The Divine Office — Lauds

by Sister Fidelis

Here at the Community of Jesus we chant the Divine Office, which for us includes: Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline. Anyone who has experienced the chanting of these Hours will know that each service has its own character, which together create a rhythm to the flow of the day.

We start with the morning service of Lauds, from Latin laudare, to praise. As Dr. Mary Berry wrote: “Lauds was the hour that sanctified the moment of sunrise.” One of the traditions of this service is the recitation of the “Praise Psalms” (148, 149, 150) as the last Psalms of each morning. Another element particular to this service is the Benedictus, the “Canticle of Zechariah” from the Gospel of Luke, chanted while standing as is customary for a text from the Gospels. The “Invitatory Psalm” is also a unique element, dating back to the time of Benedict. This is the first Psalm of the service, traditionally set apart as the time during which any monk who may have overslept could still run in, prostrate himself in penance and take his place in the choir!

Looking back in history Lauds is one of the most ancient Offices, borrowing from the Jewish tradition of praying three times a day. In our Christian history we trace our current form of worship back to Apostolic times. Early writers such as St. Cyprian, John Cassian, Etheria, St. John Chrystostum all mention it in their writings, and of course St. Benedict gives a lot of detail about this service in his Rule.

Starting my day with this service can be an exercise in will-power to focus on the words before me and not to let my mind wander to my own plans or worries. Or it can be the perfect launching platform for the day if I let myself be affected by the words I am saying–inspiring Psalms and the beautiful poetry of hymns dating back to early centuries. I can find myself uplifted and changed as I repeat the praises that thousands of Christians have recited each morning for thousands of years…

Text of hymn from Sunday Lauds
Behold, already the shadow of night is diminishing, the dawn of light is gleaming red:
Let us all keep on with every effort beseeching the Almighty.

May our compassionate God drive away all our anguish, bestow health,
And give us, by the lovingkindness of the Father, the kingdom of the heavens.

Grant us this, O blessed Godhead of the Father, and of the son, and also of the Holy Spirit,
Whose glory resounds in all the world. Amen.

Ordinary Time

by Sister Fidelis

Sometimes it’s just really nice to have Ordinary Time. Nothing special or elaborate, just the familiar and routine.

At these times in the Church year I really enjoy the routine of singing the psalmody with the regular antiphons and modes that we’ve sung for years and years. There’s something calming or reassuring about taking part in a tradition much bigger than yourself, and while of course that also includes special feasts and celebratory chant, it seems like the day-to-day repetition of these chants must give them a certain special strength and solid grounding. I think of monks and nuns over the centuries rising early in the morning, or in the middle of the night, or stopping in their workday and singing these very same Psalms with the very same antiphons and it’s kind of amazing! At our community we go through the rotation of Psalms in one month. Benedict’s community did this in one week, and certain desert fathers are said to have sung through all the Psalms every day!

We can take for example the Antiphon for Tuesday Lauds, “Salutare vultus mei Deus meus,” paired with Psalm 43. Here is a mode VI antiphon beginning on the very same pitches as the actual psalm intonation itself. A simple melody, it begins and ends on the home-tone, fa, and keeps to the very narrow range of a fifth. In a straightforward way it states its message: You are my Salvation, Lord my God. The antiphon marries perfectly in its melody and text with the Psalm that follows, and the “naturalness” of this chant allows us to easily move into a state of prayer and focus on the message. I think it is “little” chants just such as these that have kept the solid foundation over centuries.


The Holy Innocents

This is the text of this morning’s Gregorian chant hymn from Lauds for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by Prudentius (4th-5th c.). This is a tragic event in the history of God’s people. It is also referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The Wise Men reported to King Herod that they were searching for the infant king of the Jews. This threatened Herod. To protect himself against being supplanted by this infant, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows who or how many were killed, so the Church honors them as a group of martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Christmas candle tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, the Community of JesusHail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.


Praying with the Body in the Liturgy of the Hours

By Sr. Fidelis

We begin and end the office standing. Standing is a sign of reverence to God. As shown in paintings on the walls of the catacombs in Rome, the early Christians used to pray standing, with their arms uplifted. Although less familiar to us, standing was, for many centuries, the usual posture for communal prayer, and it is still the norm in Eastern Orthodox churches. In the Liturgy of the Hours, following the antiphon and intonation of the first half of the first psalm verse, we sit for the psalm. We stand again after chanting the first half of the last verse of each psalm, and bow for the Gloria Patri. Through all of these gestures, we are, as creatures, paying homage to God, our Creator, and to his majesty, and thus the gestures carry a weight of meaning far beyond the actual motions we make.

susanna1 Velata_priscilla


By Sr. Fidelis

The Season of Lent is a wonderful time to look intently at the life of Jesus and at the example he has given us in his teachings and Parables.

