I came across a General Audience by Pope Benedict XVI, given on June 22, 2011, which is a wonderful introduction to praying the Psalms. It is part of a larger series of catecheses he offered on Prayer through his Wednesday Audiences from May 4, 2011 to October 3, 2012.
Here are some excerpts (my emphasis in the italics)…
On learning the closeness of God:
Since the Psalms are prayers they are expressions of the heart and of faith with which everyone can identify and in which that experience of special closeness to God — to which every human being is called — is communicated. Moreover the whole complexity of human life is distilled in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various Psalms: hymns, laments, individual entreaties and collective supplications, hymns of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, sapiential psalms and the other genres that are to be found in these poetic compositions.
Despite this multiplicity of expression, two great areas that sum up the prayer of the Psalter may be identified: supplication, connected to lamentation, and praise. These are two related dimensions that are almost inseparable since supplication is motivated by the certainty that God will respond, thus opening a person to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving stem from the experience of salvation received; this implies the need for help which the supplication expresses.
On humility expressed within Psalms of Praise:
Likewise in the Psalms of thanksgiving and praise, recalling the gift received or contemplating the greatness of God’s mercy, we also recognize our own smallness and the need to be saved which is at the root of supplication. In this way we confess to God our condition as creatures, inevitably marked by death, yet bearing a radical desire for life. The Psalmist therefore exclaims in Psalm 86 : “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vv. 12-13). In the prayer of the Psalms, supplication and praise are interwoven in this manner and fused in a single hymn that celebrates the eternal grace of the Lord who stoops down to our frailty.
The Psalms as a School of Prayer:
This is the beauty and the special characteristic of this Book of the Bible: the prayers it contains, unlike other prayers we find in Sacred Scripture, are not inserted in a narrative plot that specifies their meaning and role. The Psalms are given to the believer exactly as the text of prayers whose sole purpose is to become the prayer of the person who assimilates them and addresses them to God. Since they are a word of God, anyone who prays the Psalms speaks to God using the very words that God has given to us, addresses him with the words that he himself has given us. So it is that in praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.
Learning the heart of God / learning our own hearts:
Just as our words are not only words but teach us a real and conceptual world, so too these prayers teach us the heart of God, for which reason not only can we speak to God but we can learn who God is and, in learning how to speak to him, we learn to be a human being, to be ourselves.
About those Psalms of lamentation/sorrow:
By teaching us to pray, the Psalms teach us that even in desolation, even in sorrow, God’s presence endures, it is a source of wonder and of solace; we can weep, implore, intercede and complain, but in the awareness that we are walking toward the light, where praise can be definitive. As Psalm 36 teaches us: “with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps 36:10).
…There is more within the text worth reading. The following link is the full audience, formatted for easy printing:
This audience can also be found on the Vatican Website .
This will follow the same format as the previous post. Be sure to read Chant Basics with the Pater Noster and Getting to know the Psalm Tones: Weeks I and III before going through this post. See if you can figure out the melody before listening to the audio for each.
Weeks II and IV:
sol / la … do / ti / la
fa / mi / re / do … do / re
*I think this is the first post with the “fa” clef, telling us where fa is rather than do (which lands on a space rather than a line in this scale).
New Testament Canticle
do / re / do … do // la / te / do
Canticle of Mary
re / mi / fa / re … do // mi / re
Through the course of the Liturgy of Hours, we use a 4 week cycle of Psalms. Using the Mundelein Psalter, we have two sets of melodies that alternate each week. This post will have the melodies for Weeks I and III. (BTW – Ash Wednesday to the following Saturday is considered Week 0 in Lent – the first full week is Week I …the melodies for Weeks II and IV are used during Week 0). Be sure to visit the Chant Basics with the Pater Noster post if this is all new to you.
Remember, the hollow note is the reciting note …you stay on that note for as many syllables as needed until you encounter the flex in the verse.
