Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Canada's First Christmas Carol - "Jesu Ahatonhia" - Photos from Sunday's Diaconal Ordination - Ottawa Grieves

Today I will receive the priests of the Archdiocese at a Christmastide luncheon.

Perhaps in some churches these days Canada's first Christmas carol, written by the martyr St. John de Brébeuf, is part of the parish repertoire.

Here is a bit of background to the hymn tracked down on various web sites. The illustrations of the carol with Canadian stamps from 1977 indicate also how postage rates have increased over the years.

TWAS IN THE MOON OF WINTERTIME: The Huron Christmas Carol (Father Jean de Brébeuf, English Words by J. E. Middleton, 1926; Music: Jesous Ahatonhia, French Canadian melody)

'Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wond'ring hunters heard the hymn:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

Within a lodge of broken bark,
The tender Babe was found
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round
And as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

O children of the forest free,
O songs of Manitou
The Holy Child of earth and heav'n
Is born today for you
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

The "Huron Carol" (or "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime") is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada's oldest Christmas song), written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born").

The song's melody is based on a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton, and the copyright to these lyrics is currently held by The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited.

The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brébeuf's original song and Huron religious concepts.

In the English version, Jesus is born in a "lodge of broken bark", and wrapped in a "robe of rabbit skin". He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magi are portrayed as "chiefs from afar" that bring him "fox and beaver pelts" instead of the more familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The hymn also uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with Native-Canadian cultures.

The song remains a common Christmas hymn in Canadian churches of many Christian denominations. Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn has also recorded a rendition of the song. It was also sung by Canadian musician Tom Jackson during his annual Huron Carol show. The group 'Crash Test Dummies' recorded this hymn on their album "Jingle all the Way" (2002).

In the United States, the song was included as "Jesous Ahatonia" on Burl Ives's 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released as a Burl Ives single under the title "Indian Christmas Carol." The music has been rearranged by the Canadian songwriter Loreena McKennitt under the title "Breton Carol" in 2008.

In retelling the story of the Nativity, Father Brébeuf used symbols and figures that could be understood by the Hurons, and the hymn entered the tribe’s oral tradition. It was sung by the Hurons in Ontario until 1649, when the Iroquois killed Father Brebeuf [and Gabriel Lalemant], wiped out the Jesuit mission and drove the Hurons from their home.

In Quebec, to which many of the Hurons escaped, the carol re-emerged and was translated into English and French. This version is still sung today throughout Canada and is considered a national treasure that it has been celebrated on a set of Canadian postage stamps.

Ronald G. White, an illustrator of children's books, used Native motifs in the 1977 Canada Post stamps series to illustrate the carol: (10¢ for mail in Canada) three hunter braves see an angel in the northern lights, (12¢ for mail to the USA) they follow the star to the lodge where the infant is to be found, and (25¢ for international mail) they worship at the crib.

Brébeuf is also known for naming the Native Canadian game of lacrosse, as it is called today, because the stick used in the game reminded him of a bishop's crozier.
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Homily for Diaconal Ordination of Jeffrey Nelson - Feast of the Holy Family (December 27, 2009) at St. Theresa’s Church, Ottawa, ON

FOLLOWING MARY'S LEAD IN SERVICE [Texts: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 (Psalm 84); 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52]

My dear ordinand and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

If one were to imagine Luke as a preacher of the gospel about Jesus and ask about his favourite motifs, the heralding of “good news” to the poor and outcast would rank high on the list. So also would the themes of the universality of God's saving purpose, the blessings of poverty and the dangers of wealth.

Prominent, too, in Luke's depiction of the way things are for Christ Jesus and His followers, are the role of the Holy Spirit in both the life of the Teacher and His disciples. Prayer and praise of God are frequently on His lips and on theirs, as are the joy and praise which dwelling in God's presence brings.

Luke was deeply aware of the role and significance for the early Christian community of the twelve apostles to whom Jesus entrusted governance of the faith community He established. But the evangelist was equally conscious of the
key role played by women in receiving, supporting and furthering God's saving plan during Jesus' public ministry and in the first years of the fledgling Church.

Only Luke tells us that, as Jesus went through the Galilean cities and villages proclaiming and bringing Good News of the Kingdom of God, and that “the Twelve were with Him” accompanied by some women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna—“and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (8:1-3).

