All posts tagged: carolynpirtle

Jazz: A Foretaste of Eternal Life

Throughout Scripture, there are more than 1,000 references to all things musical—songs, singing, instruments, and the like. These passages identify music as a beautifully appropriate way to praise God not only here on earth, but also in the eternal joy of heaven. As a lifelong musician, I’ve always been especially comforted by the reassurance that, whatever else life in heaven is like, music will definitely be a part of it. More recently, as a composer, I’ve often found myself wondering what exactly this music will sound like. Some Scripture passages seem to imply a capella (unaccompanied vocal) music, for example, “I thank you, LORD, with all my heart; in the presence of the angels to you I sing” (Ps 138:1). On the other hand, Isaiah tells us that “we will sing to stringed instruments in the house of the LORD all the days of our life” (Is 38:20). That sounds appealing; who doesn’t love a good string quartet? The psalmist goes several instruments further in his final song of praise: Hallelujah! Praise God in his …

Beauty Already Has Saved the World

Editorial Note: This essay was originally delivered as a presentation at “Illuminating the Incarnation: A Musical Meditation on The Saint John’s Bible,” a multi-disciplinary concert sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, directed by Carmen-Helena Téllez of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, and performed on September 24, 2017 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. St. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with an exhortation: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This is what we come here today to do: to place ourselves in the presence of something lovely, something excellent, something beautiful. Yet, this afternoon’s concert is not something that is merely meant to entertain us. This afternoon’s concert, like all great art, is something that is meant to transform us. We’ve come here to experience the beauty of Scripture in all of its truth, purity, …

Formed in Wonder, Love, and Praise

If you were to survey members of a Roman Catholic congregation as they exited the church after Sunday Mass by asking what facet of the celebration made the greatest impact on them that day for good or for ill, odds are high that many of those surveyed (if not most) would name the liturgical music in their response. More than any other element (with perhaps the exception of preaching and the architecture of the church itself), liturgical music has the greatest capacity to shape how we celebrate the Sunday Mass week in and week out, season after season, year after year. Ask those same congregation members if they can remember the readings or a central point from the homily and it’s likely you won’t get an answer; ask them if they can remember one of the hymns and it’s likely you’ll get a serenade. Many parish communities view the music of its liturgies as a hallmark of their identity; many people seeking parish communities often site music as one of the reasons for or against …

“For the Life of the World”: Nourishing the Catholic Imagination for Liturgical Celebration

In the life of the Church, the liturgy, especially the Mass, is something of a lightning rod. Mass attendance (or lack thereof) is viewed as the basic litmus test for a parish’s vitality, and many programs and initiatives are undertaken at the parish and/or diocesan level for the purposes of either increasing the numbers of those who attend Mass regularly or making the Mass a more meaningful experience for those who already go. Why this emphasis on the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharistic celebration of Mass? At the surface level, it’s because the Mass is the central point of entry for most parishioners into the life of their church. If the Sunday Mass is poorly attended, it’s a safe bet that other parish programs like catechesis, youth and young adult ministry, and sacramental preparation are probably struggling as well. As goes the Sunday Mass, so goes the parish. At a deeper spiritual level, the Eucharistic liturgy is most often the central focus of parish ministry because it is in the liturgy that “the work of …

“Come, Holy Spirit”: The Vulnerable Bravery of Fr. Hesburgh’s Favorite Prayer

The late Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., beloved former president of the University of Notre Dame, stated again and again in homilies and interviews that his favorite prayer was “Come, Holy Spirit.” He said: The Holy Spirit is the light and strength of my life, for which I am eternally grateful. My best daily prayer, apart from the Mass and breviary, continues to be simply, “Come, Holy Spirit.” No better prayer, no better results: much light and much strength. As the Church prepares to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, it strikes me that it might be worthwhile to think about what we’re asking when we pray “Come, Holy Spirit.” Such a short prayer seems to suggest an almost innocuous invocation—after all, the Holy Spirit is often shown in artwork as a kind and gentle dove. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Advocate, the Paraclete, and surely praying “Come, Holy Spirit” is a way to bring peace to the troubled heart. Yes, but. The Holy Spirit is also called “the finger of God”: the Holy Spirit …

