Music Notes for Corpus Christi — June 3, 2024

Le banquet céleste – Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Olivier Messiaen’s Le Banquet Céleste was first written as part of an unpublished orchestral work, “Le Banquet Eucharistique,” and later transcribed for organ. The music encourages us to meditate on the most holy body and blood of Christ, and Olivier Messiaen noted that it especially appropriate for the feast of Corpus Christi.

Starting softly, the initial sounds we hear from the Céleste pipes of the organ, yet it is as if the music is always going on and we are only just now becoming aware of it.  The slow, sustained chords have a mystical and æthereal quality, and invite us to enter another world.  The first theme symbolises the love of God who made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The music gradually gets louder, just as if we are getting closer to the source of the sound.  A second theme emerges which seem like drops of water, representing Christ’s blood that was shed for us for the remission of sins. This melodic part has an arch-like shape, starting out low, rising higher, and then returning to a lower range.

As the music gradually gets softer toward the end, it is as if we are moving away from the source of the sound.  The piece ends softly on a long sustained chord, for which the composer indicates both ‘longue’ and ’très profond’ — evoking a sense of peace and calm.

May we, who to-day experience the mystery of Corpus Christi, live in such a way that, however dimly, others may see Christ in us.

PJ Janson

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« Celui qui mange ma chair et boit mon sang demeure en moi et moi en lui » — Évangile selon Saint Jean, VI, 56

‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in Him’ —Gospel according to St John 6:56