heart to endure the fast and prayer. Then we will not simply sweat it out. We’ll have, in the very desert, the joy of seeing the face of God, in the face of Jesus. The poem ends by praising the Trinity to whom we pray:

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To The be every prayer addrest,
Who art in threefold Name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord

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Saint Augustine and C.S. Lewis and the Most Important Question

Augustine imagines God saying to him, “Take heart; you would not be seeking Me if I had not already found You.”

—from the book I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked by Peter Kreeft, The “Inside Adress”: “Dear God,” (commentary on Augustine’s Confessions, (Book 1/Chapter 1/Paragraph 2)

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C.S. Lewis says he read somewhere that the most important question is what we think of God, and he replied: “By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important.”

—from the book I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked by Peter Kreeft, “Inside Adress”: “Dear God,” (commentary on Augustine’s Confessions, (Book 1/Chapter 5/Paragraph 5)

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Verbal and Melodic Icons of Jesus Christ Or: “He who sings prays twice.”

Almost every parish in the United States and Canada has such a story to tell. A priest instructs workmen to take away the statues of the saints and throw them in the pond. A bishop orders the removal of wooden pews boasting hand-carved reliefs of local Appalachian flora and fauna. What is harder to notice, though, is that the same rage for reduction and removal did its work on the very prayers of the Church. It is easy for someone to notice the emptiness of a large sanctuary whose dimensions were set precisely for the altar that used to be there. It is harder to notice words no longer spoken, or melodies no longer heard.

I am writing this book to bring back the words of great Christian hymns, most of which are no longer heard anywhere. These hymns are not pious sentiments (or, worse, self-celebrating sentiments or social propaganda) set to a catchy tune. They are works of art. They are, at their best, profound meditations upon the meaning of Scripture, their artistry serving to help us see truths we may have missed or to hear in our hearts, not only in our ears, the implications of the Word of God for our lives. They are verbal and melodic icons of Jesus Christ.

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“He who sings prays twice,” says St. Augustine.

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And here I return to St. Augustine’s saying above. Why do they who sing pray twice?

Certainly, song requires that we lift up our hearts. “Singing is what the lover does,” says Augustine. It is one thing to say the words of a psalm, but to sing them means that we cherish them within us and proclaim them with our whole being. And yet this is not simply and emotional outburst. The hymns that Augustin heard when he was still an unbeliever, and that he sang out in devotion once he had given his life to Christ, were works of theological art. That is to say, human intelligence and the divine teachings are woven together in a sacrifice of praise, as Abel chose the best of his flock to sacrifice to the Lord. And they do so in a memorable way. Music and poetry help to form the Christian imagination, resonating in the heart long after we have left the doors of the Church, as we sing, “Pleasant are they courts above, O Lord of hosts!”

—from the book Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (book and CD) by Anthony Esolen, from the Introduction

Note: The link above also includes audio samples from all 18 songs of the book’s companion CD.

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Catholic Music

Given the significance of music in the Mass (i.e. music is an “integral part” or pars integrans), one would think that the Catholic church would have a music peculiar to itself. One would think the Catholic church would have a unique music that excelled in catholicity, that is, one would think that the Catholic church would be known by a music that distinguished itself by the qualities of universality and all-embracingness.

Does it seem a little strange that the musical experience of the majority of Catholics is anything but this?

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Gregorian Chant is the music of the church. Gregorian chant is catholic music in the literal meaning of the word.

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As a matter of fact, I would even assert that it is the only music that does not impose a specific national ethnicity on the one who sings it; Gregorian chant is not Celtic, it is not Italian, it is not Anglo, it is not German, it is not Eastern European. In my view, Gregorian Chant makes everyone equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) and that is because it does not belong to this or that tribe or family. It is the distinct music of the Catholic Church.

—from the blog post Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Music? by Mark Langley

 

RELATED:

Is this the solution to Catholics ‘desperate’ musical situation?

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How to Accomplish Greater Good With Less Effort

I read the following quote in the book Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe (Chapter 1: Part 7)

“Let those who are fully taken up with activity, who imagine they can move the world by their preaching and their other external works, reflect here for a moment; they will easily understand that they would be much more useful to the Church, and more pleasing to the Lord, not to mention the good example they would set around them, if they dedicated half their time to mental prayer, even though they may not be as advanced as the soul described here. If they did, they would accomplish a greater good by one single work, and with much less effort, than they now accomplish by the thousand works on which they spend their lives.” —St. John of the Cross

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Who Everyone Is Looking For

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

—Mark 1:35-37

 

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The Sacraments Will Only Have a Limited Effect Without…

Mass is in itself more important than mental prayer. This is true, but without a life of prayer even the sacraments will have only a limited effect. Yes, they will give us grace, but that grace will remain unfruitful in part because the “good soil” it needs is missing. Why, for instance, are so many people who receive Communion frequently not more holy? The reason is that they do not have a life of prayer. The Blessed Eucharist does not bring all the fruits of inner healing and sanctification that it should, because it is not being received with an attitude of faith, love, adoration, and total receptivity—an attitude that can only be created by fidelity to mental prayer. The same is true of the other sacraments.

If someone, even someone very devout and committed, has not made a habit of mental prayer, something will always be lacking for the growth of his or her spiritual life. People like this will not find true inner peace but will always be subject to anxiety, and there will always be something too merely human in what they do: attachment to their own will, traces of vanity, self-seeking, ambition, narrow-mindedness, and so on. There can be no deep radical purification of the heart without the practice of mental prayer.

—from Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe, Chapter 1: Part 7