Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Amen, Dico Vobis

The communion antiphon for next week is Amen, Dico Vobis. The image you see above was created from Richard Rice's communion antiphon editions available at the CMAA in PDF. I used the image crop tool in this case, though the file can also be opened directly in any image editor. Or, if you just print it out directly, you will get a great copy in seconds, with all the Psalm verses.

The text in translation is "Amen I say unto you, all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive: and they shall come unto you."

And now is an excellent opportunity to present another online resource that you will find invaluable: Dom Johner's Chants of the Vatican Gradual, published first in German in 1934 and then in English in 1940. It is an imaginative and inspiring commentary on many chants from the Gradual. At 500 pages, it is still too short!

Here is what he says of the Amen, Dico Vobis:

In the two half-phrases which constitute this song, the first part in
both instances extends above the range of the second part. Each inception, if we disregard the introductory formula, is on the dominant: quidquid, credite, et; this gives the piece an added feeling of assurance. The endings show a descending line: vobis = a, petitis = g, accipietis=f vobis=ed. It is to be noted that the accented syllables are always higher than the succeeding syllables, and generally carry several notes. Amen is a striking exception. The form d a bb, over its second syllable, is in all other cases on the accented syllable, for example, Suscepimus, Gaudedmus, Praeceptor. The same might easily have been done here. Perhaps the Greek pronunciation of Amen, which accents the second syllable, influenced the present arrangement. But more important than this detail is the bold continuation the melody makes with its leap of a fourth.

August majesty marks the beginning of this chant. Here He speaks who rules over all things, who has in His hand life and death, time and eternity, who needs but will and things are made, who can grant all that is asked of Him. Here is the answer He makes to our petitions in the Alleluia-verse and in the Offertory. Here He renews the promise given in the Introit: "You shall call upon me, and I will hear you." But we must pray, pray with confidence, with full certainty of being heard.

Now at the end of the liturgical year, when the Apostle admonishes us in the Epistle to "stand fast in the Lord," a great need makes itself felt: the prayer for perseverance, the prayer for life eternal, the prayer that our names also may be inscribed in the Book of Life (Epistle). He has again heard the petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread." We have received Him (accipietis), the Bread of Life. He has come into our hearts in Holy Communion. That is our guarantee that sometime we may also enter upon eternal life.

Isn't that just marvelous? I like this type of commentary, not because it is somehow definitive or that it is the final interpretative truth, but rather because it helps us sing and helps us pray.

The approach of Johner has sometimes come in for criticism from scholars precisely because it can be so elaborate. These criticisms seem to lack that necessary ingredient for understanding the fullness of chant: love. If you love something, you want to hear others talk about it. Whether their impressions are "correct" or not about this or that chant is really not the issue; if some reader of the blog came up to me and said, "Jeffrey, I had a dream about 'Amen, Dico Vobis' last night," I would certainly want to hear about it! These chants are treasures, and the more written about each one specifically, the better. Indeed, I don't entirely understand why there aren't libraries full of such commentaries.

In any case, it's so exciting that this book is now available to one and all again, and, really, to a universal group of readers for the first time. Thank you CMAA.

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