Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Benedictine Vespers

Last night I paid a visit to the Benedictine monastery in Creve Coeur, Missouri.

Apparently following an old Benedictine tradition, they celebrate Mass in the evening: 5:45 p.m. on weekdays. Between the Mass and Vespers, there is a short break, allowing the priests to de-vest. As the monks came back into the chapel, I was in the pews, but a young monk asked if I wanted to join in—he brought me to the choir and found for me the correct place in the psalter and hymnal.

Whereas at Mass the monks scattered themselves about the choir, during Vespers they instead were tightly packed together: perhaps this is to improve the choral chanting. The chanting is done antiphonally, with alternate verses of the Psalms being said by opposite sides of the choir. My singing voice is not what it used to be, but I found that this simple Gregorian Chant was easy to follow along and was not a strain on my vocal cords, nor did it require much of a vocal range, which is a constant problem for me with modern sacred music.

The Benedictine Order is ancient, and has its own liturgy, which predates even the traditional Latin Mass. This monastery has its own prayer books and cycle of Psalms, based on the Rule of Saint Benedict, but is also influenced by the reforms following the Second Vatican Council. This monastery prays the entire Psalter, in English, on a two week cycle. This contrasts with the original Rule, which prays the entire Psalter weekly, and with the otherwise-official Liturgy of the Hours, which prays 148 Psalms in a cycle of four weeks (elmininating imprecatory Psalms and verses).

This monastery prays Lauds and Vespers in a one-week cycle, and each has more Pslams than in the Liturgy of the Hours. The Office of Compline is invariable. Vigils are very long and are chanted in three nocturns. Sext, or noontime prayer, like Vigils, is chanted in a two-week cycle. The monastery uses the same ecumenical "Grail" translation of the Psalms as is widely used elsewhere.

See the monastery website for a complete schedule of prayer.

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