House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

17 March 2010

Moving to a new site!

Hello everyone and Happy St. Patrick's Day from the Emerald Isle! The House of Brigid has begun the process of launching a new website with more information about our community and our ministry, as well as ways for you to be become involved in our work. The new site is Our blog will be continuing, but we have begun the process of moving it to that site so look for more stories of our time here in Ireland at the new House of Brigid website:!

02 March 2010

Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world...

     Last night the community led the parish in the celebration of Stations of the Cross. In talking with the pastoral staff here at the parish about preparations for Lent we were told that they have never really done Stations on a regular basis. On Good Friday they have a ceremony called "Prayer around the Cross" which includes elements of the Stations, but we felt that having a more regular celebration of the way of the Cross would be a nice addition for this Lenten season. We decided to go as simple as we could so that the congregation could engage in the prayer slowly. Carolyn knew of a setting of the Stations which she brought from her time as an undergrad in Kansas and this formed the basis of our prayer last night.
     I put together the order of prayer using Carolyn's version ("Everyone's Way of the Cross" by Clarence Enzler) and a version that we found from Liturgical Press called "All of You Drink of This" which is an adaptation of an old Latin version of the way of the Cross. "Everyone's Way" is set out in the form of a dialogue, with the first part being written from the point of view of Christ as He walks the way of the Cross. In the "Christ" section we are called to understand a lesson based on each station; in the first station this takes the form of Jesus submitting to the legal rule of Pilate out of obedience to the earthly power he holds and thus our lesson that we too must submit to those who are legally placed in authority over us. The second reading is from our point of view and responds to Christ's challenge by accepting the lesson we have been taught and asking for Jesus' help in fulfilling that challenge. From the "Drink of This" version I pulled closing prayers for each station which summed up the lesson and asked God to give us the strength to persevere in our way.
     Here in Clonard the Stations are stained glass windows which line the back of the church, thus making it hard for people to focus on the station if they are seated. To fix this we projected pictures of each window onto the wall at the front of the church, along with verses to the Stabat Mater which we sung after every other station. In my head I tried to make our celebration a simpler version of the celebration at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which I found very edifying during my time at Notre Dame. Although the congregation was considerably smaller, and the singing was considerably less, I got the sense throughout the service that everyone was being drawn into the journey. For the first time in a long time I was able to personally sink into the prayer that is the Stations of the Cross and all around me I could feel that prayer coming from the congregation. Following the service it was great to hear from some of the parishioners that they had enjoyed the service and had felt a real connection to the Way of the Cross. We will be continuing these Stations services every Monday of Lent at 7pm and I hope that through this prayer we can help the people of Clonard join more fully in the march to Calvary and beyond to the Resurrection.

O God, you willed that your only Son should suffer and die on the Cross for us.
As we now glory in honoring that same holy Cross,
Grant that we may rejoice in your loving care
So that we may experience the glory of your Son’s Resurrection.
This we ask of you through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

