Lent Series 2021
Georg Frideric Handel if now recognised as one of the world’s great composers, but his fortunes in his own day ebbed and flowed; not least with London’s musical tastes and the explosive egos of Italian opera singers. It was during a particularly low time that Handel accepted an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire to perform six concertos in Dublin. At the age of 56; and with a complete score for Messiah under his arm, he took up lodgings at 26 Lower Abbey Street and gathered an orchestra and choruses, mostly from the city’s two cathedrals. It would be the premier performance of the oratorio for which he would be famed and Dublin would be forever indebted.
“For relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay, on Monday the 12th of April, will be performed at the Musick Hall on Fishamble Street Mr. Handel’s new Grand Oratorio, call’d the MESSIAH, in which the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedreals will assist, with some Concertoes on the Organ, by Mr. Handell.”
Dublin Journal, 27 March, 1742
Interest spiked and 700 tickets for the 600-seat New Music Hall in Fishamble Street rapidly sold. According to reports at the time the women were urged not to wear hoops and the gentlemen to “come without swords” to maximise space. On Tuesday 13th April ‘The Messiah’ received its world premier and Handle’s music was a resounding success. It was described as “the most finished piece of music”, “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded”, “The sublime, the grand, and the tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving words composed to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.” Few today would disagree. And it was also a financial, raising £4001 for the charities.
This year for our Lenten Series; and to coincide with our focus on the use of Isaiah in the New Testament, we will be drawing on six of the passages that inspired Handel and gave rise to some of the most sublime and best loved music in the classical repertoire. More often than not The Messiah is performed around Christmas time; although to this day, on the 13th of April, it receives a public performance in Dublin outside what remains of the New Music Hall. It was however composed with Easter in mind, and therefore it provides a fitting inspiration for our Lenten Series.
African Messiah is a new celebratory work by the composer Tunde Jegede, based on the themes and melodies of Handel’s Messiah but seen through an African musical worldview. It is a chamber opera that follows the story of the Messiah in parallel to the story of African people bringing together their music with baroque and opera for the first time.
African Messiah brings a new accent to an established and familiar work with musical sound-worlds that are less familiar to a Western audience but nonetheless completely fitting, harmonious and complimentary to the sensibility and ethos of the work. It uniquely weaves in African musical traditions, such as that of the Kora and the Riti (African Violin) and makes the work a more multi-faith experience in keeping with our times without losing the essence of the original ideology African Messiah speaks to both the African experience and a universal journey of people to a sacred place of truth and understanding.
So please, immerse yourself in the music (when it comes), readings and reflections as we prepare for Holy Week and the resounding victory of the crucified and resurrected Christ. Hallelujah!
- Recitative 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind
- Air 40:11 He shall feed his flock
- Air 53:3 He was despised
- Chorus 53:4-5a Surely he has borne our griefs
- Chorus 53:5b And with his stripes we are healed
- Chorus 53:16 All we like sheep
- Accompagnato 53:8 He was cut off
Isa.35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened
Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see what you are doing in your world and in my life. Open my ears to hear the music of the love song you are singing. Enter my life afresh; for in so doing you will transform me and reawaken my senses dulled by routine and seared by care. Amen.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
and grass shall become reeds and rushes. (Isa.35:5-7)
Opening Blind Eyes –
O Christ, my Lord, the Scriptures of your people which you knew so well and the Scriptures about you which I study additionally, speak much about the healing of blindness and the first gift of sight.
I see that it is the Father’s will that the blind should see. I have known two of your friends who devoted their lives to concern for the blind: one who taught them to overcome the handicaps of blindness in teaching them a written language of their own and training them in independence; the other who estimated that he and his colleagues must have carried out something like a hundred thousand operations for cataract. O dear Lord, I thank you for the inspiration of your love and healing care, I see in it fulfilment of your promise that your disciples shall do greater things than you did in the short years of your physical presence with us, because you would be with the Father in his omnipresence and in his healing, saving power.
I observe, dear Master, that the continuing blind seem more sensitive in touch, more acute in hearing, more aware in intuition. And now I learn that even greater things are ahead and the blind may be enabled to see through the skin, when the eyes do not respond to healing efforts. O unique and most loving Son of the Father, I worship him for the continuance of his creating and redeeming activity.
O Christ, my Lord, I see also your emphasis on spiritual sight. I begin to see faith as a kind of in-seeing, a seeing into the spiritual dimension, glimpses of the Father always at work, understanding of the spiritual factors involved in every situation and their primacy. I begin to see how the human spirit operates, both creatively and negatively. With eyes opened by you I see so much goodness in people and I grieve over their ignorance, the wrong thinking, the sinful actions, the tragedies of human life, and the blindness that fails to see that they that are with us are more than they that are against us. Open the eyes of everyone, dear Lord, to see that nothing can separate us from the love of God which you embody and bring to our hearts. I thank you, dear Lord, for the eye-of-the-spirit which sees that there is nothing in life or death for which your grace will not be sufficient.
Help us to hold on in faith, seeing the God and Father who is invisible to the physical eye and the proud self-sufficient mind, and grant me the single eye and the purity of heart which you urge on me so that I may have the full beatitude of seeing God. Amen.
(Meditation and prayer by George Appleton, in: The Way of the Disciple: 85-86)
And he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and he said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” (Mk.7:31-37)
There were three earnest men who were friends and became monks. One chose to live out the saying ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ and worked to reconcile enemies. The second chose to visit the sick. But the third stayed in solitude. Now the first worked among many contentious people and found that he could not appease them all, so eventually he was overcome with exhaustion. He sought out his friend who was caring for the sick, only to find that he too was worn out, depressed and unable to carry on. The two of them decided to visit their friend who lived in the desert and they told him all their troubles. When they asked him how he was, the monk was silent for a while and then poured some water into a bowl. ‘Look at the water,’ he said and they saw that it was murky. After a while he said, ‘Look again and see how clear the water has become.’ As they looked, the two monks saw their own faces as in a mirror. And the monk said to his friends: ‘Because of the turbulence of life, the one who lives in the midst of activity does not see his sins. But when he is quiet, especially in solitude, then he sees the real state of things.’
This does not mean that the ambition of these men to serve others and to work hard was bad. It is a question of balance. In the monastic tradition, silent solitude is seen as a necessary part of life, not an additional extra. To know yourself and to grow requires the insight that only solitude can provide. Even the most intimate friendship is no substitute for the work we must all do on our own, the work of silent reflection and prayer.
(Christopher Jamison Abbot of Worth Abbey, in Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life: 46-47)
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not; for they are a rebellious house. (Ezk.12:1-3)
For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For it these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and short-sighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (1 Pet.1:5-11)
O Lord who formed the ear in all its delicate complexity; forgive me for the times I have been deaf to your voice as you spoke words of warning to me and sang songs of love over me. You not only have the genius to create the ear; but the ability to heal the deaf. Open the ear of my heart to your voice; and open my ears to the cry of Creation – most especially to the cries of my fellow Man. Amen.
This is week One of our lenten reflections and will be refreshed each Sunday