Sunday, February 24, 2013

Webcasts from the Choir of New College Oxford

Thanks to Saturday Chorale for pointing out this page of Webcasts from the Choir of New College Oxford.

Mostly Evensong, there are some Communion and Carol services here, too; check the archives page as well.  Listening just now to February 17; the canticles are Howells' Collegium Regale - and both the choir and the sound quality are really very, very good.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Meditabor in mandatis tuis: The Offertory for Lent 2

Meditabor in mandatis tuis is the Offertory for the second Sunday in Lent. Here it is sung by The Choir of St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church (NY); turn up your sound to hear it better:

From the YouTube page:
Mar 7, 2012
The Choir of St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church (Douglas Keilitz, Organist & Choirmaster), New York City, sings the Gregorian chant Offertory for The Second Sunday in Lent as part of the weekly celebration of Solemn Mass.
St. Ignatius is a beautiful church!  Take a look at some of the photos on their website here.

Here's another version of the chant, with the score (and now turn down your sound!):

Here's the full chant score:

This text comes from Psalm (118/)119 vv. 47-48; here's the original Latin and a translation from CPDL:
Meditabor in mandatis tuis, quae dilexi valde:
et levabo manus meas ad mandata tua, quae dilexi.

I will meditate on thy commandments, which I have loved exceedingly:
and I will lift up my hands to thy commandments, which I have loved.

Psalm 119 - that's the 1979 US BCP version - is a very interesting Psalm, in many ways.  First, it's the longest Psalm in the Psalter, by far, with 176 verses.  It's an acrostic, too; the Psalm is divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse in that stanza begins with that letter, too.  The Psalm uses a synonym for the Torah ("law," "commandments," "testimonies," "statutes," "promises," "precepts," "ordinances," "word," etc. - but in Hebrew, of course) in nearly every verse.  From Wikipedia:
Employed in almost (but not quite) every verse of the psalm is a synonym for the Torah, such as dabar ("word, promise") mishpatim ("rulings"), etc.

The acrostic form and the use of the Torah words constitute the framework for an elaborate prayer. The grounds for the prayer are established in the first two stanzas (alef and beth): the Torah is held up as a source of blessing and right conduct, and the psalmist pledges to dedicate himself to the law. The prayer proper begins in the third stanza (gimel, v. 17). Like many other psalms, this prayer includes both dramatic lament (e.g. verses 81–88) joyous praise (e.g., verses 45–48) and prayers for life, deliverance and vindication (e.g., verses 132–134). What makes Psalm 119 unique is the way that these requests are continually and explicitly grounded in the gift of the Torah and the psalmist's loyalty to it.

The first and fifth verse often state the same theme in a stanza followed by a statement of opposition, affliction of conflict and the final (eighth) verse in each stanza tends to be a transition introducing the next stanza. Several dozen prayers are incorporated into the Psalm. "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" Themes include opposition by man, affliction, delight in the law and the goodness of God, which sometimes run into each other. "I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me." in verse 75. Or "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction." in verse 92. The Psalmist at times seems to appeal to God sovereignty "inclining his heart to the law" in stunning contrast with the Psalmist saying "I incline my heart." It ends with an appeal to God to seek his servant who strayed.
Verse 164 is the famous "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments" - which is, according to Chapter 16 of his Rule, where Benedict of Nursia drew his inspiration for the Liturgy of the Hours.   He assigned Psalm 119 (referred to at the OSB site as "Psalm 118," in the Vulgate numbering) to be read at Prime and the Little Hours - Terce, Sext, and None - on Sunday and Monday; today a stanza may often be read at the Little Hours throughout the week.  The 1979 BCP assigns "one or more sections" (as one of several options) for Noonday Prayer.

Here's a Hebrew-English concordance of the full Psalmrom; Rashi's commentary is included at the click of a button!
The Gospel for Lent 2 is from Luke:
Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
The Collect for the day is:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Hatchett's Commentary has this on the topic of this collect: 
This collect has links to one of the Good Friday solemn collects in the Missale Gallicanum vetus (no. 107), the Gelasian sacramentary (no. 413), and the Gregorian sacramentary (no. 351). In these books it follows a bidding to pray for heretics and schismatics that they may be delivered from their errors and recalled to the catholic and apostolic church. In its new context as a Sunday collect it refers to those who have abandoned the practice of Christian faith.
Palestrina set this text; here it is sung at the "Holy Mass for the New Evangelization; Vatican Basilica, 16 October 2011":

De Lassus set it, too; unfortunately, no video of that is available online at the moment.

Here are all the propers on the day, from the Brazilian Benedictines:

Hebdomada secunda quadragesimæ

Introitus: Ps. 26, 8.9 et 1 Tibi dixit cor meum (cum Gloria Patri) (2m59.6s - 2808 kb)
Graduale: Ps. 82, 19. V. 14 Sciant gentes (3m00.8s - 2828 kb) 
Tractus: Ps. 59, 4.6 Commovisti (2m18.1s - 2160 kb) 
Offertorium: Ps. 118, 47.48 Meditabor (1m16.1s - 1192 kb) 
Communio: Mt. 17, 9 Visionem (2m36.4s - 2446 kb) 

Here are links to Chantblog articles about some of these:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Anglican Chant XXVI: Psalm 34, Benedicam Dominum

From St. Andrews, Highland Park PA, chants by P.C. Hull and S. Bevan.  "Psalm 34 at Choral Evensong on 18 September 2011. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA. Alastair Stout, Organist; Peter J. Luley, Choirmaster":

