Quality Education in the Benedictine Tradition
Fr. Stephen Concordia, O.S.B.
- program -
O Nata Lux de Lumine - Light, from Light Begotten, is an ancient Christian hymn celebrating the Transfiguration. Christ’s Transfiguration also provides the central theme of the 2nd Sunday of Lent, this year celebrated on February 24. In the Catholic Liturgy of Lent, the Transfiguration has forever held a special place of anticipating the night Vigil of Easter. Both the Transfiguration and the Easter Vigil are feasts of light: at the Transfiguration it is said of Christ that “his face was shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2); while at the Easter Vigil a new fire lights the new candle, which, when carried into the Church in procession, symbolizes anew the triumph of light over darkness. All of this occurs in tandem with the cycles of nature: the days grow longer, with winter gradually giving way to spring. The selections in our program tonight would like to throw some light, so to speak, on this perennial interplay of light and darkness, for music has a special power of elevating the darker, sadder and solemn elements. For this reason music is granted its privileged place in Catholic Liturgy.
This is evident in each of the three Renaissance pieces: In O nata lux, Christ is identified as the light whose very origins are light. In Alma Redemptoris Mater, Mary is depicted as a light-bearing star: stella maris and as the doorway (porta) to the light of the heavens. In poignant contrast, Super flumina Babylonis recalls the darkness of exile, but, the musical setting of Palestrina ennobles the suffering spoken of in the Biblical text.
The works of the Romantic period composers Rheinberger and Rachmaninov accomplish the same with the resources of their time. Rheinberger’s Abendlied (night song) is a setting of a brief text from the post-resurrection story of the disciples on their way to Emmaus. These two self-exiled disciples are given to perceive something of the light of Christ, and will later comment on the “burning fire within” which causes them to say “Bleib bei uns” - “Stay with us”. In the Rachmaninov Ave Maria can be heard both the suffering and the deep, enduring faith of the Russian people.
Duruflé’s elaborations of the Gregorian Chants Ubi caritas, and Tantum ergo communicate a 20th century rediscovery of these ancient texts and melodies. In both works the original chants are easily identified, and their prayerfulness and sentiment remain. Both chants figure prominently in the Liturgy of Holy Thursday.
In the works by Eric Whitacre, Lux aurumque, and Morten Lauridsen, O Nata Lux, musical pictures of Light are painted in meditative and colorful settings achieved through gentle dissonances in closely voiced harmonies.
The two shape note hymns The Song of Moses, and I’m Going Home, come from yet another Christian a cappella tradition, and each in its own way communicates an authentic human response, in music, to the themes of Biblical faith.
Fr. Stephen Concordia, O.S.B.
Saint Vincent College