Saturday, February 25, 2012

Music Notes for February 26

      One of my favorite Lenten prayers is the Breastplate of St. Patrick, not only because St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, but because it boldly invokes the protection of the Trinity with the great signs of nature which mark the passage of winter into spring: sun, moon, snow, fire, lightning, wind, crashing waves. This prayer is the text of the hymns “This Day God Gives Me” and “Christ Be Beside Me,” sung to the tune “Morning Has Broken.” It is also the theme of Madeleine L’Engle’s story of the cosmic battle between good and evil, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, a moving tale especially intended for younger readers which predates Harry Potter by some 25 years.
       Each year, the scripture of our Lenten liturgies recounts the story of God’s love for humanity with its covenants and blessings. This week’s Genesis reading is the conclusion of the tale of Noah, with the rainbow as the sign of God’s pledge not to destroy humankind. Rainbows are fire and water, and our hymn during the presentation of gifts will be the “Song of Fire and Water,” a melodic meditation on the symbols of baptism. Paired with this hymn will be the third “Mystery of Faith” acclamation which we have sung before and which will be our theme during Lent and the Easter season: “By your cross and resurrection, you have set us free: Salvador del mundo, ¡sálvanos!”  This last Spanish phrase, which means “Savior of the world, save us,” is a translation of the Latin Salvator mundi, salva nos, an acclamation much used over the centuries in various litanies and set to music by the great English and Italian Renaissance composers.  It sums up in a nutshell the import of our epistle from I Peter, who sees baptism prefigured in the waters of the Flood and Christ triumphant at the climax of history with the heavenly hosts in bright array. Mark tells us those same angels were at his side in the desert as he waged war with Satan.
         Psalm 25 is a prayer for spiritual growth as nature awakes with its own new growth. This prayer to “guide me in your truth and teach me” is reflected in the communion song at 10:00, “Lead Me, Guide Me,” from the gospel-music tradition, and “Remember Your Love,” written by three Louisiana seminarians in the 70s. The entrance procession at 10:00 is accompanied by the “Kyrie eleison” from Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, whose verses recap the story of salvation as told by our Lenten readings. I learned this setting from the composer as he wrote it in the early 80s. Since then it has since been widely performed by high-school and college choirs Another great theme of salvation history is the role of grace and mercy, and these are the subject of “Your Grace Is Enough,” our closing song at 10:00.  The organ Masses close with the traditional “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” which many of us used to sing as “These Forty Days of Lent, O Lord.”