Personally, I would have to call 2010 "The Year of Chant". As I have delved into the wonders of Western Plainsong from both technical and spiritual angles, I have been exposed to a pedagogy that is slowly deepening my understand of God and how loving He truly is. I am learning more about my faith in a way which supplements the study I undertake in what little spiritual reading I do. The fruits of this remain to be seen; hopefully, a seed has been planted in good ground.
Part of the repertoire of Gregorian Chant are the Propers of the Mass. They are the Introit, the Graduale, the Alleluia or Tract (used during Lent), the Offertory, and the Communion. These antiphons used in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass have been replaced in the Ordinary Form by the Processional (Entrance) Hymn, Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, Offertory Hymn, and Communion Hymn.
This is not the time and place I wish to enter debate on the merits of what is better for the liturgy and all the tangled web that has been woven since Vatican II. I would like to present for your meditation some thoughts using the Propers for the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord celebrated at Midnight. Since the Propers are usually in Latin, I will use the English translation.
The Lord said to me, "You are my son; this day I have begotten you."
This verse is used for both the Introit and the Alleluia. It is the Father speaking to the Son. While Christ has always been with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity, these words take on a different meaning tonight. Rather, one should say "this day", "today". Hodie
. For when this is chanted in its rightful places, as the priest processes to the altar, figure of the Christ Child in hand, ready to be placed in the Nativity scene, and when the book of the Gospels is processed to the ambo, the Word in Its many words and forms, the magnitude of what has and will happen comes to the forefront.
The Babe, the Son of Mary is placed in the manger; the Word is among us. The story of His birth as told by St. Luke (2:1-14) is made flesh by the proclamation of that Gospel; the Word, in that sense, is among us.
We have waited for the coming of Jesus for four weeks. Now, His Advent into the world is here. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory,..." (John 1:14a). Now, Emmanuel--God is with us. Now. The only time God sees--past, present, and future all at once. The infinite has made His way into the finite.
We humans cannot wrap our finite minds around this mystery; the choirs of angels, less so. All we mortals can do is join in their heavenly song and give glory. We stand in awe. It is really the only proper response to such a great act.
Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.
This verse is used for both the Graduale and Communion (only the second half). Again, note the similarity of theme. "The King of Glory comes, the nation rejoices." In its place between the First and Second Readings (Isaiah 9:1-6 and Titus 2:11-14), it also speaks of the manifestation of the Savior. As we proceed to receive Him in the Precious Body and Blood, we are made aware of another manifestation.
Born in "the house of bread," the Word made flesh, through the words of the priest, in the act of consecration, in a sense another begetting, manifests His Real Presence and fulfills the promise He made before His crucifixion.
Again, another mystery beyond our comprehension. Bread and wine trans-substantiated into His Body and Blood. While the heaven hosts are able to eternally gaze upon Him as He truly is, we only have this shadow, Real as He is.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;...before (the face of) the Lord, for He comes.
Psalm 96:11a, 13a
This is the verse use at the Offertory. Again, He comes. Only this time, it is not Mary who carries Him within, not quite ready to be born. We, like Mary and Joseph, he of the house of David, in a sense "travel to Bethlehem", to a sanctuary and, while there, completes our days of confinement through the hands of the priest, who finishes the knitting of earthly and heavenly natures in the consecration.
"Let heaven and nature sing" about this new joy to the world. The angels certainly did. The shepherds were muted, but must have been glad. The Magi understood, but had to keep their song quiet. Simeon and Anna rejoiced forty days later. We as well join in with our "Gloria".
Emmanuel. God is truly with us. He has come.
Hodie Christus natus est.