Beati mundo corde is a Communion chant, based on the final three of the eight Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew.  This melody emphasizes the upper range of Mode 1, with its Reciting Tone of LA. Here is a melody that is in direct contrast to last week’s Mode1 chant, which stayed on the lower end of the Mode, hovering around the Home Tone RE. It’s fascinating to see (and hear) how much variety there is within a particular Modal “family”.

The first two phrases of Beati mundo express each Beatitude in two sub phrases, pivoting on the word quoniamfor.

The last Beatitude reaches the climax of the piece on the word beati, or blessed, before the final phrase, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorumfor theirs is the kingdom of heaven, gently descends to its final RE.

It is interesting to note that the climactic “beati”  leads to an angular, syllabic melodic patch on the word persecutionem – persecution, before returning to the graceful melodic line.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Beati Mundo Corde

Come, It’s Time to Worship God

By Faithful Friar
One of the primary functions of our “100 plus” foot Bell Tower is to signal our Community that it is time to gather together and worship the Lord. We are part of a centuries old stream of Church tradition, calling the people of God to worship with the tolling of bells.  It is appropriate that the steady rhythm of our daily offices should be summoned by the steady tolling of a bell. Fifteen minutes before each service of Midday and Vespers offices (Evensong on Saturdays), a single bell is tolled 40 times.
It is said this tradition began in Monastic houses in the early centuries of Christianity, St. Martin of Tours perhaps being the first to build a tower with large bells, like our own, in the 4th century. As we grow with our own bells, I feel certain our commitment to this time-honored practice will root us more firmly in our calling to the worship of God.tower2

Into the Desert

Lent begins this week, with Ash Wednesday. We associate Lent with a time of both repentance and hopeful renewal. The life of our Lord Jesus becomes a model for us to contemplate in a deeper way.

The first Sunday in Lent often includes the Gospel account of Jesus being led into the desert, where we has tempted by Satan, and fasted for 40 days and nights before beginning his earthly ministry.

This story is aptly portrayed in the Gospel Canticle Antiphon, Ductus est Jesus. This Mode I antiphon sticks to the lower part of the Modal range throughout, only touching on the Reciting Note LA three times, and never ascending above this pitch. It gives the piece a sense of gravity and mystery. One thing to note are the quilismas (saw-toothed notes) on the word Spiritu. They give an upward sense of energy to the text.

“Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, that he might be tempted by the devil; and when he had fasted for forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry”.

Into the Desert

From A to O

By Sr. Fidelis

We began Advent  with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”

There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.

Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David  (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)

The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.

Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel.  Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.


Siena Experience

By Sr. Fidelis

Last week I had the privilege of touring the magnificent Siena Cathedral in Italy, where there was an entire library off to the left of the main sanctuary containing chant books from the 15th century. The whole room was outlined with book after book of the most beautiful Graduals and Antiphonaries filled with stunning illuminations. The amount of beauty and detail in these jewel-toned miniatures took our breath away. But perhaps the greatest blessing for the two brothers and me as we went from book to book was being able to recognize and softly sing the chants that have become so beloved and familiar to us over the years. This wonderful experience made the sense of joining a living tradition of worship even stronger.

Piccolomini_Library 15Illuminated

Hurry to this Work

By Rachel Srubas

When the time comes for one of the divine offices to begin, as soon as the signal is heard, everyone must set aside whatever they may have in hand and hurry as fast as possible to the oratory. . . The essential point is that nothing should be accounted more important that the work of God. — Chapter 43, Saint Benedict’s Rule

A singular, demanding note,
the bell of disciplined devotion,
intervenes in the day. Didn’t I already pray?
What more is there to say, so soon?

You. Your name,
the ancient phrases of the faithful
fill my mouth. My mind,
the most defiant part of me,
lingers over what I set aside
to hurry to this work.
To aspire to ceaseless prayer requires me
to live as though you were my highest priority.
I say you are, yet I resist, internally preoccupied
while singing psalms so seemingly sincerely.

Help me. I’m a master of little but self-division:
my body is present, apparently, prayerful;
my attention, anywhere but here.
Find me and remind me whose I am,
what my deepest joy is,
why I need much practice
as well as your forgiveness.

Excerpted from Oblation: Meditations of St. Benedict’s Rule, published by Paraclete Press.