Kansas City, Mo., Feb 5, 2014 / 02:05 am
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles – an order of contemplative nuns who live in a cloister yet repeatedly climb music charts – are set to release an album for Lent later this month.
Of the 23 songs found on "Lent at Ephesus," three are original compositions by sisters of the community, whose priory is in the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph.
"We feel like we are stepping out on a limb whenever we record any original pieces," Mother Cecilia, prioress of the community, told CNA Feb. 3.
"In a way it is difficult, because the hymns we write come directly from our hearts, and lending them to a larger audience always costs something."
"Lent at Ephesus" will be released Feb. 11 on the De Montfort Music label, which was founded last year by Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons; it can be pre-ordered from the sisters at http://benedictinesofmary.org/.
It is the Benedictine's third album with the label; 2012's "Advent at Ephesus" was number one on Billboard's Classical Traditional Music Chart for six weeks, and last year's "Angels and Saints at Ephesus" spent 13 weeks in the same position.
All the music released by the Benedictines of Mary come from their life in community, of which singing is an integral part.
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.
The chanting of the Divine Office so characterizes their life that the original compositions on "Lent at Ephesus" flow from it in some way.
Mother Cecilia said that the melody of "Divine Physician," composed in 2012, "grew out of the Passiontide responsory, a very poignant piece of chant that stands out in a melancholic contrast to the ones used daily and on feast days."
The song's lyrics come from scripture and the Rule of St. Benedict, while the lyrics of "Mother of Sorrows" are adapted from a poem authored by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
"The words by themselves are heart wrenching," the prioress reflected, "and it is hoped that the music further brings to life the most bitter sorrow of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross, musically capturing the sword that pierced her heart."
The final original composition, "My Mercy," was written by a sister in the community "for our Bishop's anniversary, something he could easily call to mind and meditate upon."
Mother Cecilia said the Divine Mercy is "a favorite theme within our community," where they pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily. "We often think of ourselves as vessels in Our Lady's hands to draw the Blood and Water from Our Lord's pierced side, poured out for priests."
She said the lyrics come largely from the diary of St. Faustina, "and it seems their very simplicity is what moves hearts."
"It has been our 'most requested' piece, and we thought it a fitting and uplifting end to the Lent CD, because it is the culmination of the fruits of the Passion."
The songs on the album are in both English and Latin, and include chant, hymns, and polyphony; music from the liturgy of Holy Week is included, as are familiar hymns such as "All Glory, Laud and Honor."
The album's producer, Blanton Alspaugh, commented that "their singing has a very pure and yet sophisticated style … their talent is as remarkable as their sense of charity."
Monica Fitzgibbons, cofounder of De Montfort Music, observed that "to encounter this music is to be invited and included in a very special expression of love from the depths of the human soul as they devote each breathtaking and heartfelt note to their Divine Spouse."