…and just to remind you, here is the solfege scale with the half steps:
do / re / mi / fa / sol / la / ti / do
Try to sing the melodies in solfege:
Weeks I and III:
do / ti / la / sol … la // fa / la / sol
…You will notice that I placed additional “/” in between notes to correspond with the distance from one note to the next. This will just be done within these posts to help develop a sense of the relationship between the notes.
do / ti / la // do … do / ti / la
New Testament Canticle
do // mi //// la …sol / fa // la
Canticle of Mary (VI f)*
fa / sol – la / la … sol / la //do ………… la / sol / fa / sol – fa / fa
*this melody is actually different from what is provided in the source material, though it is the same tone category (VIf) – feel free to ask me why if you catch me sometime after Vespers.
Antiphonal singing is when the choir is divided into two groups, with the sides alternating for each verse. [We generally have the lower voices on the left, facing the tabernacle, and the higher voices on the right to make it easier for the voices to blend.]
Although there is no break between verses [while one side finishes, the other is taking their breath to prepare to begin the next verse], there is a pause in the middle at the astrisk (*). This pause is important because it provides a moment of silence through the course of the chant. The length of the pause is dependent on the acoustics of the location – lasting as long as needed to actually reach a point of silence before starting with the second half of the verse. [On our handouts, I generally have “3 second pause” to encourage us to wait a moment before continuing.]
This rhythm is helpful because it instills a meditative quality to the Psalm or Canticle. By the two sides “sharing the work” of expressing the prayer, we not only preserve our voices in order to sing well, but we are also given the opportunity to listen as we pray. This balance of singing/listening incorporates not only our voices, but also involves our ears in allowing the prayer to enter into our hearts – guiding us to consider listening as a part of our prayer life. While prayer is essentially talking to God, we miss the reality that we are in relationship with God if we do not allow time to listen, being attentive to His response in our hearts.
Additionally, by attending to the moment of silence, we are given the opportunity to simply “be.” Prayer is not only our doing. In fact, prayer to God is an act of the Holy Spirit (CCC 2564). In each moment of silence, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, uniting us through prayer with the life of the Trinity.
Lastly, in waiting for the silence, we are given the opportunity to check our minds and hearts – forcing us to slow down and to appreciate the moment we are in, offering a sense of peace that is often absent in our busy lives.
Another element of antiphonal singing is the incorporation of our bodies in prayer. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting any form of liturgical dance. Rather, I would like to highlight that in being attentive to our posture, we are allowing our bodies a greater degree of participation than just our ears, lungs, and vocal cords.
Pay attention to which cantor sings the Antiphon: those on the same side as the lead cantor will remain standing while the other side sits after the antiphon is completed/before the psalm or canticle begins. When you sit, be mindful that you still need to take a good breath in order to sing smoothly, so keep your chest upright to allow your lungs to expand as needed.
When we reach the underlined asterisks ( * ), the side that is sitting will stand. Whichever side is singing that verse will need to wait for the sound of people moving to stop before beginning the second half of the verse.
The next verse will be the Doxology (“Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit“), during which we will all bow towards Our Lord in the tabernacle.
This standing/sitting dynamic is also practical considering Vespers takes almost 30 min to sing. The Traditional Form of the Liturgy of the Hours included 5 psalms during Vespers, which would obviously take a bit longer than the 3 we encounter today (the Church would pray the full 150 Psalms in one week through the Traditional Office, which was revised to a 4 week rotation a bit before Vatican II). Standing for that period of time would be difficult for anyone, let alone the older members of a community. With this dynamic, we recognize and respect the limitations of our bodies, allowing the focused movement to become a part of the beauty of the prayer.
Just and added note: beginning with the reading, everyone will sit/stand together. This includes the Canticle of Mary/Magnificat, during which we will remain standing while singing antiphonally. Of course, please feel free to sit at anytime as needed.
The Marian Antiphon for this season is the Ave Regina Caelorum. Although it is specifically sung after Compline (Night Prayer), we will include it after we complete Vespers each evening. We will follow the same steps we took for learning the Pater Noster, adding some additional info about chant notation as we go along.
