When I was hired several months ago, one of the directives the pastor gave was exploring the Liturgy of the Hours and discerning a place for it in our worship schedule. This was a selling point, naturally, to come here. I like pastors who are forward-thinking like this. I like the Divine Office, especially when a community determines it is part of the spiritual expression of parish worship.
Outside of vowed religious life, few communities can sustain a daily expression of either Lauds or Vespers, the “hinges” of the Hours. Some parishes are fortunate to maintain weekly Vespers during Lent and Advent, let alone all year. Last weekend, a couple cornered me in the parking lot in between Masses and talked up an ecumenical effort. Why not, they asked, host a Christian Evening Prayer weekly, and work with the Lutheran, Episcopalisn, and Methodist churches/student ministries down the street? Why not indeed? This was an excellent idea, and the fact this kind of idea (not unique) is also coming from the parishioners confirms in my mind I’ve landed in the right place.
This past weekend, I was on the team for the spring semester student retreat, “Notes to God.” Lots of music, as you might guess from the title. Friday night concluded with Taize prayer, which was, for me and many, the highlight of the weekend. Most of the retreat leaders and pretty much all of the students had never been exposed to this kind of prayer. But they took to it like ducks to water. We went nearly a full hour with just seven pieces of music and a reading. So, where to start?
The General Introduction of the Liturgy of the Hours (blogged about here) gives some emphases: Sunday, plus the major hours of Lauds and Vespers. Sunday is a challenge for us; we have an evening Sunday Mass at 7:00. Perhaps Vespers prior to Mass is an option, but that puts a big burden on the weakest of our four Sunday music groups. Though 5:30 Vespers clears the church in time for the choir practice, it does add to an already-busy Sunday schedule–our three other Masses.
Last weekend’s parishioners suggested a weekday time at the end of the work day: around 5:30PM. Our staff can ponder if this is a good time for students. A few months ago, I was wondering more about 8:30 or nine: catching people at the end of parish meetings, or students before they head back to dorms. That’s more Compline territory: a beautiful time, but not a hinge. So is a hinge different for a university community?
The Taize experience has further colored or clouded my discernment. The campus minister on the retreat staff thinks this style would pick up big among students, especially singers and instrumentalists. Here’s what we did for the retreat:
Jesu, Jesu (Ghana folk song, refrain only, arranged for SATB by me)
Awesome God (refrain only, arranged SATB by me)
Veni Sancte Spiritus
Kyrie Eleison 3 (with spontaneous intercessions)
Scripture: Colossians 3:12-17
Lord’s Prayer (sung)
I had an inkling that I could take a praise & worship song like “Awesome God” and adapt it for the Taize-style setting. The other surprise for me was the effectiveness of the Taize Kyrie. I was a little concerned it wasn’t meaty enough. Those Kyries in their books look throwaway, but they really work by the time people have been praying in the style for a half-hour.
Another parishioner tells me the Baptists in our neighborhood are doing Taize Prayer. I think I’m going to check that out. What I’m thinking of doing is taking Evening Prayer and incorporating Taize-style music throughout. Something like this:
- A vernacular ostinato like “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”
- Two psalms and a New Testament Canticle all in the Taize-style: a Latin refrain repeated with cantor verses piled on top.
- Scripture reading
- Magnificat, Taize-style
- Lord’s Prayer
- Peace (chant followed by gesture)
I’m also getting weary of the seasonal Vespers thing I’ve done for the past twenty-five years. If this has a chance to catch among the students, it will last long after I’ve departed. Take 15-30 minutes before each Vespers to orient musicians with their parts. Change repertoire occasionally, maybe substituting out one piece per week if the seasonal flavor dictates. I’ll let you know how the planning and discernment goes on my end, but what would be your suggestions?