House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

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.