Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday word, 13 Apr 14

Mario Lanza and J.S. Bach
(While We Hail our King With Palm Branches)
Passion Sunday A (13 April 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
I wager Mario Lanza and J.S. Bach rarely appear in the same sentence. The composer Bach lived and died centuries before the tenor Lanza. Separated by time they had passion in common.

Mario was full-throated “When They Beg[a]n the Beguine.” He gave his love “Only a Rose”; he lent the “Desert Song” vocal passion that made it sound more an adventure than a dry, dusty, dangerous affair its lyrics suggested.

Bach’s passion was writing music. He gave scripture musical shape so we could feel its call and respond to it. Some of his cantatas thrill with the grandeur of God; others show me my shadow made bright in God’s grandeur.

We will hail Jesus as our King. We will recall his passion that followed after hosannas faded. By his music Bach helps us feel Jesus’ passion.1 Someone2 I met described it this way: The episodes of Jesus’ passion Matthew painted in words; Bach “record[ed] in music the impact of each episode on his mind.” I add, and heart: minds alone do not interpret God’s word or respond to it.

For Bach Jesus’ Passion3 was most real, most human. When Jesus will tell his disciples, Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, Bach’s music cues most frantic, frightened voices to deny, one following another, Surely not I Lord?4

Lent prepared us to face our heart’s frenzy and fear; to see ourselves as we are at this season of our lives. If anyone has slogged through Lent, close it and make room in your heart for our most holy, potent days ahead. If anyone began Lent late, you are not disgraced. Ask Jesus to help you admit what causes you to tremble and take energy from it and Jesus. If anyone has yet to begin Lent, do not be ashamed. Walk with Jesus or just stand with him in one moment of his Passion. Allow Isaiah, St. Paul and Matthew, whose words we will hear in a moment, to present you to Jesus.

Lent isn’t dry—we are. Lent has no dust—we do. Lent isn’t dangerous—we court danger. Lent has been our key to notice passion: our suffering; the suffering of others; and now the passion of our Love, Jesus our King.
Hosanna to the Son of David!

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Bach has helped us feel Jesus’ suffering as this familiar minute of passion attests.
  2. Paul Sevier Minear (†2007), Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology Emeritus, The Divinity School, Yale University, paid close attention to the way Bach (and other artists) interpreted Scripture. His “Matthew, Evangelist and Johann, Composer” appeared in Theology Today (30) 1973, pp. 243-55. He contributed to a symposium at Yale some years ago that focused on Bach’s Matthew’s Passion.
  3. This site sketches the history of setting the Passion to music.
  4. The voices sound at 1:16 in this 2-minute video portion of “St. Matthew’s Passion.” Text and translation.


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