The words are those of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, in its Coverdale Psalter:
Psalm 34. Benedicam Domino
I WILL alway give thanks unto the Lord : his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord : the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
3. O praise the Lord with me : and let us magnify his Name together.
4. I sought the Lord, and he heard me : yea, he delivered me out of all my fear.
5. They had an eye unto him, and were lightened : and their faces were not ashamed.
6. Lo, the poor crieth, and the Lord heareth him : yea, and saveth him out of all his troubles.
7. The angel of the Lord tarrieth round about them that fear him : and delivereth them.
8. O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is : blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
9. O fear the Lord, ye that are his saints : for they that fear him lack nothing.
10. The lions do lack, and suffer hunger : but they who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.
11. Come, ye children, and hearken unto me : I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12. What man is he that lusteth to live : and would fain see good days?
13. Keep thy tongue from evil : and thy lips, that they speak no guile.
14. Eschew evil, and do good : seek peace, and ensue it.
15. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous : and his ears are open unto their prayers.
16. The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil : to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
17. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth them : and delivereth them out of all their troubles.
18. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart : and will save such as be of an humble spirit.
19. Great are the troubles of the righteous : but the Lord delivereth him out of all.
20. He keepeth all his bones : so that not one of them is broken.
21. But misfortune shall slay the ungodly : and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.
22. The Lord delivereth the souls of his servants : and all they that put their trust in him shall not be destitute.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Divine Office

From Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary, Oregon:

Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB explains the Liturgy of the Hours. Composed of Psalms, canticles, antiphons and prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours finds its historical roots in the ancient and venerable prayer of the synagogue.

Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary
1 Abbey Drive
St. Benedict, Oregon 97373

Read the Catechism in a Year: "The Lay Faithful" (Day 132)

Part1:The Profession of Faith (26 - 1065)
Section2:The Profession of the Christian Faith (185 - 1065)
Chapter3:I Believe in the Holy Spirit (683 - 1065)
Article9:"I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" (748 - 975)
Paragraph4:Christ's Faithful — Hierarchy, Laity, Consecrated Life (871 - 945)
Participation in Christ's kingly office
908     By his obedience unto death, Christ communicated to his disciples the gift of royal freedom, so that they might "by the self-abnegation of a holy life, overcome the reign of sin in themselves":

That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject and, by governing himself with suitable rigor, refuses to let his passions breed rebellion in his soul, for he exercises a kind of royal power over himself. And because he knows how to rule his own person as king, so too does he sit as its judge. He will not let himself be imprisoned by sin, or thrown headlong into wickedness.

909     "Moreover, by uniting their forces let the laity so remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that these may be conformed to the norms of justice, favoring rather than hindering the practice of virtue. By so doing they will impregnate culture and human works with a moral value."

910     "The laity can also feel called, or be in fact called, to cooperate with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for the sake of its growth and life. This can be done through the exercise of different kinds of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord has been pleased to bestow on them."

911     In the Church, "lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this power [of governance] in accord with the norm of law." And so the Church provides for their presence at particular councils, diocesan synods, pastoral councils; the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, collaboration in finance committees, and participation in ecclesiastical tribunals, etc.

912     The faithful should "distinguish carefully between the rights and the duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to them as members of the human society. They will strive to unite the two harmoniously, remembering that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by a Christian conscience, since no human activity, even of the temporal order, can be withdrawn from God's dominion."

913     "Thus, every person, through these gifts given to him, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself 'according to the measure of Christ's bestowal."'

Dig deeper: Scriptural and other references for today's section here.

Copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. [Buy hard copy of Catechism here.]
Powered by CatechismAPI and - Simple email newsletters and texting for parishes, dioceses, schools, teams and other orgs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Read the Catechism in a Year: "The Lay Faithful" (Day 131)

Read the Catechism: Day 131

Part1:The Profession of Faith (26 - 1065)
Section2:The Profession of the Christian Faith (185 - 1065)
Chapter3:I Believe in the Holy Spirit (683 - 1065)
Article9:"I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" (748 - 975)
Paragraph4:Christ's Faithful — Hierarchy, Laity, Consecrated Life (871 - 945)
897     "The term 'laity' is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is, the faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World."

The vocation of lay people
898     "By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. ... It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer."

899     The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church:

Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the common Head, and of the bishops in communion with him. They are the Church.

900     Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

The participation of lay people in Christ's priestly office
901     "Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit — indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born — all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."

902     In a very special way, parents share in the office of sanctifying "by leading a conjugal life in the Christian spirit and by seeing to the Christian education of their children."

903     Lay people who possess the required qualities can be admitted permanently to the ministries of lector and acolyte. When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer Baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of law."

Participation in Christ's prophetic office
904     "Christ ... fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy ... but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word"

To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.

905     Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, "that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life." For lay people, "this evangelization ... acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world."

This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers ... or to the faithful.

906     Lay people who are capable and trained may also collaborate in catechetical formation, in teaching the sacred sciences, and in use of the communications media.

907     "In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, [lay people] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons."

Dig deeper: Scriptural and other references for today's section here.

Copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. [Buy hard copy of Catechism here.]
Powered by CatechismAPI and - Simple email newsletters and texting for parishes, dioceses, schools, teams and other orgs.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Preparing for Lent"

Today in the old Calendar was Septuagesima - the third Sunday before the start of Lent - so here's an import from my old blog: an article on "Preparing for Lent" from Full Homely Divinity ("a website for the Anglican at the Altar and especially for the Anglican in the pew").   It's good to have the reminder ahead of time, since (as the article points out) we no longer have the 'Gesimas to help us prepare.  For my part, the church's own prescriptions for Lent - i.e., prayer, fasting, study, and almsgiving - is the best way to avoid any worry about "what to do."  But even the Orthodox "get ready," via change in diet over these next few weeks, for their very strict Lenten fast.

