Friday, July 31, 2015

Ours on St. Ignatius' Day.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius, a day when I typically find myself honoring the memory of the founder of the Society of Jesus by praying and breaking bread with my brother Jesuits. I've celebrated this feast with other Jesuits in a variety of different cities - San Jose, Santiago, Philadelphia, Innsbruck, Vienna, Toronto, and now Paris, where today's festivities began with a solemn Mass at the Église Saint-Ignace, seen in the photo above, followed by a festive lunch at a Jesuit residence nearby. Though I would be the first to admit the reality of Jesuit subcultures, celebrations like this remind me that, in some ways, Jesuits are the same everywhere: we were all formed by the same spiritual tradition and share in the same charism, but we also tend to discuss similar topics at table and to tell similar stories, and there are certain Jesuit "types" who show up in every community I've lived in, regardless of the cultural or national context. I find these similarities very consoling; they have helped me to feel at home among Jesuits in various places, reminding me of the truth of Jerónimo Nadal's classic maxim that "the world is our house."

For me, there is also something special about celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius in Paris, the city where the Society of Jesus was born. Though Ignatius' conversion and desire to serve the Lord were solidified before he reached this city in 1528, the seven years he spent studying here served to transform his vision of service from an individual call to a corporate enterprise. The example of Ignatius' charisma and personal devotion made him the center of a small group of friends gathered from among the thousands of students at the University of Paris. On August 15, 1534 - the Feast of the Assumption - this group gathered in a small chapel in Paris to collectively promise to serve the Lord and to take vows of poverty and chastity, with a third vow to go to Jerusalem if possible and, if this couldn't be done, to put themselves at the disposal of the Pope in Rome. Since going to Jerusalem proved impossible, the group that became known as Ignatius' First Companions eventually went to Rome instead and, after further discernment and with papal approbation, they became a new religious order.

The First Companions took their vows at the Crypte du martyrium de saint Denis, a subterranean chapel marking the place where St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, is traditionally believed to have been martyred in the third century. The Martyrium gave its name to the area where it was located - Montmartre - and it was a well-established place of pilgrimage by the time Ignatius and his companions gathered there in 1534. Though the Martyrium was destroyed during the French Revolution, a copy of the crypt chapel was built on the presumed site of its predecessor later in the nineteenth century. Some might quibble that the new Martyrium isn't really the place where Ignatius and the First Companions took their vows, but it nevertheless serves as a place of pilgrimage for Jesuits and for others who want to establish a tangible bond with the founding experience of the Society.

As I suspect some readers can well imagine, there is something deeply moving about seeing a place like the Martyrium; I made a brief visit to the place the day after my arrival in Paris, taking the photos that I have shared here. At the time, I thought that I might return at some point during my stay in Paris to celebrate Mass in the chapel; that has not happened, both because I quickly got busy with other things and also because of the logistics involved in saying Mass there - the Martyrium is only open to visitors a few hours a week, and Mass is not regularly celebrated there, so the various accoutrements of the liturgy would have to be brought in from elsewhere; a spare key to the chapel is held by one of the Jesuit communities in Paris (albeit not the community where I've been living) and ultimately the whole thing proved complex enough that I never got around to it. I have no regrets, though, as simply seeing the site was enough for me.

Being in Paris has given me the opportunity to visit the virtual birthplace of the Society of Jesus, but the experience has also touched me in other ways. When I celebrate Mass each day, I usually do so facing a crucifix which hangs on the wall of the sacristy in my Jesuit community. This crucifix is a sort of double relic - it contains a small relic of St. Ignatius, just behind Christ's head, but the whole crucifix is itself a relic insofar as it belonged to Father Pierre Olivaint, a French Jesuit who was executed on May 26, 1871 by the forces of the Paris Commune. Offering Mass before Father Olivaint's crucifix offers a particularly vivid reminder of the implications of my vows as a Jesuit and as a priest - martyrdom may seem like a far-off and purely abstract possibility for most of us, yet it remains just that: a possibility. A character in one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories famously held that "she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." As members of an order that has produced many martyrs, Jesuits are also invited to reflect on the meaning of martyrdom for ourselves: could we also die for our faith, regardless of whether or not "they killed [us] quick"?

Father Pierre Olivaint is buried in a side chapel at the Église Saint-Ignace, joined by four other Parisian Jesuits who also died as martyrs during the time of the Commune. The physical presence of their remains offers a reminder - perhaps little heeded by regular visitors to the church - of what living under the standard of the Cross entails.

