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Friday, November 24, 2006

Assisi, music, and general updates

So, it's been a while since I've updated this blog.  The past few weeks sure have been crazy!  I've been adjusting to living with two Italian girls, working on getting an internet connection (finally!), and I started Italian classes at a new school.  In the past few weeks, I travelled to Assisi with a pilgrimage organized for all of the students in the Lazio region of Italy (the region that is Rome and the surrounding area), and I went to several sacred music concerts at St. Mary Major basilica. 

The trip to Assisi was really neat.  Two busloads of students from my university left around 7 am, headed for Asissi.  We would be meeting up with 40 other buses along the way.  About 40 minutes into the trip we pulled over on the highway and the boxes with our lunches in them were transferred from a truck that was there at a little rest stop into the cargo area of our bus.  I guess that's about as close as you get to drive-through service here in Italy! (except for the many McDonalds scattered throughout the country of course)  Next we stopped at a rest area for some breakfast.  It is truly amazing how fast and good breakfast at the toll-road rest stops here can be!  You'd think having 100+ people buying cappuccini (in real ceramic coffee cups of course, no disposable/plastic!) and cornetti and eating them at a bar that's about 20 feet long would be a long and arduous process, but it wasn't at all. 
Upon arrival in Asissi we first had Mass in the Basilica of the Portinicula (sp?) (where St. Francis lived for a while) along with all of the other students.  It was interesting, they sang a lot of the same praise and worship songs I learned in my experiences with nondenominational Christian fellowships, except in Italian of course.  The church was packed, which was really cool. 

Next we ate lunch, then headed up the hill to Assisi proper.  I love that little city on a hill.  It's just so peaceful and quaint.  Being there one feels like they've stepped back in time.  It was a beautiful, clear day with only a few clouds in the sky, and those clouds proved to create a spectacular sunset.  Here are some pictures:

The following week, there was a sacred music festival that was held in the major basilicas of Rome.  I was able to go to one concert, in St. Mary Major.  The day before yesterday I also went to another concert in St. Mary Major that was a Mass composed in honor of St. Cecilia by Domenico Bartolucci, the maestro for the Sistine Chapel.  The music was truly heavenly - it refreshes the soul.  The sounds of the orchestra and choir saturated the air so heavily I almost felt I could taste it.  It is one thing to hear classical music on a CD, and another to hear it live but played mediocrely, but to hear such music played and sung with perfection is quite a moving experience.  I am only now beginning to truly understand what traditional sacred music is meant to be and why there are those who advocate it so strongly.  I think the majority of the world simply doesn't know what they're missing. 

When I was listening to the Mass composed for St. Cecilia, it was only halfway through that I realized the composer and the director of the orchestra that was there were the same person.  At first I just figured it was some Mass that was composed a long time ago by someone who had also died a long time ago.  But it wasn't.  It was composed by a man who was still very much alive and very passionate about creating music that gives due glory to God and brings the listener into a closer relationship with him.  It was quite a marvel to realize this.  The mood of the music for the different parts of the Mass fit with the mood one should have for them. About halfway through, I started thinking of how the Mass really is basically a love song between Christ and the Church, played out in real life.  In Mass we start out by apologizing for the times we've failed Christ, thank Him for all He has given to us, and then remember some of the most important parts of God's relationship with mankind in the scriptures.  In the offertory we give the fruits of our labors and our very selves as a gift to God. Then, in the Eucharist, Christ gives His whole self to us and promises to be faithful to us for all time. The craziest thing for me is I got all of those thoughts just by listening to some music in a language I don't even know, Latin.  I do think music is a universal language though - you don't need to understand the words to know what it is saying if it is well-composed.

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