FHD also offers other articles for the season as well: check out A Full Homely Lent, and Lenten Customs and  Easter Customs, too.  Meantime, here's "Preparing for Lent":
"The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, pp. 264-265). By the middle of the fifth century, the Church had taken a similar approach to preparing for Advent, then known as "St. Martin's Lent."  Much of what follows may also be profitably applied to Advent.

Since Lent is itself a season of preparation, it may seem like overkill to have to prepare for Lent.  Yet, how will we take full advantage of the opportunity of Lent if we wait until the last minute to decide how to keep it?  Both the Eastern and Western Churches have long traditions of a pre-Lenten season that is designed to set the stage for keeping a productive and holy Lent.  In Orthodoxy, the Sundays of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Judgment lead up to Forgiveness Sunday, the day before Lent.  In the West, for many centuries we observed Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, a kind of liturgical count-down of the Sundays nearest the 70, 60, and 50 day marks before Easter, with the actual 40 days of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before the Feast.

We hasten to point out that we do not believe that the elimination of the formal pre-Lenten season in the West has been a bad thing in itself.  It has allowed the reshaping of Epiphanytide as a more intentionally focused season.  This is particularly evident in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and in the Revised Common Lectionary in America, where the season is clearly defined at its beginning and end with the major manifestations of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi on Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord on the First Sunday, and the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday.  Not only does this give Epihanytide a greater integrity as a season in itself, it provides a clearer line of thematic material in the larger movement from Christmas to Easter, with the Transfiguration serving as the turning point, both temporally and theologically, from the Christmas cycle to the Paschal cycle.

Nevertheless, all of this leaves us with a major bump in the road from the point of view of personal devotion.  With the celebration of the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, the faithful are raised to the rarified height of Tabor, and then, just three days later, on Ash Wednesday, they are plunged into sackcloth and ashes.  It may be that this transition is too sudden.  And it is certainly the case that it fails to provide any formal or liturgical impetus to have a Lenten rule in place and ready to go on the very first day of Lent.

Lent is sometimes referred to as a pilgrimage or a journey.  Very few people set out on any kind of journey without packing a bag.  What are the things that we need to include in our Lenten luggage?  The invitation to the observance of a holy Lent in the 1979 Prayer Book provides a packing list.  The list may not be exhaustive, but it is a good start:
self-examination and repentance
prayer, fasting, and self-denial
reading and meditating on God's holy Word.
Another way of describing this luggage is to call it a rule of life.  Many Christians have a formal rule of life which they observe throughout the year.  Their Lenten rule will usually add a few seasonal exercises.  For those who do not already have a formal, year-round rule, Lent is a good opportunity to begin one.  The purpose of a rule of life is not to set impossibly high standards that might be admirable but are not practical.  A rule of life must fit the person.  A new Christian or someone new to the whole idea of a rule of life will have a more modest rule than an older, more proficient Christian.  So, the elements in the invitation above need to be tailored to the maturity of the individual.  (A spiritual companion or director can be very helpful here.)  A runner might hope someday to run a marathon, but it may take years of training at shorter distances to build the stamina and strength to achieve that goal.  Holiness of life is the goal of every Christian, but progress towards that goal is a lifelong task, not the accomplishment of a single Lent.  At the same time, the basics of a Lenten rule can set a pattern for a lifetime of spiritual growth.

Self-examination and Repentance
Orthodoxy calls the day before the first day of Great Lent "Forgiveness Sunday."  Anglicanism calls the day before the first day of Lent "Shrove Tuesday."  Both traditions call us to do the same thing:  to seek reconciliation with God and our neighbor.  Today, many parishes sponsor all-you-can-eat pancake suppers or Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") parties with a symbolic last chance for unrestrained revelry and rich food before the austerities of Lent begin.  But this is to miss the point, unless they also schedule an opportunity for the faithful to make their confessions to a priest and be shriven (absolved). Our Ash Wednesday liturgies include a rite of penitence, confession, and absolution, but how many of us take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation of a Penitent), and make a full, personal confession, and receive the counsel of a priest and sacramental absolution?  The traditional guideline regarding private confession in Anglicanism is, "all may, some should, none must."  The Anglican way of responsible freedom leaves it to the individual conscience to decide, but those who do avail themselves of this sacrament attest to its power to renew all of life in a profound way.

One of the reasons sacramental confession is such an effective tool for spiritual growth has to do with its very personal nature.  A communal rite of confession tends to generalize and depersonalize sin.  Private confession helps to particularize and personalize not only the confession but the forgiveness that is conferred.

Ultimately, confession is not about a list of offenses that need to be forgiven.   Rather, it is about relationships that need to be healed.  It is about reconciliation with God and our fellow human beings.  Private confession is a most effective means of reconciliation with God, but we often need to follow that up with specific acts of reconciliation with our neighbor.  Here we might borrow something from our Orthodox friends.  On Forgiveness Sunday, it is the custom to approach other members of the congregation, as well as neighbors and friends who may not be members of the Church, and to ask them very simply to forgive any injury or offense one may have caused them in the past year.  Our 1979 Prayer Book provides an opportunity for us to do something similar.  On page 407, it says that at the time of the exchange of the Peace at the Eucharist, "In the exchange between individuals which may follow, any appropriate words of greeting may be used."  Here is a simple application of that rubric which may be used on Ash Wednesday or the First Sunday of Lent.
A Rite of Personal Reconciliation
Directions to the congregation, given just before the Peace, should be simple, clear, and minimal, because the action and the four words speak for themselves.  The Celebrant ought to stand on the nave level at the center of the main aisle facing the people, is the architecture of the building permits.
The people approach the Celebrant on the right side of the aisle.  The exchange should be made with both hands--not a handshake.  The words,"Forgive me, a sinner", are said first by the Celebrant and the same words are given in response by each person.
The first person then goes beyond the Celebrant on the right, facing the other line, ready to make the exchange with the next in line, after her or she has made the exchange with the Celebrant.  As each new person finishes making the exchange with the Celebrant, he or she then makes the exchange with the others who have gone before and joins their line.  This continues until all have participated, making the exchange with everyone else.
After that, if there are any remaining in the congregation because of handicaps, the Celebrant goes and makes the same exchange with them.No one should be overlooked. 

