Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus
(Christ our Paschal lamb is sacrificed)
-Dominica Resurrectionis (Gregorian Mass for Easter)

These words, originally from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, form the entire Alleluja section of the Gregorian Mass for Easter, written some time in the 10th century. Or, should I say, written down some time in the 10th century, as the Mass itself is undoubtedly much older than that.

I love Gregorian chant. I love how this music floats down through the mists of time, envelopes me in its seductive, meter-less rhythms, and carries me away to a world of monasteries and mysteries. It is spiritual and mystic, and very, very, beautiful. The haunting melisma in the word “immolatus” (sacrificed) still sends a chill up and down my spine every time I hear it.

Easter is a very different holiday from Christmas. Christmas is a holiday that even an atheist can get into, if he so chooses. Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins admits that he “likes singing Christmas carols”, and describes himself as a “Cultural Christian”. Apart from the fact that Christmas has been secularized and commercialized almost beyond recognition, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Nothing especially remarkable about that, really; we celebrate the birthdays of lots of people: Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. It does not require a belief in divinity to celebrate anyone’s birth.

Easter is very different. Unlike Christmas, one cannot separate the the holiday from its religious underpinnings. What is being celebrated here is no less than the idea that someone was resurrected from the dead. While one can believe that Jesus lived without being divine, one cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead without believing in the divine. You either believe it, or you don’t. The only middle ground is agnosticism.

Personally, I guess I fall into the agnostic camp on this one. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve shed many, but not all, of my religious beliefs. Like many people nowadays, I find little that is appealing, and much to be deplored, in religious orthodoxy. But unlike the atheist, I am not prepared to state that something cannot exist beyond the capability of my five senses to understand it. There is much in the universe we will never understand. The unseen can still exist.

As far as Jesus goes, he lived during a time when eschatological “prophets” were a dime a dozen. Yet while the rest have all been forgotten, he somehow inspired a group of men to spread his teachings, even to the point of sacrificing their lives in the process. He quite literally changed the world forever. Divine? I don’t know, but he clearly had something going for him. The real sin is that Christianity has strayed so far, so often, from the teachings of Christ.

But I still love Gregorian chant.

Happy Easter, to all those who celebrate it.


12 Responses to “Resurrexi”

  1. 1 Red
    March 23, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Thank you, Smith.
    Yes, we do celebrate Easter . . the correct way.
    But, I do believe that a lot of folks think of Christmas and Easter as being very similar. Now, Im not speaking of everyone . . just some, when I say that the two holidays aren’t seen as religious anymore. No, they’re all about the candies and goodies and nonsense. They don’t celebrate the religious aspects anymore — just who can find the most eggs in the backyard.

    A sad comment on our society, don’t you think? Who cares about spiritual and moral implications, when you can have chocolate eggs?

  2. March 23, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Happy Easter to you! I agree, it’s all or nothing with Easter. And yes, the Gregorian invokes nothing except awe for something more than we usually see.

    Thanks for stopping by! Always glad to meet a fellow admirer of ancient music.

  3. March 23, 2008 at 9:14 am

    And yet at holidays like this I feel I strong urge to visit a mass. It’s almost as if as a child I understood something that I now no longer can hear, or don’t hear the same. But then, I can’t totally shake it either……

    I understand. I’m not much of a churchgoer anymore, but I admit that I sometimes miss that sense of awe in the mysterious that I got in church as a child. I think that’s why this music appeals to me so much: it gives me that sense in a way the church itself no longer does.

  4. 4 Lolly
    March 23, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Enjoyed this post, Smith. I think it’s easier to explain away things than to explain things which seem unexplainable. But maybe the true things stand the test of time.

    Gregorian chants. I’ll have to give them a try…

    I hope you do. You’re in for an amazing experience.

  5. March 23, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I was a professional church vocalist for many, many years. From five to twelve years I was a boy soprano and our church choir traveled to big churches to do traditional gregorian chant. After my voice changed, I did not perfom again until I was sixteen and my voice had developed into a deep bass. The chants took on a whole new aspect when I was singing on the other side of the choir. What you said about the written works being tenth century is on the mark. Most of what we hear today though is composed after the sixteenth century. Anything composed after the renaissance is too messed up and just does not do what the traditional does. I have seen the spirit of God gather like a great chalice and pour over the chapel and all the congregants when the chant reached certain accidentals. I have seen the stone and wood ring like a bell. I have had my faith in God cemented into the witness of God’s Power and Mercy.
    I am glad you posted this.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. I also enjoy the religious music of the Renaissance, with Thomas Tallis, Josquin des Prez, John Dunstable, and Guillaume Dufay being among my favorites.

  6. March 24, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Hope you had a great Easter Holiday chants and all.

    I did. Hope you did as well. Great to see you back in the saddle! 😉

  7. March 27, 2008 at 12:05 am

    I have a couple of Gregorian chant CDs. I love them. I also love any medieval music which I have a lot of.

    Ah, I see we have something in common.

    Like you I am an agnostic. My daughter and her father and I had this conversation yesterday. Everything you just said in this blog we discussed. Especially the politics during the time of Jesus.

    I am very spiritual but not religious. I have to admit the Easter bunny showed up at our house and we all got Easter baskets. Talk about taking the religion out of Easter.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the Easter Bunny per se. I simply have a problem when the way the spiritual significance of Christmas and Easter have been overshadowed by the commercial aspect. I like chocolate bunnies as much as the next guy. 😉

  8. 8 Red
    March 28, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Umm .. it’s not Easter anymore.
    Just sayin’ 🙂

    I know. Sad, isn’t it?

  9. March 28, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    easter isn’t big for anything over here except easter eggs…pretty sad, but true..hope yours was a goodun…

    It was. Big family gathering. Four generations of my family under one roof. Always interesting. 😉

  10. March 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    And I have a question…when did you start self hosting????

    About a week or so ago. I just thought “murderofravens.org” was a little more streamlined. Cool, huh? 8)

  11. April 2, 2008 at 7:00 am

    Now I’m pretty sure you meant “rooF” in that first response to me, yes??

    What can I say? It was late. Sue me. 🙂

    Or was it a deliberate slip Mr Smith????

    More of a Freudian slip, I’d say.

  12. April 2, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Sue you? If you’re anyhting like me 5 parts of nothing is still nothing so it would be a wasted excercise

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