This past Holy Week, the Magdalen College Polyphony Choir traveled to the Cathedral of Saint Joseph to sing for the diocesan Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass, occurring once a year as the Church is poised to enter the Sacred Paschal Triduum, is one of the most solemn rites that takes place in a cathedral. During this special liturgy, the bishop blesses the holy oils and consecrates the Holy Chrism that will be used to administer the Sacraments throughout the diocese for the upcoming year. All the clergy, in addition to lay representatives from each parish, are present, forming an assembly that is several hundred strong. The clergy renew their priestly promises to the bishop, and the lay representatives receive the newly consecrated holy oils to bear to their local churches. It was a distinct privilege for the students of Magdalen to assist at such a prominent liturgy in the presence of our ordinary, Bishop Peter Libasci.
With the addition of the Chrism Mass to this year’s choral activities, Magdalen students experienced the full breadth of Holy Week liturgies in a way that is unparalleled at any other college. Magdalen students, often joined by their families, remain on campus throughout Holy Week. They assist at liturgies replete with the full solemnity and gravity that the Church intends and desires. Students not merely encounter, but actively enter into, the most profound liturgies of the year in a way that most lay people only have the opportunity to observe passively at a major cathedral, national shine, or monastic community. The liturgy, the wellspring of our Faith, is the fulcrum of everything that the college undertakes throughout the year. It unites the rigor of studies, the pursuit of truth, the contemplation of the divine, and the longing for beauty in a way that both animates and gives meaning. The liturgy is a rich feast. If a college desires to nourish her students and equip them to become saints, is it not paramount to make it possible for the community of faith to delight and partake of that crowning feast in all its glory?
At the Chrism Mass, Magdalen’s students sang Elgar’s “Ecce sacerdos magnus,” which is translated, “Behold a great priest,” as the bishop, preceded by all his clergy, advanced through the church. They witnessed the bishop mix balsam and olive oil in a special vessel (a chrismaria) and recite the prayer of consecration. Most students recall having their foreheads anointed with Holy Chrism on Confirmation day. Few had observed the bishop breathe gently across the vat of oil three times in an action that signifies the Holy Spirit “moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1: 12) at creation. At the Great Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter, students would renew their baptismal vows in Magdalen’s chapel as they were sprinkled with Easter Water, the water of Baptism. At the Chrism Mass, they anticipated that profession of faith as they sang the motet “Sicut cervus,” which is translated, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” As they watched the bishop bless the Oil of Catechumens, they knew it would be used throughout the diocese in Baptisms as they would be simultaneously renewing their own vows during that holy night to come.
Magdalen College extends warm thanks to the Diocesan & Cathedral Director of Music, Dr. Eric Bermani, for inviting the college’s premiere choir to participate. Magdalen’s Director of Collegiate Choirs, Tristan Smith, noted, “Our sacred music program benefits tremendously from our long-standing collaboration with Dr. Bermani and the cathedral choirs. Singing at the cathedral not only affords students the opportunity to sing in one of the most beautiful edifices of our region, but it also allows students to sing alongside some of the finest musicians. Spiritually, students unite their hearts along with their voices to the rich liturgies of which only a cathedral boasts. Our frequent collaboration with the cathedral ensembles grows organically from our own commitment to the highest standards of liturgy and sacred music on our campus. I am grateful to Dr. Bermani for welcoming us so generously and for his enduring support of sacred music at Magdalen College.”
The college also thanks the Very Rev. Fr. Jason Jalbert, Rector of the cathedral, as well as Bishop Peter Libasci for making it possible for our students to participate in such an integral way.