Happy Easter! For today’s quick takes, let’s start with some art:
Here’s a wonderful painting (artist: Juan de Flandes, painted around 1496) of an unusual subject, an appearance by Christ to his mother Mary, after his Resurrection (which event is seen in the background.)
The notes of the Metropolitan Museum are thorough and fascinating (click on “description” and “catalog entry”), including:
The poses of the two main figures are similar to the traditional poses of Gabriel and the Virgin in Annunciation scenes, indicating an understanding of this image as an annunciation of eternal life. The text on the border of the Virgin’s cloak comes from the Magnificat—Mary’s acknowledgement of the Incarnation in the Gospel of Luke, and her response to her cousin Elizabeth’s recognition of her as the mother of the savior. The decorative arch which frames the figures contains sculpted scenes from the end of Mary’s life. They are, in chronological order, counterclockwise from the center of the arch: the holy women telling the Virgin of their visit to Christ’s tomb, the Ascension, Pentecost, the annunciation of Mary’s impending death, the Dormition of the Virgin, and the Assumption. Below these scenes are pedestals with the figures of Saint Mark the Evangelist on the left and Saint Paul on the right. Two of the column capitals in the interior show sculpted scenes which prefigure Christ’s triumph over death: David’s conquering of Goliath on the front left, and Samson and the Lion and Samson Carrying Away the Gates of Gaza on the back right. At the apex of the arch an angel hovers, carrying a crown and a banderole which reads: Mulier h[a]ec perseveravit vi[n]cens o[mn]ia ideo / data e[st] ei corona. (This woman persevered, conquering all; therefore a crown was given unto her.) (Apocalypse 6:1).
Here are some previous posts of Easter art themes:
Noli Me Tangere (Christ and Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection)
I spent Holy Week and Easter in Palo Alto, California, where my husband and I were able to immerse ourselves for 5 days in the ancient liturgies of the Tenebrae, Triduum, Vigil, and Easter Day, sung in Latin in Gregorian chant and Renaissance Polyphony by the members of the St. Ann Choir, mostly in the small wooden gothic-style church of St. Thomas Aquinas. My pleasure in the services was marred only slightly by a nagging anxiety: will the choir outnumber the congregation?
St. Ann’s Choir is led by renowned Gregorian Chant expert William Mahrt. A 2007 article in the Stanford News Service explains his role:
Mahrt has conducted Gregorian chant for more than 40 years without a break. He is the director of Stanford’s Early Music Singers and of the St. Ann Choir, a Gregorian schola at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto. He instructs singers in the mysteries of “the chant,” as well as the glorious polyphonic music that came after it. In fact, it’s possible that there is more chant sung in Palo Alto than anywhere else in the country, with the possible exception of monastic communities. Mahrt has inspired and guided generations of scholars and singers.
Mahrt has [recently] found a substitute to direct the choir—finally allowing him to take a more active role in promoting chant nationally and internationally, given the recent renewal of interest. Does he feel free at last, after four decades of being tethered to the annual cycle of chant? Mahrt looks up in wonderment at the question: “It’s a fulfillment, not an oppression. I miss it when I go away. It is a routine, but the music and liturgy are all part of the rhythm of life.”
Mahrt has published a brand new book, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, about the role of chant in the liturgy of the Church.
On Wednesday evening the choir sang a Tenebrae service, [there were 20 choir members and 23 worshipers.] I cannot remember ever attending this service, but it was impressive in its drama: 15 candles in a special holder on the altar were extinguished in succession as the readings and psalms were sung, until one candle remained. This candle was then carried out of the the sanctuary and the church was left in total darkness. The faithful banged prayer books on the pews, in imitation of the earthquake and chaos when Christ, the Light of the World was crucified and died. Then, in response, the candle returned to the church, a promise of the Christ’s coming Resurrection.
My husband entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil around 20 years ago, and we have attended the Vigil nearly every year since, at times in far-flung places. But we have never attended a service where all 7 of the Old Testament readings were included (with the possible exception of Berlin in 2008, which I don’t remember). At times we have heard as few as 2 of the readings. But this year! Not only did we get to hear the whole of salvation history unfold through those 7 readings, we were in darkness with our candles lit for the entire time! The lights came on for the Gloria, Alleluia and the Gospel. It was glorious! Oh, and the service began at 11pm. Just perfect.
Here’s William Mahrt, from the same Stanford article, on how chant acts in our lives:
“Chant does arise out of silence, and it goes back to silence,” he said. “In our own culture, we sometimes don’t have any silence. I think among students, for instance. They go into the dorms and the walls are thumping 24 hours a day. There is never a chance to be alone, in silence, within your own residence. But the fact is, I think, myself, the best location for the contact with God is in silence.
“When silence occurs, then you can look interiorly and find an order and a purpose that the noise of the media running day and night obscures. So, likewise, the chant, which is pure, a single melody, is not complicated, arises out of silence and goes back into it, as a way of returning to that interiority.”
For more quick takes, visit Jen of Conversion Diary.