Lessons and Carols move you gently to Christmas joy

The Lady Chapel at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. (Joe Cory/Key file photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY —With Advent beginning Dec. 2, the annual Lessons and Carols concert at the Cathedral has moved to 7:30 p.m., Dec. 6, just before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. Dr. Mario Pearson, Diocesan Director of Music and Liturgy, designed the event with Mary, the Blessed Mother, in mind.

The Marian theme is evident in the choral pieces and carols, sung by the Cathedral Schola Cantorum and the audience in the pews, in the Scripture and especially in the poetry readings.

“Mary, a woman, said, ‘Yes’ to God, and I felt it important to have women’s voices in the readings, so we could hear her saying ‘Yes’ again,” Dr. Pearson explained. There are three carols sung by both choir and audience divided into men’s voices and women’s voices in different verses. A fourth carol is also divided vocally, into the voices of the Schola Cantorum and the audience.

The Scripture readings are drawn from the Old and the New Testament and are followed by musical pieces written by both Catholics and Protestants, from several different historical periods and parts of the world. “All make a statement of waiting and preparing,” Dr. Pearson said.

The first reading, in which Jeremiah foretells of God’s promise of a new covenant to be written in the hearts of his people, is followed by the choir singing “Dixit Maria”, Mary saying ‘Yes’ to God, written by Hans Leo Hassler, a German composer and organist who lived 1564-1612. His music is of the late Renaissance, early Baroque periods and is a blend of both German and Venetian influences, and both polyphony and polychoral styles. Although Lutheran, Hassler directed the music for Catholic religious services in Augsburg, Germany and wrote several different Masses. The Dixit Maria is one of his compositions that blends both faith traditions and can be used in both Catholic and Lutheran events.

The second reading, in which Isaiah announces the renewal of the land and of the people of God in the coming day of redemption, is followed by the choir singing “O Radix Jesse”, the premiere performance of the piece by Kansas City Catholic Jonathan Davis, a local software developer, musician, composer and arranger, currently the accompanist for St. Sabina parish.

The third reading, in which Luke retells the story of the Annunciation, is followed by the choir singing “O Magnum Mysterium,” written by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian composer and pianist, who lives in New York working as a freelance composer.

The fourth reading, in which Baruch urges the people of Israel to look to the east and see the joy coming from God, is followed by the carol, “Awaken, Sleeper.”

The poem “Mary,” was written by Rev. Claudia Demick, Associate Minister at Central Congregational Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Following the reading of the poem, the choir debuts “Ave Maria,” composed by Dr. Pearson after his mother’s sudden death in 2005 and dedicated to her memory.

The final Scripture reading, from Zephaniah, urges Israel to rejoice, to sing and shout. The choir then sings the 9th century plain verse “Ave Maris Stella,” (“Hail Star of the Sea”) set to music by Scottish classical composer James MacMillan.

The poem “Advent Credo,” from “Walking on Thorns” is by South African Dutch Reformed Church cleric, Allan Boesak, also a politician and anti-apartheid activist. After the reading, all sing “O Come, Divine Messiah!” “Veni divin Messie” written by Abbe Simon-Joseph Pelligrin, 1663-1745, translated by Mary of St. Philip, SND, 1825-1904, and the music is of a 16th century French carol.

The final poetry reading, “From Mary,” by Central Congregational Church in Providence Rhode Island poet, Kathy Lowe Hart, speaks in Mary’s voice:

“Really, God? You chose me? But why?
I’m ordinary, young, uneducated,
Not married…”

The choir then sings “Inviolata,” a classical choral piece from before 1502. In it we sing praise to Mary, “inviolate, spotless and pure, who was made the radiant gate of the King…”

The closing chant and prayer will be recited by all. A reception will follow in the Cathedral gift shop.

Dr. Pearson urges attendance. “The evening will serve as a time out, to forget about all the tasks to get ready for the holidays and to pause for an hour to reflect on the coming birth of Our Lord.  It will inspire you by listening to the Word of God through readings poetry and song.”


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October 22, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph