This has been my musical project since early May and it has finally come to fruition. “What is it?”, you might ask. Well, put simply, this is a musical accompaniment to a string of St. Gertrude Prayers which we call a St. Gertrude Chaplet. So, before I share the musical side, let me give you some background on the prayer being said.
What is the St. Gertrude Prayer?
The St. Gertrude Prayer is as follows:
Eternal Father, I offer thee the most precious blood of thy divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory and for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church in my home and in my family. Amen.
This prayer was originally given to St. Gertrude as a devotion to the souls in purgatory. I will briefly explain purgatory below, but the purpose of the prayer is to lessen the suffering of the souls in purgatory. Our Lord said that 1,000 souls would be released from purgatory every time that this prayer is said.
Later (I think in the 1800s), the phrase and for sinners everywhere was added to include a benefit to souls that have not yet died.
What is Purgatory?
Purgatory is a place for souls that have died in a state of grace in order to purify themselves before entering into heaven. How I understand it is that all souls cling to this material world in one way or another and do not fully embrace the promise of Eternal Life with God. Purgatory is where we break those last bonds and purify the effects of our sins that bind us to the world. The Biblical basis for Purgatory is based on 2 Maccabees which is not included in Protestant Bibles. Purgatory is often depicted as a place with lots of flames and fire much akin to hell, but much more joyful. All souls in Purgatory will eventually be in heaven.
What is a Chaplet?
A chaplet can be simply stated as a compound prayer. So if you think of a compound word as two or more words put together to make a bigger word, a chaplet is where we put several prayers together to make a longer prayer. Usually these are repetitive and require the use of beads in order to “keep track” of the prayers recited. The concept of a chaplet could be easily extended to praying perpetually such as the devotion of the “Jesus Prayer” in Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
The classic example of a chaplet is the Holy Rosary. Another is the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The purpose of repeating the prayer is to pull the devotee into a deeper meditation on the mystery or Theological truth that is being contemplated. Although repetitive prayers could be viewed as redundant, the graces that are called down by each prayer are far more than we will know on earth. Furthermore, through repetitive recitations, the prayer then becomes ingrained into our being helping to purify our thoughts and actions.
The St. Gertrude Chaplet presented here is praying a St. Gertrude prayer for every bead on the rosary, starting at the crucifix, going around the “loop” and back down to the crucifix. So, five beads get used twice. If you do the math right, you get 64 (10x5 (five decades) + 5x2 (five beads to the crucifix used twice) + 4x1 (the four “Our Father” beads between the decades on the loop)), which is a very nifty number.
Why write music for a chaplet?
Simple: help keep you in the game. Anyone who has prayed the Rosary with regularity has noticed that your mind can wander. It is very easy to lose the contemplation side of praying a chaplet or the Rosary.
The goal for writing music for the St. Gertrude Chaplet is to keep you moving forward. There is a clear amount of time in order to say the prayer which is good if you are praying by yourself. Without music it would be much easier to stop in order to attend to menial distractions (such as checking that text message) because you have no “drummer” to keep time.
Secondly, music can get stuck in your head. Ever have a tune that won’t get out? Furthermore, you know how annoying it is when the lyrics are trivial and banal? What if you got music stuck in your head that pulls you to recite a prayer instead; for it to lift your soul upwards? How cool would that be?! Well, that’s another reason that I decided to write music. And speaking from my experience, it works.
Thirdly, it creates an atmosphere for contemplation. We have six kids who can be quite loud inside of our minivan. But, once we put this on, they’re quietly listening to the music. Not only does it keep you from checking your personal distractions, but also eliminates other distractions.
Haven’t you done music for chaplets like this before?
Yes – I have done the Divine Mercy Chaplet and a perpetual Jesus Prayer track under the Last Rites moniker. Both are on the “Divine Intimacy” album which is available for free on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Since Last Rites is my metal persona, it is heavier and more distorted/dissonant than my other Phrygian Phish compositions.
Are you going to do any other chaplets?
Maybe – if God so deigns it to happen. Now, can we get back to the topic at hand?
Sorry, so tell me about the music of the St. Gertrude Chaplet.
I am a mathematician by training. I like numbers and in particular, I like patterns. I previously worked on a project where I made music using fractal patterns. Basically taking a pattern and reiterating it on a smaller scale. Noticing that we had such a nice number of prayers to work with (64), I decided to split it into eight groups of eight prayers.
But how long would a prayer be in music? This took a lot of time conducting myself while saying the prayer and counting measures while I did it until I got a comfortable configuration. How I did this, I couldn’t tell you. But it turned out that going 100 beats a minute in 4/4 time, I could comfortably recite a single prayer in eight measures. Hmm…eight measures. So, eight sections of eight prayers which are eight measures long? This was great!
So, what I did is for each prayer in a section, I wrote a chord progression that was a descending fifth pattern (or ascending fourth if you prefer). Eight chords: one for each measure. In terms of scale degrees this was: I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I. For every prayer, this was the relative chord progression. That means that this chord progression sounds different if we are in different keys, which I changed keys for each section of eight prayers. How did I change the keys in each section? Well, used the same pattern that I used in the chord progression.
OK, so this is going to be confusing to most people, but I am going to attempt to illuminate how all of this works together like a fractal:
The first section is in E minor. The E minor scale is E – F# - G – A – B – C – D – E. Now, think of them as numbers 1-8 where E is 1. OK, using the pattern above (and ignore the roman numerals – just translate I, II, III into 1, 2, 3) and using those as chord, my progression for each prayer in the first section is:
Emin – Amin – Dmaj – Gmaj – Cmaj – F#dim – Bmin – Emin.
So, this progression is used eight times for the first section. For the next section I changed keys from E minor to A minor. Look at the chord progression for the prayer in the first section. In the progression I went from an E minor chord to an A minor chord. Now I am going from the key of E minor in the first section to the key of A minor in the second section. So, using the progression for that first prayer, I figure the keys for each of the remaining seven sections. Then for each key, I build the chord progression in the same manner as before (number the scale degrees and the progression is 1-4-7-3-6-2-5-1. Whether a given scale degree is major/minor/diminished depends on the key).
And that is the point where the pure pattern ends. From there I wrote different musical themes and variations to keep the listener interested. In fact, I used quite a bit of mixture and the final section is actually in E major, not E minor. Oh, and the last “1” chord is actually a cadential I-6-4 chord to either a V7 or a regular V.
ZZzzzz….are you done yet?
OK, I’m done explaining.
So who all helped?
Well, I wrote the music so that we could actually say the prayer with the music. I may have mentioned this earlier, but my family and I took over the maintenance of MTEP.com, which is a Catholic apostolate to help spread the devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory through the recitation of the St. Gertrude Prayer.
But, without someone saying it along with the music, it was easy to get lost (especially for people that weren’t me). So, I recorded myself, my wife, Samantha, and two of my children, Joey and Rosemary, to help keep people on track when using the music.
The recording of the voices can be a little disjoint, but that is natural. I like it. We’re not perfect, and to be honest, that isn’t what I was after. I wanted to record four people praying the prayers, not reciting a poem in unison.
This sounds cool, can I download it?
Sure! I have both the Chaplet with recitation and just the orchestra available. And both are free. Also, Samantha put together this ultra-nifty video on Youtube (see below) that you can share with folks!
I hope that you all enjoy the music. Spread the devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and please pledge your prayers at MTEP.com.
About The Blog
This is the news blog of Phrygian Phish. Check out here for news on Phrygian Phish projects like Last Rites, Beyond the Dice, and other Sean Bailey projects.