Monday, August 12, 2013

the Magnificat and Singing the Liturgy

The prayer for the week of Blessed John Paul II readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory is the Magnificat. It is sometimes known, such as in the modern Liturgy of the Hours, as the Canticle of Mary, and is taken directly from Luke 1:46-55, during the Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth and the sanctification of St. John the Baptist. This is the version as translated in the Douai-Rheims edition, but, honestly, the traditional Book of Common Prayer version is better, as it is meant to be sung during choral Evensong.
My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
 I mention the Anglican service of Evensong, the combination of Vespers and Compline, above. It strikes me that no one cares to hear spoken Evensong. Rather, the BBC broadcasts weekly (formerly daily, I believe!) a choral service from a cathedral or other prominent church; occasionally, they even broadcast Vespers from a Catholic church.

It's beautiful for one. Second, our worship is meant to be sung. The Psalms are the first major liturgical texts in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We still sing them today in the Office, and also in the modern Roman rite in their entirety. In the usus antiquior this was organically trimmed down to selections from the Psalms-mostly- or other verses appropriate to the day's liturgy, or 'proper'. Hence, these became known in English as the Propers.

If the Jewish liturgy involved songs of praise, then this detail would not be lost on our Blessed Mother. And my question is, why are the three prayers of the Divine Office-the Canticles of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon- called 'canticles'? That's a song! Or more accurately, a sung prayer!

Evidently throughout the entire Christian tradition, these have been sung. But they aren't recorded as songs in the Gospels. So my next thought is...did Our Lady, Zechariah, and Simeon sing them? Hmm. I certainly see Our Lady on her knees in humility by this point in the Visitation.

The point is, folks, we need to sing the Mass and the liturgy as much as possible. Father Z noticed that there is a 'thud' in the Novus Ordo when the priest, deacon, or lector begins to speak following a sung prayer. I agree. And, it's not merely about stylistic preferences. It is about the continuity of liturgical action.

In the traditional Latin Mass, the expectation is that Mass is sung, and that the priest is assisted by the deacon-who sings the Gospel- and the subdeacon. If not, he should sing Mass without ministers, and only then recite the prayers in the appropriate tone.

Not all communities sing the Office. The Jesuits are one, but the pre-Reformation mendicants and monastics did.  I am not always sure what the rule is today. Cathedrals need chapters of priests to sing it. Also, liturgy is by definition a public work. I know at St. Martin's for one it would be a pain to have sung Vespers on Sunday and feasts. But we need the sung Office to be assisted by the lay faithful as much as possible.

Here is John Sheppard's setting for Evensong. It was written in neumes, but in polyphonic styling, for priests who couldn't sing polyphony. It's beautiful. I wonder if we could get an Ordinariate parish or priest to lead Evensong at St. Martin's or at Franciscan and include this.

NB: the image is The Visitation by Theodor Rehbenitz, 1820, in the J. Paul Getty Museum collection. And, FREE THE WORD!

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