Vespers at Brompton Oratory and some thoughts

Yesterday I participated at Vespers at the Brompton Oratory in choro.  My, they are precise around the place, I can tell you.

The psalms are sung, as pretty much everything Gregorian as I can tell, with organ accompaniment.  That has the advantage of keeping the pitch from sliding, but it does detract, I think from the sound of it.  The style of singing psalms at the Oratory is both a bit brisk and on the light side.  I wonder if the sound of the clerics in the sanctuary can actually be heard in the nave.

Their precision of movement reveals confidence and practice.  It is second nature in many respects.

It reminded me that people (parish priests, mainly) who are aiming at introducing chant or the older form of Mass, shouldn’t get trapped in the thought that they have to be perfect from the very beginning.  Things take time.  They become more comfortable over time.

We mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when starting out with something new.

Here is what things looked like at the Oratory from my perspective as they prepared to expose the Blessed Sacrament.

The music for Vespers:

3.30 pm   Solemn Vespers & Benediction
Music:
Vexilla regis prodeunt  Gregorian chant.  
Magnificat Tone 1  Lassus.
Adoramus te Christe  Nanino. 
Toccata I  Froberger.

Seeing Nanino there make me think of the late Msgr. Richard Schuler, who over his 33 years as pastor of St. Agnes in St. Paul, another place which had wonderful and precise Masses with great music, slowly built up a great liturgical program.   It was brick by brick.

Such a project presupposes that the priest has time to work on it, build it slowly.  There must be consistency in leadership and vision, which doesn’t happen if priests are being moved all the time.

At the end, there was Veneration of a Relic of the Cross at one of the side altars in the transept.  Yours truly is at the far end of the balustrade, in the center.  That photo and many more are to be found here.

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28 Responses to Vespers at Brompton Oratory and some thoughts

  1. TJM says:

    Father Z, thanks for posting this. One of my fondest memories was attending a Missa Cantata at the Oratory several years ago.
    Although it was the OF, it showed how splendid the OF can be. Tom

  2. Dan says:

    Beautiful choir vesture you are wearing Father, what re they called and are they yours or the Oratory’s?
    God bless.

  3. John Hudson says:

    When I attended vespers at the Lonndon Oratory, I sat just below the choir loft, i.e. about a third of the way up the nave from the sanctuary. I could just about hear the chant from the sanctuary, but it was faint. Next time, I’ll sit somewhere between the sanctuary and the choir, and try to get some kind of stereophonic balance.

  4. Carlos Palad says:

    Can someone explain how Vespers in Brompton Oratory goes? I have heard that Vespers
    as sung in the English Oratory is a blend of the 1961 and 1971 Vespers.

  5. Jayna says:

    It’s hard to tell how enormous that whole altar area is from the sanctuary, lots of room to maneuver. Looking at those photos makes me wish I’d gone to more Masses at the Oratory when I was staying in London last year.

  6. What parish(es) in the USA have the largest attendance at a Latin mass, in either form? Data on this does not seem to be easily accessible.

  7. Figlio di Pippo Buono says:

    To answer Carlos Palad’s question, Vespers at the Brompton Oratory are celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, so all of the psalms, the chapter, hymn, magnificat, and collect are sung in Latin. The Solemn Mass on Sunday at 11AM, and Solemn Masses for Holydays and Holy Week are celebrated in Latin but according to the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form. Come and see!

  8. John says:

    Carlos Palad,
    The Vespers at the London Oratory are according to the more ancient usage of the Roman Rite. However, there are some changes like how the colour of the vestments usually correspond to the N.O. calendar. For example, wearing green cope instead of violet during Septuagesima. Also, I believe the antiphons for the Canticle of Zachariah and the Magnificat are from the reformed/deformed Vespers. This in order to correspond to the Gospel of the day in the N.O. calendar.

  9. TNCath says:

    Very beautiful! I was there this past summer and didn’t want to leave. So refreshing.

  10. RichR says:

    Well-done parish Vespers is very contagious. Parishioners love it, they invite friends (even non-Catholics), and visitors ask themselves, “Why can’t they do it like that at our parish?”

    As the events coordinator of our schola, I’m trying to get the music to this Vespers Magnificat:

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=solemn+vespers&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f#

    We are going to do this at the local university parish student center. The Texas A&M Aggies love this type of stuff.

  11. RichR says:

    My bad, it’s the CIEL vespers:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6285541823744727730&ei=FrHOSIjeOIzS-wGmvJHKAg&q=solemn+vespers&vt=lf&hl=en

    I’m sure the Brompton Oratory was 20 times what this was, but still, people crave solemnity.

    Fr. Z, was there much of a turnout?

  12. puella says:

    We mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when starting out with something new.

    YES!

    At Bootcamp this year, Fr. Finigan (His Hermeneuticalness – did I spell that right?) came to speak and he also very kindly offered Mass (EF) for us. Now not many of us were familiar with which bits the congregation can sing at a Missa Cantata and which bits they can’t. So when Fr. started the Pater Noster, we all joined in – until the server (who is, by popular opinion amongst us, a hero) turned to us and put his finger to his lips, indicating that we shouldn’t have been singing.