17 February 2010

Wednesday Nights

Every Wednesday night I come home around half-nine after back-to-back choir rehearsals, and for the rest of my night, often even into the next morning, I have the same song stuck in my head. Every single Wednesday night, without fail. It's the well-known hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth," sung to the tune Dix, and it's how we end each and every rehearsal with our Vigil Choir.
The practice is one that we've brought with us from our days with the Folk Choir, and we've retained those traditional songs as well, beginning our communal Evening Prayer every Tuesday night by singing Chrysogonus Waddell's "Hail, Holy Queen." When we began working with our own choir, though, we decided that we wanted to end our rehearsal with a hymn that was uniquely us, a hymn that, many years from now, will bring us back to the many evenings spent rehearsing in the Day Chapel alongside the tapestry of St. Brigid.
There were two main criteria in choosing the hymn. 1) It had to wear well, to hold up after being sung week after week. 2) Its text had to pray well, to express something timeless and universal while still being able to resonate with our experiences on a day-to-day basis.
I believe that "For the Beauty of the Earth" fulfills both criteria gracefully and beautifully; its melody is simple and elegant, with harmonies that are inexplicably evocative. We sing this hymn in E-flat major (one of my favorite keys), and in this range, sung at a relaxed tempo, it sounds like a lullaby. Its text contains many verses, but I believe the four that we chose enable us to have a completely different prayer each time that we sing it. The text conjures up (at least for me) memories of recent events, interactions, conversations, and intentions -- whatever is taking place in my life at the time. The refrain allows me to take a moment and acknowledge all of the unique ways God has been present and active in my life, and to simply be grateful.
On this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to pray with the House of Brigid, to recall, even as we begin Lent by acknowledging our sinfulness and our need for mercy, that God continues to bless us with countless gifts -- that God will never be outdone in generosity if we but give our lives in grateful praise.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies;
For the love that from our birth,
Over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour,
Of the day and of the night;
Hill and vale and tree and flow'r,
Sun and moon and stars of light;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child;
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thyself, best Gift Divine,
To the world so freely giv'n;
Word Incarnate, God's design,
Peace on earth and joy in heav'n;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.

St. Cecilia, pray for us.
St. Brigid, pray for us.

16 February 2010

Teach Bhríde 2010-11

It seems impossible to believe that the community has reached the point when it has become necessary to think about next year. Some days, it seems like Chris, Martha, and I only just arrived in Wexford last week! However, that time indeed has arrived, and so I spent this past week conducting interviews with several candidates who applied for a place in next year's House of Brigid community. All of the applicants were incredibly qualified, which made the final decision very difficult, but after a period of intentional prayer and discernment, the selection committee reached its conclusion.

We've had a running joke in the House these past few weeks, with Chris and Martha accusing me of callously replacing them, casting them aside after they've so selflessly given a year of their lives. I, of course, reply that they're irreplaceable, but that I'm going to do my best and try to replace them anyway. Joking aside, though, it's more like finding successors than replacements, because each member of Teach Bhríde will have brought something utterly unique as the community hopefully continues year after year, and it is with that joy and hope of continual renewal that I introduce the three young people who have committed to serving with me in Teach Bhríde beginning this coming September.

Jessica Mannen, House Director-in-Training. Jessica graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with Bachelor's degrees in Music Theory and Theology, and has spent this past year working as the music intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. She has sung with the Notre Dame Folk Choir for several years now, served as Music Director for NDVision (2009-10), and has spent the past year or so starting a program that teaches music to teenagers at the Juvenile Justice Center of South Bend. Jessica has committed to two years in Wexford, and will take over for me as House Director for 2011-12.

Clarisa Ramos, Volunteer. Clarisa will graduate from Notre Dame this year with her Bachelor's degree in Vocal Performance, and has been a member of the Folk Choir since her freshman year. She has also been a featured soloist on the University of Notre Dame PrayerCast, as well as the most recent Folk Choir recording, Songs of Saints and Scholars. Clarisa has a great deal of experience with liturgical planning, and as a high school student, she took on the challenge of increasing student participation at school Masses. She has served this past year as Folk Choir President, was also involved in NDVision as a musician (2008), and spent last summer in Peru teaching music to children in grades 3-5.

Patrick Duffey, Volunteer. Patrick will graduate from Notre Dame this year with a Bachelor's degree in English and a supplementary major in History. He has been a bass in the Folk Choir since his freshman year, and is also an excellent guitarist. This year he serves as Folk Choir Secretary, and was involved as well in Jessica's music program for the Juvenile Justice Center. Patrick has planned on applying to Teach Bhríde since before the community even had a name; he has followed its development very closely, and cannot wait to come to Wexford. He has spent previous summers teaching math to underprivileged children, working at a camp for children with cancer, and was a musician for NDVision in 2008 alongside Jessica and Clarisa.

