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‘Sancta Nox’ album of Christmas Matins debuts at #1 on Billboard Traditional Classical Albums chart

October 8, 2021 Catholic News Agency 2
Seminarians of the FSSP’s International Seminary of St. Peter. / Photo courtesy of Sophia Institute Press.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 8, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

On Sept. 28, a community of seminarians from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter’s European seminary released an album of Christmas Matins, “Sancta Nox: Christmas Matins from Bavaria”. This week, the 17-song collection topped the Billboard’s Traditional Classical Albums chart.  

“We are very surprised and grateful that people have already found this recording, and humbled that they have decided to add this music to the Christmas experience and traditions,” said Manuel Vaz Guedes, one of the singers, who is from Lisbon.  

Recorded in surround sound at St. Magnus Abbey, Bad Schussenried in Germany, the album features mostly Gregorian chant, sung by seminarians of Saint Peter Wigratzbad Seminary. The abbey was built in the 12th century, with acoustics “perfect” for recording Gregorian chant, said Vaz Guedes. 

The seminarians go to the abbey from time-to-time to celebrate special feast days, said Vaz Guedes. 

“It was a very inspirational setting for recording this music,” he said.

The album includes a multi-lingual arrangement of “Stille Nacht”, along with several songs arranged by the seminarians themselves. 

“We set about bringing our very best to recording music that was representative of the beauty found in the truth,” said Vaz Guedes, who discovered he could sing through Gregorian chant. “I think music is one of the most perfect ways of exteriorizing the faith and one of the most profound ways to pray to God.” 

Matins are part of the Divine Office, which priests and monks pray every single day. In the album, Vaz Guedes said, listeners will find the “life and prayer of a seminarian” during Christmas.

“Christmas Matins have a great importance because they precede, immediately, the Christmas night Mass and one of the most solemn and beautiful moments of the liturgical year,” Vaz Guedes said.  “We wanted to share how we pray on Christmas night.”

The seminarians recorded the album under the direction of Christopher Alder, a Grammy Award-winning classical music producer and Christian Weigl, a Grammy Award-winning engineer. 

“The uniqueness of this recording resides in the fact that we are very young singers singing very ancient and venerable music,” said Vaz Guedes. “The average age of our group is 25 and the average age of the music we are singing is probably 800. That’s a very gratifying collaboration to be part of.”

The music, Vaz Guedes said, can be enjoyed by a wide audience, including listeners who prefer traditional sacred music, as well as those who want to experience peace. 

“We must be attentive to the words we are saying and to the beauty of the melody we are singing,” he said. “ We can meditate on the words because they are the formal part of the prayer—they are the prayer we address to God—But we have the opportunity to do it [while]  enjoying the beauty of the melody or the harmony, because the beauty of music is a participation of the perfect beauty that is God.” 

The FSSP’s North American seminary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, had in 2017 released an album featuring the chants of the Requiem Mass.


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How this Catholic group brought Christmas presents to Armenia

January 7, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Gyumri, Armenia, Jan 7, 2021 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- A Catholic non-profit has surprised hundreds of suffering Armenian families with Christmas presents following the problems of the coronavirus pandemic and the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Gia Chacon, president of the organization For the Martyrs, returned Jan. 2 from a trip to Armenia, where the organization was able to deliver presents to over 1,000 children.

“Operation Christmas for Armenia was something that we started here … to bring toys and presents to children who may not otherwise have a Christmas experience,” she told CNA.

“Many [parents] were telling their families that Santa wasn’t going to be coming or they wouldn’t be exchanging Christmas presents this year. So we wanted to [find] a solution. We wanted to bring joy to these children.”

For the project, the organization partnered with Archbishop Raphaël Minassian, Ordinary of the Armenian Ordinariate of Eastern Europe, who is also the president of Caritas Armenia.

With his help, Gia said, the organization handed out presents to an between 1,200 to 1,500 children in three Armenian cities – Goris, Gyumri, and Artashat. She said the children included refugees from Artsakh, orphans, and people with disabilities. 

To help purchase presents, the organization received monetary donations from over 500 benefactors. The gifts were then wrapped by Armenian Catholics in California. Each present included the message “Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund,” which is Armenian for “Merry Christmas.”

The presents included toys such as dolls, soccer balls, tools, tea sets, and candy. She said the organization tried to present a variety of toys for different age groups, also handing out purses for teenage girls and watches for the older boys.

Gia said several centers they visited had people dress up as Santa Claus, who then helped hand out the gifts. She said many of the children had never seen some of the American toys and it was beautiful to see the children light up when they opened their presents.

“We really wanted to make it personal for the children. We allowed some children to pick their toys,” she said. “That was cute too, seeing them look at the toys and figure out which one they connected with most and to pick it and see that excitement.”

“It was really beautiful to see the children open the presents and be so excited about it, but also see Merry Christmas in Armenian and have that personal touch.”

Gia launched For the Martyrs in December 2019. The organization helps raise persecution awareness, advocates for international religious freedom, and offers resources and humanitarian relief.

As a result of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, she said, there were about 75,000 Christian Armenians who were displaced. She said 90% of these refugees are reported to be women and children.

She said Caritas Armenia has helped provide these families with food, housing, clothes, and other basic necessities. However, she said the situation is still problematic for many, and added that numerous families who received toys in Artashat did not have electricity to keep themselves warm throughout the winter.

She said Armenia, a largely Christian region, has faced political and religious persecution from neighboring Muslim countries. She also said the country’s economy has also taken a severe hit because of the pandemic.

“We still need the families to be taken care of, we still need to continue to support our brothers and sisters in Armenia that are suffering,” she said.

“What I was hearing from the families as I was speaking to them is that they feel that their brothers and sisters in the West have forgotten about them and that the issue of this work was not taken seriously by the international community.”

Gia said one of the major goals of the organization is to raise awareness about Christian persecution and remind Catholics that they are not divided from the suffering of Catholics in other countries.

“Scripture tells us that when one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. So we know that even when children are suffering in Armenia, the body of Christ is suffering, and we have an obligation with our platform … to raise awareness about the suffering of [others] but also how we can be a solution to their suffering,” she said.

She said that through her experience with international aid groups, she has witnessed how violence and persecution impacts children most of all. She emphasized the importance of not only providing humanitarian services but an experience of hope for children to reclaim their childhood.

“Children are the most innocent and most vulnerable when it comes to the situation of refugees for persecution. A lot of times we’re bringing food, we’re bringing clothing, we’re bringing humanitarian aid … but we’re often overlooking the hope factor … So really the goal of Operation Christmas is to bring that hope back to Children who have suffered so much.”


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Pope Francis gives Vatican employees flu medicine for Christmas

December 9, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Christmas at the Vatican will be a little different this year — and in keeping with the times, Pope Francis has eschewed a traditional gift for something a bit more practical.

Rather than a bottle of sparkling wine and the traditional Italian holiday cake panettone, the pope’s Christmas present to Vatican employees is over-the-counter flu medicine, according to Italian media.

Pope Francis is giving each of his nearly 4,000 employees five boxes of Vicks day and nighttime flu medicine with acetaminophen, Il Messaggero reported.

It is thought that the idea for the useful winter gift was suggested by the man responsible for distributing the pope’s alms, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who is known for his hands-on approach to helping Rome’s poor and homeless.

The custom Christmas gift is being distributed as the Vatican faces more financial losses with a new closure of the Vatican Museums, the city state’s largest income stream.

Since Nov. 3, the Italian government has decreed that all museums in the country will be closed to the public at least through Jan. 15, 2021, as one of the measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

To date, the Vatican has had a number of COVID-19 cases among employees and residents. Since March, at least 13 people connected to the city state had tested positive for the coronavirus, mostly in the spring.

Eleven members of the Swiss Guards contracted the virus in October. The Vatican press office has not said if there are currently any active cases.

Last week, Pope Francis’ charity brought free flu vaccines and coronavirus tests to homeless people living in a town outside Rome.

The Vatican ambulance carried the medical supplies to the small seaside town of Torvaianica, and health staff from the papal charity office administered the flu shots and COVID-19 tests to 35 people in a courtyard outside the local parish.