But first: what are we singing? The Ave Regina Caelorum is one of the four Marian Antiphons, this one being sung from after the Feast of the Presentation (starting on Feb. 3rd) to Wednesday in Holy Week. I hope to offer a more thorough post about the Marian Antiphons in the future, but today we are just going to focus on learning the chant. It might be helpful to read the translation a couple of times to get it in your mind and heart so that you have a sense of what you are praying when you sing.
Hail, Queen of heaven, hail Lady of the angels. Hail root and gate from which the Light of the world was born. Rejoice glorious Virgin, fairest of all. Fare thee well, most beautiful, and pray for us to Christ.
1. Establish the scale
As we did with the Pater Noster, we first figure out the scale by setting the do clef (it’s placed on the 4th line in this chant). You will notice that all of the ti [tee] notes in this chant are flat, which means that ti will change to te [teh]. The nice thing with solfege is that ti is the only note that can be flattened, so if you see a flat, you know it is always te. With this audio, I will play the scale with ti first to have it fresh in your mind, then play the scale with te. When you sing along, be sure to say the correct word.
Also, I started with do on A# and ascended all the way up to re because we have that one high note in the chant – sing through it a couple of times to get your voice comfortable with the range.
do / re / mi / fa / sol / la / ti or te / do / re
2. Learning the melody through solfege:
*the pace is a bit faster than is ideal, but it is still okay for learning*
The squiggly neum in the cluster of three above the fa-sol-la is a qualisma – it means that the note before the squiggle is given a “heavier” feel, which then makes the next note feel light so that it kinda gives a little skip as it moves to the the top note.
Also – if you haven’t noticed – pay attention to the little mini notes at the very end of each line – they tell you what the note is at the beginning of the next line
(BTW – that the neum for the te-do-re in the last line are stacked differently than in the actual chant. That’s a typo (which would require more effort than it is worth to fix) – you can still sing it the same way)
3. Latin Pronunciation:
A -ve Re -gi -na cae -lo -rum, A -ve Do -mi -na An -ge -lo
Ah-veh Reh –gee -nah cheh –loh –room, Ah –veh Doh –mee –nah Ahn –geh –loh
-rum: Sal -ve ra -dix, sal -ve por -ta, Ex qua mun -do lux est
–room: Sahl –veh rah –deex, sahl –veh pohr –tah, Ehx quah moon –doh loox ehst
or -ta: Gau -de Vir -go glo -ri -o -sa, Su -per o -mnes spe
ohr –tah: Gahu –deh Veer –goh gloh –ree –oh –sah, Soo –pehr oh –mnehs speh
-ci -o -sa: Va -le, o val -de de -co -ra, Et pro no -bis
chee –oh –sah: Vah –leh, oh vahl –deh deh –ko –rah, Eht proh noh –bees
Chris -tum ex -o -ra.
Krees -toom ehx –oh -rah.
4. Melody + Latin
After singing a few times with the video, see if you can sing it on your own with the music at the top of this post.
…and just for fun – here is the chant in the Solemn Tone:
We will be beginning this next series of Vespers soon, so I wanted to go over a little basics for reading chant notation (square notes).
If you are not familiar with chant notation, here are some points for where it differs from modern notation (“round notes”):
So, with all of this in mind, lets look at the Pater Noster :
1. Establish the scale:
The “do clef” is on the third line, so we start there and fill in the rest of the notes above and below. The clef essentially establishes where the whole/half steps are. While there is a whole step between most of the notes (do/re, re/mi, fa/sol, sol/la, la/ti), there are two places where there is only a “half step” – between the mi/fa and the ti/do. If we do not sing the whole/half steps correctly, then the melody will not be accurate.
One way to become familiar with this is to play the scale on a piano or keyboard. If you place do on C, you can stay on the white keys throughout the scale. But, if you place do on D, then mi will be on F#, fa – la will return to the white keys, “ti” will be on C#, concluding with “do” on D. Listen for the half steps to try to train your ear. Here is an audio of scale starting on C, then on D, then on E.
