Assistant Director, Notre Dame Liturgical Choir
Assistant Organist, Sacred Heart Basilica, Notre Dame, IN
Videns Dominus: The Communion Chant for Lent V
[Editorial note: This article, though about Lent, is a further reflection upon the resurrection–appropriate to this Easter week]
Videns Dominus (.pdf)
A professor of mine once said that when you are in love with someone, you see them more specifically. Hair, eyes, smile, hands – the sight of a lover is awakened to features that he did not notice before he fell in love. This enchanted gaze shows that he has realized a simple truth: nothing about his beloved can be attributed to chance. In this one who is dear, nothing is arbitrary or forgettable. The real preciousness of particular things like eye color and the angle of a head are illumined because they belong to someone whose very self is precious to him.
This affection for particulars is at the heart of the Catholic life. There is no better word to describe the sacramental communication of grace than “particular.” Think of the little things of faith that live in the sensual memory of a Catholic: the taste of the Host, the softened voice of the priest from behind the confessional screen, the sharp fresh smell of chrism. Incense, the Hail Mary, the priest chanting “lift up your hearts” – these details in our memory are marks of an affection that runs deeper than we can know. Ask yourself why you love any of these things, and it’s likely you are not able to answer. They are too deep within us to be analyzed, and are more like a part of ourselves than like something we can hold up to the light and study. They have a kind of hold on us, because for a Catholic, nothing is arbitrary or forgettable. A little thing is never just a little thing; it bespeaks a mystery at hand.
The power of little things lately came to mind because of a piece of chant I had been rehearsing – Videns Dominus, the Communion chant for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. At first, it seems a strange text to sing during Communion:
When the Lord saw the sisters of Lazarus in tears near the tomb, he wept in the presence of the Jews and cried: “Lazarus, come forth.” And out he came, hands and feet bound, the man who had been dead for four days. (Jn 11: 33, 35, 43, 44, 39)
It contains no reference to bread and wine, no commandment to do unto others, and no immediate teaching on the sacrifice of Christ. It is simply an account of the physical actions of Christ and of Lazarus. It is a series of events, the last one of which is miraculous, but even so one may ask: what does any of it have to do with the Eucharist?
It is possible to focus so much on finding the moral of a story that one misses the essence of it. The “lesson” of the raising of Lazarus, one could say, is what Christ says earlier in the Gospel reading, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And yet, this is not the text of the Communion chant. Consider again what Christ says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25). He does not say “My salvation is the resurrection and the life,” or even “I will give you resurrection and life,” but “I am the resurrection and the life.” He is not describing a notion, but He is describing His very self. It is because He is who He is that Lazarus is raised from the dead. Indeed, Martha and Mary know this in admirable faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died” (Jn 11: 21, 32).
Precious to them was the presence of their Lord, and how dear every thing about Him must have been. The contours of his troubled face – “moved by the deepest emotions” (Jn 11:33) – and the tears he wept as they took him to the tomb (Jn 11:34). These features of Christ are presented to us in the chant Videns Dominus, and how poignant a subject to ponder as we approach Him in the Blessed Sacrament. The body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive in the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Him that grieved, wept, and raised a man dead four days from the tomb. The particulars of Christ that are proclaimed by the chant are neither arbitrary nor forgettable; they are every bit contained in the Sacrament we approach and receive.
To be struck by the particulars of His presence might be the first sign of a growing love for Him. Videns Dominus – and many other chants in their stunning particularity – show us that the simple presence of Jesus is sweeter than any moral, lesson, or teaching about Him. May all of our sacred music communicate this truth, for we are destined for nothing less than to fall in love with Christ.