Friday, February 01, 2013

The Martyrs' Prayers: A Music Review

In 1989, I watched a movie at Illinois State University’s Newman Center entitled “Romero”.  That was my first experience viewing the death of a modern martyr on film and I will never forget it.  It was devastating to see a priest gunned down by an assassin while celebrating holy Mass.

In the 1970s and 80s, El Salvador was under the heel of a military dictatorship supported by the U.S. government and the country’s poor suffered greatly. Appointed as archbishop of El Salvador in 1977, Oscar Romero became the “voice of the poor” in a time of brutal government repression.  From March 1977, until his death three years later, Romero became vocal and active with regard to issues of social justice and called upon the government, in the name of Christ and His Church, to cease its repressive activities of exploitation, torture, and assassination.

In the CD, entitled “Martyrs’ Prayers,”, Michael Glenn Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold have taken the words of Archbishop Romero and nine other Christian martyrs throughout the centuries and around the globe, and have interpreted them through a variety of original musical compositions and genres. In many cases, the lyrics are the words that the martyrs uttered just before their death. Part of a larger effort called The Martyrs Project, the CD is meant to to ask the listener, “What would you die for?”

When I reflect on this "great cloud of witnesses”, the circumstances which led to their death, and what courageous heroes they have been for the faith, I am heartened to hear the music on this CD. In addition to Romero, some of the martyrs on this CD include: Thomas Beckett, Ignatius, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Contemplating the music does indeed make the listener ask himself, “What would I die for?” During these times of "white martyrdom" and the threats to our own religious freedom by the United States government, Catholics today are thinking more often about the answers they would give to questions like this than they did in the past.

World class musicians, such as Phil Keaggy, are featured on this CD. The lead vocals, done by Michael Glenn Bell, have a folksy sound to them. The music consists of a variety of contemporary and rock, but, for the most part, have a contemplative flavor.
Some of my favorites in terms of both the music and the words include the prayers of Ignatius and Romero. Here is an excerpt from the lyrics for Romero's prayer(taken from an interview with a journalist shortly before his death):

A martyr’s death is a grace of God I do not believe I deserve.
But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood bring liberty.
Let my blood be a seed of freedom, let my blood be a seed.

Here is an excerpt from the prayer of Ignatius (taken from a letter to the Church written during his journey):

My desires are crucified,
The warmth of my body is gone.
A stream flows, a stream flows
Whispering inside me, whispering inside, whispering...

I would recommend this CD to supplement a moral theology class (focused on social justice issues) or other theology classes (which include a study of the martyrs), for church study groups, and for individual home study.

The CD comes packaged with comprehensive information and resources about each of the martyrs and their prayers. It can be downloaded or streamed on Apple I-TunesAmazonGoogle Play Spotify, and Rhapsody.

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