Music for an Intense Lent

Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic? Stop settling for weak Lents. Make your Lent intense with these choral and chant tracks (or with these movies). Listen with the volume nice and high, and you’ll see what I mean:

This first track is a choral piece I discovered a few years ago, and its ability to creep is unequaled. For the majority of the piece, the choir is only singing one word: crucifixus… crucifixus… crucifixus… (The Crucified… Crucified… Crucified…) and the effect is stunning.

This next track is also a choral piece on the Crucifixion, by Antonio Lotti from the 17th Century. This piece is from his larger work on the Nicene Creed, but it stands alone incredibly well as a meditation on Christ’s crucifixion.

Here is Parce Domine, a chant of longing for God’s mercy, recalling the complete and profound repentance of Nineveh at the [reluctant] preaching of Jonah from the Old Testament. Lyrics, both Latin and English here, and an updated version here that is worth your ears, and don’t miss this polyphonic version!

The Dies Irae is not specifically a Lenten chant, but for funerals and for All Souls’ Day. Yet, it seems mighty appropriate, reminding us that death and judgment is our destiny, but our death can be transformed to eternal life if we surrender our life to Christ. Don’t miss this neat little documentary on this timeless piece, which has appeared in many famed movies to date! The epic lyrics here.

This last piece is the Gregorian chant of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (The Standing Mother of Sorrows), the scene when Mary suffered and stood before Jesus nailed on the cross. The Latin/English lyrics can be found here, and a video with the proper notation is here, but presented is my favorite chanted rendition:

So there you have them, three of my favorite tracks for contemplating what Lent is meant to be. I hope these help, and maybe become your faves, too.

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Select Chants for DHHT

Hello Beloved HT of Miền Trung (and any eavesdroppers)!

This DHHT XI, we get to go a bit old school and do Adoration with some Latin chants. These chants are ancient, and the Latin is a major heritage of Roman Catholicism (stretching back over 1000 years). If you want to know more about Latin, please look here: The Romance Tongue and Why Chant Can’t Speed Up.

But, to help us all prepare, please put these three chants on repeat for the next month, and we’ll get together in mid-July to praise the King in the Church’s mother tongue. We’ve never done this together on such a large scale, so we’re a bit nervous… but let’s do this!

—–1) O Salutaris Hostia (by St. Thomas Aquinas)

Translation, history and full lyrics here.

—–2) Tantum Ergo (the last 2 verses of the Pange Lingua, also by St. Thomas Aquinas)

Translation, history and full lyrics here.

—–3) Salve Regina (anonymous and ancient)

Translation, history and full lyrics here.

The Romance Tongue

VaticanAnd when I say Romance, I mean as in relating to Rome, as in the Roman tongue, aka: Latin.

The Roman Catholic Church [aka: the Latin Church] still uses Latin today. Sure, it causes some to wonder why, and causes others to be suspicious. After all, isn’t Latin a dead language? Does anyone even understand it anymore? Why keep up with it when it’s irrelevant?

Well, I’ve heard many of those thoughts throughout the years, and I’ve had many of those years to reflect and pray about it. Here’s what I think:

1) Latin is Mother Church’s language. I mean, wouldn’t you wanna know the language your own momma speaks? Don’t you love her? It’s a part of your heritage, your legacy! (Which explains why I love learning Chinese, academically and for fun.) If you don’t know a lot of Latin, at least know how to goo-goo-gah-gah in Latin, and lip-sync some of her favorite love songs!

2) Latin isn’t so much a dead language as it is a language that has been left alive for one thing, and one thing only: worshiping God. Think about it: we use common languages (like English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Afrikaans, etc.) for common things. We use those languages to work, to curse, to joke, to love, to hurt, to heal, etc. When we use any language well, then it’s all good. But we can also easily use those languages to harm… except we can’t really use Latin to harm! Not enough of us know it well enough to use it for evil. And so Latin’s limited use has left it off limits to common use/abuse, and has dedicated it now as a custom-made language for praying and serving God.

3) Common languages (aka: vernacular languages) are changing constantly. Words in English have changed since Shakespeare. Styles of Chinese have evolved since the Oracle Bones. They change because people use them, and people change. But God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Latin today symbolizes our unchanging God superbly, because Latin does not change! It hasn’t changed since the Roman Empire went to ruin. And now it’s not going to change anymore because it’s a “dead” language: what a Latin prayer meant 1,000 years ago means the same today, and always. Whereas maybe 100 years from now English will be too different to even read an English dictionary!

The Latin Missal4) I cherish being able to pray in Latin. I pride myself in learning new Latin hymns and prayers by heart because it humbles me. I love it because it’s like the trust-game: even though I don’t understand every word and nuance of the Latin prayer, I do know that Mother Church has been praying this way and teaching us these prayers for centuries, and countless saints have said the same prayers, and it worked for them! It teaches me to trust my Church, my Faith, and pray the way she has prayed to her Lord and Savior for ages and ages.

5) Lastly, if some exorcists claim that the demon corrects them when they stumble through Latin in the Ritual, then who am I to think Latin is inferior?! Hell don’t care if English prayers are mispronounced, but mutter a Latin error and the devils go out of their way to correct you while you’re thrashing them??? I don’t know exactly why, but that just means there’s something about Latin you just don’t mess with or brush off. After all, some exorcists even claim that the prayers in Latin are just more effective.