The members in the line may do the same.

The Liturgy then proceeds as usual. 
Self-examination and repentance should not end on Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, or even the First Sunday in Lent.  One way of incorporating this piece of Lenten luggage into a daily Lenten rule is to include a confession of sin in the recitation of daily Evening Prayer or Compline, always taking time to review the day and recollect those thoughts, words, and deeds which were occasions for sin and alienation from God or our neighbor.

In addition to reconciliation on the personal level, we must also endeavor to heal the divisions among others.  This involves identifying and repenting of corporate sins which all of us, as individuals, share responsibility for.  Parishes and other groups of Christians might also use Lent to focus on reconciliation among races, nations, members of different religious or ethnic groups, etc.  Here is a Liturgy of Reconciliation which could be used as part of a regular Lenten program.

Items for a Lenten rule:  Commitment to a specific discipline of self-examination and repentance, and to specific efforts to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation with those from whom one has been alienated.

An ancient definition of prayer is "keeping company with God."  During Lent, we focus on our emptiness, our need to be "oned" with God.  Keeping Lent & Eastertime, a little booklet from Liturgy Training Publications (an arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago), comments that "the full and the satisfied will not recognize Lent.  It is a season of needs, of emptiness, failure, absence.  Only when we know we need to pray can there be Lent for us."  Someone else has written, "our prayer time should be some of the best time of each day, every day."  It may include Bible reading, intercession, Psalms and hymns.  It should include silence and quiet listening.

In the Anglican tradition, personal prayer is firmly supported on a foundation of corporate prayer:  the Daily Office and the Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is obviously corporate prayer, but so is the Daily Office. 

Though Morning and Evening Prayer (and Noonday Prayer and Compline for those who choose to add them) may be said in private, they are nonetheless the prayers of the whole Church.  The Book of Common Prayer  assumes that all Christians, or at least all Anglicans, pray the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer daily.  Practically speaking, for many this is a goal, not yet a reality, but Lent is an appropriate season to make progress towards that goal.  If you have never made this a part of your spiritual discipline, do not take on too much at once.  Make a commitment to read one office a day:  set a regular time and stick to it.  Or if the traditional offices seem too complicated, use the simpler forms of Daily Devotions found beginning on page 136 of the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.  Church Publishing Inc., has published 40 Days:  The Daily Office for Lent, which has the entire Daily Office for Lent, including the readings, all under one cover. 

This is a very practical introduction to private recitation of the Daily Office for those who have never done it before.

It is especially valuable for people who live together (whether families or other shared living arrangements) to pray together.  Christianity is always about community--the community of God with humanity, and the community of believers one with another in Christ.  Prayer must always be at the heart of that community.

Whether it is the Daily Office, Daily Devotions, or Table Grace, a communal fellowship of disciplined prayer is always to be desired.

Here is an ancient prayer that is used daily in Lent by many Orthodox Christians.  It is rich in themes which are profitable for Lenten meditation.

The Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust of power, and idle talk; But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Items for a Lenten rule:  Commitment to a daily discipline of prayer, including some form of the Daily Office with time for silence to listen as well as to speak to God.  Commitment to more frequent participation in corporate prayer, such as participation in a weekday Eucharist, Stations of the Cross or other Lenten devotions in the parish, and/or regular prayer with other members of one's household.

"The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial:  Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week...." (Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 17).  A true fast is total abstinence from any food for the period of the fast.  The Prayer Book defines two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as Fast days and it is the custom for all who are able to give up food entirely on both of those days.  In some traditions, all forms of self-denial relating to food are called a fast, but in the West it has generally been the custom to refer to many of these practices as "abstinence", a modified fast which means giving up particular foods, such as meat on Fridays.  If we think of fasting as a form of self-denial, it is also possible, and appropriate, to extend the notions of fasting and abstinence to include activities other than eating.  Any form of self-denial may qualify as a fast, if it is undertaken in the spirit of fasting.

So, what is the spirit of fasting?  Why do we fast?  For fasting to make any sense, it must have a constructive purpose and be defined in positive, not negative terms.  Put most simply, fasting is about freedom.  Fasting frees us from slavery.  Fasting is not about "giving something up", fasting is about freeing ourselves from the control of outside forces and temptations.  Fasting can even be about saying no to ourselves when we have surrendered control of our lives to bad habits and dependencies.  Fasting is about taking control of those things that threaten to control us.  Some people suffer from addictions that rob them of their freedom.  But for many who are not clinically addicted, life still has many distractions that take control of our lives in subtle ways.

A loss of electrical power for more than a day recently, reminded us not only of how dependent we are on resources beyond our control, but also of how different our lives might be without television, email, light to read by late at night.  There are many good things about modern technology--much labor is saved, for example, by heating systems that work automatically, as opposed to having to cut wood and keep a fire going.  But if we replace those savings with other things that start to make demands on our time and energy, what have we gained?  Food, or certain kinds of food, can be a major problem.  Do we eat to live, or live to eat?  This is not to say that food should not be enjoyed.  But in our culture eating disorders, dieting, weight loss pills, liposuction treatments, stomach stapling are all symptomatic of the way that food can be a hindrance to all of life, the spiritual life included.