I feel humbled by the selflessness and inspired by the talents of these young people, and look forward to the new ideas and perspectives they will bring to the community and its work in the parish. True, life in Teach Bhríde will never be the same next year without Chris and Martha, but their work will provide the foundation for the work of next year's community, and we can all say a prayer of gratitude that Jessica, Clarisa, and Patrick followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit in offering to spend the next year (or two) of their lives in service to the Irish Catholic Church. May St. Brigid continue to intercede for all of us as we continuously strive to inspire all whom we encounter with a greater love for Christ and His Gospel.

07 February 2010

From Ashes to the Living Font: A Pilgrimage through Lent

Yesterday, the three of us presented our final workshop for this year on music for Lent. Around 55 people attended the event, including Mary Prete of World Library Publications and her husband Peter, who flew in from Chicago to find out more about life in the House of Brigid.
We presented a total of 12 pieces to the participants: All Will Be Well (S. Warner), From Ashes to the Living Font (text: A. Hommerding, tune St. Flavian), Kyrie from Mass of Redemption (S. Janco), Psalm 51: Have Mercy on Me O Lord (S. Warner), Psalm 16: Harbor of My Heart (S. Warner), Where Charity and Love Prevail (M. Hill), Psalm 146: Whenever You Serve Me (S. Janco), Tree of Life (A. Thompson), Draw Near (S. Janco), I Received the Living God (Anon., arr. E. Coman), There's a Wideness in God's Mercy (Tune: In Babilone), and What Wondrous Love is This (Tune: Wondrous Love). While some of the pieces were specific exclusively to the Lenten season, we included several that would also be appropriate at various points throughout the Easter Triduum, as well as throughout the rest of the liturgical year.
I spoke at length about incorporating intentional silence into the liturgy during Lent, which is not only an odd thing to speak about at a workshop on music, but it's also a concept that often makes congregations uncomfortable; however, during a season of penitential introspection and conversion, silence can provide an apt moment for reflection that may not be possible or even welcome during any other time of the liturgical year. Silence provides a chance to let the liturgy breathe--to allow the congregation a moment to focus and listen intently and pray more intentionally. I also spoke about the use of alternate texts with traditional hymnody, presenting several texts that worked with one tune so that choirs and congregations could get more mileage from their music, so to speak.
I was so proud to see Chris and Martha take on more substantial portions in their presentations for this session: Chris spoke at length about the importance of singing the Kyrie during Lent, and Martha presented the three pieces we chose to highlight as appropriate selections for the Preparation Rite (Where Charity and Love Prevail, Whenever You Serve Me, and Tree of Life), speaking once again about helpful cantoring techniques. Both of them had wonderful insights and demonstrated just how much they've grown in their understanding of music ministry in the past five months. Not only that, but the participants themselves showed an increased enthusiasm for cultivating congregational participation at their parishes, and several directors told me afterward that they had successfully introduced all of the music from the Advent workshop to their parishes. It was once again an incredibly gratifying experience: the feedback from the evaluations was positive overall, and it was humbling to read how many people were moved and inspired not just by the music presented, but also by the fact that it was being presented by young people who were unafraid to witness to their faith. Following the workshop, the wonderful volunteers of Clonard Church once again laid out a meal for the participants, and between 20 and 25 of them were able to join our Vigil Choir to sing for the 7pm Mass.
All in all, it was once again a successful event, and we are so blessed to be working in a place where people are so welcoming to our presence and our thoughts on music ministry. We had a wonderful visit from Mary Prete throughout the week as well, and had a great time showing her and her husband some of our favorite aspects of living and working in Wexford. We are grateful to the staff of World Library Publications for providing the music for yesterday's session, and for their continuous support of our work here. We hope that we will continue to provide new resources for the music ministers of the Diocese of Ferns, and we pray that our workshops next year will be as successful as these have been.

