Monday, April 05, 2010

Notes from Great Paschal Vespers

This will be succinct, as I'm writing from my iPhone while on a train.

Last night I attended Paschal Vespers at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. It was an unexpectedly magnificent experience.

As a genre, this is the Roman Catholic equivalent of Choral Evensong (which, as a genre, I adore). But instead of receiving the inheritance through the line of Benedictine monasticism, the form used at ND drinks from the well of the ancient "cathedral vespers." This means that, without dumbing it down musically--a rehearsed choir plays a prominent role--it invites a great deal of congregational participation, mostly by way of antiphons, refrains, and imitative responses.

Here's what I loved the best:

The place was packed, mostly with students. What a joy to see young people serious about high-octane worship in the best Catholic tradition.

A fine organ played with great skill.

A metrical Magnificat set to the English hymn tune "Jerusalem."

A fine rendition by the choir of the (quintessentially Anglican anthem Hail, Gladdening Light by Charles Wood.

And most of all, I wasn't in charge. I wasn't responsible for midwifing the liturgical experience of others; I got to just be part of the worshiping crowd. People in my line of work need that from time to time. It was balm to my soul.

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