By Navar Watson
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Twenty-two nuns beat "Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" on Billboard magazine’s classical traditional chart last year, The Wall Street Journal reported. Now, they’re at it again with a new album that might top the charts.
On Feb. 11, the award-winning Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Missouri released their third album, "Lent at Ephesus," with De Montfort Music/Decca/Universal Classics — just in time for the penitential season. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is March 5.
"The Benedictines of Mary have outdone themselves with what can only be described as an artistic masterpiece," Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder of De Montfort Music, said in a Carmel Communications press release.
Mother Cecilia, the order’s prioress, said popular demand prompted the recording of "Lent at Ephesus." The nuns also have "long desired" to make a Lent recording.
"The hymns and chants during this holy season are some of the most beautiful and expressive of the whole year," Mother Cecilia said in an email to Catholic News Service.
The album features 23 tracks, including three original pieces. Among the songs are "God of Mercy and Compassion," O Sacred Head Surrounded," "Mother of Sorrows" and "Ave Regina Caelorum."
After the success of the first two albums, Billboard magazine named the nuns Top Traditional Classical Album Artist in 2012 and 2013, making them the first order of nuns to receive an award by Billboard magazine.
Their 2013 album, "Angels and Saints at Ephesus," spent 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical Traditional Music chart.
The success of the previous albums has been somewhat of a surprise for the nuns, Mother Cecilia said, "but at the same time, it is undeniable that there is a great desire in all souls for what is good and beautiful."
Mother Cecilia believes this album has the potential to reach even more people than the previous two recordings, since people will be observing Lent and avoiding obstacles that hinder their faith.
"Sacred music enables people to draw closer to God through beauty, aiding them in a deeper level of understanding of the immortality of the soul and its ultimate end in God alone," Mother Cecilia said.
Multiple-time Grammy Award-winner Blanton Alspaugh, who produced the album, said recording with the nuns in their priory has been "one of the highlights of my career."
"Their singing has a very pure and yet sophisticated style. It certainly earns its place in the international arena of classical music," Alspaugh said in a statement. "Their talent is as remarkable as their sense of charity."
The recording process has become "quite smooth and painless," Mother Cecilia told CNS. Detailed work on the album begins a month before the producer and engineer arrive and may require several hours of work per week.
The nuns spent approximately 16 hours total in actual recording over the course of three consecutive days.
During these days, they still participate in the daily eight hours of chants, along with barn chores, cooking and laundry.
PBS plans to release an hourlong special on the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, during its March fundraising drive. A date and time has yet to be confirmed for the special.
"We pray," Mother Cecilia said, "that through this music, many souls will be inspired to look deeply beyond the materialistic and secular culture in which we are immersed, in order to contemplate the truth of the marvelous supernatural realities that exist."
"Lent at Ephesus" is available on iTunes, along with a digital booklet including original artwork and lyrics in English. Songs in Latin are translated in English.
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