by Doug Lawrence
This was not turning out to be your average Sunday!
We were at Mass when day turned to night around noon on Sunday, November 17th, as a fast-moving cold front swept through the State of Illinois, spawning a number of powerful tornadoes and (unknown to us, at the time) almost totally devastating the town of Washington, located about one hundred twenty miles southwest of our suburban Chicago area church. (Please pray for the citizens of Washington, Illinois.)
After Mass, the plan was to drive to Indiana, along with a few close friends, to attend the semi-annual Handel Messiah experience at the Ancilla Domini Chapel, near the town of Plymouth. (Admission is free.)
The storm was moving east at a brisk, sixty miles per hour, so it looked like we would be OK – if I didn’t drive too fast! Other than a flood, a traffic accident with detour, numerous power outages and occasionally outpacing the storm and driving right into the tail end of it, we got there relatively quickly and without serious incident.
Despite the strong, biting winds that followed in the wake of the storm (and a pesky, local power outage that for a time, threatened to cancel the event) the place was jammed – with standing room only! Fortunately, we had VIP reserved seats, courtesy of a friendly local priest. In fact, we were seated right up front, a mere twenty feet from the choir and the soloists – and virtually sitting in the orchestra!
The 500 Seat Neo-Gothic “Chapel” Is Awesome!
From the official website:
The Annunciation scene above the main altar is an imported carved work. The scene is very significant to the Poor Handmaids because it symbolizes the Sisters’ charism and name. The statues represent Mary and the angel in dialogue (Luke 1:26-38). The angel is expressing God’s call to Mary to be the Mother of the Messiah, Jesus. Mary responds humbly of her desire to participate in God’s plan of redemption. She is willing to serve as mother of the Savior. Mary answered the angel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” The Latin words “Ancilla Domini,” mean “Handmaid of the Lord.” From this title Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ take their name.
The Messiah was masterfully conducted by Dr. David K. Lamb of Columbus, Indiana. The robust and expansive choir consisted of Poor Handmaid Sisters and volunteers from the surrounding area. Professional soloists from the Chicago Lyric Opera turned in a truly extraordinary performance, while members of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra provided the soul-stirring musical accompaniment.
This was no small effort! Preparations and rehearsals must have taken weeks or months, as “Messiah” is a daunting technical piece, in addition to being awesomely inspirational.
I was able to follow along as the violin section flawlessly performed their parts, reading from a score that was virtually black with tiny musical notes and symbols, trilling constantly up – then down – then up, some more. I didn’t know it was even possible for human fingers to work that fast – or for so long a time. Some of the musicians appeared to have committed the entire work to memory – a truly masterful achievement – and no doubt, a labor of love.
As for me and mine – I doubt we will ever think of Christmas the same way, again – because now we know what it must have been like to experience the Heavenly Hosts singing God’s praises over the rolling plains of Bethlehem, that first Christmas night!
Hallelujah (Alleluia) to the Lord, God of Hosts!
Alleluia (Praise God) all you people!
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of [his] government and peace [there shall be] no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
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