Vespers and Compline in a Southern City

My first assignment as a
priest was at St Mary’s in Greenville, SC, the parish that was mentioned in
George Weigel’s book Letters to a Young
One of the first
projects the pastor, Fr Jay Scott Newman, and I had was to find ways to
introduce the Divine Office to the people there.  So we decided for Advent and Lent to start Vespers and
Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  I have to admit that it took some time just to get
everything together in order to do it. 
We had to create our own worship aid that was easy enough for someone to
follow who had never seen Evening Prayer before.  We enlisted the Choir’s help, and thus started a new phase
in the life of a parish whose liturgical life was exemplary, and also had
formed me as a young man to think liturgically.
It is now several years
later, and Advent and Lent Vespers is a fixed event of the area’s Church
year.  One of my old altar boys
called me last night to tell me that the church, which seats about 450, was
comfortably full.  I paused to think
how many more people were at Vespers in my home parish than there would be at
St Peter’s in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris, places where I often attended Sunday
Vespers when I lived in those amazing cities.

your humble scribe at St Mary’s during Advent Vespers 2006

St Mary’s uses the Liturgy
of the Hours in English for the service, with one of the Hymns from the Solemn
Mass celebrated earlier in the day and with the Psalmody according to the St
Meinrad tones.  The Choir supplies
an Anthem after the sung Reading and often the Magnificat, in settings either
according to the Roman School of Palestrina or the Anglican tradition.  Vespers has become a bit of an
ecumenical event, as well, with Episcopalians and Lutherans and even the stray
Presbyterian making Vespers at St Mary’s a usual part of their Kalendar.
Of course, anyone who knows
the parish likes to tease that it puts Canterbury Cathedral to shame in how
Anglican it feels.  It is no
surprise then, that after Vespers the Anglican Ordinariate Community celebrates
Mass there.  But it is a place
which is Catholic to the core, and the celebration of Vespers has been the
source of numerous graces for many people in Upstate South Carolina.
I am now across town at the
daughter parish, Prince of Peace.  St
Mary’s, in its neo-Gothic Anglican-ish splendor, represents the best of the
Reform of the Reform.  Prince of
Peace is one of the most interesting churches I have ever seen. It is a
postmodern take on Romanesque, and combines everything from steel and concrete
to marble and wood.  There, the
ethos of the Roman Basilicas prevails, with both the Ordinary and Extraordinary
Forms of the Roman Rite celebrated every day. 
We already recite Night
Prayer often during the week according to the Liturgy of the Hours, and POP is
the kind of place where you see 20 and 30-somethings sitting in our Perpetual
Adoration Chapel reading the Divine Office of John XXIII on their IPad Minis.
During Eastertide of last
year, we decided to do Sunday Vespers and Benediction in Latin according to the
Liber usualis.  We did several
Sundays where the Curate, Fr Richard Tomlinson, taught about the spirituality
and history of the Divine Office and the Latin of the Office, and I taught the
chant.  I knew that, when the time
came to do it, it would not be quite as polished as what goes on at the Mother Church
down town, but I wanted to get the people to have the confidence to tackle such
a difficult thing as Sunday Vespers in the traditional form.  They did quite well, but it was a big
thing to accomplish.  Entirely a
cappella, the Curate and the Servers did a fine job of carrying off the
ceremonies while we capably sang the services those Sundays, even though there
were a few hiccups here and there.

Prince of Peace during Assumption Solemn High EF Mass 2012
I did not want to compete
with the Mother Church for Advent and Lent, and by chance I came upon a booklet
of Sunday Compline in English and Latin, with music for both, from
Collegeville’s Popular Liturgical Library from way back in the day.  Our excellent Director of Music, Mr
Alan Reed, who also directs the Chicora Voices choir for young people in the
city, set about producing something similar for us at Prince of Peace. 
We decided to do Compline in
the traditional form in English, to get more of the parish involved.  Last night we had our first go at
it.  I was a little worried, because
I was the only person in the church who had ever seen this done before, in
English or in Latin, and I wondered how it would go.  We had the people in the two choirs in opposite transepts,
and we set about doing it. 
I was so proud of my little
parish!  People came from both the
OF and EF parts of the parish, and the two choirs went back and forth with the
Gregorian psalmody like they had done this all their life.  It was not perfect, but it was
beautiful.  The simplicity of the
rite itself, the darkened church, the plainsong without the organ: we all had
the confidence to pray in this form, although it was entirely new to everyone
So if you happen to be in
Upstate South Carolina on a Sunday in the tempi forti, check out Vespers at 5pm
at St Mary’s downtown and then truck out to the suburb of Taylors at 7.30pm for
Compline.  Both are very different
experiences of the Liturgy of the Hours, but beautiful ones.  It is a great grace to live in the
buckle of the Bible Belt and have such an embarrassment of riches to have to
say, “Where can I go for beautiful liturgy in two forms of the Roman Rite?  There are too many choices!”       


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Revd Fr Christopher Smith (26 Posts)

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