So there you have it: five little reasons why I like to have some Latin in my pocket and in my prayers.

P.s. Did I mention that dinosaur names are in Latin?

[Tyrannosaurus Rex!]

[Tyrannosaurus Rex!]

Why Chant Can’t Speed Up

Canto GregorianoWhen I first encountered Gregorian Chant in the Catholic Mass, it felt like a serenade for my soul. The music massaged my anxiety away, and I knew right away I wanted more chant in the masses I went to, more chant in the prayers I prayed, more chant in my life.

So what did I do? What I usually do when I find treasure — I shared it with others as fast and as much as I could.

I started by teaching Tantum Ergo to the kids in the youth group. Yes, it was all in Latin. Yes, they took to it easily and faster than I thought they would. And yes, it was slow, paced, and measured.

But why exactly is Christian chant so slooooooow? Why do we draw out the Kyrieeeeeeeeeee eleison (among others)? Why do we take our time and pronounce everything carefully, tediously…

Well, it’s the same reason why lovers can talk for hours. When you love someone, you don’t rush through conversations, you don’t speed through hellos and blitz through farewells, you don’t sing to each other just to get it over with. You savor it!

You take it slow, show them you care, take the time to make it clear and meaningful.

When you encounter beauty, you want to stay in it. Nobody brushes off a stunning sunset. Nobody forgets a special smile. But everybody wants to prolong their exposure to beauty, to stall and relish in it — get absorbed into it.

And that’s why chant can’t speed up. Because we’re singing to our Beloved, because we’re humming to Him with the saints in Heaven, because we’re steeping in His glory and beauty.

Even toddlers know Gregorian chant is just different — and dare I say…  just better.

So next time you’re at a Mass with chant done right, don’t just listen… but feel the music. It’s prayer with texture.

Is Chant Still a Thing?

[YOU BET it is!]

Everybody Learn Heavenese!

Someone once challenged me that the English language cannot express everything — that it’s limited… like all languages are.

True.

That’s why we won’t be speaking English in Heaven (sorry British-accent lovers!).

But think about the reason why we have to learn languages in the first place… it’s because we’re not endowed with linguistic abilities at birth, at least not like we’re endowed with —

Before I finish that thought, think about this: you’re listening to a song in a language you have no idea how to use. The song seeps into you, and you start sleeping with the song on, driving with it on, dancing with it, and after a day or so… you start singing it in the shower, then wherever. Yes — it’s stuck in your head. EVEN THOUGH you don’t know the language. And even if you did, maybe there’s that one part where you’re not sure what they’re singing, and you make up words of your own.

Has that ever happened?

Happens to me all the time, especially since I semi-speak Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Mandarin (keyword: semi-speak). There’s always that line I’m not sure about, and I just blah and sing on – sing on… even those Latin words at Mass, even if my voice is an ear-ache, the song must be sung!

That’s it then: MUSIC. We’re endowed with musical abilities like no other creative essence. I can’t cite the sources, but I’ve heard so many times about the ways music and song effect life. Babies who can hardly speak can tell when a note skips in a song they’ve never heard before. Most animals in some veterinarian care are soothed by song and music – and interestingly, the harp is the second most potent instrument to soothe animals. The first is our human voice.

Our human voice is a powerful force, especially when we use it in Gregorian Chant. Research has shown that the chant of the Church has a healing and energetic effect on our physique. Prolonged exposure to the rhythms and prayers (especially when you chant them yourself) have been shown to cause monks to be alert, healthy, and happy — even if they sleep only two hours a day, never eat meat, and work hard labor! Check out this page for more.

gregorian_chant3
Music. Can’t see it, but it makes you see. A character in my first novel regains her sight partly from when she hears powerfully moving music. But you don’t have to be blind to see what music does for your eyes. It makes memories come back. The imagination tries to fit the tune with an event — a soundtrack. And what’s with soundtracks anyway? Watch a film in mute and how long will you stay awake for? Drive across the country without a CD or the radio and what’ll happen?

You can even feel music. The vibrations in the air wrap around you – tingles and tickles. Sometimes it beats on your heart and you wonder if it’s safe.

Then the music picks you up. Your fingers tap and snap, arms flail, shoulders hop, head whips, and your legs… and feet – they’re not just for transit after all. Suddenly you are a dancer — like when you were three and your mom or dad let you stand on their feet and held your hands up so you could waltz and tango.

But it’s just noise! ORGANIZED NOISE (keyword: organized)! And it’s an organization that babies are born able to recognize. So… if we’re born able to, then even a deaf baby can — even though they may never get the chance. But they can. That is key… that they can. Because organization means something caused it [noise] to be organized – something intelligent and creative… an ORGANIZER. Even a thunderstorm sings a song, but its song is less composed than a bird’s, and its is less composed than ours, and ours is less composed than…

And Music is what we speak in Heaven. Finally, we get our own soundtracks when we share our dramatic life story with others. We get to dozy-doe with billions of buddies, sing a musical with friends we never thought we’d see again, karaoke with the original artists themselves, and be as expressive as God made music to be. Why? Because everything about Heaven makes us more human than we are now. We are more ourselves then than we can ever be now.

Hope to see you there one day…

[Inspired by Dr. Peter Kreeft’s quote]
[FYI: ever wonder who set up the modern form of written music as we know it today? (It’s Guido D’Arezzo, a Benedictine monk)

[Psst, this is an edited re-post of a piece I wrote in Dec. 2009.]