Finally, returning to a theme that has featured in some earlier posts on St. Ignatius' Day - the beginning and the end of the Jesuit vocation - it strikes me as particularly appropriate that the remains of Father Olivaint and his companions are interred below an altar dedicated to St. Paul Miki and the Japanese Martyrs. The choice to place these two groups of martyrs in close proximity is far from incidental: burying a group of Jesuits who were killed for their faith in nineteenth-century France beneath a memorial to a group of Japanese clergy and laypeople who were martyred in the sixteenth century provides a reminder of the intimate bond that unites all martyrs in spite of differences in outward circumstances. The decision to link the two groups of martyrs also makes me wonder whether the example of earlier Jesuit martyrs and other saints led Father Olivaint and his companions to enter the Society of Jesus and, eventually, to accept the crown of martyrdom. This seems a rather poignant thought for the Feast of St. Ignatius, but it is an important one as well. Prayers for all who read these lines. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

For favors received.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"The musical adventure of the Reductions" and sacred music today.

A week ago, I took note of a recent address by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the origins of music and on the particular value of the Western European musical tradition. Today, I would like to call your attention to a piece by the great vaticanista Sandro Magister linking the Pope Emeritus' words with a particular aspect of his successor's recent apostolic journey to South America:
At his arrival [on Friday, July 10] in Paraguay, the third and final stage of his South American journey after Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis will listen to music composed four centuries ago in the "Reducciones," the indigenous communities created by the Jesuits to civilize and evangelize the populations of those lands.

The musical adventure of the Reductions borders upon the incredible, because it was able to integrate the best of European Baroque music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the innate musical talent of the indigenous Guaraní, all in the context of the liturgical celebration. A masterpiece of "inculturation" of Christianity not in a dumbing down, but at the highest levels of missionary intelligence, of comprehension of the spirit of the liturgy and of creation of true liturgical music as is rarely found today.

Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit who was not a priest, was the best-known and most brilliant creator of this musical genre, in the Reductions of present-day Paraguay and of the neighboring countries.

Well then, by an eloquent coincidence the questions implicit in the musical genius of the Reductions - all questions of urgent relevance - were the object of an unanticipated address given by pope emeritus Benedict XVI right on the eve of his successor’s departure for the Americas.
To get a sense of Zipoli's work, listen to his Misa de San Ignacio, written for use in the Guaraní mission and performed above by the Ensemble Elyma, a group specializing in Latin American Baroque music and led by Argentinian conductor Gabriel Garrido. A student of Alessandro Scarlatti and Bernardo Pasquini, Zipoli entered the Society of Jesus with the desire to work in the Jesuit missions in Paraguay; written in the same period as the great works of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, the Masses and oratorios which Zipoli produced in South America remind us that Baroque music was a trans-Atlantic and transcultural phenomenon. As Magister sees it, Zipoli's music offers an important lesson for today, serving to illustrate a point made recently by the Pope Emeritus:
[According to Pope Emertius Benedict, the Western tradition of sacred music] "is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. Wherever a response like this is developed, there has taken place an encounter with the truth, with the true Creator of the world. This is why great sacred music is a reality of theological stature and of permanent significance for the faith of the whole of Christianity, even if it is by no means necessary that it be performed always and everywhere. On the other hand, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an entirely special form of participation in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of the faith."

And again:

"We do not know the future of our culture and of sacred music. But one thing seems clear to me: where the encounter with the living God who comes to us in Christ really takes place, there is born and grows anew also the response whose beauty comes from the truth itself."

The Jesuits of the "Reducciones" of Paraguay or Bolivia, like the great Domenico Zipoli but not only him, were brilliant witnesses of precisely this, albeit without thinking it out the way Ratzinger has been able to do.

But today the Catholic liturgy, apart from rare exceptions, is dramatically distant from that miraculous balance between great sacred music and the "participatio actuosa" of the faithful for which Vatican II called and of which John Paul II sought to give an example on the five continents he visited, as his successor took care to recall.

An intelligent re-listening to the liturgical music of the South American "sacred experiment" of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Jesuits has everything to teach the Church of today, in every region of the world.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Laus Trinitati.

