Dear friends,

Surrexit Dominus Vere!

I know it's late on Easter, but we celebrate this chant for 50 days. And with everything going on in the world right now, it is more important and relevant than ever. The BBC is just now announcing that attack helicopters and 2,000 troops are being sent to Albania. 360,000 Albanians are on the move in or from Kosovo. On Easter, attacks against civilian infrastructure (including power) apparently increased.

As a director of music and liturgy, Holy Week gets very busy. And to have a war begin just before Holy Week, added a serious urgency to the long checklists, meetings about liturgies, last-minute decisions and the various "surprises" that always come up when trying to coordinate so many people doing rites celebrated once each year.

Then there was the challenge of remembering where we put all the stuff that we use only once a year and the hope that it was left unmolested for the previous year (about a 50-50 chance, depending on where it was stored).

I'm thinking, "organize marches, vigils, and demonstrations" and instead, I'm making sure there are lemons and charcoal and tongs and candles and flowers and evergreen branches and I'm building a large fire in a metal box on the lawn of the church. . . But wait, the way it worked out for me is the exactly correct order of priorities.

Rules for Encountering War

1. When war starts, denounce immediately. Sound alarms loudly. See danger approaching and tell others about it. Remind people of the consequences. "Don't do this in the camp!" "Bridge Out Ahead!"

2. Pray fervently and devoutly. Fast, pray, do penance, go to mass a lot, read a lot of scripture, meditate and contemplate, share your faith with others. Call upon all of the saints. Celebrate the liturgy of the hours.

3. Then start the demonstrations, letter writing campaigns, relief operations, and whatever else seems appropriate, moral, and prudent.

I chanted the Exultet at the Easter Vigil, a tremendously moving experience. I had to focus on the text and the music, and had practiced a lot throughout Lent, but I ended up drawing on every iota of musical training and experience to make it through without bursting into tears, it wasn't the average opening hymn, three verses plus an organ interlude.

Thoughts kept intruding about missiles falling, maybe even at that very moment, launched by my government, paid for with my taxes, as the chant was rising from all across the earth -- hour by hour, the darkness advancing with the sunset across the globe, but closely followed by (saint's-eye-viewed-from-on-high) a tapestry of tiny dots -- crackling fires, candles raised into the air, lowered into water, ancient words, a multitude of languages, the renewal of covenant, water and chrism, the beginning of all things, the departure from Egypt, deliverance from evil, resurrection to new life, remembrance of promises and blessings, past, present, and future.

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,

washes guilt away,

restores lost innocence,

brings mourners joy,

it casts out hatred,

brings us peace,

and humbles earthly pride.

What a powerful prayer this is for this time and this people in history.

It actually says, "dispels all evil." The good guys really do win, as Fr. Denis Dougherty said in his sermon at St. Gabriel's this morning. (He said he read the book all the way to the end and that's how it turns out.)

This music, rite, and liturgy isn't an accident; it is given, developed, evolved, composed, decreed, created, celebrated, published for the greater glory of God and the upbuilding of the Reign of God over all the Earth. Events daily remind us of the existence and power of evil. In the light of the Easter Candle, we can see the need for more visible signs of the Reign of Peace. Today's KC Star has a picture of a group of Albanian refugees looking upwards towards a camera; when I saw it this morning I saw faces in the candlelight from Saturday night.

Lent is given to us each year to remind us in an extended way -- with its readings, liturgies and music -- of the problem and the redemption of individual and social evil. And just when we think the problem is without resolution, along comes Easter to remind us of the eventual victory of life over death, even when bombs are falling.

Later in the Easter Vigil mass, I played the organ while another musician (the director of one of the parish ensembles) chanted the Litany of the Saints, and the music seemed to move almost like water, her voice calling and the assembly's response, remembering and invoking ancient and contemporary men and women of faith, justice, power, and holiness. We had many adult baptisms, and a large group of candidates were received and confirmed in their journeys of faith. We sang Haugen's Mass of Creation, ringing the tower and the mass bells at the Gloria. I even used the organ chimes with nearly full organ at the Sanctus, almost as though it were an organ Exultet, and then again at the Great Amen. (Our organ chimes are voiced very much like handbells.)

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!

The risen Savior shines upon you!

I guess it really is true, the time when the bombs are falling is the time to sing the loudest, to ring the bells and arrange the flowers, to everywhere and at all times praise God with heart, might, mind, and soul. Visible (audible, even) signs of the Reign of God.

And while all this big stuff is happening, my own little life goes into a significant transition. Someone else is now responsible for ensuring that the 83 liturgical ministers necessary for properly celebrating four weekend masses at St. Gabriel are present and accounted for (if I could be as productive for 8 hours as I am in the last 15 minutes before a mass begins, I would not have a full inbox).

For the past five years, first in a small inner city parish of 350 families, then in a large suburban parish of 950 families, my professional and spiritual life has revolved around the musical and liturgical ministries of the church. And now I have a new job, I'm sure it will be really great, as soon as I figure out what it is. In 10 days or so I'll be living in a trailer in the desert, within sight of red rock cliffs, Lake Powell, and the Navajo Nation, in a town of 350 souls. There's almost certainly more coyotes than year-round residents in that county. I should be scared to death, but somehow I'm not. It seems to me to be a very sensible thing to do. So either I am invincibly deluded or something's going on.

For my last mass this morning, at the recessional of the ministers we sang the Regina Coeli in English (Leisentritt), and it seemed to me that the song encapsulated the whole experience of "Holy Week under fire". Be joyful Mary, heavenly Queen, gaude Maria. . . The Lord has risen from the dead! (Full organ with reeds, of chorus). It was a good thing I knew the music from memory.

Robert Waldrop, Justpeace Webservant

Easter 1999

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