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Patrick Novecosky | Review
Feb 27, 2014
Filed under Music
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Lent at Ephesus

The chart-topping Benedictines are back with music to make your Lent memorable . . .

CDLent at Ephesus
Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles
De Montfort/Decca, 2014

When Lent at Ephesus debuted on Feb. 11 — the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes — it topped Amazon’s Christian and classical charts. Given the success of the Benedictines of Mary’s previous recordings, that was no surprise. But the fact that this small order of contemplative nuns landed at No. 3 on the pop chart is stunning.

The Missouri-based nuns, founded in 1995, were named Billboard magazine’s Classical Traditional Artist of 2012 and 2013. It’s the first order of nuns to ever win a Billboard award. The sisters’ Angels and Saints at Ephesus spent 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical Traditional Music chart.

The follow-up Advent at Ephesus spent six consecutive weeks at No. 1. Produced by Grammy Award-winning classical producer Blanton Alspaugh, Lent at Ephesus is a compilation of poignant chants, intricate harmonies and rousing hymns of glory and redemption. Included in the 23-track album are three original works, “O Sacred Head Surrounded,” “All Glory Laud and Honor,” the well-known “Adoramus Te Christe” and the entrancing “Improperia” from the liturgy of Good Friday.

“I think what makes this particular CD special is the season of Lent itself,” Mother Cecilia, prioress of the abbey, told Legatus magazine. “It’s the most sacred season given to us by the Church, given to us that we might turn more deeply — or perhaps convert for the first time — to the loving Redeemer who gave his life that we might behold Him face-to-face for all eternity.”

Mother Cecilia says music has long been in her blood. “In fifth grade I took up the French horn at the urging of my teacher,” she said. “I didn’t share his enthusiasm, but my love for the horn grew just as I continued to grow big enough to hold it properly!”

She went on to attend the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University where she won a place amongst her classmates as a gifted musician. She went on to be one of the top seats in the Chicago Civic Orchestra. When a position opened up for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, she began to feel the call to religious life.

“Two things served to awaken this latent call in my soul,” she said. “The first was my introduction to early sacred music. I began to search for a church that made use of this kind of music within the context of the sacred liturgy. That was not to happen until I attended my first Tridentine Mass in 2000. Without hesitation, I can say it was precisely on that day in December that my life changed entirely.”

With numerous awards and now three chart-topping recordings, Mother Cecilia says their music’s unprecedented success has been shocking.

“It’s undeniable that there is a great desire in all souls for what is good and beautiful,” she said. “In that sense, it’s not surprising that people would want to listen to sacred music when they’re allowed a taste of it. I think immediately of my own response to beautiful sacred music, and how it has the ability to bring the soul to a deeper, more profound level of understanding of the immortality of the soul and its ultimate end in God alone.”

There are many benefits to being best-selling recording artists. The community’s royalty checks have gone to good use by paying off the mortgage on the monastery. The Benedictines plan to continue their other ministries — offering prayer and sacrifice for priests, writing icons, making priestly vestments — while their new CD rides the charts.

“We have nothing planned at this point for any future projects,” Mother Cecilia said. “It seems that the release of three recordings in about 15 months has earned us bit of a break!”

And who can blame them for that!

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.

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