Thursday, December 24, 2009

Puer Natus Est: Consider this Introit Seriously

I've been writing about proper chants here for an age, and received little objection. But yesterday I posted a note that we should cool it on the Christmas carols and look to the propers, and the result was surprisingly explosive. People just cannot imagine such a thing.

Well, it is clear from reading the comments that the term propers is possibly too abstract for most Catholics now, who have had no experience with them at all and do not have the benefit of living through them in the context of a meaningful and repeated liturgical event. Our generation is largely uncomprehending about this issue - an illustration of just how far we have slipped from the experiences of our ancestors.

So Christmas morning provides an excellent time to reflect on the meaning of the propers for Christian liturgy and civilization. What you hear below, in the large sweep of Christian history in the Roman Rite, is the sound of Christmas day. It is unmistakable. It is exciting. It is a perfect presentation of the ultimate Gregorian announcement of the event of the day. People stand and listen - it is true that they are not singing here. But what about the powerful implications of praying as you hear this introit on Christmas morning? Would this not move you? Can we really say that a rousing chorus of any carol can compare?

What you hear below is the sound of Catholic liturgy. It is the sound that built civilization for longer than a thousand years, and how long in particular, no one can say for sure. It is the sound that unites the generations across time, centuries and centuries. It is a sound that carries our faith into the future through these beautiful and mysterious rituals that root our faith to repeated events, giving our own short lives true meaning by linking them with other lives and finally with the very giver of life.

Yes, it is true that the tradition has been broken, but is it not worth reclaiming? Is it not worth pouring all our efforts into once again letting this be the sound of Christmas morning?

In my own OF parish, this will be the fourth year in which we have sung this on Christmas Day. This means something over time. People already recognize it, and the fabric of a consistent ritual is beginning to appear. It becomes part of the tradition of our time but it is more than that: it connects our time with historical time and the time of the future. Even more than that: it connects time itself to eternity. It gives meaning, true and profound meaning, to what otherwise would just be a musical number.

Here is the introit, Puer Natus Est, courtesy of Catholicism and straight to your parish, if you are willing to make the effort to let it happen.

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