“Parks and Recreation”: Icon of Community

Over the past several months, I’ve been rewatching NBC’s comedy series Parks and Recreation, which is, in my opinion, one of the most quietly wonderful shows ever to be on television. Having seen every episode at least once now, I think I’ve figured out what made the show work so well (or, more accurately, what made it work so well once its writers figured out what they wanted it to be). Parks and Rec works because its characters are better together than they would be alone. Fans of the show undoubtedly recognize themselves in one or more of the characters (I’ve been cast as Leslie Knope by multiple friends, and I’ve cast my own friends as Ron Swansons, Donna Meagles, even April Ludgates), and it is this recognition that also serves as a reminder that we are made better human beings by the other people in our lives than we could ever become on our own. Leslie’s overachieving drive and relentless enthusiasm needs to be tempered by Ron’s taciturnity, Ben’s pragmatism, and Ann’s steadiness. On the …

Beauty, Music, and “The Weight of Glory”

Driving home yesterday, I happened to hear a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E-Minor, Op. 64 on Michiana’s 24-hour classical music station 90.7 FM (the greatest gift our local airwaves have to offer). If you’ve never encountered this piece before, do your soul a favor: take half an hour, turn off all notifications on your phone, click below, and simply listen. If you don’t have that kind of time right now, just take eight minutes and listen to the second movement. Even though the entire work is written such that the movements are to be performed without the traditional breaks in between, you can still gain a sense for the beauty of the whole by listening to this one part. For me, this second movement contains some of the most sublimely beautiful music ever written. It’s not about the technical components of the music—its rhythm and meter and chromaticism and instrumentation—something much deeper is at work here. There’s something about the way this piece is constructed: in its moments of tension and release, of sweetness and …

May Crowning: Honoring Our Queen and Our Mother

A long-standing tradition in the Church has been to adorn a statue or image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers at the beginning of May, a month dedicated to her honor. I have vivid memories of the May Crowning at my grade school, when all of the students were invited to bring flowers from home that would then be put into vases and carried in procession to the front of the church, where a large statue of Our Lady was prominently placed. If you were lucky, you were the one chosen to carry the vase in the procession as your class representative. If you were super lucky, you were the one chosen to carry the circlet of flowers and crown Mary at the culmination of the service. Here at Our Lady’s University, the McGrath Institute for Church Life brought back the tradition of the Marian Procession and May Crowning last year, an event that will take place once again this year on Sunday, May 7 at 1pm, beginning at the Grotto of Our Lady …

Celebrating the Easter Season, Part 4: Food

We fast for the forty days of Lent. It stands to reason that we should find ways to feast for the entire fifty days of the Easter season. Most people are pretty adept at enjoying the extravaganza of Easter Sunday with chocolates, jelly beans, even Peeps (which, as my grandmother taught me, are really only good for Peep Jousting), but what happens after the inevitable stomachache and the ensuing sadness that the Easter baskets are empty? How can we truly keep the Easter feast for fifty days? We can BAKE. As my lifelong love of creating delicious treats has been reignited of late by my being introduced to the joys of The Great British Baking Show (watch and revel—you’ll thank me later), it seems to me that baking is a fairly simple way for people to continue their celebration of the Easter for the entire season. By baking something once each week, you can sustain a sense of joy and newness throughout Easter, and if you’re concerned about your waistline, you can use this as an …

Cruciform Beauty: Icon and Pattern of Self-Giving Love

Of the many images that have found artistic expression in Christianity, the Crucifixion of Jesus is perhaps the most powerful. Representations of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Madonna and Child have the capacity to inspire awe-filled contemplation of the Incarnation; however, few images in these categories can utterly arrest the gaze of the viewer in the same manner as the image of Jesus on the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion in all its awful glory invites and even demands the viewer to pause for a moment to consider the weight of human sin and the depths of divine love that fastened the God-man to the Cross. It is the paradox of the Cross—the mystery that the Son of God dies so that we might have life and remains glorious as God even in his horrific death as man—that has inspired artists for centuries, and each artist in his or her own way must grapple with how they will portray this pivotal moment in human history: does one emphasize the unimaginable physical sufferings of …