February 12, 2018
Liturgical Music Patron Saints and Heroes

Liturgical Music Patron Saints and Heroes: FEBRUARY 2018


As we approach and enter into February, we now examine briefly witnesses who we remember and commemorate during this month: Gian Carol Menotti, Saint Blaise, Jan Vermulst, and St. Julian the Hospitaller.

February 1

Gian Carol Menotti (1911-2007)

When one thinks of Menotti, almost immediately we remember his much beloved opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. However, he was a very prolific composer before “Amahl” was created. A good number of his compositions centered on religious themes, including a simple mass setting that was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Mass for the Contemporary English Liturgy.

He was born in Italy and always maintained his citizenship there, but he always thought of himself as an American. His family moved to the United States in 1928, and he was enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied composition among other students with people such as Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber.  His first fully composed opera, The Consul, premiered in 1950, for which it received the Pulitzer Prize.  He composed 30 operas, ballets, choral works, concertos, symphonies, and even a stage play. In 1984 he received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in the arts.

But his most popular work and legacy is Amahl and the Night Visitors, composed in 1951 for NBC as the first opera ever composed specifically for television in the United Stets.  It first aired on December 24th, 1951, and its success was so applauded that it became an annual Christmas tradition (the 1955 Broadcast is now available on DVD – it is wonderful).   Menotti’s unique and canny ability to do go inside the story of the Magi and re-present a metaphorical reflection on the mystery of the incarnation and the poor has truly awakened our imaginations.  This blend of Matthew’s account of the Magi and the wonder of Menotti’s vision together with a faith and witness of child-like yet wisdom filled eyes, points to a true discovery and celebration of faith.  This is a faith not rooted in a literal interpretation of scripture with carols that drip into sentimentality, but rather, a living song and mystery of faith that all pastoral musicians are called to help nurture.

Copyright 2015 © David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and  Ministry.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.

February 3

St. Blaise (d. 316)

A saint of the medieval period, Blaise was a physician and bishop in what is now, Turkey.  He is known to have been a healer of both body and soul, and many reportedly flocked to him for healing both bodily and spiritually.  400 years after his martyrdom, the Acts of St. Blaise tells of many stories of miraculous healing by his hand.  The origins of the “blessing of the throats” is said to be based on a story of when Blaise was sent to prison for his faith, a mother placed her only son at his feet who was choking to death from a fish-bone. Blaise was moved with compassion and the boy was cured immediately.  Since then, St. Blaise is called upon for protection from injuries or illnesses of the throat.

In many places, still to this day, his feast day (February 3) is celebrated with a blessing: two candles are consecrated with a prayer, then held together in a cross position.  The priest either holds the candles over the heads of the gathered, or the people are touched on the throat with them, with the following words: “May Almighty God at the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, preserve you from infections of the throat and from all other afflictions”.

While he is not officially recognized as such, I would argue that St. Blaise is the patron of cantors and all choir singers, and also, the gathered praying assembly.  Liturgical singers know all too well the stress and anxiety of vocal problems, and here is an opportunity for the church to offer pastoral care, comfort, and assurance to all who sing God’s praise.  I would love to see us renew this ritual of the blessing of the throat as a new tradition that is restored and re-directed to the ministry of liturgical singing.

Copyright 2015 © David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and  Ministry.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.

February 4

Jan Vermulst (1925-1994)

Jan Vermulst was born in the Netherlands, and prior to Vatican II he was primarily known as a composer of sacred choral music in Latin.  After the reformed liturgy began to be celebrated in the vernacular, he was at the forefront of the earliest and most successful congregation-centered repertoire.  He composed a well -known mass setting, Mass for Christian Unity, which is still popular and utilized in many parishes to this day, and he was one of the pioneer post-Vatican II composers that were brought to the English-speaking world’s attention in the popular Peoples Mass Book.  Vermulst composed music for several publishers, and was also active as a performing organist.

Whether or not it was conscious on his part, he possessed a fundamental understanding of elemental ritual music. He understood the need to “get the people singing” after the council, and the repetitive and  litanic Mass for Christian Unity was the entrée for many to experience music as integral to worship.  It is a testament to this innate gift that this setting is still sung enthusiastically to this day in many parishes and faith communities.

Jan Vermulst gave to all of us in liturgical music ministry, especially composers, a template on how to approach assembly- centered music that gives beauty to the text, and power to its prayer.  May we not forget his example.

Copyright 2015 © David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and  Ministry.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.

February 12

St. Julian the Hospitaller (born ca. 7 AD)

Also referred to as “the poor man,” Julian is a saint who is the patron of many causes, including travelers, inn-keepers and pilgrims.  His legend begins in horror, beginning with his marriage and the fact that he was a most jealous husband.

While hunting one day, he had a vision that he would murder his parents, not knowing that they were visiting unexpectedly at home.  When he returned, he saw two figures in bed, and he assumed that it was his wife with a lover.  Angered by what he believed was infidelity, he killed his mother and father.  When he learned the terrifying truth, he swore to dedicate his life to service.  He and his wife then went on a journey and established his first hospital.  The hospital was near a river, and it attracted many who were sick; Julian took on the responsibility of assisting the travelers and tending to the ill.  As the story concludes, one evening thieves came and killed Julian and his wife, in the same manner in which Julian had killed his parents.  Tragic story, indeed.

Hospitality, nurturing, and healing the ill, is at the center of his life of repentance and renewal for his earlier deeds.  Again, this horrific story of his murdering his parents is but a legend, but regardless, it points us toward the power of redemption, of forgiveness, of turning from evil with dedication to service.

Hospitality is at the baseline of all ministry, and especially for those of us who lead the assembly in sung prayer, there are pearls of wisdom to bring from this awful tale.  We need to remember that as a cantor or leader of song, we are often the first person the worshipping community meets at liturgy.  Hospitality is about giving of oneself, of inconveniencing oneself for the sake of the other.  While Julian’s situation is extreme, it is also a reminder that we are sinners, and our brokenness and journey of contrition is intrinsic to our being instruments of mercy and reconciliation.  Our song is to celebrate the resurrection and the life, yes, even in the midst of absolute horror.

Horrible things happen all around us all the time.  We have to decide whether or not we will include or exclude those who perpetrate abuse and harm.  The hospitality of Christ does not discriminate – mercy and new life is a gift for all.  God certainly infused Julian with a life transformed from darkness to welcome and serve the lost.  Our songs of faith are steeped in this vocation.

Copyright 2015 © David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and  Ministry.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.

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