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New Memorials and Music

by Gary D. Penkala

On February 2, 2021, the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments added the new memorials of five saints to the Universal Calendar of the Catholic Church:

  1. Saint Mary is added to the Memorial of her sister, Saint Martha, on July 29.
  2. Saint Lazarus is added to the Memorial of his sister, Saint Martha, on July 29.
  3. Saint Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church, Optional Memorial on February 27
  4. Saint John of Avila, Priest and Doctor of the Church, Optional Memorial on May 10
  5. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, Optional Memorial on September 17

Several of these saints have a connection with music.

While we can assume that, as observant Jews, Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus were comfortable in singing from the "hymnal" of Hebrew Scripture: the Book of Psalms, there is no overt evidence to substantiate that.

I. Saint Gregory of Narek

Saint Gregory of Narek Gregory was a monk, a poet and a mystical philosopher, living in the Turkish town of Narek. Born the son of an Armenian bishop in 950, he entered the monastery at a young age, together with his two brothers. He was oradined a priest at the age of 25, he began a teaching career at the monastery of Narek.

His major writings were a commentary on the Song of Songs and his Book of Lamentations: The Prayer Book, which he called an "encyclopedia of prayer for all nations."

Beyond these great tomes, Saint Gregory also wrote odes, melodies, hymns, panegyrics, elegies and chants, many of which are still sung today in Armenian churches. He is considered the greatest Armenian poet; his poetry is deeply biblical and is filled with images and themes of sacred history.

In his February 18, 2001 Angelus address John Paul II described him as "one of Our Lady's principal poets" and "the great doctor of the Armenian Church."

II. Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen Saint Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess of the 12th century. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony [unison chant].

Her Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues) is a Latin morality play with music (82 songs). In addition to this, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers.

Hildegard composed many liturgical songs in a cycle called Symphonia armoniæ celestium revelationum. These songs have original texts and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories. Her music is monophonic [unison]. Its style has been said to be characterized by soaring melodies that can push the boundaries of traditional Gregorian chant, and to stand outside the normal practices of monophonic monastic chant. Influence and inspiration for the Blessed Virgin Mary is reflected in her music.

Hildegard was one of the first persons for whom the Roman canonization process was officially applied, but the process took so long that four attempts at canonization were not completed and she remained at the level of her beatification. Her name was nonetheless taken up in the Roman Martyrology at the end of the 16th century. Her optional memorial is 17 September. Numerous popes have referred to Hildegard as a saint, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church in a process known as "equivalent canonization," thus laying the groundwork for naming her a Doctor of the Church. On 7 October 2012, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the pope named her a Doctor of the Church, the fourth woman among 36 saints given that title by the Roman Catholic Church. He called her "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music."

III. Saint John of Avila

Saint John of Avila Saint John of Avila, a panish priest, preacher, scholastic author, and religious mystic, is called the "Apostle of Andalusia," for his extensive ministry in that region.

Both his parents died while he was in seminary, and after his ordination in spring 1526, he celebrated his first Mass in the church where they were buried. He then sold the family property and gave the proceeds to the poor.

He served in Cordoba and then in Granada, where he organized the University of Baeza, a college run by diocesan priests who dedicated themselves to teaching and giving spiritual direction to young people. His friends included Saints Francis Borgia, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, John of the Cross, Peter of Alcantara, and Teresa of Avila. John of Avila worked closely with members of the Society of Jesus and helped their growth within Spain and its colonies

In his collected letters he wrote: "The city of God is embellished by having diversity of rank among the saints, as a violin produces sweeter music for having many strings of different notes, than it could do, had it but one [Letter XX]."

Article written 13 February 2021

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