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Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Hallelujah!"

That glorious word could sum up our whole Easter Vigil experience. We did not originally intend to go to Mass on Holy Saturday, since we usually attended on Easter Sunday. But then sickness hit the family, my mom decided it was prudent to stay at home, and my dad and I had to change our plans at the last minute. It turned out to be an extremely moving experience I wouldn't have missed for the world.

    As I’ve mentioned in the past, The Annunciation Catholic Church is one of the most beautiful churches in our area, with high ceilings, brilliant stained glass windows, and an ornate altar. It gives one the feeling of medieval worship, which a welcome relief when compared with some modern bingo-hall church designs. That fact, accompanied by the fact that we are good friends with the choir director, convinced us to go there for Easter Vigil Mass.

    My father and I took our seats in a pew on the left side of the aisle just as the altar servers started to light all the candles in the church which hitherto had been darkened for Good Friday. The sight of the brightness entering the dark corners of the building filled me with a sense of wonder, as did the thick and powerful aroma of incense, so strong in fact that it almost caused me to cough! But to me, it was truly a beautiful scent that always makes me think on the power of prayer rushing up to heaven, and the unimaginable power of heaven itself.

    We were soon given small candles to hold, and had them lighted by a server in due course. It was a striking sight to look across the church and all the people in the pews, their faces aglow with the Easter lights. I am not a major lover of fire, however I found myself fascinated by the way my flame flickered and dodged, as well as the way the drops of liquefied wax slowly slid down my candle and left marks on the paper holder. When the priest made his rounds of the pews, he blessed everyone with holy water which occasionally landed with a sizzle on the candle wicks. Several droplets splashed in my face but missed my candle, which shone as brightly as ever.

    After the succession of Easter prayers and ceremonies (bringing the Mass into the two hour time range), we readied ourselves for the reception of the Eucharist. Of course, this was really the most appropriate time in the whole year to do so, the time when Christ proved His nearness to us and His willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes. His triumph over the thing all mortals fear, death and eternal darkness, gave us a clean slate and formed a new covenant between God and man. This heavenly contract is reaffirmed through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

    The musical choices for the mass were all truly beautiful, but the finale was the icing on the cake. It really surprised me to hear the intro of Handel's "Hallelujah" being played on an organ-keyboard in the choir loft. I thought to myself, "Are they going to go for it?" Sure enough, they went for it, and the choir belted out the Easter anthem with enthusiasm. As the music rose to its climax, the different vocal parts blended together deftly and culminated perfectly. The unexpected beauty of it so moved the congregation below, that they broke into applause, a very rare thing for this comparatively conservative parish to do.

    I couldn't help but be reminded of another famous instance when the glorious piece brought about an unexpected reaction. When George Frederick Handel's Messiah was performed in London for the second time, the royal guest, King George II, is said to have stood up unexpectedly when the "Hallelujah" was played. And when the king stands, you know what's bound to happen: everyone is going to stand!

    No one is actually positive why the king stood up to begin with. Most people like to think he was moved with emotion, but others insist he was roused from mid-concert snoozing or had a cramp in his leg or misidentified the music as the National Anthem! At this point, it really doesn't matter. A great tradition was born, and Handel's religious masterpiece has been moving the bodies to stand and souls to sing for joy from that time to this.

    One final fact on the subject worthy of note is that George II's grandson and successor, King George III, was a major Handel fan. He joined the Handel society, proudly wore his membership button out and about, and always asked for the late composer's works to be played at royal music festivals. Furthermore, the king acquired Handel's prized harpsichord and kept it as a prize among his vast collection of expensive odds and ends. When he tragically slipped into a delusionary state because of his famous illness (of body, mind, or both, we’ll probably never be sure), it was said he could be heard playing and singing Handel compositions by his distraught servants, who were terrified to go too near to him for fear of altering his musical mood and risking nasty repercussions!

    Anyway, getting back to The Annunciation Parish, my dad and I went up to the choir loft after the mass was over to congratulate Pat the choir director, who was in a state of electronic ecstasy at the boundless sound of the most glorious "Hallelujah" ever produced in the parish, the state, the country......we were happy to humor him, and even sincerely concur! To celebrate, the three of us tromped out to our car and devoured a few chocolate peanut butter Easter Eggs we had stashed away in the glove compartment, happily chatting about our Easter experience and future plans for launching a Bible Study at the Parish.

    I hope that all my readers had a wonderful Holy Week and continue to have a blessed Easter Season. If you'd like, please share your experiences in the comment box; I’d love to hear them! To one and all, in the spirit of our Byzantine Brethren, Christ is risen from the dead! By death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He granted life! Amen. Hallelujah!


The Resurection

6 comments:

  1. Your favorite grammatical guru weighing in here...
    Yep, Annunciation is a great church. I always loved looking at the stained glass windows when I was little, and that gigantic crucifix above the altar fascinated me, too. And I think it's awesome that they did Handel's "Hallelujah"...wish I could have heard it.

    Christus resurresxit! Christos voskrese! Christ is risen!
    Vere resurresxit! Vositinu voskrese! Indeed He is risen!

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  2. Well, Hello, my favorite grammatical guru and oldest friend! I'm tickled to death to hear from you on here!

    What was your favorite stained glass window in the Annunciation? I love the one of St. Edward the Confessor.

    So will you tell me about your Easter experiences, then?

    Please drop by again soon....and don't forget to comment!!!!

    Love,
    Pearl

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  3. I think my favorite stained glass window at Annunciation is St. Dominic although the one of St. Cecilia is really pretty, too.

    As for my own Easter experiences, there are two things of importance that I noted:
    1. You could tell the organist was really, really glad to rip into the "Gloria" after being denied that luxury since Septuagesima Sunday.

    2. "Victimae Paschali" is epicly epic. I just wish my missal gave the Latin words, too, instead of just the English translation so I could further enjoy the epicosity (to borrow a word from a friend).

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  4. Hi Pearl - We had the tenor aria 'But thou didst not leave his soul in hell' from Handel's Messiah during the administration of Holy Communion on Easter Day. Would loved to have had the Hallelujah Chorus also!

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  5. Hello!

    @Emerald: Yeah, the St. Cecelia really is lovely to look at, especially when it's a sunny day and the light comes streaming through. Sunlight sure does perk up St. Edward's armor quite a bit too!

    And, yes, I can imagine that most organists with even the remotist sense of human emotion would "let it rip" when playing the "Gloria" on Easter!

    @chaplain c.z.: "But thou didst not leave his soul in hell" must have been beautiful! Did you have a choir loft in the church building you were using, or were the singers at the front of the church? I don't know much about Anglican Communion distribution; are the hosts placed on the people's tongues or in their hands or both?

    Well, I hope you get the chance to have the Hallelujah Chorus next year, or maybe for Christmas. It really is extraordinary, and I can believe George II really jump to his feet out of sheer emotion!

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  6. Pearl - We do have an organ loft at the west end of the Church & our soloist, (an American married to a Czech), sang from there. To answer your second question, hosts are normally placed into communicants hands but I did have an Australian visitor last Sunday who indicated he would like to receive on his tongue. That does happen occasionally.

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