The word that is used of the women's ministry is in Greek diakonein, from which we get the word “deacon”, the ministry to which Jeff is being ordained today.

That women, and especially Mary, model a disciple's receptivity to the gospel message is powerfully displayed in the account Luke gives of Jesus' conception, birth and infancy. Unlike Zechariah's doubting question to the angel Gabriel on learning his wife would conceive (1:18), Mary's question at the annunciation contained no connotation of unbelief (1:34).

Gabriel explained that her conception of Jesus would take place by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit so that her child would truly be called “Son of God” (1:35). Mary's reply manifests the classic expression of trust in all God might ask of a creature, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

As the infancy narrative develops, we see Mary continue to ponder on the meaning of what is happening to herself and her Child. After the shepherds come to marvel at their new-born Saviour and Lord, we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (2:19).

That same response is hers at the close of the episode where Jesus was lost and then found in the Temple, declaring that He had to be in His Father's house, about His Father's business, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart”.

The gospel invites us to ponder ourselves on the mystery of family life, the context in which Jeff will carry out his diaconal ministry. At the heart of family life are all the joys and happiness of the human condition, including Hanna’s gratitude for the gift of a son, Samuel whom she dedicates to God’s service.

Whenever the Lord enters into people's lives, whether in dramatic or every day ways, the joy of communion with God overflows into prayer and praise. As St. John tells us in the second reading, we are privileged, through our baptism and faith in Christ, to become sharers in God’s life—a process that continues our whole life long.

How that dynamic works itself in each person or each family’s life is an exercises of the mysterious and transforming power of God’s grace. St. John says that we can, in fact, know very little about our future glory, only the conviction that we have in faith which asserts that “when Christ is revealed [as he will be in his coming in glory at the end of time] “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”.

Indeed, the sorrows, anxieties and concerns of daily human life are not absent from any family life in which parents and children seek to find their own place as they grow to full maturity in Christ. Just listen to the dialogue and how it echoes conversations in your family: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety?”

Jesus' reply did not resolve the pain of the loss as he said, “Why were you searching for me?” As Luke remarks, “they did not understand what He said to them.”

And so on this day in which our brother Jeff is ordained to diaconal ministry we pray for Janet his spouse and for their three children and newly-born grandchild that they may enjoy a family life that is truly blessed by the Lord, where each may find his or her right place in God's household by listening to others and by being heard.

Our brother in the Lord, Jeff will soon receive an outpouring of the Spirit of God to enable him to serve God's people in diaconal ministries. He is fully convinced that, no matter what eloquence or learning may be his from his studies and earlier career, the power of his ministry to touch people's lives derives from the proclamation of Jesus. This truth holds in the places from which our ordinand has come and where he has already served and where he will minister.

In his diaconal ministry our brother will come to comprehend more deeply that the paschal mystery which is found in family life is also in the lives of the poor, marginal, hospitalized or home-bound sick to whom, like the first deacons, he is called to minister.

A deacon needs to keep ever in mind that it is Christ's Word of Truth that can transform doubting, hurting and needy men, women and children who open themselves to his message and gift of the Kingdom into salt for our earth, light for our world.

Jeffrey's task as deacon will be to help all God's children let their light shine before others and give glory to God in Heaven.

My son, I pray that Mary's Magnificat which we recite at vespers every evening truly be your prayer all the days of your diaconal ministry!

My son, you are being called to the order of deacons. The Lord has set you an example to follow. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and humanity in love and joy. Look upon all unchastity and avarice as worship of false gods; for no one can serve two masters.

Never turn away from the hope which the gospel offers; now you must not only listen to God's Word but also preach it. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.

Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, you will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”.

(Thanks to Frank Scheme for photos of the ceremony.)

The congregation joins in praying the litany of the saints for the prostrate diaconate candidate...

...followed by the laying-on of hands and the prayer of ordination

The Nelson family poses for a celebratory photo following the ordination ceremony....

Scenes from the reception:

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The citizens of Ottawa are mourning the loss of a police officer killed in the line of duty, the sixth since policing was established in 1847(the last was in October 1983). This reminds us of the debt we owe each day to those who serve and protect the public order at the risk of their lives.

Sincere sympathy to the family of Constable Eric Czapnik and to his fellow officers on their loss. R.I.P.

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