Try to sing along with “do / re / mi / fa / sol / la / ti / do” (and back down)
This video presents the scale we will be using for the Pater Noster. The starting note we will use is on G – try singing along. Keep in mind, the low note in the chant is actually mi and the high is do, so don’t worry if the low do and re are a little rough for your voice. Sing it a couple of times to try to smooth it out.
do / re / mi / fa / sol / la / ti / do
It is also good to sing through the scale a couple of times before you learn a chant to get your eyes, ears and voice familiar with the scale.
2. Next, we can learn with the melody by singing the notes through solfege.
Try singing along with the audio:
3. After we become familiar with the melody, we can work on speaking the Latin (you’ll need to click on the link in the video to watch it on youtube).
4. Putting the Latin and the melody together, we have everything we need for the full chant (Pater Noster begins at 0:20):
…There is more to learn with chant notation, but I’ll add to things as we go along. I will post a similar tutorial for the Marian Antiphon tomorrow. I hope you found this helpful.
Also – planning is underway for Lenten Vespers at St. Monica’s and St. Blaise. Be sure to check back for more information.
I just wanted to extend an extra “Thank you” to everyone who took part in Advent Vespers this past season. It has been wonderful preparing for the joy of Christmas with all of you!
There is a good possibility we will be able to offer Vespers during Lent at both locations, so keep an eye on your bulletin and ear for pre-Mass announcements as we get closer to Ash Wednesday (March 6th).
I hope you had a joyful Christmas and that this New Year is full of many blessings!
I came across this article on New Liturgical Movement about the O antiphons…
…the article presents some additional information regarding how the O antiphons were incorporated in prayer during the medieval times.
What I found particularly interesting was that in the monastery, they would assign individuals to intone the antiphon for that day based on their role in the community …”O Wisdom to the abbot, O Lord to the prior, O Root of Jesse to the gardener, O Key of David to the cellarer, (who held the key to all of the storehouses), etc. ”
…maybe next year, we’ll extend special invitations to particular members/staff of the parish : )
Here is the schedule for this week:
Gaudete Sunday (16th) at St. Monica’s – 6:30 prep class, followed by 7:30 Vespers
Monday (17th) through Sunday (23rd) at St. Blaise – starting at 7:30 each evening, we will have a brief reflection on the Old Testament title for the Messiah presented in the O Antiphon of that evening, followed by Vespers. …there will be no prep class on these days, but please feel free to invite someone new – it wont be too difficult to catch on.
…It’s a pretty busy schedule, but I hope these opportunities will be beneficial in offering a moment to pause from the demands of the season to refocus on the source of our joy.
Why are we not doing Vespers on Christmas Eve? An interesting thing about Sundays and Solemnities is that the celebration is so important in the life of the Church that we actually have two Vespers for these days …1st Vespers is prayed the evening before (Saturday evening is always 1st Vespers for Sunday), and 2nd Vespers is prayed the evening of the feast day. This way, we begin meditating on the celebration the night before to allow our minds and hearts to fully enter into the mystery and joy of the day. Thus, the evening of December 24th is actually no longer Advent because it is 1st Vespers for the Nativity of Our Lord.
…Also, the Church is crazy busy with the Vigil Mass(es) and everything, so trying to do Vespers as a group on the 24th would simply be impossible.
If you are interested in continuing to pray Vespers (or any of the other Liturgical Hours) on your own, here is an easy resource to get started: https://universalis.com/index.htm
Lastly – just a reminder – you can find practice videos for the Pater Noster and the Alma Redemptoris Mater here.
I hope you can join us!
We just completed our first evenings at St. Monica’s and St. Blaise with many returning and new participants. The first week is always a bit rusty (especially for me), but everything will become more comfortable as we go along. In Week II, I will explain a bit more about how to understand square notation and the rhythm of Vespers before going through the melodies and psalms that we will encounter that evening. Please bring your “Prayer before/after the Divine Office” card, though I will have extras if needed.
If you are curious, this is the resource I will be using for the reflections on the Psalms of Vespers:
…as you can see, the Liturgy of the Hours is on a 4 week cycle, through which we experience all 150 psalms (the linked page only presents the Psalms encountered during Vespers). Last week was Week I because it was the first week of the Advent season.
