Monday, July 25, 2011

Vespers at Notre Dame

I've had some amazing adventures the last few weeks. I'm going to try to catalogue about them over the next few days just so that I get them written down here. There are plenty of photos of things as they've been happening, too. I know that there are people who want to read what's going on. I'm writing it all in my journal, but that's for my reading.

Yesterday evening my friend Mark and I went to Vespers at Notre Dame. Mark has been at Taizé the last three weeks. I know him through Sacred Harp stuff. He got in yesterday after church, and we went to lunch. Café du Marché might need its own series of entries. After lunch we came back to my apartment and planned our afternoon. One of the things on his list was going to Notre Dame, so we looked at their schedule.

We realized that they had a Vespers service we could easily make it to walking along the Seine at a leisurely pace. We walked, had an interruption (entry later), and went to Notre Dame. The line was absurdly long to get in to visit, but I told a guard that we were there for the service and he told us to cut the line. And wow. It was wonderful. Easily one of the most prayerful evening prayer services I've ever been to, but I'm sure that is partially to do with my not having to lead it. But more on that in a few.

I've never been to Popish evening prayer before, so the order was different, but not too different. There was a lot of singing: something like the Phos Hilaron, an invitatory, a hymn, psalms, a canticle, and the Magnificat. I think there was a reading from 1 Corinthians, but I'm not really sure. There was some reflection time between all the sung parts with an organ improv. I really appreciated that there weren't huge chunks of Bible reading. I also really appreciated how accessible I found it.

I'm not good at singing in French. Letters that don't make sounds and accents on weird syllables don't fit with my understanding of the musical notation, but I was able to really sing along. The psalter was simple chant settings, almost plainsong-esque. I loved how unafraid of incense they were; there was a lot of it in a giant pot at the beginning of the service. During the Mag the officiating priest smoked the place up as he censed the altar. The canticle (from Revelation 19) was amazing. The alleluias were so joyful! The cantors and organ helped with that feel, but those singing the song of the resurrection really seemed happy about resurrection!

My favorite part was the Magnificat, though. It alternated between cantors and people. I really liked the man in his late fifties or early sixties on the row in front of me who had folded his bulletin by this point and was singing both parts. It was in Latin, but he just sang along. It made me think about classmates who can do that with our Evensongs. I get too frustrated with Evensong at general and how much more work than prayer it is for me, so I don't really know most settings.

Vespers was great. I'll probably go back with more friends. I might try to get to something on a Sunday evening at Sacre Coeur. Maybe benediction. More adventures later today.

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