Oratorios: friendship, music and faith

Meditating on the lives of the saints has always been a richness for Christians. Their testimony always encourages us to look upwards, placing all the emphasis on the work that God is doing, at his own pace, in us. From the hand of two young priests from Burgos and with this conviction in their hearts, the oratories were born.

Carlos Azcona-March 10, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes

During our time of studies in Rome, captivated by the beauty of the music, we often attended the oratories organized in the Parish of San Felipe Neri (Chiesa Nuova). The figure of a saint, a meditation on a Christian virtue or a reflection on the corresponding liturgical season served to weave a prayer meeting, in which live music was always present in one way or another. 

Sometimes it was an organist, sometimes a choir, sometimes a small chamber orchestra. The hearts of those present beat in unison and there was a sublime, quasi-divine atmosphere, which was very conducive to a personal encounter with the Lord.

Once back in Burgos, we considered that something like this we had to do in our own diocese. We saw the importance of using a similar channel to the one we had known in Rome, thinking also of taking advantage of the occasion to invite to participate in the meeting so many people who rarely set foot in a church.

The prolegomena: a beatification

While these thoughts were in our diocese, an event of singular relevance took place: the beatification of the Burgos priest Valentín Palencia and of four young men who gave their lives with him (Donato Rodríguez, Emilio Huidobro, Germán García and Zacarías Cuesta). On that occasion (April 23, 2016), for the ceremony that took place in the cathedral of Burgos, an orchestra was organized, composed of musicians from different origins, who put their music at the service of the liturgy. Several choirs also took part. 

The bar was set very high, since two of the newly beatified (Donato and Emilio) were musicians and, among other initiatives, they led the music band of the San José patronage, which was led by Valentín Palencia.

The result was more than satisfactory. And, besides dedicating endless hours to rehearsals, bonds of friendship were forged, which still survive, among many of the musicians. I had the good fortune to participate as a violinist in that great little orchestra and so, when D. Enrique and I considered the project of the oratorios, it came up spontaneously to think of some of those fellow musicians to propose it to them. It is also normal that, being D. Enrique the vicar of the parish of San Cosme y San Damián, in the city of Burgos, that was the framework chosen for the staging of our idea. We suggested it to the parish priest, Mr. Máximo Barbero, who welcomed the initiative with enthusiasm and we immediately got down to work.

First oratory: Blessed Valentin Palencia

The first oratorio, naturally, we decided to dedicate it to Blessed Valentín Palencia himself. We have always considered that his patronage from heaven has been crucial for the development of this project. In the Seminary of Burgos, where Enrique and I were trained, we met Luis Renedo, today also a priest and, since always, a lover of the figure of D. Valentín. So we asked him to write a text that would serve as the basis for the oratory.

Once we had the text in our hands, and always in dialogue with the musicians, we were adapting it to see which pieces of the repertoire we were rehearsing on our part were better suited to one moment or another of the text. And, also in a very natural way, the musical pieces were fitting in with the text. Everything seemed to be orchestrated from above! All that remained was to find a speaker to read the text, which was provided by the parish of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, and a date for the convocation. We were close to Advent and so, on the eve of the first Sunday, we decided to put it into action: the first oratory was born.

Second oratory: St. Josemaría Escrivá

Since we wanted these oratories to have a special link with Burgos, a year later we sat down to think about what other relevant figure the Church counts among its altars could serve as inspiration. We quickly realized that we could dedicate the second oratory to St. Josemaría Escrivá. He lived in Burgos for a little more than a year, and at such an important time in his life and in Opus Dei, which is in fact known as the Burgos period.

From our Roman times, both Enrique and I were friends with Javier Lopez, co-author of a well-known book (in three volumes) on the spirituality of St. Josemaría. He was undoubtedly the best person to write the text for our new project, as he was happy to do. The group of instrumentalists was also put together again and the result, once again, was more than satisfactory. As in the previous year, this oratorio was also presented on the eve of the first Sunday of Advent.

A very special oratory: to Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd

The following year, we changed scenery. The parish of the Good Shepherd where I serve as vicar, in Miranda de Ebro, was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Within the rich program of events that was prepared for such an event was an oratory dedicated, precisely, to the Good Shepherd.

A script was prepared which, accompanied by a projection of images, led those present through the history of the parish. All framed in a long time of prayer, with live music, which delighted all those who were able to attend.

An oratory for a millennial: Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Another unforgettable oratory was the one we prepared for the millennium of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. In its marvelous cathedral took place one of the most ambitious projects we have ever developed. It was the first time that we left our province (and, except for the adventure in Miranda, we had always done the oratories in the city of Burgos).

The level of demand was quite high, since during the whole time of the millenary celebrations, every week at least one musical group came to honor the figure of the saint. As it corresponded to our trajectory, we were clear about the format of what we wanted to offer: an oratorio on the life of St. Dominic.

The text, in this case, was in charge of the then parochial vicar of the place, Mr. Jesús Merino, also a good friend of ours. And the result could not be other than the desired one: the Lord was great with us and we managed to give the best of each one of us. For the first time, besides instrumental music, we also had vocal music. The group of instrumentalists reconfigured itself again, giving birth to a new adventure, which they baptized as Music@e.

Friendship, music and faith

In this story, friendship, music and faith are intertwined. And each one has its own future. Friendship, because it was the one that started it all and keeps everything going. Music, because it serves as an amalgam between all the participants and helps us to transcend the sphere of the merely sensible to elevate us to God. And faith, because in the end that is what we are trying to transmit, through the testimony of the lives of the saints.

There are already new projects in mind, since Burgos is a fertile land of saints. Surely they themselves, from heaven, will be marking the roadmap to continue reaching so many souls through the narration of their lives and the company of good music, always forging new friendships. 

The authorCarlos Azcona

Parochial Vicar, parish of the Good Shepherd, Miranda de Ebro.

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