Giving up candy, or dessert, or cigarettes may be good for us--but if they are good for us in Lent, they are also good for us through the rest of the year.  In any case, the "giving something up for Lent" syndrome trivializes fasting.  Fasting is about taking control of our lives in a positive way.  Fasting is rarely a real sacrifice for people living in developed countries, and it should not be equated with sacrifice, in any case.  Rather, fasting is about getting life back in proper balance:  eating what we need and ensuring, inasmuch as we are able, that others also have what they need; using the natural resources of the world that we need and doing our best to ensure that future generations will have what they need; organizing our time around activities that are productive of good health, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and, of course, spiritually--again, both for ourselves and for others.  A serious Lenten fast might also include reduced use of resources, such as fuel.  Is it possible to accomplish some of the tasks of daily life without driving, or could errands be planned more efficiently so that fuel is conserved?  Could we survive, in cooler climates, with the heating thermostat set a degree or two lower or, in warmer climates, with the air conditioning set a degree or two higher?  And, in addition to saving fuel, since we would be saving money could the savings be directed to a worthy cause, such as the local soup kitchen or disaster relief efforts?

Items for a Lenten rule:  Commitment to a specific discipline regarding food and other resources:  a true fast from all food, if physically able, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence from meat on Fridays in Lent and abstinence from particular foods daily in Lent; a more frugal use of other resources inasmuch as possible.  (Note:  Sundays are never fast days.  They can be exempt from the fasting rules of Lent, but should still maintain the spirit of Lent and should not be occasions merely to break the rules.) 

The invitation to Lent omits one of the major traditional components of a Lenten rule:  almsgiving.  Almsgiving is, in fact, a form of fasting, a form of self-denial.  As God says to Israel:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
                                                           Isaiah 58:6-7
Prayer helps us to see as God sees.  Fasting frees us.  We are given more time, more energy, more resources.  "All year we tolerate the intolerable:  that there are adults and children without nourishment, sick and elderly people and prisoners without visitors, refugees without homes.  The gospel we believed shapes a church that gives alms of every kind:  bread for the hungry, time for the lonely, energy to change systems that oppress and torture and kill people.  Freed by our fasting and formed by our prayer, we have alms to give during Lent.  Lent is not to make up for our sins but to battle with evil, with sin.  It is not to be gotten over with, but to shape the church into the kingdom of God.  That's why we do it gladly."  (Keeping Lent & Eastertime)

We have already suggested that the proceeds of our self-denial might be directed to helping the needy.  True almsgiving goes beyond sharing our surplus and is not an alternative method of raising funds to support the institutional church.  True self-denial trusts God to fill our needs and does not count the cost of helping those in need.  From assisting a needy person or family in our own community to contributing to agencies that minister to the poor, the sick, and victims of disaster and war, we have many opportunities for almsgiving. 

Furthermore, as Isaiah suggests, our fasting, self-denial, and almsgiving should not be limited to sharing our bread. The establishment of justice for all, in the peaceable kingdom of God, must be the ultimate goal of all our prayer, fasting, and self-denial.  Giving time and effort to the reform of unjust institutions and nations is a most Christian, and very Lenten, endeavor.

Items for a Lenten rule:  Commitment to feed the hungry by contributing to local charities such as food pantries and soup kitchens.  Commitment to aid the needy throughout the world by contributing to agencies that address those needs.  Commitment to active support of particular efforts to end injustice and establish peace.

Reading and Meditating
Scripture is the record of God's ongoing love affair with his people Israel--the first Israel who descended from Abraham in the flesh and were redeemed from slavery and were led to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, and the new Israel who are redeemed by the sacrifice of the Son of God himself in the flesh and freed from sin by the water of Baptism.  A people without a history is a people without an identity.  To know who we are and, even more importantly, to know who God is and what his will is for us, we need to know our history.  We hear much about Biblical orthodoxy these days, but we should be even more concerned about Biblical literacy.  And the truth is that a lifetime of reading and meditating on God's holy Word can never fully disclose, let alone exhaust, the riches of his steadfast love and constant attention to us.  In other words, the Bible is a book we must never tire of reading.  In fact, it is a story that, quite literally, has no end, at least from the perspective of our present mortality.  Ultimately, it is our story and, though the written portion was completed many years ago, the story continues in us.  It does not end in us, but we cannot fully play our part without entering fully into the part that has come before us.  And so, we read, and read, and read again.  And as we read and read again, as we reflect and meditate on what we read, we do indeed enter more fully into our own part in the story.

Reading and meditating on God's holy Word, is a year round task.  But, like most year-round tasks, it is one that we need to be renewed and refreshed in from time to time.  Lent is such a time and our goal should be simply to renew (or, for the newcomer, to establish for the first time) a regular discipline for reading Scripture every day.  For this, the Church has provided most admirably.  We do not need to invent a scheme because we already have one.  The Lectionary for the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer provides a systematic system for reading the Bible over a two year cycle.  There is no particular beginning point.  One can begin anywhere one likes, though the beginning of a season like Lent is a good place as modern Lectionaries are organized somewhat thematically around the seasons.  This was not always so.  Thomas Cranmer's first Prayer Book lectionary began with Genesis 1 and Matthew 1 on January 1st and read straight through in one year, without reference to the liturgical season.  Later versions of the lectionary changed that.