02 February 2010

Feast of St. Brigid

This past Sunday marked the culmination of weeks of preparation as Chris, Martha, and I participated in the annual celebration of St. Brigid at Clonard Church. The celebration took place on the eve of Brigid's feast day, and we had been charged with planning the entire evening's events, with the help of Sr. Mary, a parishioner who had helped to plan past celebrations in honor of Brigid. In the initial stages, we were given a large stack of material to sift through: stories, legends, poems, blessings--all having to do with the woman we pray to as our community's patroness on a daily basis. All of us had a cursory knowledge of Brigid's biography when we arrived, but I don't think any of us realized just how much she means to the people of Ireland.
We wanted to honor Brigid, but we also wanted to honor the entire sense of the Celtic spirituality that surrounds her and permeates the culture. The prayer and poetry of Ireland is saturated with rich imagery and parallel language; St. Patrick's Breastplate is the classic example: "Christ with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me." If you read the entire prayer, you'll find that the language conveys the belief that is deeply-rooted throughout the Celtic spiritual tradition: God is present everywhere, in every thing, in every person, in every place. The entirety of creation reflects the perfection and beauty and majesty of the Creator.
So how do you capture Celtic spirituality in an hour? Oh, and honor the patroness of Ireland?
We found our answer and our inspiration in the incredible tapestry that graces a wall of the Day Chapel at Clonard Church, partially visible in our group picture at the top of the blog. Brigid is the central image, with her cloak miraculously growing the cover the lands of Kildare, and each side of the border depicts the four elements of creation: fire, water, air, and earth. Our celebration of St. Brigid viewed these elements through the lens of her life and her faith.
The emcee began with a description of the element itself, then a reader proclaimed a passage of Scripture pertinent to each element. Following the Scripture, Fr. Denis blessed the element, which was then shared with the congregation through ritual action (i.e. distribution of fire, sprinkling rite). Music focusing underscored each ritual, after which the reader concluded with a story from the life of St. Brigid highlighting her kinship with each element, ending finally with a poetic prayer for her intercession.
There were so many facets to this celebration that it was almost theatrical (in the best sense of the word): the parish staff constructed a beautiful shrine that provided the focus for the evening, pyrotechnics helped us create drama for the blessing and distribution of fire, readers proclaimed Scripture and story with energetic enthusiasm, and images of nature and the Brigid tapestry projected on the wall provided the backdrop for the entire evening.
After reflecting on each of the four elements, the evening concluded with the blessing of Brat Bríd, or Brigid's Cloths. These strips of cloth are to be tied to a tree branch on the eve of Brigid's feast day, and she blesses them as she passes through the lands of Ireland during the night. The cloths are then traditionally placed under a pillow or mattress, or in a sickbed, so that Brigid might intercede for protection or healing. In addition to the cloths, Fr. Denis also blessed the Brigid crosses that had been distributed to the congregation, which had been lovingly made from rushes by several women of the parish. Chris, Martha, and I even learned how to make them!
Looking back, there were so many things that could have gone wrong with this celebration, but nothing did. Each person performed his or her task perfectly and reverently, and the result was truly a celebration that engaged all of the senses, that paid tribute to the heroine of Ireland, and that embodied the richness of Celtic spirituality.
The following is the closing prayer from Sunday night's celebration:
May the wisdom of earth open us to mystery.
May the simplicity of air capture our hearts.
May the gentleness of water soften the tensions within us, and
May the flame of the Spirit that inspired St. Brigid give us hope, courage, and strength as we continue our pilgrim way.
St. Brigid, our patroness and patroness of Ireland, pray for us.

For the full photo album from Sunday's celebration, please click here.

27 January 2010

Teach Bhríde 2009 in Review

Yesterday, Fr. Martin and the three of us traveled the short distance to Ballyvaloo retreat center for a day of reflection. Mostly, we wanted to look back on the past five months and reflect on what we’ve accomplished this year so far. But also, we were looking ahead to the next five months, deciding what we can accomplish before the year is over. It was a beautiful day and we’re so grateful to Fr. Martin for facilitating such a wonderful, and productive day. It was great to put into words the ways in which we have been blessed these past few months and the ways we have been able to give of ourselves to this community. So I thought I would share with you a little “Teach Bhríde 2009 in Review.” Here goes:

-Provided music for many beautiful liturgies at Clonard including the Stepping Out Into Secondary School Liturgy, an Advent Penitential Service, and a parish Remembrance Service.

