FROM THE CURATE: PUTTING AMAZING BACK INTO GRACE
One can learn a lot in a monastery. They almost always have fine libraries and there is plenty of time for reading. There is time to think, too. Not only that, but there is time to reflect on nature—time to “consider the lilies of the field how they neither toil nor spin” yet they are clothed more splendidly than Solomon. When I was on retreat in November at Saint Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan, I did a little of all these things. I learned a lot about the cure of souls from reading, for the first time, Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care. (It won’t be the last!) I also learned (and laughed) a lot about everyday life on the inside of this crazy collection of people called the Church from reading the short stories of J. F. Powers. I spent time thinking about my life, about my vocation and how it was soon going to change in ways I could not entirely anticipate. One sunny afternoon, for about an hour, I sat down in the woods next to a tree and just listened, surrounded by the sounds of uncultivated life—life which lives and moves and has its being in God.
A number of things that I learned, that I experienced on retreat have obviously stuck with me. One thing in particular seems to have stuck more completely, sunk more deeply, into me than all the others. Monks, like those at Saint Gregory’s, who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, gather seven times a day to pray the canonical hours together: lauds, prime, terce, sext, nones, vespers, compline. The day begins, ends, and is suffused throughout with communal prayer. Our Prayer Book offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are derived from these ancient monastic disciplines.
Three of the hours are called the little hours: terce, sext, and nones. Hymns, plainly set and quietly sung, are always a part of the hours. The Rule of Saint Benedict tells the monks to begin each of these hours with certain Ambrosian hymns, that is, hymns written by Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the fourth century. Most of these appear in The Hymnal 1982, for example, numbers 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, and 22. All of the office hymns at Saint Gregory’s end with a doxology. The one I heard most often, because it is shared by three hymns a day goes like this: Praesta, Pater piissime, Patrique compar Unice, cum Spiritu Paraclito, regnans per omne saeculum. Amen. Translations vary, of course, but at Saint Gregory’s this doxology is often sung like this: “Increase now Father, grace begun, and you the Father’s equal Son. Together with the Paraclete, reign forever love complete.”
Seven times a day, every day, day after day, week after week, the monks sing the ancient hymns and three of those times they conclude their hymns with this profound doxology. The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grace. Love. The endless reign of God. It is all in there. What the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have, because of their endless dance of love, begun namely, the work of grace in Christian lives, may it always increase. Until when? Until our love is complete? Until the Triune love is complete? Until “love complete” reigns forever? So simple and beautiful was the tune and so deep the content of language I simply can’t get it out of my head, out of my soul, even after several months. Yes, sometimes it’s not there (don’t ask what is!). Yet, it always seems to come back. I don’t remember any of the other words from any of the hymns we sung; I just remember this doxology and now it is my prayer, my frequent, my simple, my profound prayer. Thank you, Saint Ambrose.
Yes, one can and should pray using lots of other words and expressing lots of different thoughts, feelings and desires. Adoration, confession, contrition, supplication---all of these are topics for prayer. Hymns, canticles, psalms, suffrages, Eucharistic Prayers—all of these are genres of prayer. Of course, prayer should be communal too. We gather for the Office and the Mass. We gather often. And when we gather, we usually pour on the pomp. As well we should. Yet, prayer can also be simple, quiet, contemplative, internal, unseen, unheard. Naturally, I hope you will adopt Saint Ambrose’s prayer. (Isn’t it wonderful?) If not, I hope you will consider adopting another. Perhaps a line or two from a catchy hymn or a psalm or a sentence of scripture that seems to express a deep longing of your soul? Think about it; consider its meaning. Then make it your quiet and constant prayer. One can learn a lot in a monastery. Matthew Weiler
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Gloria, Marion, Olga, Peter, Michael, Kenneth, Ursula, Maureen, Marie, Rick, Edgar, Joanne, Robert, priest, and Charles, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Patrick, Edward, Christopher, Andrew, Robert, Joseph, Mark, Ned and David . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . February 15: 1967 Nina Gay Dolan; 1973 Dorothy McCormack; 1978 Carrington Raymond; February 16: 1955 Mary Brettman.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 99, Philippians 3:7-14, Matthew 17:1-9 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, February 9, by Canon Garrison and on Saturday, February 16 by Father Gerth . . . NOTES ON MUSIC . . . The prelude before the Solemn Mass on Sunday will be played by percussion ensemble and the postlude will be Carillon by Herbert Murrill (1909-1952). In keeping with a long Saint Mary’s tradition for this Sunday, the Mass setting is Missa Luba, and the anthem at Communion is Ain’ a that good news arranged by William Dawson (1899-1990). Missa Luba was notated by Father Guido Haazen, based on what was actually created during a recording session of African singers and drummers. Father Haazen’s aim was to introduce traditional African music to Westerners and explains, “The music of Missa Luba is mainly the product of a collective improvisation.” In keeping with the spirit of what was originally intended, our choir’s performance on Sunday will incorporate improvisation by both singers and percussionists. What is so remarkable about Missa Luba is that it exclusively uses the traditional Latin text of the Mass ordinary. It would seem inappropriate for the choir to sing a motet by Palestrina or Tallis in conjunction with this Mass, and therefore the anthem by Dawson is based upon a traditional African-American spiritual. On Ash Wednesday, February 13, the men of the choir will sing the plainsong Mass XIV (Jesu Redemptor), and the anthem at Communion will be Have mercy upon me, O Lord by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656).
AROUND THE PARISH . . . We still need some volunteers to help usher on Ash Wednesday. A signup sheet is located in Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . Stations of the Cross and Benediction begins at Saint Mary’s on Friday, February 15 at 7:00 PM. Once again we share this service with the Church of the Transfiguration . . . Attendance for Candlemas Eve 188; attendance last Sunday 228.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION NEWS . . . The Women and Spirituality Group meets on Tuesday, February 12 at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict's Study. This group is studying the Gospel of Matthew, which has proved to be a strong stimulus for many topics of discussion . . . On Wednesday, February 20 Father Smith begins a new class, “Lent: Origins, History, Meaning and Practice.” The class meets at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict's Study through March 20 and will explore the historical roots and development of the season of Lent as well as discuss the meaning, challenges, and goals of contemporary Lenten observances and practices . . . Saturdays at SMV meets on February 23 from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM with Father MaWeiler's "The Lord's Prayer." Please join us for a biblical, theological, and spiritual exploration of this best-known (and least!) of all Christian prayers.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Wednesday The First Day of Lent: Ash Wednesday Strict Fast & Abstinence
Thursday Weekday of Lent
Friday Weekday of Lent
Stations of the Cross & Eucharistic Benediction at Saint Mary’s 7:00 PM
Saturday Weekday of Lent
The weekdays of Lent are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. The Fridays of Lent are also observed by abstinence from flesh meats.
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.