“Virgin’s First Communion” Pianist Jacqueline Chew
Olivier Messiaen (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992) was a devout and well-respected French Catholic composer. Olivier Messiaen wrote Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus , a collection of pieces for solo piano in 1944. The French title translates “Twenty gazes/contemplations on the infant Jesus”. It is considered to be one of the greatest piano works of the twentieth century, and the summit of Messiaen’s keyboard writing. The idea of les regards, the spiritual gazes, came from the devotional book Le Christ dans ses Mystères by the Irish-Belgian Benedictine Abbot Dom Columba Marmion.
The gaze is a profound moment of passionate contemplation, spiritual communication and two-way recognition: an exchange, to use one of Marmion’s favorite words, in which love and knowledge passed in both directions between God and humanity.
Some of Messiaen’s ‘gazes’ on the Infant Jesus include: Gaze of the Father, Gaze of the Star, The Exchange, Gaze of the Son upon the Son, By Him everything was made, The Kiss of the Infant Jesus, Glance of Silence (click here to see all of the pieces)…the piece that touches on our blog’s theme is: ‘Premiere Communion de la Vierge’. (No. 11, “Virgin’s First Communion”) and represents the Virgin on her knees, worshiping the unborn Jesus within her.
Olivier Messiaen wrote notes for each of the glances/regards. Here is what he wrote about the Premiere communion de la Vierge:
“Première communion de la Vierge [First Communion of the Virgin]. A tableau in which the Virgin is shown kneeling, bowed down in the night-a luminous halo around her womb. Eyes closed, she adores the fruit hidden within her. This comes between the Annunciation and the Nativity: it is the first and greatest of all communions. Theme of God, gentle scrolls, in stalactites, in an inner embrace. (Recall of the theme of La Vierge l’Enfant from my Nativity du Seigneur for organ, 1935). Magnificat more enthusiastic. Special chords and durations of two and two in which the weighty pulsations represent the heartbeats of the Infant in the breast of his mother. Disappearance of the Theme of God. After the Annunciation, Mary adores Jesus within her…my God, my son, my Magnificat!-my love without the sound of words.”
Here are two links:
“Inseparable from the Gospel, for St. Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: ‘I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!’ (LT 266).”
June 25 is the memorial of the death of a truly inspirational man, Bishop Austin Vaughan. My husband and I were inspired by Bishop Vaughan’s witness as a Bishop and as a pro-life leader. To learn more about Bishop Vaughan click here.
Bishop Austin Vaughan (1927-2000), Auxiliary Bishop of New York, who was arrested many times for peacefully praying and protesting in front of abortion facilities, wrote an article called “The Catholic Duty to be Pro-Life” in which he reflected:
“It is not an accident, I think, that in the Scriptures the first person, after Mary, who adored Jesus when he came into the world was St. John the Baptist…The second person who ever worshipped Jesus after Mary was an unborn baby and I think God made it that way to tell us in our day and age the worth and importance of every individual right from the very beginning of life.”
There is a beautiful teaching in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians about God’s peace:
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7
We find this peace first and foremost in the Person of Jesus Christ – even when He was an infant, a little baby. Just after the birth of John the Baptist, when Mary was just about 3 months pregnant, Zechariah (the father of newborn baby John) proclaims the future prophetic role of his baby son. Zechariah also speaks of a time “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high….to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).
That day had surely begun to dawn in Bethlehem. And so the angel of the Lord and the heavenly host which appeared to the shepherds in the nearby fields, ended their proclamation with these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).
The shepherds go to the stable and worship the newborn Christ. Later the wise men come and worship as well. There is, in fact, a correlation between worshipping God and encountering the Peace of God.
After the shepherds left, Luke tells us: “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). The words and experiences were so deep and profound, that only her heart could touch them. Mary’s heart was at once, the vessel from which her worship poured forth and a receptacle for the breath of God’s Peace.
Mary was the first to touch that Peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding, or rather – the Peace of the Unborn Christ (and later newborn Christ) touched her, enveloped her pondering heart…guiding her “feet into the way of peace”…