-Started an Adult Choir to sing Saturday Vigil Mass. We plan liturgies and rehearse with our small, but loyal group on Wednesday nights. We had a big responsibility for music during the Christmas season, and are very gradually getting the congregation used to being lead by a cantor.

-Assisted the Children’s Liturgy Group and have attended the Family Mass on Sunday mornings. We’ve been teaching some new repertoire to the children’s choir and helping with youth catechesis.

-Sang with the Folk Group who sing at 11:15 Sunday morning mass. We also assist at the Folk Group liturgy planning meetings and have been exploring ways to enhance the liturgy overall.

-Prepared and successfully executed a very well attended Advent Workshop.

-Accompanied the Parish Pilgrimage to Knock and provided music for the pilgrimage masses.

-Were commissioned by Bishop Brennan at the Folk Group 30th Anniversary/ Teach Bhríde Commissioning Mass.

-Assisted in numerous capacities, the two primary schools associated with Clonard Parish, Kennedy Park and Scoil Mhuire. I would say we are most proud of our work with these schools. We have shared so many moments of prayer as well as laughter with our new friends there. We assisted both schools with their Opening of the School Year Liturgies and with their Christmas Carol Services. The carol services (a previous tradition at Kennedy Park, but new to Scoil Mhuire) were huge successes and lots of fun. Also, at Kennedy Park, we’ve initiated a new program of Class Masses where we planned a month long curriculum to work with individual classes preparing a mass. We choose themes, pick readings and songs, write prayers of the faithful and gifts, and take volunteers to be lectors, cantors, and gift bearers. This year we’ve gotten to work with the fourth and fifth classes, and they seem to love this program. Working in the schools is our favorite part of the week!

Photos from the Schools' Carol Services:

It has been a busy fall, and we’re looking forward to an eventful spring! We have some exciting prospects on the horizon including: the St. Brigid Feast Day Celebration, Lent workshop, Parish Pilgrimage to Lourdes, Clonard Parish Mission, Sacrament preparation with Communicants and Confirmands from both primary schools, Stations of the Cross throughout Lent, the Triduum and Easter. As always, we ask that you keep us in your prayers. The next few months will be filled with hard work, exciting visits from loved-ones, and a new Teach Bhríde team in place for next fall! The rest of the year is going to fly by, I’m sure. We’ll keep you posted!

18 January 2010

A Jesuit, Some Dominicans, and the IVE...

