Author: Carolyn Pirtle

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

October 16th marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8th. In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and …

Stations of the Cross 11-12: His Final Breath Breathes and Bears Us

Throughout this Holy Week, we are going to be sharing a series of poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Malcom Guite. An Anglican priest-poet currently serving as Chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, Guite has published eight books of his poetry, with two more forthcoming. His collection Sounding the Seasons comprises sonnets composed for various feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year, including this series. We are grateful for Guite’s kind permission to share these sonnets on Church Life Journal. At the moment of Jesus’ Death during the proclamation of the Passion, the Church bids us kneel, silent in the face of so great a mystery. With silent hearts, then, we ponder the Light that darkness cannot overcome, the Love that gives unto the end, the Death by which death dies. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” XI. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross See, as they strip the robe from off his back And spread …

Stations of the Cross 9-10: In the Cold Hell Where You Freeze

Throughout this Holy Week, we are going to be sharing a series of poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Malcom Guite. An Anglican priest-poet currently serving as Chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, Guite has published eight books of his poetry, with two more forthcoming. His collection Sounding the Seasons comprises sonnets composed for various feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year, including this series. We are grateful for Guite’s kind permission to share these sonnets on Church Life Journal. Whereas Jesus’ first and second falls were followed by moments of tenderness in the encounter with his Mother and the women of Jerusalem, this third and final fall is followed by the beginning of the end as Jesus is stripped by the soldiers who prepare him for his Crucifixion. And yet, this end, this Death toward which Jesus draws ever closer, is not the end; rather, it is the beginning. For though the soldiers strip Jesus of his garments and his tunic, they cannot strip him of his identity—even …

Love of Learning, Love of God and Neighbor

“You’re still going to take classes?” “Yes.” “But . . . didn’t you graduate?” “Yes.” “Okay, so . . . why are you still going to take classes?” “Because I still have a lot to learn.” If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve had this conversation with friends or family over the past several months, I’d have many dollars. To be fair, they’re not wrong to ask. I’ve been in school for a long time. With the exception of taking one year off between degrees, I’ve been in school or taking classes in varying degrees of intensity for almost thirty years now, and people wonder when/if I’ll ever be done. Truthfully, I think the answer is probably never/no. But my status as a perma-student isn’t the result of a prolonged existential crisis—I didn’t change my major multiple times (or even once) or spend years spinning my wheels trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was lucky. The next step just always seemed to present itself, and always happened …

A New Song for the New Evangelization: In the Beginning

Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for parish music directors in …

An Interview with Audrey Assad

Soon after the release of her latest album Inheritance, Catholic singer-songwriter Audrey Assad graciously provided the following interview describing her inspirations and her aspirations for this project and for her music in general. We are grateful to Audrey for sharing her thoughts with us as a complement to the review of her album featured here at Church Life. CP: You’ve demonstrated an incredible depth and facility as a songwriter on your previous albums Death, Be Not Proud, O Happy Fault, Fortunate Fall, Heart, and The House You’re Building. Yet, with this latest album, your own songwriting takes a backseat, and you’ve offered listeners instead a collection consisting mostly of familiar hymns in original arrangements. What is it about hymns in general and these hymns in particular that has not only drawn you to them but has also made you want to share them with your listeners? AA: First of all, thank you so much for the kind words on my songwriting. I knew I was indeed shifting my focus a bit in doing a hymns project—I did …

Review: “Inheritance” by Audrey Assad

In a response to U2 frontman Bono’s criticism that Christian music lacks honesty, a recent piece at Aleteia named Catholic singer-songwriter Audrey Assad as one of five “real” Christian singer-songwriters, citing her latest latest album Inheritance as the reason behind their choice. What sets Assad apart from the other four artists named in the article provides the focus for this review of her aptly-named album: nearly every track is an arrangement of a hymn or text that has been part of the musical tradition of the Church for decades, or, in some cases, centuries. Assad has recorded an array of repertoire that played a significant role in her own spiritual life and development—from the time when she sang hymns with the Plymouth Brethren community in which she was raised, to her faith life now as a convert to Roman Catholicism. While there are perennially familiar and beloved hymns like Holy, Holy, Holy and Be Thou My Vision and How Can I Keep from Singing, there are some surprises too. Assad’s inclusion of I Wonder as …

The Mass for Millennials: Recessional Hymn

The Mass is ended. Go in peace. Thanks be to God. Just kidding. We’re going to sing one more hymn, even though the presider just told y’all to leave. Oh wait. A lot of you have already left. And a lot of you are packing up to leave right now. Aaannd the rest of you are looking at me like you don’t like me because you heard the word “go” and you really want to go but your good ol’ Catholic guilt is compelling you to stay. So let’s make a joyful noise, now, shall we? If I had a dollar for every time I encountered the above reactions to the recessional hymn in my experience as a cantor, I would have many dollars. To be fair, not every Sunday played out in the way I’ve described above (only somewhat exaggeratedly). Some Sundays and major feast days I would see congregations pick up their hymnals excitedly after hearing the title of the hymn announced or seeing it in the worship aid. Celebrations of greater solemnity—Christmas …

“Who Tells Your Story?”: Hamilton and the New Evangelization

Last week, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical Hamilton, which tells the story of “ten-dollar founding father” Alexander Hamilton through rap and hip hop, made history of its own when it received sixteen Tony nominations, more than any other Broadway musical. Unlike any other musical in recent memory, Hamilton has transcended the somewhat niche audience of Broadway lovers, finding a firm foothold in popular culture and capturing the imaginations of those who love traditional music theatre, those who love rap and hip hop, those who love American history, those who love a good underdog story, the list goes on and on. This phenomenal reception begs the question: what is it about this show? Why has Hamilton struck such a chord in the hearts of those who have been lucky enough to see it or (in a far more likely scenario since the show is sold out until January 2017) those who have been listening to the Original Cast Recording on repeat for months now? For one thing, Hamilton is, quite simply, artistically excellent. The …

The Mass for Millennials: Doxology and Amen

Every Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the Doxology and the Great Amen. In this solemn, powerful moment, the presider holds aloft Jesus himself, truly present in the Eucharistic species, and proclaims: Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB beautifully summarizes this liturgical action thus: In that moment the Church is doing what Christ did and forever does: she offers his one body, to which she has been joined [by the power of the Holy Spirit], to the Father for the glory of his name and for the salvation of the world. This is our communion in the sacrifice of Christ. This is perfect praise. (What Happens at Mass, 106) Doxology. Perfect praise. In this moment of the liturgy, through our union with Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are restored to our original vocation of the homo adorans, the priestly creatures whose vocation has always been and will …