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BY Joseph Pronechen
Hoping to help Catholics who rush toward Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving Day is done — only to miss out on the blessings of a well-observed Advent — the Somerville, Mass.-based Brotherhood of Hope has recorded a new CD.
A mix of hymns, chant, Gospel and contemporary songs, A Season of Hope is a sort of one-stop shop for Advent preparation. It provides not only a soundtrack to the season, but also a reading companion in the form of a 16-page booklet of Scriptures, teachings and meditations.
Fresh from an appearance on EWTN's “Life on the Rock,” Brother Rahl Bunsa, Superior of the Brotherhood of Hope, talked to Register correspondent Joseph Pronechen about the CD.
Why music, why Advent and why now?
Primarily because of a conviction from the Lord. The Christmas-shopping frenzy and today's materialism often overshadow Advent. So we're trying to help people rediscover or reclaim treasures in our tradition that most are unaware of. We're making those gems and treasures available to the Catholic people.
We Catholics have plenty of Christmas music out there, but nobody has Advent music. So the CD fills a void — hence the title and the subtitle, which is Rediscovering our Advent Heritage.
How did you decide which songs to record?
For this CD's song selection I like to apply the Scripture passage where Jesus says, “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Matthew 13:52).
Songs range from hymns like “Savior of the Nations” and chants like “Alma Redemptoris Mater” to Gospel and contemporary music. It reflects the Brotherhood's way we use music in our communal prayer life.
A third are traditional hymns, for example, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Another third are traditional hymns with great lyrics that one of our gifted brothers, Brother Joe Donovan, wrote to a more contemporary musical accompaniment. Take the opening song, “Hills of the North Rejoice,” which people can sample on our website, brotherhoodofhope.org. Brother Joe wrote the music to help the 19th-century lyrics come alive. He did the same for another traditional song, “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers,” which we sang on EWTN.
For the final third of songs, we wrote both the music and lyrics, like “I Am Confident and Unafraid,” a Gospel tune by Brother Allen Marquez. It's a song about Mary and John the Baptist, two prominent figures during Advent. They had great confidence the Father would fulfill his promises.
Besides being enjoyable, your Advent CD has the potential to evangelize and catechize.
About half the songs are taken from Scripture, either directly or indirectly. Many of the lyrics and meditations are about genuine hope. Both the album and the jacket seek to enkindle that biblical hope.
Tell us about the extensive notes you've included in your 16-page jacket.
We explain about Advent and the virtue of hope, which is part of our charism and the main virtue the Church holds up for us during Advent. We quote from the Catechism, from Peter Kreeft and from many Scriptures. All the lyrics for the songs are included. Each song also has a 3-to-4-sentence meditation added in order to help people's prayer life. Everyone in the community wrote these meditations as a group effort.
How can families use the album to prepare for Christmas?
For most centuries Catholics didn't sing Christmas carols or put up Christmas decoration before Dec. 24. In others words, Advent was protected. But in the last couple of generations that slowly has been lost, a lot because of the materialism surrounding Christmas. We're trying to give a tool to individuals and families and parishes to reclaim this marvelous season of hope.
In our own community, we don't sing any Christmas carols until Christmas. Parishes can use the music for RCIA and for meditation background. People can use it for Bible study and for small prayer groups
One priest bought over 50 of the CDs to give to his staff, choir, friends and catechists. We have a special discount for bulk orders. He says he plays it all the time.
We've found people are giving it as gifts to encourage their priests, to evangelize others and to spread the gift of hope to a despairing world.
How is it being received?
Very well. We're thrilled that Father Benedict Groeschel, Bishop John Ricard of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese, and Martin Doman, who is worship leader for Steuben-ville conferences, have endorsed it. We've gotten many endorsements from priests, housewives, musicians and even prominent evangelical Protestants.
Some evangelicals have told me that they're lacking some of the liturgical richness that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have. So the album and jacket should also help fill a need there. One of the CD's large distributors is evangelical.
I understand that some of what you earn will go to children in need.
We're giving 10% of the net proceeds to the Village of Hope, an orphanage in Tanzania where we do a yearly outreach. The orphans have HIV. Their numbers are increasing, but funds that come from America go a long way over there.
Are the songs only for Advent?
Just as Easter's resurrection songs can be sung outside of Easter, so too, many of these songs of hope can be just as inspiring outside of Advent. People probably own Christmas music, but what about Advent?
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.