Scripture is the essential reading material that should be in every rule of life.  But there is also a good deal of non-scriptural writing available that helps with the understanding of Scripture and of the Christian life in general.  The season of Lent, with its intentional focus on renewing the Christian life, is a natural season to add some additional reading to our daily rule.  This does not have to be, indeed it should not be, complex scholarly dissertations.  It might be a good book on prayer, such as one of those by Anthony Bloom.  It might be a reflection on Christian community such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together.  It might be a spiritual classic, such as the writings of FHD's patroness, Julian of Norwich.  Or it might even be a good work of Christian fiction, such as C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces or the Chronicles of Narnia.   All of these help to illuminate the Christian experience and are worthwhile material for reading and reflection for Lent, or any time of year.

Items for a Lenten rule:  Commitment to daily reading of Scripture and to a modern book on Christian themes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ash Wednesday: Immutemur habitu and Emendemus in melius

Immutemur habitu and Emendemus in melius are an antiphon and responsory sung during the imposition of ashes at the Ash Wednesday Liturgy.

First, here's Immutemur habitu:

Here's the full chant score:

Divinum Officum provides, in addition to its Daily Office texts, the mass texts for everything from "Trident 1570" to "1960 NewCalendar" (which to me is just plain amazing!). This text doesn't show up in this form until "Rubrics 1960," so I'm not quite sure where it might have come from.

I've read in several places - including on the DO site - that this text come from Joel 2:13 (and  another section, not used here, from Joel 2:17) - but I disagree!  Joel 2:13 is the famous "Rend your hearts and not your garments,"  which has really nothing to do with the text here:
Immutemur habitu in cinere et cilicio; jejunemus, et ploremus ante Dominum; quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster. 

Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth; let us fast and lament before the Lord; for our God is plentious in mercy to forgive our sins.

(Translation supplied by The St. Ann Choir, directed by William Mahrt)
In fact, I've written on "let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth" before.  This citation actually originates, I believe, in Jerusalem, Surge, the second of the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday (which itself is an "answer" to the Advent 2 Communion song of the same name).    It's a constructed text, which CPDL says originates in Jonah 3:6 and Lamentations of Jeremiah 2:18.  Here's that Tenebrae Jerusalem, surge; as you can see,  "the changing of garments" and  cinere et cilicio make the same appearance, in the same order:
Jerusalem, surge, et exue te vestibus
jucunditatis; induere te cinere et cilicio:
quia in te occisus est Salvator Israel.
Deduc quasi torrentem lacrimas per diem et noctem,
et non taceat pupilla oculi tui.
Arise, O Jerusalem, and put off thy garments
of joy; put on ashes and sackcloth:
For in thee was slain the Saviour of Israel.
Shed thy tears like a torrent, day and night,
and let not the apple of thine eye be dry.

There is a second antiphon prescribed for this part of the service (it's not included here - see the chant score above) that does come from  Joel 2:17:
Juxta vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes et levitae, ministri Domini, dicentes: Parce Domine, parce populo tuo; et ne dissipes ora clamantium ad te, Domine.

Near the porch and the altar the priests and levites shall weep, the Lord's ministers, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people; and do not scatter the mouths of those crying to thee, O Lord. 

As mentioned, this verse is not included in this version of the antiphon but Cristobal Morales (for one) set this text and did include it.  This is mysterious, to me; where and how was the text originally used?  I don't know, at the moment, but am definitely on the hunt.

José Maurício Nunes García (1767 - 1830) set the text, and didn't include the second part, though:

I can tell you more about Emendemus in melius; it has, for a very long time (Divinum Officum cites it as "pre-Trident monastic"), been the verse-response that follows the fourth reading of Matins on the First Sunday in Lent.   (I believe that Ash Wednesday as "the first day of Lent" is a rather later development, which may explain this Responsory showing up in both places now; I'll try to work this out and will return to this page to post what I find.)

Here's an mp3 of this Responsory from the Brazilian Benedictines.

The texts come from Esther 13 and Joel 2, according to this page at CPDL.   I'm not exactly clear on what "Esther 13" actually is; apparently some of Esther appeared two centuries after the rest of the book, and not in Hebrew but in Greek.  This extra material was found in, I believe, the Septuagint and then the Latin Vulgate, but was expunged - or perhaps included with the Apocrypha - after the Reformation.  I am going to have to go through these extra chapters to see if I can find the text cited.
Emendemus in melius quae ignoranter peccavimus;
ne subito praeoccupati die mortis,
quaeramus spatium poenitentiae,
et invenire non possimus.

Attende, Domine, et miserere;
quia peccavimus tibi.

Adjuva nos,
Deus salutaris noster,
et propter honorem nominis tui libera nos.

Let us amend for the better in those things in which we have sinned through ignorance;
lest suddenly overtaken by the day of death,
we seek space for repentance,
and be not able to find it.

Hearken, O Lord, and have mercy:
for we have sinned against thee.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
and for the honour of thy name deliver us.

(English translation by William Mahrt)

(Ps. 78:9; Distribution of Ashes, Ash Wednesday; First Sunday of Lent, Matins Responsory; cf. Esther 13, Joel 2)

They sure like citing Joel 2 for these propers, don't they?  Again, I demur.  I'm not certain yet about the first half of the text - but as you can clearly see, the second part of this Responsory is nothing more than the refrain of "The Lent Prose"!  That is:
Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

Hear us O Lord, have mercy upon us,
For we have sinned against thee.

William Byrd (among others) set this text; here's his version, sung (according to notes at the YouTube page) :
Deller Consort directed by Mark Deller singing a cappella:
Rosemary Hardy, Elizabeth Lane - soprano
Mark Deller, Christopher Royall - countertenor
Paul Elliott, Rogers Covey-Crump - tenor
Maurice Bevan - baritone
Michael George - bass

Here's the Ash Wednesday entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia 1913:
Ash Wednesday
The Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, which is the first day of the Lenten fast.

