You say the words “ubi caritas” to me and my heart sings as I think of the many experiences I have had singing those words. And if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective), you’ll hear me waxing poetic about the lush music these words are often set to.
I don’t think it’s a mistake – the lyrics, which translate to “where charity and love abound, god is there” ask for a lush, rich, warm accompaniment.
Ubi caritas et amor,
ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.
And this Taizé piece delivers. Again, it’s not my favorite of the Taizé pieces (tomorrow, beloveds, tomorrow)… but it absolutely delivers. It’s another beautiful call to compassion – not just empathy, but the gifts of compassion: the money and things that help others. I love this as an offertory response, as well as a prayer response; as with other Taizé pieces, it should be sung several times so that harmonies emerge along with prayers and revelations.
But not surprisingly, not only is this not my favorite Taizé piece, it’s not my favorite Ubi. (Yes, I’m about to wax poetic.)
You get closer with the setting by 20th century French composer Maurice Duruflé , which I first learned in seminary and had the privilege of singing for the wedding of my dear friends Lindsey and AJ Turner. The Duruflé is gentle, until it soars with angelic precision, a descant floating over the melody until it grounds again, reflecting love within and beyond. Listen here:
But even that is not my favorite, despite its connection to my friends. No, my favorite is another version I learned in seminary, by contemporary Estonian composer Ola Gjeilo. This version has roots in Gregorian chant and early European choral music, yet with something else, something unnameable. The parts weave together intimately, evoking the intimacy of love in all its forms.
And then, at 1:58 on the video (measure 28), a miracle happens. I don’t know how Gjeilo did it, but he managed to compose a miracle, right there in the middle of a piece of choral music. I remember singing this with Glen Thomas Rideout at General Assembly in 2016 (Sunday morning worship), and the look on his face as he conducted that moment told me he felt the miracle too… and so did the rest of the choir, and so did the assembled. Listen for it:
Like I said: Miraculous.
Now I realize not much of this is about the Taizé piece this morning, but I think that the words themselves evoke something of a miracle. I think that when we remember that it is our actions that evoke and represent the love beyond our understanding, new abilities to love emerge. We can always love more, give more, empathize more. These songs help us do that.
I love Ubi Caritas in every setting I’ve heard. Like Szekely Aldas it is a hymn to synergy. But the Duruflé setting is my favorite. The choir sang it beautifully at my ordination.