A month after my first Mass, here is one more souvenir of the event, brought to you through the kindness of a member of the schola who recorded the Mass for posterity. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the subject, the only piece of music performed at the Mass which I did not choose personally was St. Hildegard of Bingen's votive antiphon Laus Trinitati. The director of the schola suggested using Laus Trinitati as an offertory hymn after the completion of the Gregorian offertory verse Benedícam Dóminum, correctly anticipating that we would need more music to cover the offertory rites and the incensation of the gifts as well as the lavabo. I loved the piece as soon as I heard it in rehearsal, and I believe that it will continue to stand out in my memory as one of the highlights of my first Mass.

To accompany the video, here is the text of the antiphon, together with my own English translation:
Laus Trinitati, quae sonus et vita
ac creatrix omnium in vita ipsorum est,
et quae laus angelicae turbae
et mirus splendor arcanorum,
quae hominibus ignota sunt, est,
et quae in omnibus vita est.


Praise to the Trinity, who is the sound and the life
and the Creator of all things in their very life,
and who is the praise of the angelic throng,
and wonderful splendor of mysteries
which are unknown to men,
and who is the life of all things.
Some might be struck by the use of the feminine creatrix to describe the Trinity, but this merely reflects the fact that trinitas (trinitati in the dative) is a feminine noun. For my part, I like the description of the angels as a turbae, which can be translated as a "crowd" or a "throng," much as the chorus is identified as a turbae in the Good Friday Passion settings. In my mind's eye, the image of the angelicae turbae is that of a teeming and somewhat unpredictable group, very unlike the well-disciplined military unit evoked by the image of "the heavenly host." Of course, the action of the angels that remains so unpredictable to us is known fully by the Triune God, that "wonderful splendor of mysteries which are unknown to men."

May Hildegard's words and music bring peace and consolation to those who hear them. AMDG.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Benedict XVI on the origins of music.

One week ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received a pair of honorary doctorates from two Polish institutes of higher education, John Paul II Pontifical University and the Krakow Academy of Music. The address given by the Pope Emeritus at the conferral ceremony in Castel Gandolfo is worth reading, even if you have to rely on imperfect translations like this one posted by ZENIT. (I thought about making my own translation to share here in place of the infelicitous one by ZENIT, but I've been busy enough in Paris that I can't spare the time right now.) Having posted previously on Benedict XVI and music, reading the Castel Gandolfo address reminds me of an off-again, on-again desire to write something more serious and systematic on the subject. Other writers with qualifications greater than mine have already written on Benedict XVI and music - indeed, there have been entire conferences on this theme - but I may still try to find the time to say something unique and original on point. In the meantime, here are some particularly striking paragraphs from last week's address:
At this point, it is right, perhaps, to pose the basic question: What is music in reality? From where does it come and what does it tend to?

I think that three "places" can be localized from which music flows.

One of the first sources is the experience of love. When men are seized by love, a new dimension of being opens in them, a new grandeur and breadth of reality, and it also drives one to express oneself in a new way. Poetry, singing and music in general stem from this being struck, by this opening of oneself to a new dimension of life.

A second origin of music is the experience of sadness, being touched by death, by sorrow and by the abysses of existence. Opened also in this case, in an opposite direction, are new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone.

Finally, the third place of origin of music is the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines the human. All the more so here in which the totally other and the totally great is present, which arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps, it is possible to affirm that in reality also in the other two ambits – love and death – the divine mystery touches us and, in this sense, it is the being touched by God that, overall, constitutes the origin of music. I find it moving to observe how, for instance, in the Psalms singing is no longer enough for men - an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language. With the Psalter, in which the two motives of love and death also operate, we find directly the origin of sacred music of the Church of God. It can be said that the quality of the music depends on the purity and the grandeur of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The more pure and true this experience is, the more pure and great also is the music that is born and develops from it.
To read the rest, click here (or, better yet, read the original). AMDG.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Live from Paris.

This post comes to you from Paris, where I've been staying since I completed a round of Masses of Thanksgiving in the United States. I will be here until the end of July, brushing up on my French and doing some archival research which will hopefully become part of a master's thesis I will be writing this coming year in Toronto. Though I studied French for five years, I took my last course in the language when I was a senior in high school; I have kept up my reading knowledge through various means, including praying the Divine Office each day in French and reading a lot of books and articles in the language, but I've gotten rusty in terms of speaking and writing and I hope to regain a degree of proficiency in both over the next month. On a spiritual level, I also think that there is something special about being able to spend some of my first weeks as a priest in the city where the Society of Jesus was born. I will post updates as I am able, and in the meantime please know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.