When I was much, much younger, I used to be annoyed with my mom’s propensity to play classical music on the piano and to play it on the radio. Later, I found that classical music was a great way to study and even to calm myself down.
More recently, since becoming Catholic, I’ve discovered the great treasury of Catholic classical music. It excites me to be able to share this interview with Sister Joseph Andrew, OP, about her order’s new Rosary album, which includes the praying of the Rosary and some stunning selections of their musical ability.
Sr. Joseph Andrew, OP, is the foundress and vocation director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She oversaw all of the music and recording of “The Rosary.” She also played organ on the album and wrote the song entitled “Let Nothing Disturb You.”
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have had a bit of musical success. How has that impacted you personally and the order as a whole?
I’m sure it has enabled the Order to get to so many places that maybe we would not have been able to physically, into so many homes, into so many lives and situations. That means everything to us. It’s really the reason that we do these CDs, to extend our spiritual motherhood wherever we can so that people just know a bit more, we hope and pray, of the love of the Blessed Mother trying to bring her children to her Son.
Secondly, it has has brought so many people closer to the community that perhaps can make our retreats or obviously that are looking at religious life, so I’m sure we are receiving more vocations through this. I think even young men are considering priesthood because they see the youthfulness of this community and they think, “What about me?”
I think it’s becoming kind of one of those leavens out there in society that really do help people open up in a more calming way through the gift of beauty: the beauty of this music, the elevated quality, and the ability to just kind of float and think of God, which we would say is a contemplative dimension that we all have in our heart. But because we’re such busy people and have so many responsibilities, we have to step out of that.
For me, music has always been key to help me do that, to help me bring a calm that I can just think of God and I can float away with him, so to speak, which is a contemplative type of prayer.
Are you a contemplative order?
No. As Dominicans, we would say that we are contemplative apostles. The contemplative is very essential, because were founded in the 12th and 13th centuries by Saint Dominic. We were founded, first of all, in the medieval monasteries.
But Dominic’s brilliance by the Holy Spirit was to pray in the contemplative monastery, in the chapel, and then to come out into the world with the message that you’ve received with the fruits of your prayers. As Thomas Aquinas, another great Dominican, would phrase it, to give to others the fruits of your contemplation. Therefore, not to just hold onto them for yourself.
Even the letters behind every Dominican’s name, “O.P.,” for the Order of Preachers, means we go out with that contemplative thrust to teach and preach in the world truth, to bring Christ to the world.
How is it challenging to share yourselves with the public in these albums? Is it hard on the Order’s life and structure to have to set recording equipment up in your chapel?
We have it down to where we can make these switches without a great deal of inconvenience. We have a very young order, so sometimes surprises don’t shake us perhaps as much as they would an older community in some ways. We also founded the Order on cusp of the New Evangelization of the Third Millennium, so we’re very open God’s surprises—and we get them daily.
In reality, what we did with both of these CDs (referring to both The Rosary and Mater Eucharistiae, their first album), was kind of take people with us into our chapel and all this music is music we already sing. Some of it was written by the sisters, some of it is Gregorian chant, some of it is all through the ages. These are very near and dear to our community.
So we sat down and said, “Let’s just do some of these.” We had many, many more but we just selected these. Even the preparation isn’t what it would probably be for a lot of other people who would want to do a music CD, because we sing many times a day. It’s part of our chanting of the Divine Office, it’s part of our liturgy at each Mass.
These hymns are kind of part of who we are. We do have choir practice. Our sisters learn music and they love it and we even sing outside of those times other kinds of music.
In that contemplative outreach, how do we get word to people — people who we won’t see in the classroom, people who might not find at one of our conferences or at one of our retreats or the many outreaches? We go into their homes with a CD that they can put on anytime they want, and again, it’s kind of an extension of our community when these are played, because it’s just what we do.
In what ways do you see music as crucial to your role in the New Evangelization?
You have to touch the heart. If we touch the heart, and if we bring truth when it touches the heart, we’ve accomplished what we want, because that ultimately is guiding to God, because he is truth. It’s certainly in a beautiful manner, so the heart too can respond, not just the intelligence—the whole person is brought into a deeper dimension and communion with God.
Is music part of being a Dominican sister or is that something specific to your order?
Music is a part of most religious communities by tradition, definitely, because the Church always has had a great regard for music. Even from the earliest days, the Church fostered good music and much of the best music that we had was Church-inspired. It was really the Church that spear-headed the beauty of the music, because people are incarnated. We have this flesh and blood reality and we don’t need just verbiage: we also need to be lifted out of that through things such as art.
I would say all communities use music, because it flows—even the Divine Office that all of our communities pray flows out of the Mass, and our Masses have a lot of music. Different communities would have different abilities.
The eclectic approach of music is so important for people today, that we hear the Latin hymns that came from way back—the same ones that many of the saints knew and heard—it’s just that continuity that we’re all in the heart of Christ. There’s good music coming out today and our sisters write some music too.
How do you see this album as fitting in with the others you’ve produced?
The Rosary album came from people who ask and ask and ask would we do something on the rosary. Every Sunday, we have five o’clock Vespers (Evening Prayer) open to the public, and after we have Vespers, we go into the Rosary. And also, the four retreats we have each year all average 180 people each, so we have many people who come through and know our community well. They’re asking, “Can I pray with you? How can I pray with you? I know I can listen to the music and be contemplative in that musical union, so to speak, but what about the Rosary?”
For us Dominicans, the Rosary is very important, because the tradition is that Mary gave the Rosary to Dominic. Dominicans wear the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary as part of our habit.
So people have asked, “Can I just have a CD? I can put it on and I can pray a Rosary with your sisters going to work? I can pray a Rosary when I’m stuck in the traffic. I can pray a Rosary at home when I have a few minutes.”
It’s a little bit different than listening to music. If you pray a Rosary a day, I just think that’s one of the greatest prayers. There are little meditations and you can flip around and take it with you.
How did the recording happen in the midst of your ordered life at the convent?
They just recorded it. I suppose it took a good portion of a Saturday, but again, it’s not like we’re doing something only for a CD. This is who we are.
What is your order’s hope for this album?
That it brings people closer to Christ through the love and the remembrances of Mother Mary. I’ve always found the Rosary to be very contemplative in the sense that, if I’m meditating on one mystery, I have the assurance that in these ten beads, I have this much time for this. It’s a neat way not to have to concentrate that ten beads can be. It just kind of flows.
Being very active by nature, I need something to do during that silent time. It’s a prayer that’s becoming more and more important in the world as we become more and more busy about many good things, but yet our internal clocks are set to do something. So to all of a sudden to sit in silence is not easy, which is why music helps, but also, if I have those counters, those ten beads in my hand, it’s tangible.
I think many people fight that question of “How do I calm down to pray?” and I think the Rosary is a very calming type of prayer and it centers my thoughts on at least five different mysteries. I love to think of it as the Blessed Mother is leading me in this contemplation about her Son, some of her own memories that she’s sharing with me.