    Cue much shhhhhh’ing and giggles from us, not a little out of sheer embarassment. Fr. Finigan, if he noticed (it’s hard to imagine he didn’t), to his credit didn’t bat an eyelid.

    We figured that as the vast majority of us were near or complete beginners, Fr. Finigan and Our Lord were going to be forgiving of the gaffe.

  13. John Polhamus says:

    “There must be consistency in leadership and vision, which doesn’t happen if priests are being moved all the time.”

    Actually, Padre, vespers is as regular as clockwork, and not really that difficult. It takes about a month of regular celebration to nail it down so tight even hurricaine Ike couldn’t dislodge it. True being resident in one place helps a community to develop a sense of the liturgy, but a parish priest in these times must be a one man “community” and provide his own vision and leadership. And if Vespers is his weekly (as opposed to daily) bread, he can easily inculcate it on whatever scale he has available. But he has to read the rubrics, and has to make it a priority. It doesn’t happen by itself, but it’s far from impossible, even in the solemn form. I don’t find a supporting organ distracting at all, in fact it’s a necessity for the majority of congregants, who are non-singers (or else they’d be in the choir, wouldn’t they?). In fact, it can, on occasion, cover a multitude of musical sins…;-)

  14. Tiny says:

    You know, dear Father Z, you need someone to take your picture for a change!

  15. Margaret Collins says:

    Vespers is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 live from the Oratory on Wednesday 17th September at 4 pm British Summer Time (that’s GMT plus one hour). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00df64k

    The BBC website states:
    From the London Oratory.

    Organ Prelude: Intonatio del settimo tono (Andrea Gabrieli)
    Invitatory: Deu in adjutorium meum (Croce)
    Antiphons and Psalms: 110, 111, 112, 113, 117 (Plainsong)
    Hymn: Iste confessor (Palestrina)
    Antiphon: Hic vir despiciens (Plainsong)
    Canticle: Magnificat octavi toni (Victoria)
    Motet: O viridissima virga (Hildegard of Bingen)
    Antiphon of Our Lady: Salve Regina (Philips)
    Organ Voluntary: Chaconne in F (Fischer)

    Organist: John McGreal
    Celebrant: The Very Rev Ignatius Harrison
    Director of Music: Patrick Russill.

    It should be possible to listen live to the broadcast on the web http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/radio3/ or via the Listen Again facility http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/ (click on Listen Again and select choral evensong)for up to a week after the broadcast.

  16. TA1275 says:

    Fr. Z,

    I attended mass at the Oratory in Oxford this past Sunday, and I must say that I was similarly impressed by how in step the priest and the deacons were. It had the crispness of soldiers marching formations.

  17. Peter W says:

    At Sunday Vespers at the Birmingham Oratory they change the Magnificat antiphon to the NO Gospel too. With a 3 year cycle and different Gospels for solemnities and feasts to accommodate I wonder if the Liber is set up with the material.

  18. patrick f says:

    Gorgeous. There is something to singing the office. I go to a local monastery when I can here and pray vespers there, and we spent our vacation at a Benedictine monastery. One is english ampleforth (so VERY precise), one isnt. Both have the same effort involved though. It truly is wonderful to pray the pslams in the manner most were written, to be sung.

    The church is gorgeous. Truly a sacred space. Much different from some of the spectacles you see. I was looking at pictures of Cathedral of Christ the light in oakland. I am sure, architecturally its beautiful. Just doesnt pop sacred space the way some of these century old churches do. There is something to be said for a “High” altar… one that isnt on the same level as the congregation (which so many modern built church altars are) but rather draws us all to God (up where he is, from down where we are)

  19. Basil Roberson says:

    The London Oratory Vespers do not follow 1962 ceremonial but that of the 1965-7 rite with the modern Roman Calendar so, for example, there are never any commemorations made, there are no choir reverences and the incensation of clergy in choir follows the modern form etc., and as has been pointed out by a poster the Septuagesima season is treated as ‘ordinary time’ etc. The Birmingham Oratory has adapted the three year cycle of Magnificat antiphons. I am unsure of what the practice is at Oxford. When I last went there, many years ago, the singing was slightly too slow if anything.

  20. For vespers in the Birmingham Oratory we sang this music:

    Vexilla Regis, Bruckner A. (our adaptation of alternating chant/polyphony)
    Magnificat tone I, Lassus O.
    Hymn: We sing the praise of him who died: Bow Brickhill
    O Salutaris, Fischer J.
    Tantum Ergo, Faure G.
    Salvator Mundi No.1, Tallis T.

    It was all a great success and much appreciated by everyone. Vespers in the Birmingham Oratory is pretty similar to the London Oratory except the magnificat antiphon and the collect are adapted to the Novus Ordo. Also we tend to be much more relaxed and less formalised than London!

  21. Supertradmom says:

    Thank you for this blog and the photographs. The Oratory was my home parish for years and I miss it terribly. The singing was always exact, highly professional, yet devout.