     On Sunday the 17th of January, Carolyn and I were able to do a little bit of travel outside of Wexford as we headed up to the small village of Kilmyshall (roughly translated as "the middle church on the plain") in the parish of Bunclody. The church in Kilmyshall is run by the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE), a small religious congregation of priests and sisters founded in Argentina. We had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Gabriel, the curate, and a few of the sisters when we attended the Ferns youth festival back in August and they have been trying to get us up to Kilmyshall for a while now. We were finally able to schedule the visit for this weekend to assist with a retreat that their parish was holding all of last week. The final session of the retreat was entitled "The Importance of the Holy Eucharist in our Creed" and was centered on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Gabriel asked us to provide the music for the afternoon as a way to accompany the adoration and the talks.
     Our visit began when we were collected at our house by one of the Sisters, a professed member from Alabama who we also met back in August. The drive to Kilmyshall took about an hour and passed through some of the most beautiful landscapes. The village of Kilmyshall is in the foothills of the mountains, and to get there we had to drive through the valley from the cathedral town of Enniscorthy with beautiful views of the Slaney and of the surrounding fields. Our conversation in the car was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day as we were able to discuss with another American missionary the challenges that are being faced in the Irish Church right now. It was great to hear a new perspective and to get some ideas on things that have worked for her and some things that she is still struggling with. The final part of the journey was a little rough because the road up to the village was not paved very well and there were plenty of potholes and uneven surface. When we came into the little village she pointed out the old cemetery, the town water pump, and finally the church. There really isn't much more to the town as there are only about 100 people resident in the village.
     Once we arrived at the parish we were greeted by Fr. Gabriel and were able to set up our keyboard and make sure everything was ready to go. Carolyn put together a great program for the afternoon so that all of the participants could join in with the music. Since the theme of the retreat was the Eucharist Carolyn wanted to put a Eucharistic image on the cover and boy did she hit a home run with this one. We're still unpacking all of the imagery that is present in this one icon!
     The retreat began with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and some moments of quiet prayer. The church was a very simply decorated, but the altar area was prepared beautifully and the served as a good focal point for the afternoon. Following the opening period of prayer the first session of the retreat began. The retreat was preached by Fr. James Swetnam, a Jesuit from Missouri who has been on the faculty of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome since 1962. While we were talking with him after the retreat we found out that he is an avid Notre Dame fan and was classmates with Notre Dame theology professor Fr. Brian Daley, S.J. Father Swetnam has been studying the Letter to the Hebrews (which he claims is in fact a Pauline letter) for almost 50 years now and in the hour and half that he talked we covered just 21 verses of the letter. The retreat was a fairly academic look at Hebrews 13:1-21 and the way in which those verses correspond to the liturgy of the Catholic Church. There is still a lot that I need to process from his talk, but the main gist that I got out of it was the following: (The Eucharist is important in our Creed because the Eucharist was and is the protocreedal statement. When Christ said, "Do this in memory of me," He gave the Apostles their first creed. By our continuing celebration of the Eucharist, we are constantly affirming our belief in that moment when Christ instituted the Sacrament and in all of the beliefs that come from that moment.) Like I said, there is still a lot processing which I need to do to fully understand his talk, but I thought that it was a great reflection on the Eucharist as the center of our faith, especially as we sat in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

     The music which we chose for the afternoon were drawn from the traditional hymns used during adoration, as well as Eucharistic hymns which are fairly common. For the opening hymn we used a piece that the Folk Choir knows well, "Jesus, My Only Desire", which sounded beautiful and haunting in the old church. I had to stop myself multiple times from slipping into the bass part and for some reason this made me focus on the words more than I have in the past. It is truly one of the most beautiful hymns that we use and I just love the opening of verse 3 where we declare, "Jesus the hope of my soul." What an amazing thought, especially in the world we live in today and in the suffering we are seeing in places like Haiti, to be reminded that our soul has only to look at Christ to see renewed hope. We also used two reflection pieces: the antiphonal "Now We Remain", and an amazing setting of the "Adoro te Devote" called "God With Hidden Majesty". The remaining pieces were all traditional adoration texts, O Saving Victim, Tantum Ergo, and O Sanctissima, all of which sounded amazing.
     Following Benediction and the closing of the retreat we were all invited over to the community center for tea and coffee. We did not want to leave our gear in the church so we decided to carry it the 100 meters to the center. We had just a few too many things to carry but there were three Dominican novices attending the retreat and one of them kindly got up from saying vespers to help us carry our things. We were told that to get to the building you take a right out of the church, then a left, then another right. You would think that in a village of less than 100 people you would be able to follow those directions quite easily. As it happened we missed the second right and kept moving up the road. We were having a great discussion with our new Dominican friend Connor about our work here in Ireland and his studies as a novice, and we thought we were heading in the right direction. When we got to the end of the village and were looking out at fields and mountains we decided to turn around and head back. Luckily once we arrived in the center of the village one of the priests was standing there laughing at us. He said it was pretty funny to see me walking down the street carrying a full keyboard on my shoulder.
Tea was a great chance to talk with some of the people who had attended the retreat, including Fr. Stephen who has just recently been reassigned to Santa Clara, California. I told him that if he wants to come to a football game at ND next year to just shoot me an email and I'll try and set him up with tickets. I've already rambled on for a while and am trying to curb my verbosity a bit, so I think I will wrap it up here. All in all it was a great afternoon and we were glad to be able to minister to a new community. We were told that the music added much to the celebration and have been asked back whenever we want to visit. We thank the IVE's up in Kilmyshall and all of the parishioners there for their warm hospitality. I leave you with a few more pictures that I took of the afternoon. Continue to pray for the people in Haiti and consider making a donation to the Red Cross or Catholic Relief Services. I've installed the Red Cross link on the right side of the page which will take you right to the Haiti Relief Fund donation page. Every little bit helps. Have a great week everyone!