You may also be interested in this reflection by Pope Benedict XVI on the Magnificat, which we sing each evening during Vespers.
If you would like help including more of the Liturgy of the Hours in your daily life, the prayers are offered on the radio throughout the day at 106.7 FM WAOB (you can listen live online through the link, or view their programing schedule). You can also look for the Divine Office or Laudate apps to have it handy on your phone.
Lastly, if you are curious about learning a bit more during the week, you can check out the tags at the bottom of this page that will take you to previous posts on particular topics. If you want help becoming more familiar with the Pater Noster and the Alma Redemptoris Mater, you can find practice videos in this post. You may also want to press the “follow” button at the bottom right to receive an email when a new post is up.
I look forward to praying with you next week – feel free to invite a friend!
Here is a little introductory video that you might find helpful. It gives you an overview of the Liturgy of the Hours and where Vespers fits within the prayer. If it still seems a bit foreign, just show up to one of the evenings and see how it goes. Feel free to ask me questions afterwards, or before, during the preparation session. I hope to see you sometime this week!
I’m excited we will be offering more opportunities to chant Vespers this season. We will be at St. Monica’s on Sundays (Dec 2, 9, 16), and at St. Blaise on Wednesdays (Dec 5, 12) and for the O Antiphon days (Dec 17-23). Visit the About page for the Church addresses. A preparation class will be offered at 6:30, followed by Vespers at 7:30 (there will be no prep class on the O Antiphon days – I’m sure people will have the hang of it by then).
The only Latin we will encounter in the first week is the Pater Noster and the Marian Antiphon (Alma Redemptoris Mater). Here are a few practice videos to help you brush up:
And for your listening/praying enjoyment: the Alma Redemptoris Mater by Palestrina:
Feel free to invite a friend!
I just wanted to share a quick note that the 7pm All Souls Day Mass at St. Monica’s will be chanted this year. The chant will be in the Ordinary Form with both English and Latin, so it will be a bit more comfortable for individuals who are not accustomed to a chanted Mass. Please feel free to invite anyone you think might be interested!
Also, just a reminder: a plenary indulgence is available each day you visit a cemetery between Nov 1st and 8th. Click on the link for more details.
Lastly – if you know of anyone in the DC area, please invite them to visit the exhibit at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, entitled “An Illuminated Requiem: Meditations on Love and Mortality” The exhibit runs from Oct 29th to Nov 29th. There will be an artist’ talk on Nov 15th at 7pm, explaining the content of the work. Anyone with an interest in chant or the Catholic understanding of mortality will find it interesting. I will post a video of the talk when it is available. You can view the work at http://www.annschmalstieg.com/portfolio/requiem-series
Preparation is underway for Advent Vespers – be sure to check back in the middle of the month for more information!
I just wanted to give you a heads up that I will be giving a talk at St. Monica’s entitled “Requiem: a Catholic Understanding of Love and Mortality.” It will be presenting a series of artwork based on the Proper Chants of the Requiem Mass (Introit, Gradual, Tract, Sequence, Offertory, Communio). This series will be exhibited at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC throughout the month of November. The talk will explore the Church’s guidance in the midst of the pain of losing a loved one, as well as the role of beauty in our prayer for the dearly departed.
For more information and to RSVP, please email email@example.com .
When: Tuesday, Sept 25th at 7 pm
Where: Founder’s Hall (next to the church), St. Monica’s Parish – 116 Thorndale Dr. Beaver Falls 15010
snacks provided, BYOB
Feel free to invite anyone you think may be interested.
Good news! A new Sacred Music Retreat was brought to my attention that you might find interesting. It is at the Oratory in Cincinnati, from August 8th to 12th, the cost is $450 (includes room and meals). The focus will be on singing for the Extraordinary Form Mass, as well as the Divine Office. This is a wonderful opportunity to obtain experience not only with chant, but also with motets and polyphony. Registration ends on June 30th, though late registration ($495) is available till July 16th (there are a limited number of spots, so be sure to sign up sooner rather than later). Check out the link below for complete details.
