It’s said that God is in the details, and I’ve come to think I’ll find Holy Cross in the details, too.
I was at Mass in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher on the University of Portland campus, on September 15th. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of Holy Cross. Thirty-seven priests were dressed in albs and stoles and aligned in four rows to the right of the altar. Another six or seven priests and brothers were scattered among the faithful elsewhere in the chapel. Fr. Frank Murphy, C.S.C., the superior of the Portland Holy Cross community, was celebrant. It was a most holy gathering for a most important celebration.
For a century, starting in 1814, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was celebrated on the third Sunday of September. But in 1913, Pope Pius X moved the feast day to September 15, the day after the Feast of the Cross. And so we were gathered that day in our chapel to ask Mary’s blessings and protection for each and all of Holy Cross.
The Stabat Mater was played as the Prelude. Ave Crux Spes Unica was sung as those 37 priests processed. Fr. Murphy spoke beautifully during his homily. The Ave Maria was sung during the preparation of the altar and the gifts. The Mass ended, peaceful and complete, and we all stood, received the final blessing, and were given our commission to go and practice what we all preached.
And then occurred that telling detail that carried with it almost two centuries of Holy Cross history and told a story that linked together Basil Moreau and Edward Sorin and Andre Bessette and Frank Murphy and the 42 priests and brothers in the chapel that day and the thousands of priests and brothers who have ever worn the cross and anchor. Into the still chapel evening the music came, strong and deep and reassuring: Salve Regina, mater miserecordiae…
The men of Holy Cross were ending this Mass as they always end their gatherings. I lifted my head and watched and listened. Every mouth was moving. Every voice was joined. Even the priests and brothers standing among the congregation were singing along, some with eyes closed. This was their theme song. They all had learned it during their seminary formation in Holy Cross, just as the generations of priests and brothers before them had learned it, and they all were singing it again. Resonant. Together. As one.
The Salve Regina has been recited or chanted for 10 centuries, ever since St. Bernard first heard it and introduced it to his monks at Clarveaux. Its popularity steadily spread throughout the monastic world so that by the mid-1500s it had become the final hymn of Night Prayer. When Blessed Basil Moreau spent time at the Trappist monastery near Le Mans, he no doubt joined the monks as they chanted Compline and with them, closed his prayer with the Salve. Today, since Holy Cross does not ordinarily pray Compline in common, it’s a distinguishing mark of the Congregation to sing it at the end of meetings or gatherings.
No one can deny the aural beauty of a male a cappella chorus, and I was not the only one in the chapel that day whose heart was moved as the singing swelled towards it’s end: O clemens, O pia, O dulcis, Virgo Maria. And then it was over. But the message of the singing lingered and still does, a message of strength and unity and constancy and hope. Anyone who would understand Holy Cross would do well to start with their singing of the Salve Regina. There is much to find in that one powerful detail.
Mr. John Soisson is the Special Assistant to the President at the University of Portland in Portland, Ore. He and Mr. Rob Curtis, the Pastoral Minister at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, Ariz., team up to contribute to the Spes Unica blog the perspective of our lay collaborators in Holy Cross. Our lay collaborators not only join us in what we do, but they also help make us who we are. It is impossible to imagine our lives, our mission, or our vocations without them, and so to help those discerning with our community, we include their voices on our blog as well.