Friday, January 02, 2009

On the 9th Day of Christmas

I commend to you the "Keeping the Twelve Days of Christmas" article at Full Homely Divinity.

There is also new material on the Epiphany page, including poetry by T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.

And it's always good to read still once more the Proclamation of Christmas (and the FHD version is a bit different than the usual one) - and again listen to it sung (in Latin, and just an excerpt) by the sisters of the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Here's more about the proclamation; here's FHD's version, with the Latin sung by the sisters below that:
The Proclamation of Christmas

Some billions of years having passed since the creation of the world, when, in the beginning God created heaven and earth, Some thousands of years from the salvation of mankind when the family of Noah survived the flood, Nineteen centuries after the promise was given to Abraham, the father of our faith, Seventy generations after Moses brought the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, A thousand years from the anointing of David as King over the chosen people, in fulfillment of the times and years and months and days discerned by the vision of the Prophets—

In the course of secular history, in the one hundred and ninety-third Olympiad, Seven and one half centuries from the founding of the City of Rome, In the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, while the whole world enjoyed a span of peace, In this sixth and final age of human achievement—

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, wishing to consecrate the whole world and all time by His blessed presence, conceived as man by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, after nine months of growth in the womb of His mother, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Juda, and for our salvation became Man .

Now in our own time this marks the Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, after the manner of all flesh.

Octavo Kalendas Januarii

Anno a creatione mundi, quando in principio Deus creavit coelum et terram, quinquies millesimo centesimo nonagesimo nono:

A diluvio vero, anno bis millesimo nongentesimo quinquagesimo septimo:

A nativitate Abrahae, anno bis millesimo quintodecimo:

A Moyse et egressu populi Israel de Aegypto, anno millesimo quingentesimo decimo:

Ab unctione David in regem, anno millesimo trigesimo secundo:

Hebdomoda sexagesima quinta juxta Danielis prophetiam:

Olympiade centesima nongentesima quarta:

Ab urbe Roma condita, anno septingentesimo quinquagesimo secundo:

Anno imperii Octaviani Augusti quadragesimo secundo:

toto urbe in pace composito,

sexta mundi aetate, Jesus Christus aeternus Deus, aeternique Patris Filius, mundum volens adventu suo piisimo consecrare, de Spiritu Sancto conceptus, novemque post conceptionem decursus mensibus, in Bethlehem Judae nascitur ex Maria Virgine factus homo:


FHD is also celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Olivier Messaien on their home page:
"I sing words of God to those who have no faith." December 10, 2008, was the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen was a remarkable musician. In 1931, at the age of 22, he was appointed organist of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Paris, and he held that position until his death in 1992. That fact alone is remarkable enough. How many people stay in one job for their entire career? How many people are able not only to remain active but to remain creative and productive for a career of more than 60 years? Nevertheless, we believe that these things are not what is most remarkable about Olivier Messiaen.

We might also consider his brilliance as a composer. He wrote a good deal of organ music, and he also wrote for other instruments and even wrote an amazing opera on the life of St. Francis. His music has been described as "mystical", "ecstatic", "ethereal", and also as "elusive", and it certainly is not for everyone. If you are unfamiliar with it, you can find examples here, here, and at the bottom of this page. "Avant-garde" is another way of describing his music. If J.S. Bach is one end of the spectrum of the sound and structure of classical music, Messiaen is pretty close to the other end of that spectrum. At the world premier of his "Meditations on the Holy Trinity" in Washington, D.C., one person in attendance reported that the audience was speechless with disappointment--and this was an audience that went to the concert with high expectations, knowing that they were not going to hear traditional sounding organ music. Even they thought that what they heard that day was weird. For ourselves, we confess without reserve that we are enthralled by his music (including the aforesaid "Meditations"), which we find remarkable indeed. Having said that, neither the style of his music nor his brilliance as a composer are what we find most remarkable about Olivier Messiaen.

The key to our appreciation of Messiaen, quite apart from our love of his music, is in his understanding of his vocation. He once said: "The first idea that I have wanted to the existence of the truths of the Catholic faith.... That is the first aspect of my work, the most noble, doubtless the most useful, the most valuable, the only one, perhaps, that I will not regret at the hour of my death." Olivier Messiaen was, first and foremost, a believer. We do not mean to suggest for a moment that other musicians are not believers, or that one's personal taste in music should be dictated by the faith stance of the composer. Some are believers, some are not, and it is for others to determine what the impact of that is on their art. However, we find it quite remarkable that for more than 60 years, Olivier Messiaen occupied the organ bench of a church in the center of Paris, the capital of a country that is quite intentional and determined in its secularism, and that he pursued his art, not for the sake of his own renown or advancement, not even for the sake of the art itself, but for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which was at the core of who he was and what he did. As he himself put it, "My faith is the grand drama of my life. I'm a believer, so I sing words of God to those who have no faith."

FHD offers this YouTube video of "La Vierge et l'Enfant, from La Nativité du Seigneur, played by Marie-Claire Alain":

Our organist commemorated the Messaien anniversary this year, too, playing his Apparition de l'église éternelle ("Apparition of the eternal church") on one of the Sundays just before Advent began (when the readings have begun to address the "end of time" theme). Very spooky, and it changes your whole outlook while you listen; I'm not a big Messaien fan (I'm one of those who believes that organ music not written by J.S. Bach is merely poor imitation), and it's not what you'd call "easy listening" - but it does have its points.

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