All posts tagged: Christmas

“Little Children, Love One Another”

For reasons I can’t sufficiently explain, I find that the saints honored by the Church during the Christmas season somehow call my attention a little more than those celebrated at other times of the year. Perhaps it’s because these saints seem to be made more radiant in the glow of the Christmas celebration. Today the Church honors one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John has long been a source of fascination for me: my younger brother shares his name, and because of that, when I was a small child, my ears always perked up at Mass whenever I heard the name “John” mentioned. (They still do.) As an adult, I am even more fascinated by St. John the Evangelist—his Gospel and epistles contain some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Were I ever to share John’s fate and be banished to an island like Patmos, I would take his writings with me, for I feel certain that I could spend the rest of my life studying …

The God Who Had Strep Throat

This year, I spent Christmas Day caring for our son, who had come down with a dreadful case of strep throat on December 23rd. I watched as this rather minor affliction (at least in the grand scheme of human health) took away the energy of a child who normally has a single speed engine: lightning fast. Yet on Christmas night, he laid upon a couch, barely able to keep his eyes open. Although not the ideal Christmas for a family (we lacked the beautiful images of families bedecked in finery), our son’s sickness gave us an occasion to contemplate the strong God who revealed the depths of love by becoming one of the weak. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he did not spurn the human condition. Instead, he took it up. He took upon himself the weakness of a world in which sickness and death are often an all-encompassing experience for us mere mortals. He shared in human suffering such that ever human sickness, every human death, now has its meaning …

Auden on the Feast of St. Stephen

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week— Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully— To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers. —W.H. Auden, “For the Time Being” December 26 can be a miserable morning. The fresh-looking print in one’s new books already has the dull glaze of familiarity. If you’re me, your new pants may already have a tear in them. Yesterday weren’t all things supposed to be made new? Didn’t I just try for four weeks to egg on my longing for Christ, dragging it slouching and grumbling out from under my rocky heart? If I did, I have nothing to show for it. I’m …

Festive Silence

The weeks leading up to Christmas are a noisy time amid the constant din of advertisements, Christmas music, and planning for the holidays. In this atmosphere it can be difficult to quiet our souls in preparation for the coming of the Christ child. An ascetic plunge into silent preparation this Advent may seem like the only alternative to cranking the Christmas tunes to get in the spirit of the season. But perhaps there is a way in which a festive silence is necessary to suppress the noise occupying our spirit. This may be the silence we need to prepare to enter more fully into the festival of Christmas when it comes. This silence does not need to be thought of as a sort of Lenten “music fast,” but rather as a silence that encompasses the joyful hope of the coming of Emmanuel. Then, at Christmas, when God comes to dwell with us (truly a time for the festival to begin) we are prepared to receive him. Allowing God’s indwelling in our lives requires radical openness …

Advent Eschatology

Oh I’d be waiting with quiet fasting, Anticipating A joy more lasting. —Madeleine L’Engle, “The Birth of Wonder” Advent—like Lent—is a liturgical period when we mark time according to what is still hidden. The Easter Hope is shrouded in sin and suffering, it has not yet broken open the world in Resurrection; the Christmas Hope of Christ’s glory is shrouded in the womb of the Virgin, it has not yet breached into the waking world of man. But Advent—unlike Lent—is not a season of penitential sorrow. Rather, Advent is a period of deep anticipation of the lasting joy that is coming into the world. To keep Advent is not to pretend, in a facile suspension of belief, that Christ has not been incarnated, that his great Nativity never occurred. Rather, to keep Advent is to walk in liturgical solidarity with all humanity’s forebears who lived in the pre-Incarnation world and to commemorate their anticipation of a Savior. As we walk with them along their journey of anticipation, we sense that we ourselves are a people …

Review: “O Emmanuel” by J.J. Wright

An album of Advent and Christmas music incorporating chant, hymnody, and jazz, performed by a children’s choir, a quartet of adult singers, traditional chamber instruments, and a jazz ensemble. On paper (or on screen), this combination is perhaps more suggestive of avant-garde performance art than reverent sacred music. But the new album O Emmanuel brings this unlikely ensemble together in a spiritually edifying and musically thrilling way. Featuring music written and performed by Grammy-winning composer, conductor, and pianist J.J. Wright (along with the Notre Dame Children’s Choir and Fifth House Ensemble), O Emmanuel is an exciting demonstration of the ways in which sacred music can bring together seemingly disparate styles not only from the Church’s long musical tradition but also from more recent developments in Western music, as Wright describes here in his interview with Church Life Journal. Like the Advent season itself, O Emmanuel is full of surprises. The album begins with “Gabriel’s Message,” an Advent hymn narrating the Annunciation event that deserves to be much more broadly known than it is. Here, Wright’s …

An Interview with Sacred Music Composer J.J. Wright

Following the release of the album O Emmanuel, GRAMMY-winning composer, conductor, and pianist J.J. Wright provided the following interview to Church Life Journal, where he described not only the experience of creating and recording this unique album for the Advent and Christmas seasons (which reached #1 on Billboard’s traditional classical album chart), but also the importance of children’s choirs and the future of sacred and liturgical music in the life of the Church. We are grateful to J.J. for sharing his thoughts as a complement the review of O Emmanuel featured here. CP: Throughout this piece there are moments when varied musical styles are heard side-by-side. For example, in one section, a chant melody is accompanied by a jazz trio. Can you describe your thought process when it comes to constructing passages like this? How do you fit these seemingly incongruous musical pieces together in such a complementary way? Why do you feel it’s important to fuse different kinds of music together in your writing? JJ: Music has an incredible way of stirring our emotions. When I composed this work, I wanted to create …