29 November, 2004

When the Devil learned...

Passeranno i cieli, e passerà la terra,
la sua parola non passerà, alleluia, alleluia.

(The heavens will pass away, and the earth will pass away,
but his word will not pass away, alleluia, alleluia.)
— from Cantinfesta,
quoting Matthew 24.35, Mark 13.31, and Luke 21.33
A few quotes on how important it is that music lift us to God.
But when the Devil... learned that man had begun to sing through God's inspiration and, therefore, was being transformed to bring back the sweetness of the songs of heaven, he was so terrified at seeing his clever machinations go to ruin that he was greatly tormented... Thus he never ceases from confounding... the sweat beauty of both divine praise and spiritual hymns...
— Hildegard of Bingen, quoted in a PhD dissertation
The Patriarch called together the clergy to celebrate the day according to the custom. He lit the censers and arranged the singing and the choir. The Emperor went to church with the envoys, and they were brought to a prominent place where they could see the beauty of the church, hear the singing, and watch the deacons during the service. They were surprised, and marvelled, and praised the service. The Emperors Basil and Constantine called them, showered them with many gifts and honors, then said, "Go back to your land." [They reported to the Russian prince Vladimir,] "...We went to the Greeks and they took us where they worship their God, and we did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth for there is nothing on earth so beautiful. We were perplexed, but this much we know: There, God lives among people, and their service is better than in any other country. We cannot forget that beauty, for each of us has partaken of sweetness and will not now accept bitterness. Therefore, we can no longer remain in our former condition.
reaction of Russian emissaries to Constantinople
after hearing the Divine Liturgy

I have felt, sometimes, what those Russians felt. The first time I remember it was at a Poor Clare monastery, where the sisters sang the Christmas Vigils and the Midnight Mass in Latin chant for a small crowd of us faithful. Another time was (again) at a Catholic Mass, where a choir of five or six young Italians was singing the passage above.

I can't argue convincingly in favor of Hildegard of Bingen's argument, nor can I explain in words what the Russian emissaries felt. I can only say: I have experienced it! I have felt the Mass lift me towards the transcendent God; I have felt that sensation of my smallness' being embraced and expanded by the transcendent divine; on each occasion, the music was essential to that experience.

It is incomparable.

(Odd. I didn't plan to write this tonight; I had something else in mind. Go figure!)

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