The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead — or in case of clerics upon the place of the tonsure — of each the sign of the cross, saying the words: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. In the blessing of the ashes four prayers are used, all of them ancient. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water and fumigated with incense. The celebrant himself, be he bishop or cardinal, receives, either standing or seated, the ashes from some other priest, usually the highest in dignity of those present. In earlier ages a penitential procession often followed the rite of the distribution of the ashes, but this is not now prescribed.

There can be no doubt that the custom of distributing the ashes to all the faithful arose from a devotional imitation of the practice observed in the case of public penitents. But this devotional usage, the reception of a sacramental which is full of the symbolism of penance (cf. the cor contritum quasi cinis of the "Dies Irae") is of earlier date than was formerly supposed. It is mentioned as of general observance for both clerics and faithful in the Synod of Beneventum, 1091 (Mansi, XX, 739), but nearly a hundred years earlier than this the Anglo-Saxon homilist Ælfric assumes that it applies to all classes of men. "We read", he says,
in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.
And then he enforces this recommendation by the terrible example of a man who refused to go to church for the ashes on Ash Wednesday and who a few days after was accidentally killed in a boar hunt (Ælfric, Lives of Saints, ed. Skeat, I, 262-266). It is possible that the notion of penance which was suggested by the rite of Ash Wednesday was was reinforced by the figurative exclusion from the sacred mysteries symbolized by the hanging of the Lenten veil before the sanctuary. But on this and the practice of beginning the fast on Ash Wednesday see LENT.  

Here are all the propers for Ash Wednesday, from the Brazilian Benedictines:
Tempus quadragesimæ
Feria quarta cinerum
Ad ritus initiales et liturgiam verbi
Introitus: Sap. 11, 24-25.27; Ps. 56 Misereris omnium (3m44.9s - 3516 kb) 
Graduale: Ps. 56, 2. V. 4 Miserere mei, Deus (3m15.9s - 3064 kb) 
Tractus: Ps. 102, 10 et 78, 8 et 9 Domine, non secundum peccata nostra (3m27.7s - 3248 kb) 

Ad benedictionem et impositionem cinerum
Antiphona: Cf. Ioel 2, 13 Immutemur habitu (1m21.5s - 1276 kb) 
Responsorium: Cf. Bar. 3,2. V. Ps. 78,9 Emendemus in melius (2m24.7s - 2264 kb) 

Ad liturgiam eucharisticam
Offertorium: Ps. 29, 2.3 Exaltabo te (1m37.7s - 1528 kb) 
Communio: Ps. 1, 2b.3b Qui meditabitur (45.3s - 710 kb) 

Here are posts on this site about other propers on the day:

The Ash Wednesday Introit: Misereris omnium
Ash Wednesday: Miserere Mei Deus (The Gradual)
Des Prez' Domine, non secundum (The Tract)
Exaltabo Te, Domine (The Offertory)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ash Wednesday: Miserere nostri (Thomas Tallis)

Here sung by Stile Antico.

Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy on us.

From CPDL:
Miserere nostri is an astoundingly ingenious canon. Most obvious is the canon between the two top voices (mentioned at the foot of page 1), which sing the same line throughout but half a bar apart. Meanwhile, however, a different and less audible canon is in progress between four of the five lower voices: all start singing the same melody at the same time but at four different speeds, two of them in inversion. By bar 6, the Second Bass has already sung the whole of the part assigned to the slowest singer, the First Bass. Amazingly, this fiendish process not only works but produces convincing harmonies which sound as if they are the very raison d’être of this understandably short piece. To enjoy them to the maximum, the music should be taken fairly slowly, so as not to skate over the passing dissonances.

(from the score of CPDL #6605): Original key: F major. Pitch in 16th century England was likely very high and this key is probably closer to the actual performance pitch. This likely earlier work was probably part of a full setting of the Psalm [122/123], but this section is all that remains of this setting. It demonstrates surprising rhythmic complexity. Note values and barring have been adjusted for modern notation. It is particularly important in this antiphon to sing through the barlines, allowing the rhythmic and natural accent of the text to guide phrasing.

Links to Stile Antico sites at YouTube:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tu es deus: The Gradual for Quinquagesima Sunday

This is the beautiful gradual used for the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday in the Extraordinary Form.

(In case anybody's interested, there's a note on the page that says "For information on obtaining compact discs of these beautiful chant recordings, created by the monks of Notre Dame de Triors, please visit: Traditions Monastiques.")
The text of this gradual comes from Psalm (76/)77, vv. 15 and 16: 
Tu es Deus qui facis mirabília solus: notam fecísti in géntibus virtútem tuam.

Vs. Liberásti in bráchio tuo pópulum tuum, fílios Israel et Joseph.

Thou art the God that alone doest wonders: Thou hast made Thy power known among the nations.

Vs. With Thine arm Thou hast delivered Thy people, the children of Israel and of Joseph.

Here's the full chant score, from the Brazilian Benedictines' site; it looks like this is now the gradual for the sixth Sunday after Ephiphany as well. 

Someday I'll go through all the chants for this first, short period of "Ordinary Time" (i.e., the weeks after Epiphany and before Lent) and see which chants have been moved from the "Gesima" Sundays to the "Ordinary Time" Sundays); at the moment it looks to me as if all the chants for Quinquagesima were moved to Epiphany 6, with one possible exception.

