For the series Introduction, please click HERE.
ast week, we outlined the structure of Evening Prayer. This week, we will take a closer look at the first few elements of the liturgy, We will focus in on the introduction, hymn, and psalmody, which makes up the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours.
The introduction, along with most other elements of the liturgy, follows a dialogue “call-and-response” format. The leader begins with O God, come to my assistance, and all respond Lord, make haste to help me, while all make the sign of the cross. The leader begins Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, and all respond As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. The prayer “Glory be to the Father…” is known as the doxology, and is used many times during Evening Prayer. You might notice that it is phrased slightly differently than you might be used to. This is simply because of the translation of the Gloria Patri provided in book of Christian Prayer. It is essentially the same as the doxology you might already know. Also, during the Easter Season, the “Amen” at the end of the doxology is followed by an “Alleluia.” Simple musical settings of this introduction can be found in many modern hymnals.
The hymn then follows. I will not use this space to discuss the appropriateness of hymnody in the Mass, but I will point out that the Liturgy of the Hours is the most appropriate place for hymns. It is at this moment in Evening Prayer that the hymn belongs.
The purpose of the hymn is to set the tone for the hour or the feast and, especially in celebrations with a congregation, to form a simple and pleasant introduction to prayer. (General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours #42)
Select a hymn for the liturgy much in the same way you would prepare a hymn for the Mass. On a side note the General Instruction has much stricter words for the selection of hymns compared to instruction for the Roman Missal: “Great care must be taken not to allow popular songs that have no artistic merit and are not in keeping with the dignity of the liturgy. (178)” For my money, however, some of the best English hymn texts can be found in the Mundelein Psalter. This is especially true on Feasts and Solemnities. They are usually set common hymn meters (Long Meter seems to be a favorite), and have some truly excellent texts for the feasts. For example, the upcoming feast of the Visitation (May 31) contains this verse, among others:
Enriched by Holy Spirit’s gift,
Come, Mother of the hidden Christ,
And visit us as once you came
And gladdened John who leapt for joy.
Following the hymn is the Psalmody portion of Evening Prayer. There are three “psalms” (in quotes because they are not always psalms) which follow a similar format for each. In Evening prayer, the first two are actual psalms (although sometimes they are simply one longer psalm broken into two smaller parts), and the third is a Canticle, which is a Biblical song that is not a Psalm. The psalms typically contain these elements:
Psalm Prayer (optional)
There are several things to note here. First, every psalm has an antiphon that corresponds to it, and doxology is added to the end of the psalm as if it were a last verse. The Psalm Prayer is only optionally recited by a leader; it can be omitted (and doesn’t even occur in many countries outside the US). There are lots of options for the psalms. The psalm can be sung responsorially, antiphonally, or straight through (in directum).
If you choose to sing them responsorially, you would sing the psalm much in the same way you do at Mass, with the antiphon being used as a “refrain” between each verse. While not the traditional way to sing the psalms at Evening Prayer, this can be a good way to get the people to engage in the text if you cannot put the whole psalm in your worship aid.
Singing the psalms antiphonally is the most traditional way to sing this liturgy in common. This means that the antiphon is sung, either by the leader or all, to begin the psalm, and then the psalm verses are taken up by the people, in alternation, usually by groups. You can do this by dividing the group between men and women, or even more effectively by “sides” of the church. One side intones one verse, and the other side sings the next verse. Again, a wonderful example of this is provided in the Mundelein Psalter, mentioned above, which contains very simple psalm tones that can be taken up by all easily. The benefit to this method is that it puts the entire psalm text in the mouths of the faithful.
The psalms can also be sung straight through, if you have a setting of them. A metrical psalm is an option here, such as the Old Hundredth. The strength to this approach is that you can use a hymn tune that everyone knows. The weakness is that metrical psalms are paraphrases and frequently some sense of the text is lost. It is an option, though.
These suggestions are very basic. There are many other possibilities not explored here, and I would love it if people shared their own experiences in the comments. Next week, we will continue our brief walkthrough of Evening Prayer, delving into the reading and responsory.
For the second part of this series, please click HERE.