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Mark A. Noll

Stranger in a Strange Land

Christmas Mass from San Marco, Venice, c. 1600
Music of Giovanni Gabrieli and Cipriano de Rore
Friday, October 24, 1997, 8 p.m.
The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
980 Park Avenue at 84th Street, New York City

In illo tempore "In that time," so the gospel reading starts,
Augustus issued a decree. In this
time here we are (filled full with narrow tasks)
in narrow pews (worn down by papers piled
and pixels panicking) beneath a vault
of stone (strung out on talk) as voices clean
mount ancient strings with brass, rise high aloft,
and pass in understated order by
(so often threads, the sense, momentum lost)
the timeless, boundless stations of the cross.

O mira Dei pietas! O wondrous compassion of God,
and a pretty good joke as well, in this place
to discover a papist bestowment of grace
for a Protestant working, working hard.

Quem vidistis pastores? If I a shepherd there had been and peered into that face, far more I think I would have seen than just a present grace. This birth contains fecundity of everlasting life, its light enough for me to see my parents, siblings, wife, a few historians, some very large and others slight, two gentle pastors with red ...

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