Saturday, July 01, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Two

Synchronicity - is that a thing? Random circumstance? Extrapolated hopes? Wishful thinking? I lean toward Carl Jung's understanding; those unplanned situations that defy our attempted explanations, but have profound symbolic meaning for our life.

Early into Vox Peregrini's sixteen mile walk from Shillelagh to Kyle's Farm House in Moyne, they stopped at St Finnian's Catholic Church. The church was empty on this Thursday morning. But the doors were open and inviting.

I had stopped to pray at St Finnians in 2012 and then again with Vox Peregrini in 2015. Nothing would lead a visitor to suspect that this was a dying church. The doors were always open, no matter the day of the week. The yard around the grey flagstone church is beautifully maintained. The inside is simple yet immaculate. The wooden floor and pews were polished. The Renaissance paintings of the Stations of the Cross are prints, but well preserved. The stone altar and altar piece are pure white. The sanctuary for the reserve sacrament is polished gold and rests centered immediately behind the altar. A life size statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stands to the left of the altar piece and one of Mary the Mother of God stands to the right. Everything visually proclaims that this is a well loved church. But evidently the vibrancy of the congregation is waning.

As the choir was working on a few pieces, I picked up a letter written by the local bishop to the four parishes in the area. Due to declining attendance and a shortage of priests, those parishes would be served by one priest and experience a dramatic reduction in their services, some, including St Finnians, to twice a month. The unspoken expectation would be that this was the first step of many towards closing some of those churches. Some like St Finnian's could become museum pieces to a religion of an ancient past.

The final piece that Vox Peregrini chose to rehearse was Hildegaard of Bingen's medieval chant, "O ignis Spiritus paracliti." The opening lines of the chant voice the cry of a desperate but hopeful soul: "O fire of the Spirit...Holy are you, anointing the critically broken. Holy are you, cleansing the festering wounds." The lyrics demand that the Spirit thrust her holy power into the despair of the dying; places like St Finnians that seem to have no hope, no future.

The magic of the choir and their pristine soprano soloist called forth the dead and evoked the angels to join the ancient chant. My soul was disturbed to joy, yet rattled to sadness at the edges of my imagination. Could it be that this would be the last music to be sung in this church? A church already void of Sunday music or even for special occasions? Could this be the spectral mass for the church itself? I could see the priests of the past whose graves lay just outside the walls, standing round the altar in their vestments, celebrating the Holy Eucharist. All would be well in this moment. But not for the morrow of the living.

Are we witnessing the death of the Church? Most likely. Are we experiencing a post-Christian era? Definitely. Will the Spirit's work of Christianity past fade into obscurity? Not as long as those who understand, love, and celebrate the craft of ancient Spirit filled art continue to open their souls to their imagination and the synchronicity of the moment. Not to conduct art as performance. But in the pure joy of singing to God for the sake of the gifts of God, allowing the music and the Spirit to perform their own mystical magic. That is the pilgrimage of Vox Peregrini. And on this day they sang for themselves, the divine, and the dead. Holiness was resurrected if just for four minutes. And that was enough for a lifetime of generations.

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