Thank you all for taking part in this Intro to Chant series. I just wanted to share a few things that we went over in class for those who were not able to join us.
Here is a worthwhile reflection by Msgr. Pope on the quality of prayer that we find in tradition. I think it is insightful in explaining why we should seek to become familiar with many traditional prayers in order for them to enter into our heart, as well as why it is so valuable in people of different generations and backgrounds to unite in these prayers.
During class, we started with the Marian Antiphon for after Pentecost to the First Sunday of Advent; the Salve Regina. We focused on the Simple Tone:
Of course, there is also a Solemn Tone:
I also mentioned a little about the origin of the prayer, which can be found (along with the origin of four other well known prayers) here.
Next, we went over Adoro Te Devote:
If you would like a reflection on the prayer, here is one given by the Pontifical Household preacher in 2004.
Our last chant was the Anima Christi (popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola). Here is a brief article in the significance of the prayer in the life of one woman’s family. Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording for the version we learned, but here is one that is beautifully done:
It was great getting to know these prayers with all of you! I look forward to our next opportunity!
We are coming to a close in our Intro to Chant series (this will actually be the last Thursday that we meet for class – but I will pass along exciting news for the last Thursday of the month, so keep that evening open!), but that does not mean you have to wait until I mysteriously have time to offer another series. June seems to be “the month of chant,” with many workshops occurring throughout the US. Here are just a couple you might find interesting – keep in mind, they are generally offered every year, so no worries if you can’t make it for the 2018 season.
June 18-22: CMAA (Church Music Association of America) summer course at Duquesne offers a Chant Intensive (beginner/intermediate/advanced levels) where they will go over everything I taught, plus more, and better. There is also Laus in Ecclasia, which is taught by the choirmaster at Clear Creek Monastery, and is designed of offer both a thorough understanding, as well as to encourage learning throughout the year. The Ward Method class is great for anyone with an interest in teaching chant to children – I took it last year and highly recommend it if you are interested in teaching music to kids, even if you don’t have a full understanding of chant yet. They finish the week with a beautiful Ordinary Form liturgy.
June 25-30: CMAA Colloquium at Loyola University in Chicago, Il is kinda like the summer course at Duquesne, but bigger. The Colloquium moves around every year (I attended when it was at Duquense), so if Chicago is too expensive, you could just keep an eye on where they have it in the future. They offer very worthwhile talks, voice training sessions, instruction in both chant and polyphony for all levels, and the celebration of the liturgy in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form.
June 25-28: If you need something a little less intense, but still wanting to learn, you might consider the Gregorian Chant Retreat in Amenia, NY. It is lead by Dominican Friars and is actually more affordable than one would expect. You can look through their schedule to get a sense as to what to expect.
June 18-22: Lastly, if traveling across the country is appealing to you, there is the Sacred Music Symposium in Alhambra, CA, which is presented by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. They are offering a “Crash Course” in Gregorian Chant and Hymnody, and there are some pretty big names in their list of participants.
If you are not able to make it to a workshop this year, but still want to continue to grow in your ability, I recommend simply getting a good chant CD (recording is clear, voices are unified, the chant is light/does not drag) and listen to it regularly. As you become familiar with the melodies, practice singing along – you can just sing the vowels until you become more familiar with the words. Get comfortable with your voice moving through the intervals, listen to match pitch and to express the nuances within the chant. See if you can pick out the liquescents, qualismas, and held notes that have a light pulse to them. The freedom of singing in your own home or car will help you to practice regularly, which is the most important part of learning.
Two sources of Chant CD’s that I would recommend are: the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey and the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Both offer very clear recordings and they are wonderful examples of the beauty of Gregorian Chant. The Benedictines CD’s also include polyphony and some hymns in English. Both sources are great to have in your music collection, and proceeds go to support the religious life.
While I will offer more opportunities when I can, I hope that you will continue to grow through experience and love with this beautiful form of prayer.