Christmas Meditation: Morten Lauridsen, “O Magnum Mysterium”

“O Magnum Mysterium:” performed by King’s College Cambridge | by UST Alumni Singers

Shared this a number of times in a number of places. What strikes me is the composer’s emphasis on “admirabile sacramentum” (wonderful sacrament) and “animalia” (animals). Where is man in the Latin text? It bears repeating the chromatism of this work lends itself to a tenderness rarely heard. For that reason I’ve provided the link to the UST Alumni Singers’ performance. I might be imagining things, but they seem to have a vocal maturity that younger singers might not always have. I’m not really talking about something technical here.

A related point. Someone asked me earlier what I thought about all the commercialism surrounding the holiday season. I think it was because I was ranting about all the schlocky, bad Christmas music I was hearing everywhere. Must every place sound like an overcrowded mall?  I punted. I didn’t want to continue ranting, not when something different and interesting and thoughtful might be said.

I’m not sure I have anything of the sort at hand. I’m simply thinking “savior” and “redeemer.” In a way, our crass materialism has it exactly right. We need to be saved from ourselves (“redeemed”) and from others (“savior”/”Messiah”). The need for justice and the good is here and now. It is so overpowering it dictates the next life; we can’t have lived in vain. We make our highest desires almost abstract. This is not a bad thing at all. As was pointed out to me repeatedly the last few months, Luke aims at presenting a savior for the world, one not tied to a particular nation or its justice.

But again, we end up at that notion from a very real – particular – hunger for our needs to be met. The coming of Christ is God fulfilling a promise. That alone, independent of how or what it means, is the celebration. Is this simply wishful thinking? Not at all. We’re all giving each other gifts today, whether sacred or secular. The hope is we recognize each other’s need and act accordingly. That was always the godly wish.

Leave a Comment