Liturgical Discernment

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)
Ubi Caritas
Confitemini Domino
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
– Intercessions
– 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?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Liturgical Discernment

  1. + Alan says:

    Sounds like some cool territory you’re getting into. I’ve had the desire to try and help get people in our parish introduced to praying the Office – not just as a formal celebration, which they may be familiar with to an extent (Vespers mostly) – but as a personal and a community discipline, a part of their own rhythm of prayer. I have a great desire to see some of what our monastic siblings have be brought to life inside the parish setting.

    I’m in a large Cathedral parish as well. Fortunately, I was able to eat dinner with the Rector and talk about my desire to help in this way – he was all for it – great. Now my Deacon friend and I are all over it. We find also that our Music guy (maybe your counterpart here?) is planning a weekly Compline during Lent – cool. Sometime after Easter, what we want to do is a less formal, not in the sanctuary or church proper, setting of Evening Prayer once a week to start out – in order to teach people about it, how to pray this way, how it can form us, etc.

    I had also thought of the ecumenical aspect of praying the hours. I’ve been involved in introducing it to people of different Christian traditions. It seems to be catching on in non-Catholic circles more than in Catholic to me. It could be a great time of unity for Christians to gather together, praying the same prayer.

    Encouraging stuff. Peace to you and I hope your efforts turn into even more in the days and months to come.

  2. This is great! I’m sending a link to my choir director.

  3. Todd says:

    Alan, Meredith, thanks for posting.

    In other parishes, I’ve been more active with non-Catholic colleagues in town. I’m still learning the landscape here in Ames. With our focus on students and an active and catechized resident laity, perhaps ecumenical efforts have not drawn enough attention.

    Along with the juicy rehearsal for the music for my friend’s wedding, this has been a very filling and fulfilling weekend.

  4. Robert Leblanc says:

    You might consider the use of simple psalm tones such as those found in the Mundelein Psalter or in the various collections of St. Meinrad tones that are available. Googling both “Meinrad” and “Mundelein Psalter” should find resources that might be helpful to you.

    If you feel these tones are too simple you could look into using real Gregorian tones
    suitably adapted to the vernacular. In this case you might find the works of Bruce Ford and Paul Ford helpful (not related). Again – just google their names along with some key words. The key words “chant” and “English” are good places to start.

    Finally, you might also look into the Chabanel Psalm Project. Even though this project is focused on the repsponsorial psalm at Mass you might find useful settings that could be used or adapted for the LOTH.

    I wish you luck and hope you find something that will work in your parish.

  5. Todd says:

    Thanks, Robert. There are so many resources available for psalm tones, I confess I usually prefer to compose my own, usually drawing something from the tonality of a seasonal hymn. If I use Conditor Alme Siderum for Advent Vespers, for example, I might compose simple tones that echo something of that melody.

    I’m familiar with Paul Ford’s work–I consider myself an admirer.

    I would be interested to hear more about the Mundelein Psalter from others. I’ve prayed the material two or three times at workshops and I confess that while the Psalter layout is sharp, I’m much less impressed with the quality. One or two hymns out of five I sang were poorly translated, and my overall assessment was that is was rather pedestrian.

    What’s more of interest would be the use of psalmody in the Taize style rather than tones or a metered responsorial style. A weekly and seasonal community seems to need different resources than what the LH provides.

  6. Liam says:

    And here is a helpful Benedictine compilation of the basic and classic Roman tones:

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