Connecting the Circuits
Robert P. Imbelli April 13, 2014 - 8:37am
The leitmotif of the great father of the Church, Origen, in his commentaries on Scripture was: "not only then, but now." The narrative of faith is not merely "in illo tempore," but "in hoc tempore."
It is the challenging task of the preacher to proclaim God's Word as relevant in our own day. But, of course, it is the task of every believer to appropriate the Good News, to pass over from a merely "notional" to a "real" apprehension and assent.
Here the great artists – poets, painters, musicians – can be occasions of grace for us. Perhaps none more so than Johann Sebastian Bach.
Bach's two surviving Passions coincide in the current liturgical year with our reading of Saint Matthew and Saint John today and Good Friday. I have been listening these past days to the Saint Matthew Passion and will towards midweek begin to play/pray the Saint John Passion.
In his masterful, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner devotes ninety dense pages to an analysis and appreciation of the Passions. Here is an excerpt:
As everyone familiar with either of Bach’s surviving Passions knows, participating either from the outside as a listener or from the inside as a performer, the placement of the chorales is central to the overall experience – pulling the action into the here and now, confirming, responding to, or repudiating what has just happened in the narrative, and obliging one to consider its significance.
It is the judicious choice and placement of chorales that provide the essential scaffolding and punctuation of the narrative and that simultaneously articulate the underlying theological themes. You could of course remove them (together with the meditative arias) and the piece would still make sense at one level; but to do so would break the circuit –obliterating the connections to Bach’s time and to ours.
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.