Earlier this week, while at the library, I found a CD of Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum and immediately chucked it in my pile.
No, I’m not becoming one of those people. I think after two years of flirting with the extraordinary form of the Mass, as well as the past year of going more or less regularly to an ad orientum novus ordo (good grief, we are pretentious) sung by a Yale-affiliated professional schola, I can make the completely subjective judgment that, while chant is beautiful, it is not always for me.
That said, this particular Mass is what was sung at our wedding, and I really wanted to hear it again — a) because, let’s be honest, I don’t even remember most of the homily, much less the music, and b) because what I do remember of the music is the Kyrie.
Unfortunately, I left the CD at work, so the only audio I can link to here is from YouTube. The shaky camera is incredibly distracting; don’t actually watch the video — just listen. (And then promptly stop listening when the dude starts warbling the first line of the Gloria :-o)
Why, of all moments of our wedding liturgy, has the Kyrie been seared into my mind?
Well, it was the first piece of music I could actually listen to that morning. I honestly could not even tell you what the entrance tune was. Yes, in effect, the Kyrie was a “breather” from the mad rush that had been my past three hours: dash to the hairdresser, stammer unbelievingly when the parking attendant was soooo slow to let me out of the lot because she saw my veil and wanted to ask questions about the wedding (are you getting married? y-yes. when? 45 minutes. where? *point to the steeple* — th-there! i need to go!), scramble into the dress just before the elderly priest barges in to demand the marriage license, panic and force my bridesmaid to fix my makeup after I essentially paint raccoon circles around my eyes, realize I hadn’t actually tried walking while wearing the dress while wearing my ridiculous three inch platforms, hang on to my dad for dear life while walking down the aisle to an organ tune I’d never before heard, dodge the Philippino guy who just jumped between me and my fiance with a camera and whom I’d never before seen, take Luke’s arm, climb precariously up to the altar, glance at the uber-serious Father Peter, attempt to pray the opening prayers …
Lord have mercy.
But even more than a chance to just breathe and let go of the chaos that preceded the wedding, I soon knew that the Kyrie — that penitential cry that cuts to the heart of our desire for God — was doing something else to me.
It was soaring, and it was carrying me into the Mystery, too.
There’s something about polyphony that makes me imagine the interplay of voices as a new Jacob’s ladder , weaving up and around the columns, walls and fixtures of the airy, Gothic sanctuary.
Standing directly in front of the altar — with my best friend to my left, my fiance to my right, our priest before us and the tabernacle beyond him, our dear friends and family behind us and the crucifix suspended above us — I felt that this is what it’s like to be a priest, turning to face the tabernacle with the people and feeling like he’s about to lean over and dive in to the living, rushing current of the Church’s prayer.
It was ethereal, and it transfixed me there, beneath the cross in my wedding dress, as I finally began to earnestly pray: yes, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Over and over and over again. It was rich. It was timeless. Kyrie eleison, as I prepare to receive Your body; Christe eleison, when I hurt my husband in the future; Kyrie eleison, as we remember Your sacrifice and death.
I remember this Kyrie because I know others loved it, too — they came up to Luke and I at the reception, even the ones who we know have been away from the Church, and say, that Mass so beautiful. So sacred.
That made it all worth it.
This past spring, the religious education program concluded with a Mass for the students and families. The sole girl in my class sat next to me, and as we waited for Mass to start, we both regarded the statue of Mary displayed prominently above our pew.
Gaudy and Catholic kitsch this statue is not; it continues to strike me as one of the most feminine, colorful and vivid depictions of Mary I’ve ever seen.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” I whispered to the girl, who nodded and whispered back, “Yeah.”
Beauty matters. After a year of trying to teach my little class the Marian prayers, the Immaculate Conception, and what a womb is and why Jesus was the fruit of one, I could see the light flick on in the girl’s head as she beheld the most beautiful, most pure, most “blessed among women” in the history of the world. And I was so glad that, sometime in the history of the parish, someone decided to buy a really beautiful statue of Mary.
In highschool and early on in college, I was enamoured with the Romantics’ imagery of beauty and a life spent chasing it. But it wasn’t until I began to seriously gaze into the Catholic faith that’s been before me all along that I realized just where — and with Whom — the source of beauty lies.
Whether it’s a bride caught off guard by a majestic Kyrie or an 8-year-old suddenly appreciative of Mary, every day the Church — a bride itself — is taken by this peerless beauty. I’m thankful to be part of that story.