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Cantor Avenue

Weekly reflections for cantors on the responsorial psalm and more

Melanie Coddington and James Hansen

James Hansen and Melanie Coddington served the NPM Cantor and Lector Schools as master teachers for many years. Co-authors of Cantor Basics, Revised Edition (, they currently reside in Abingdon, Virginia. Melanie works for the Diocese of Richmond while James is director of the Abingdon Schola.


Ordinary Time 2 | 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom, written in Greek during the last century before the birth of Christ, reminded our ancestors in faith of the Divine Wisdom available to them through their practice of Judaism. A small people in a big world, they struggled to retain their identity and history amid the glamor and sophistication of Hellenistic (Greek-influenced) culture. Wisdom’s inspired author exhorted them to look more closely and deeply at their own tradition and find the presence of God waiting to enrich their lives.

In today’s reading, the feminine figure of Divine Wisdom actively seeks out followers—sitting by their gates at dawn, making rounds, appearing to them in the ways and meeting them with a warm embrace. This gives the foolish ones who ignore her invitation little excuse. Yet we all know how distracting the world can be.

Keeping vigil for Divine Wisdom means paying attention: listening, watching, and waiting for the breath of the Spirit to stir the air around us. This degree of vigilance is difficult to maintain amid the chaos of our culture. Twenty-one centuries later, we face the same challenge as our spiritual ancestors!

If we allow our senses to be bombarded by unfiltered input, the visual and aural overload of spin and din, we cannot perceive Wisdom or hear her still small voice. Perhaps we need to turn off the chatter and pay attention to our own reality—persons, places, experiences—with an open heart and mind. According to today’s reading, Wisdom will meet us there.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’m not sure how to say this, but let me begin with a quip that I heard from a stand-up comic some months ago: “Women! They’re everywhere!”

As a bona fide elder, I can speak with some ease of a past when, though the exclamatory statement above might have been factual, it never bore the weight or meaning it does today. Lacking the precise figures to be scientific, I reckon that a mere dozen or so years back women began to appear in extraordinary leadership positions in business and finance. There followed increased acceptance of their role in politics, athletics, the military, law enforcement, and an ever widening spectrum of human activity. Today, except in rare and unusual pockets of our society, women are everywhere, competing for an increasing share of the proverbial pie.

How fitting that the reading from Proverbs tells us what our people have realized from the beginning: that the women in our lives do it all, and with superior ability share what they have, serving all whom their lives touch. Think of the strong women who have touched your life. Express your gratitude by spending the grace you have been given as a result of their heroic presence. Finally, encourage the next generation of women and men by recognizing their gifts and empowering their growth.

To sum up Psalm 128:
Happy and favored are you who fear the Lord:
Wife, husband, and children around your table,
All the days of your life.

Thanksgiving Day
History for Dummies would have us cherish Thanksgiving as an entirely American invention, akin to apple pie and the Fourth of July. We might even recall the fanciful “original cast” pictures: Native Americans carrying a slain and dressed deer for the roasting; their pilgrim hosts, nattily decked-out in formal black (with starched white linen collars and cuffs), putting the finishing touches on a crowded table, beautifully crowned with a stuffed and roasted turkey.

Yet at a much earlier date in our history, Saint Justin Martyr, in one of the earliest descriptions of the Mass (First Apology, circa 150 AD), includes these notes:
“Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is brought to the president bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; he gives praise and glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.”

Further on, the president reportedly “offers prayers and thanksgiving to the best of his abilities.” Here, he is surely off the book, engaged in improvised prayer, and even spontaneous thanksgiving! It is no coincidence that the word, “Eucharist,” comes from the Greek meaning to give thanks. Thanksgiving, therefore, resides deep in our ritual bones.

Looking for a way to thank the cantors and choir members, who have given of themselves, week after week for decades? Train them to read the music! Got some fine readers already? Train them to glean deeper insight from the printed page. Learning to sight read opens mind and heart to new possibilities and sets the singer free of fear and the ongoing burden of learning by rote. This gift would offer them “thanks at considerable length,” in the words of Justin, and would keep on giving into the future.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Drawing from nomadic experience, ancient eastern cultures used the relationship between a shepherd and his flock as a model for king and people. Like a good king (wise and compassionate), the idealized shepherd dedicates his life to selfless care, leading family and flock from one pasture to another. Such shepherds heroically defend the flock from beasts of prey and from the knavery of rustlers and enemies. It comes as no surprise then that these wandering nomads, strangers wherever they briefly settled, might cling to the image of a shepherd-king and imagine that one creating and securing a promised land, where the unrelenting change of life on the move might finally cease.

In Ezekiel 34, before our lection begins, the Lord God condemns the errant leaders of his people, who have neglected the flock of the Lord to feather their own nests: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been shepherding themselves!” We hear of the Lord’s intention to take charge of their fate. Today’s reading then sets the stage for the New King (who is God himself) to lead God’s flock in paths of justice and love. Tradition suggests that this reading might have provided inspiration for the universally beloved 23rd psalm.

Psalm 23, an important pilgrimage psalm (sung on the journey), sets the table of sacrifice to accommodate our ritual celebration of baptism (“beside restful waters…he refreshes my soul”) and Eucharist (“You spread the table before me...”), and also incorporates the kingly image of anointing.

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