Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Allusive Quality of the Sacred


What I would give to find a church or a monastery chanting this introit at the beginning of Advent!

Yes, it is still some time away, but the Advent period contains some of the most notable liturgical pieces in the Latin liturgy, past or present.

Ad te levavi animam meam has a nearly perennial status. It is hard to imagine another set of words capable of beginning the liturgical year. There is a certain indescribable quality that makes this piece, whether chanted or spoken, suitable for the place enshrined for it by the Tradition. As a testament to its hallowed status, even the liturgical reform dared not remove it.

The words, whether chanted or spoken, evoke the longing for the supernatural, the eternal. If one is in the Western context (or northern latitudes) the words acquire additional poignancy, chanted as they are in the midst of the darkest weeks of the year. There is almost a sense of one's soul reaching out beyond the darkness surrounding it towards divine eternity.

There is a quality to the sacred that defies every mode of theological, philosophical, and (dare we say) scientific inquiry. Indeed, Pseudo Dionysius explicated it best - there is a point at which the divine defies every form of affirmative description, every manner of quantifiable and qualifiable demand. There is something so primordial in Ad te levavi, perhaps because it points one towards a journey (that of the soul to God) which dwarfs the span of natural life and the boundaries of physical existence. Perhaps because these are words at the beginning of the eternal magnum mysterium.

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