In any case, Psalm 77 is a fitting way to enter the season of Lent.  Here's the whole Psalm from the U.S. Book of Common Prayer Psalter:
Voce mea ad Dominum
1     I will cry aloud to God; *
    I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2     In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
    my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;  I refused to be comforted.
3     I think of God, I am restless, *
    I ponder, and my spirit faints.
4     You will not let my eyelids close; *
    I am troubled and I cannot speak.
5     I consider the days of old; *
    I remember the years long past;
6     I commune with my heart in the night; *
    I ponder and search my mind.
7     Will the Lord cast me off for ever? *
    will he no more show his favor?
8     Has his loving-kindness come to an end for ever? *
    has his promise failed for evermore?
9     Has God forgotten to be gracious? *
    has he, in his anger, withheld his compassion?
10     And I said, "My grief is this: *
    the right hand of the Most High has lost its power."
11     I will remember the works of the LORD, *
    and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12     I will meditate on all your acts *
    and ponder your mighty deeds.
13     Your way, O God, is holy; *
    who is so great a god as our God?

14     You are the God who works wonders *
    and have declared your power among the peoples.
15     By your strength you have redeemed your people, *
    the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16     The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you and trembled; *
    the very depths were shaken.
17     The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; *
    your arrows flashed to and fro;
18     The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; *
    the earth trembled and shook.
19     Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, *
    yet your footsteps were not seen.
20     You led your people like a flock *
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Here's a very different polyphonic take on the text of this gradual, composed by Šimon Brixi (1693 - 1735) for Voice and Chamber orchestra. In A minor, it's performed here by "Collegium Marianum/Hana Blažiková [soprano]." Quite beautiful also, I think.

Brixi was a Czech composer; here's a bit about him from Wikipedia:
He was born in Vlkava u Nymburka. In 1720 he began to study law in Prague. He did not complete his studies, devoting himself rather to music.[1] His artistic activity was linked with the musical life in Prague. In 1727 Brixi accepted the position of teacher and choirmaster at the St. Martin Church in the Old Town of Prague. The precise date of his death is unknown, but the registration of his funeral bears the date 2 November 1735.
His compositions were intended almost exclusively for a church choir. Only about 21 of his compositions have been preserved. He wrote offertoria, gradualia, Regina Coeli, Salve Reginas,requiems, litanies, Te Deums, and church cantatas. In some of his works Brixi also thematically elaborated folk spiritual music. He was also interested in Italian baroque music; some of his copies of Neapolitan church compositions are preserved in the church archive at Mělník. Brixi was also influenced by the church compositions of Jan Dismas Zelenka. He composed his works both onCzech and Latin texts.[2]

"New Gregorian Chants Group Blends Modern and Ancient"

From the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette:
New Gregorian Chants Group Blends Modern and Ancient

By Veda Khadka
February 5, 2013

“Ars’ an gobha fuiricheamaid
Ars’ an gobha falbheamaid
Ars’ an gobha ris an ogha
Na sheasamh aig doras an t-sabhail
Gu rachadh e a shuirghe”

(The blacksmith said, “I’ll wait”
The blacksmith said, “I’ll go”
The blacksmith said, in his confusion
Standing at the door of the barn
That he was going to go courting)

- Fionnghuala, by Anúna, early Gaelic

Interested? Confused? Both? With the new Gregorian chants group starting up, get ready to hear a whole lot more of ‘Fionnghuala’ on campus. The group had its first interest meeting last Friday evening and intends to have more rehearsals and performances throughout the semester.

The ensemble, initiated by Aaron Kroeber’16 and Canaan Breiss’16, centers on a form of vocal performance they both enjoy. “Sitting around procrastinating on a lazy sunday afternoon, we discovered we each liked chant; not many others do,” Kroeber said. “We figured it would be a crazy, cool idea if we got other people to come do this.”

The pieces are a form of a cappella performance where the words don’t overlap: “they’re all sung at once with certain characteristic harmonies, octaves and fifths” Kroeber said. Breiss pointed out that the group was “looking more at polyphonic chants that have different harmonies and drones,” and a more modern sound.

Traditional chant is performed in unison, without overlapping harmonies, leading to a monophonic sound very reminiscent of a liturgical atmosphere. Drones play a large part in creating the sound most people associate with traditional Gregorian chants: the sustained repetition of single notes throughout a melody was a common technique used in this form of chant. Polyphonic chants, however, consist of two or more melodic voices singing at once, creating a more contemporary melody.

This modern sound allows them to include female parts in a traditionally male performance. The group certainly does not lack aspiring female performers, like Phoebe Cook ‘15, who was pleasantly surprised to find a group on campus who shared her interest. “I’ve always liked chant and never known anyone else who did [...] I was curious and surprised and just hope to chant!” she said.

The duo are looking at cobbling their own music together from various recordings. Due to the common lack of awareness and appreciation for chant, Breiss and Kroeber are using their past vocal training and many years of choir experience (both have been performing in choirs since their early teens) to lead the group, transcribing certain pieces and working out a form of musical notation that integrates traditional forms with modern ones.

Traditional chant notation used symbols called “neumes”: simple squarish figures that indicated with great precision tonal movements and the duration of a note. Most Gregorian chants, however, were performed from memory. Drawing on his musical experience with the cello, Breiss aims to complicate existing notation by transcribing available chant into a notation that combines the modern five-line staff and a cellist’s fingering chart.

Although most available music is liturgical, “we’re a secular performance group” Breiss says, “though robes may or may not be optional.”

Though the group is in its infancy and still hoping to attract new members, Swatties can look forward to performances that are energetic, entertaining and, (no pun intended) enchanting.

Photo by Ellen Sanchez-Huerta/The Daily Gazette