  22. Basil Roberson says:

    BTW I wonder why the London Oratory are celebrating a broadcast vespers of the Impression of the Stigmata of St Francis? According to the Extraordinary Form calendar the 17th is a fourth class ferial day with a commemoration only of that feast at Lauds and Mass. Vespers should be of the feria according to the 1962 books.

  23. Rob says:

    “Such a project presupposes that the priest has time to work on it, build it slowly. There must be consistency in leadership and vision, which doesn’t happen if priests are being moved all the time.”

    When the people recognize and value the truth and beauty of a particular practice, which may involve a certain amount of education, they will hold fast to it, long after the person(s) who might have championed the inception of that practice have departed. As an example, the parish I grew up in has maintained a Perpetual Adoration group and chapel, 2 people/hour 24/7/365 (except for the Triduum), for over 12 years now – long after the Associate whose particular devotion it was moved on to another parish.

    What do you mean by ‘moved all the time’? Generally, I believe a priest needs to be able to be confident of a certain minimum duration of an assignment To allow them the opportunity to teach, brick by brick. Sometimes, it is necessary to convey the message to the congregation that the priest is going to be there for a good long time (barring major scandal) and perhaps they better get used to that idea. The parish also needs to be confident that the their priest is ‘in it’ with them for the long haul.

    I’ve seen the stagnation that can result when a priest has been in one place too long. I’ve also seen the damage that can result when change is too frequent.

    Personally, the idea of 6-year assignments with the possibility of 1 6-year renewal seems to work out pretty well in most cases.

    Really, how often does it occur that there is no other priest in a diocese who is suited to meet the needs of a parish?

  24. Aine says:

    Something beautiful for God.

    Playing now on BBC3 stream – Evensong – London Oratory:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00df64k

    Breathtaking.

  25. Carlos Palad says:

    “At Bootcamp this year, Fr. Finigan (His Hermeneuticalness – did I spell that right?) came to speak and he also very kindly offered Mass (EF) for us. Now not many of us were familiar with which bits the congregation can sing at a Missa Cantata and which bits they can’t. So when Fr. started the Pater Noster, we all joined in – until the server (who is, by popular opinion amongst us, a hero) turned to us and put his finger to his lips, indicating that we shouldn’t have been singing.

    Cue much shhhhhh’ing and giggles from us, not a little out of sheer embarassment. Fr. Finigan, if he noticed (it’s hard to imagine he didn’t), to his credit didn’t bat an eyelid.”

    Actually, you did nothing illegal. The PCED has clarified that the people may sing the
    Pater during an EF Missa Cantata or Missa Solemnis. Please see this:

    http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.com/2007/04/more-decisions-of-ecclesia-dei.html

    Whether it is recommended that the people sing the Pater at an EF Mass is
    something else but if they do, they aren’t breaking any rules.

  26. Ælfhere says:

    BTW I wonder why the London Oratory are celebrating a broadcast vespers of the Impression of the Stigmata of St Francis? According to the Extraordinary Form calendar the 17th is a fourth class ferial day with a commemoration only of that feast at Lauds and Mass. Vespers should be of the feria according to the 1962 books.

    It’s the “New Rite? Old Rite? I’m right!”-attitude that Catholics (self-styled “traditionalists” especially) ought to be fighting against. There’s no point in condemning pick-and-choose Catholicism if one makes up one’s liturgy as one goes along.

    Figlio di Pippo Buono’s “Come and see!” sums up this attitude perfectly, that liturgy is supposed to be theatrical, and for the entertainment of the audience rather than for their spiritual edification. Although I’ve heard that there are some good priests at the Oratory, there is clearly still an old-fashioned “High-Anglican” tendency there, which sees ceremonies as just there to be “fabulous” and for the glory of the celebrant rather than God.

    On Father’s broader point, obviously no ceremony on earth is ever going to be perfect. (How “perfect” do we think the ceremonies at the Last Supper were?) But one should always be aware of Our Lord’s injunction “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

  27. Whether it is recommended that the people sing the Pater at an EF Mass is
    something else but if they do, they aren’t breaking any rules.

    Likewise, for an EF low Mass. From the 1958 instruction issued under Pius XII:

    32. Since the Pater Noster is a fitting, and ancient prayer of preparation for Communion, the entire congregation may recite this prayer in unison with the priest in low Masses; the Amen at the end is to be said by all. This is to be done only in Latin, never in the vernacular.

    http://www.adoremus.org/1958Intro-sac-mus.html

    Those suffering from hang-ups about vocal participation of laity at EF Masses may benefit from nos. 24 through 34 of this instruction.

  28. Figlio di Pippo Buono says:

    Aeflhere:

    My point in saying ‘come and see’ has nothing at all to do with High Anglicanism. On the contrary, it was based on the apostolate of St Philip Neri (the founder of the Oratory), who saw the value of ‘attracting’ people to God and to the life of Grace and prayer via the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. God forbid that theatricality should be involved.