The coming of Christ is always a tremendous event whether it be his historical birth in Bethlehem, his coming into our hearts, or his coming at the last day. God is love, but also a magnificent spiritual force! Readings like these speak of things that are very mysterious to us, and we are left with the impression of awesome power and glory. This is certainly how the ancient Jewish High Priests must have felt when entering the Holy of Holies – a place they perceived as the earthly throne of God. How often do we feel such a sense of awe and wonder during the liturgy? What a stupefying thought that this tremendous universal force desires a personal relationship with us and does so most profoundly in the form of a simple meal. I write of these things because, while the music on Sunday does include familiar and joyful Advent hymns, there will be undercurrents of immense mystery during the offertory and the organ pieces.
The prelude, communion, and postlude music are all from one work by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971). Known as the “Paganini of the organ”, Dupré was perhaps the most renowned French organist of his time. All of the organ music this Sunday comes from his variations on the Gregorian chant, Ave Maris Stella (Hail, Star of the Sea). This chant, proper to the season of Advent refers to St. Mary as the “Sea Star”. This ancient title for Mary comes from the idea of the gentiles being the sea beyond the borders of Israel. Hence, as the Theotokos, or God-bearer, Mary is depicted as a light to the gentiles and a navigator of souls. Dupré sets this chant in mind-bending ways; all of which we will hear on Sunday. Hopefully, this will help us enter into the deep mystery of Advent, a mystery as immense as the depths of the sea!
During Advent our Psalms will take on a responsorial nature. The Cantor (song leader) will sing the verses, and we will all join in singing the refrain together. Also, instead of the Gloria, we will sing the Trisagion, a text we inherited from the Orthodox Church. While all of these changes may seem jarring to some, it is all about experiencing the fullness of this season. All of these new things will help us to spiritually stay awake and keep watch for the coming season of Christmas.
Finally, I hope many of you will come to our Lessons and Carols celebration this Sunday afternoon at 4:00 P. M. The choirs have worked hard to prepare for this, and we will have three guest musicians (two singers and a violinist) to join us in the service. Continuing the themes of darkness into light and keeping watch, Lessons and Carols is an old Anglican/Episcopal tradition and, to me, one of its best! We will sing works all the way from the Baroque period (c. 1590-1750) to pieces composed a few years ago. Come join us as we keep watch for Christ and read the story of his first coming into the world, the Incarnation of the Word made flesh.
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master