27 December 2009

Nollaig Shona Dhuit!

Happy Christmas from the House of Brigid!
It's been far too long since our last posting, but I wanted to extend warm wishes for a blessed Christmas season from all of us here in Wexford. We have had many letters from friends and family at home, and all of them seem to begin by saying something like "We're sorry you won't be celebrating Christmas at home this year." While it is true that being away from friends and family can be difficult during the holidays, I can assure everyone that the three of us have been more than well taken care of, from both sides of the pond.
In addition to Christmas greetings from our own friends and families, we received as a community a wonderful surprise from our friends in the Folk Choir: a new board game for the house, and Christmas ornaments decorated with pictures of each individual choir member. I wish I could recreate the moment when Martha and I opened the box and realized what was inside it--each of us saw different Folkheads smiling up at us, and we just... well, yelled, really. It was hilarious. The ornaments look great, and it was so moving to know that everyone took time out of their busy schedule of preparing for finals to make sure the three of us knew that they were thinking of us at Christmastime.
Here in Ireland, the Christmas spirit has been non-stop. We received numerous Christmas cards and goodies, as well as several beautiful keepsake ornaments that are sure to conjure vivid memories of our Irish Christmas as we hang them on our trees many Christmases from now. We've enjoyed many new traditions such as mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas crackers, and flaming plum pudding, just to name a few!
Liturgically, the season afforded us the opportunity to learn some new carols, teach some new carols, and sing the old favorites with full heart and voice. Through our carol services and working with the Clonard Family Liturgy Group, we learned a couple of Irish traditional carols. One is called Don Oíche ud I mBeithil, which we were told is a beloved carol throughout Ireland. The title means "I sing of a night in Bethlehem," and it tells of how the first Christmas night was as bright as the dawn. It is a beautiful, haunting tune (as only the Irish can write!); it's one of those that lingers in your head long after you hear it, and one that I will always remember. The other tune is called "A Mhuire Mathair," or "To Mother Mary." It's a combination of Irish and Latin, and it's a Christmas greeting to Our Lady, praising her as the mother of the Infant Jesus, and acknowledging her place as our mother as well, and the text is set to a lyrical tune that reminds me of a lullaby. It was so moving to hear these songs sung by young children, hearing them participate so beautifully in their tradition and heritage.
Within our own vigil choir, we were able to teach several new pieces this year. Since we had the first Vigil Mass of Christmas Eve at 5pm, we decided to begin preludes at 4:30 with a carol sing. The line-up included old favorites like "Joy to the World" and "O Holy Night," but it also included "From East to West" and the chant "Unto Us a Child is Born," both by Chrysogonus Waddell. I was so proud of the choir--they sang "Unto Us a Child is Born" a capella, and even sang the refrain in four-part harmony. It was beautiful! We were also able to teach "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Of the Father's Love Begotten," both of which were very warmly received by the choir members.
I think my personal favorite carol of this season has been "The Wexford Carol." I had been familiar with this piece for a while through various carol services back in the States, so when I realized I was moving to its place of origin, I knew immediately that we'd be using it at Christmas. Through researching the carol's history, I discovered that it was not written in Wexford town, that it actually originated in Enniscorthy, which is about 20 minutes northwest of Wexford. Some people call it "The Enniscorthy Carol," but the name "Wexford Carol" actually refers to County Wexford, not Wexford Town. Geographical technicalities aside, it is a beautiful piece of music, and it was great to introduce it to Chris and Martha, to use it in the Scoil Mhuire carol service, and to sing it on Christmas Day at Mass.
Look for future posts with pictures and videos from the Christmas carol services of Kennedy Park and Scoil Mhuire, and once again, many thanks again to all who have written to us from home and abroad, and most especially thanks to everyone here in Wexford who made sure that we felt as much at home here at Christmas as we would have in our own country. We are so grateful to have the prayers and love and support of so many wonderful people here in Wexford and back at home. May God bless all of you this Christmas season with the peace and joy the Christ-Child brings, may your families and friends know success and prosperity throughout the New Year, and may all of us strive to bring the love of God to all we encounter in all that we do.
Happy Christmas, everyone!

