“The highest expression of man’s heart”: Holy Mass for Christmas 2011 dedicated to Don Luigi Giussani | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

“The highest expression of man’s heart”: Holy Mass for Christmas 2011 dedicated to Don Luigi Giussani

22nd December 2011

The story of every Christmas in the Holy Land is special and fascinating. Brother Armando Pierucci, Director of the Magnificat Institute, the school of music of the Franciscan Custody in Jerusalem, is certainly one of the leading figures in this marvellous story which is repeated every year. In over 25 years of activity in these Holy Places, he has composed and arranged beautiful melodies and has carried out a precious job of preserving and increasing appreciation of the heritage of sacred and popular music of the local Christian Arab tradition, and for some time now he has also been the highly esteemed composer of the music , every year new and fine music for the Holy Mass that is solemnly celebrated on Christmas night in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, next to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This Holy Mass is at the centre of attention of the whole world and beats in the heart of all Christians, wherever they are on this Holy Night when God came into the world.

The Holy Mass composed this year by Brother Armando for Christmas is dedicated to Don Luigi Giussani (15th October 1922 – 22nd February 2005), founder of the well known Catholic Movement of Communion and Liberation. Through his educational work in seminaries, schools and universities, was able to give an extraordinary impulse to Christian life and commitment in our times, which culminated in the foundation and activity of CL. He also always had a great passion for music and singing, which was instilled in him, in particular by his father from a very early age. Music and singing therefore represent one of the essential aspects of the Movement inspired by Don Giussani, since, as he liked to repeat, “singing is the highest expression of man’s heart” and “the greatest charity of all because singing makes mystery near and visible.” With great care, Don Giussant tried to hand on to his young people a knowledge and love for music, teaching them the classics of devotio moderna, the solo, popular and polyphonic songs of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the great tradition of classical music and a multiplicity of other genres. Listening and commenting on pieces of music and songs has thus remained essential in the life of the Movement because, as Don Giussani said, “there is no service to the community that is comparable to singing.”

Due to this special sensibility of Don Giussani for music, his dedication to the musical education of young people, his awareness that music and singing are privileged means of expression of the individual, as Giacomo Leopardi suggests in his poem To Silvia, “The quiet rooms and the streets/around you, sounded/to your endless singing,” Brother Armando Pierucci wanted to dedicated the Holy Mass written for Christmas 2011 to this great Christian personality of our times. The Holy Mass, composed for a male choir, female choir and orchestra, will be sung in Bethlehem by the Magnificat Choir and by the Jasmine Choir of the young pupils of the school of the Custody, who will be joined by the St. Angela Choir of Budapest. The Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary, whose wife conducts the guest Choir, will also be present at the solemn celebration. The choirs are also due to take part in the main lyrical moments of the Holy Mass, such as the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Hallelujah, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, through small melodies by the Choirs and which the all will be invited to repeat. As this year is also the bicentenary of the birth of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), the Hungarian composer, pianist, organist and conductor, his Ave Maria will also be performed in his honour during the Holy Mass. The prestigious orchestra of the Accademia delle Opere of Milan, greatly committed to sacred music, which recently also collaborated with the Russian Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives, will also accompany the Mass. The orchestra, part of the Non nobis project of the Custody of the Holy Land, has already performed the musical service at the Holy Midnight Mass in the Basilica of St. Catherine in Bethlehem in 2010, accompanying the Choirs of the Magnificat in the performance of the S. Jacobi Mass, also composed for the occasion by Brother Armando, and giving some other concerts in the Holy Land. “For the Mass dedicated to Don Giussani,” Brother Armando tells us, “I thought precisely of the presence of the orchestra and therefore, whilst within the limits of the liturgical conciseness, I wanted to develop the orchestral part.”

The polyphonic Holy Masses for Christmas are an invaluable treasure, which further enhances the long tradition by the Franciscan Custody of promoting high profile cultural initiatives, capable of fitting into and harmonizing with the particular context of the Holy Land, taking into account the cultural resources and heritage that exist here and by working actively and competently to develop in people the awareness of what exists, to educate to know and feel what is beautiful and infinite, to develop and boost talents. “Music and singing,” says Brother Armando again,” are a fundamental part of our history and culture. If we do not sing, this means that we do not have an identity and that the social and cultural world we belong to does not actually exist.” Because, as Pope Benedict XVI recalls, the future is in culture, in everything that is done well and not in improvisation, in serious and thorough training to the truth, the beautiful and the good, opening up the person to the search for the profound meaning of each thing.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti