Seven questions about ‘Advent at Ephesus’ with Mother Cecilia

by Kevin Birnbaum

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, take delivery of their new CD, Advent at Ephesus, outside the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in northwest Missouri. Photo courtesy the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

If you feel a little guilty breaking out the Christmas music during the Advent season, then get yourself a copy of Advent at Ephesus, a CD of Advent music released Nov. 20 by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a community of contemplative religious sisters in Missouri. (The album is also available to download.)

Advent_at_EphesusFrom the first seconds of the opening track, you can tell this is a special recording. Throughout sixteen pieces of a cappella music in English and Latin, the sisters sing with passion, gentleness, clarity, and true beauty. Which makes sense, since their lives revolve around singing the psalms in the Divine Office.

The sisters’ prioress is the lovely Mother Cecilia, who was a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio before entering religious life. A graduate of The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas, she arranged many of the songs on Advent at Ephesus and directed her nineteen sisters in recording the CD.

Mother Cecilia agreed to answer seven questions for the candle about Advent at Ephesus and life at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus.

1. What inspired you to record Advent at Ephesus?
A priest from Nebraska recommended recording music for Advent, especially since there is not much out there. I can only think of one other Advent CD, and that being all Gregorian chant. It is one of the most beautiful liturgical seasons, but unfortunately one of the most neglected!

2. How does recording and releasing this CD fit into your religious vocation?
Our contemplative vocation does not permit us to go out and actively engage the world, but we found it is a good way to share our life of prayer without compromising our fidelity to the monastic calling.

3. What do you hope those who listen to the CD take away from the experience?
The peace that is the hallmark of the Benedictine spirituality. We hope that the peace brought by the coming of the Infant Christ will reign over their souls, and that they will then seek Him with greater fervor.

4. How have the sisters developed such a beautiful choral sound?
We sing together at least nine times each day! We have to get along both spiritually and musically. A sister from another community, having heard us sing, remarked that one can hear the trust we have in one another. That says it all. We are very much “cor unum” (one heart) in this house, united in the Heart of God Himself. This is such a great grace!

5. What role does beauty play in the life and spirituality of your sisters?
We have been described as an “aesthetic community.” What we do, we want to do well, as God deserves only the best. We strive for this within all the aspects of our life, whether singing, sewing vestments (our main work), or even the more mundane chores. We want to do, but even more so be, “something beautiful for God.”

6. What does the season of Advent mean to you and the sisters?
Not the hustle and bustle the world knows! Silent prayer, in union with Our Lady, sacrifice, and the hope-filled Advent liturgy are all fruitful preparations for a grace-filled Christmas! The better the preparation, the better the feast. Advent is a good synopsis of life’s journey: the more generous we are in seeking Christ, the more joy He will give us in anticipating the vision of Him in the life to come.

7. What is one thing you’d like the outside world to understand about the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles?
The beauty of a life of prayer, hidden in spirit with the Queen of Apostles herself. We could not have asked for a greater privilege than to belong to Christ as His brides. He has called us for Himself, and everything we undertake is for His glory!

Many, many thanks to Mother Cecilia for her beautiful answers.

This is the fourth in a series of Q&As with experts in beauty, truth, and goodness. If you have suggestions for future topics or interview subjects, please email me at kbirnbaum(at)gmail(dot)com.

To close, here’s a beautiful video about the sisters and the making of Advent at Ephesus: