Benedictine monks perform chants at the monastery of St. Benedict of Norcia, Italy

CNS PHOTO | CHRISTOPHER MCLALLEN COURTESY UNIVERSAL MUSIC

Benedictine monks perform chants at the monastery of St. Benedict of Norcia, Italy

June 29, 2015
ABBEY JAROMA
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Once again the hills are filled with the sound of music, only this time the music soars from Benedictine monks rather than the Von Trapp Family.

In Norcia, Italy, about 110 kms northeast of Rome, an international community of monks operates a craft brewery and spends hours a day chanting the Mass and the Divine Office.

"It's part of the air we breathe," said Father Cassian Folsom, who founded the community. "There's a lot of pollution in our world, and so the pure oxygen of Gregorian chant is like a breath of fresh air."

Sacred music had not been sung by monks in Norcia for nearly 200 years, until 1998 when the community was brought back by Father Cassian.

Norcia is the birthplace of St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order.

Two-thirds of the monks are from the United States. Others come from Canada, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia and Italy.

International communities provide beneficial growth and formation to their members and are becoming more common because of globalization.

"Living with people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds is a living witness of the universality of the Church, and an opportunity for mutual enrichment," Father Cassian told Catholic News Service in an interview via email.

The monks of Norcia are inviting their friends from around the world to participate in their prayer through their recording, Benedicta: Marian Chant From Norcia, a sacred music CD centred on the theme of the life of Mary – the various stages of her life as celebrated in the Catholic Church's liturgy.

The CD is being distributed by Decca/Universal Music Classics.

"We decided to do a Marian CD, because our monastery is dedicated to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, and we know that many of our friends share our devotion," Father Cassian explained.

The album includes 33 songs, one of which is an original composition titled Nos Qui Christi Lugum, composed by Father Basil Nixen, the choirmaster.

YOKE OF CHRIST

"The image used in the title, Christi Iugum, is from the Rule of St. Benedict, which describes the monk as one who bears the yoke of Christ – like a good ox who puts his whole weight into the work at hand," Father Cassian told CNS.

The monks were contemplating recording an album for a while because "monastic time is slower than regular time," when De Montfort Music approached them, and they "began a very fruitful collaboration."

The monks teamed up with 11 time Grammy Award-winning producer Christopher Alder and Grammy-winning engineer Jonathan Stokes.

SWEET TOOTH

In a culture that more and more seems to favour pop songs and passing trends, one might wonder how a CD of sacred music will be received.

In Father Cassian's view, pop songs are "frosting on a cake, great for your sweet tooth, but you can't eat frosting as a steady diet."

He emphasized that passing trends truly are passing, prompting thoughts about things that endure. He described Benedicta as "timeless" and "enchanting," and said that "our hearts long for these things, even in our contemporary culture."

SOULS NEED BEAUTY

"The chant is beautiful, and our souls need beauty in order to grow and thrive. The chant is the Church's love song to her Lord; it expresses the love-longing of the monk's heart," he said.

(More information about the monks' CD can be found at www.demontfortmusic.com/artists and at the monastery's website, osbnorcia.org.)