26 November 2009

Christ Our Light: The Journey Through Advent

November 6 marked another major milestone for the House of Brigid: our first major workshop for liturgical musicians of the Diocese of Ferns. The event was weeks in the making: we mailed press kits introducing the community and advertising the event to every Parish Priest in the Diocese, out into the wonderful vagueness that is the Irish postal system, with the certitude that, somehow, our letters intended for such specific destinations as "Fr. So-and-So, Parochial House, Bunclody, County Wexford," would find their way to the addressee. Not a single letter was returned unopened; our faith in the Irish postal system with its Harry Potter-esque addresses was entirely justified. In fact, a few weeks later, enquiries and reservations began to surface; the letters had been forwarded on to the choir directors and musicians. Word was getting out.
Our expectation for the number of attendees was guardedly optimistic; we t
hought we were being overly cautious by requesting more octavo packets than we would need from World Library Publications and GIA, who had graciously agreed to provide repertoire for our event. In the end, both publishers responded with generosity and unbelievable speed, and we had 50 complete packets of 9 titles ready for distribution. We ended up needing almost twice that many.
One week out, our workshop had around 70 confirmed reservations from all over the Diocese, with the promise from our parish supervisors that more would turn up without having contacted us, and turn up they did. A 2:30pm start time meant that most people showed up to register around 2:45 (in Ireland, all times end with "ish"), bu soon we had everyone sorted, and Fr. Denis began his introductions of the community shortly before 3:00.

Considering I was leading my first diocesan workshop, and considering this was the first official diocesan event sponsored by our fledgling community, I was nervous, wondering how the Irish would respond to us, and to the information and music we would present. In the end, all we could do was stand in front of them, and share with them the knowledge and experiences that have nurtured in each of us a real passion for liturgy done well, especially when enhanced by beautiful music. I needn't have been nervous. The groups was incredibly receptive, not only to the music itself, but also to my comments on liturgical music planning, Martha's comments on cantoring, and Chris's comments on the origins of certain Advent texts. I explained that, when you come down to it, our job as music ministers is to help the congregation pray well, in a way that brings beauty to the liturgy and honor to God. We can accomplish this by choosing music that reflects the liturgical action and season, music that is beautiful and worthy of a place in the Mass, music that inspires the congregation to participate with full heart and voice.
Following the workshop, the wonderful ladies of the Clonard Parish
community served a meal to the participants, and after that, we adjourned to prepare for our own Vigil Mass, where we were astonished to see that nearly 30 people had stayed to join us in song. It was overwhelming to see such enthusiasm, to meet and converse with so many people who want so badly to improve their liturgical music. There is a real hunger in this country for rejuvenation and renewal.
Most of the participants wrote encouraging compliments on the evaluations we asked them to complete. Nearly all of them found the information useful and the music accessible. A few stated that implementing our suggestions would be very difficult, given the small size of most parish choirs, the lack of people confident enough to cantor, and most of all, the fact that many people in music ministry here in Ireland don't actually read music. While these are difficult obstacles that we ourselves continue to encounter in trying to help others improve their liturgical music, I don't see them as insurmountable. Rather, I found many reasons to be hopeful in coming away from our first diocesan workshop: there are many people in this area who want to learn, who want to grow as musicians, and who want to be inspired in their ministry so that they, in turn, can inspire others to learn and grow in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, I believe that it is their desire for inspiration that continues to inspire us in our own ministry as we strive to bring a renewed sense of joy to all whom we encounter here in Ireland.