A group of contemplative Benedictine nuns have recorded an album in honor of the angels and saints, all of the songs of which were selected out of their daily liturgical life.
“We learned a heavenly piece entitled Duo Seraphim by Tomas Luis de Victoria in the fall for the investiture of three novices,” Mother Cecilia, prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, told CNA April 12.
“Since we knew and loved many other songs written in honor of the angels and saints, or written by the saints themselves, we realized we could make another album based on this theme without too much extra practicing,” she laughed.
The album, Angels and Saints at Ephesus, will be released May 7 but can be pre-ordered at benedictinesofmary.org or at www.demontfortmusic.com.
Angels and Saints at Ephesus features 17 songs, and “every selection comes out of the liturgical life here at the Priory.” The Gregorian chants on the album are sung by the sisters during the Divine Office, and the pieces containing harmony are sung during Mass at the offertory or as a recessional.
The album is being released on the De Montfort Music label, which was founded last year by Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons. Monica told CNA that the album includes songs composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Francis Xavier. “A Rose Unpetalled” is a text by St. Therese of Lisieux for which the nuns wrote accompanying music.
Music is an integral part of the nuns' lives, being “entirely bound up with our Benedictine vocation…most especially in the chanting of the Divine Office,” said Mother Cecilia.
The community is in the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, and their life is marked by obedience, stability, and “continually turning” towards God. They have Mass daily according to the extraordinary form and chant the psalms eight times a day from the 1962 Monastic Office. They also support themselves by producing made-to-order vestments.
Singing the Office “takes pride of place” in their spirituality, and they take pains “to make the liturgy as beautiful as possible for God.”
Last year the community recorded “Advent at Ephesus,” a collection of music for the liturgical season which spent six weeks at #1 Billboard's Classical Music Chart.
“This music really uplifted a lot of hearts,” Fitzgibbons said. “It brought a lot of families together, and it got people talking about Advent...I think it really elevated a lot of souls toward heaven.”
De Montfort Music was “pummeled” with requests for an album from the nuns which could be played appropriately throughout the year, and the community came up with the concept of the present album.
Christopher Alder, former executive producer of Deutsche Grammophon and a nine time Grammy-award winning producer heard the Benedictines' Advent album and expressed interest in helping them with a second album.
Alder ended up traveling from Germany to Missouri to produce “Angels and Saints at Ephesus.” He was “really moved, blown away, by their level of expertise” and their quality of singing, Fitzgibbons said.
“Through their beauty, they have turned hearts toward heaven, because when one hears it ... they do have to contemplate something much larger than this world.”
Mother Cecilia continued discussing the place of music in life of her community, explaining that the singing of the Divine Office “truly forms the life-blood of our devotion. St. Benedict calls it 'the Work of God' and says that nothing is to take precedence over it, no matter how important it may seem.”
“The loveliness of the chants are set off by the silence that we keep during the day, but the Office also feeds that silence of prayer. It is a joyful burden the Church asks of us, and we take it up with tremendous love, knowing we are the beneficiaries, along with the entire Church.”
Mother Cecilia mentioned two musical saints important to the Benedictines. One is St. Hildegard, herself a Benedictine abbess and composer of the 12th century.
The prioress called St. Hildegard “a shining example of the liturgical spirituality of Benedictines.”
Yet more important to the community at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus is St. Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.
“We continue to invoke her whenever we have a music practice, knowing that she can help us to sing to God from our hearts with great purity and love, so that we may deserve to sing to Him for all eternity in heaven with the great multitude of angels and saints.”