Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Guest piece by Dom Christopher Lazowski, OSB

Here at Saint-Wandrille, we have just finished our weekly chant practice. It's a Friday penance for our maître de choeur! Those who are familiar with the Graduale won't be surprised that we spent much of the time working on the tract for the first Sunday of Lent, which consists of a goodly portion of psalm 90, "Qui habitat in adiutorio Altissimi". The Sunday tracts are one of the most splendid aspects of Lent, as well as fair bit of work. This time round, I was particularly struck by the last verse "Eripiam eum, et glorificabo eum: longitudinem dierum adimplebo eum, et ostendam illi salutare meum." "I will deliver him, and glorify him: I will fill him with length of days, and I shall show him my salvation." Until "adimplebo eum", the melody follows the pattern of the preceeding lines. Throughout the piece, the highest note is La. Then the last "illi" goes up to Si flat, and the rest differs from what preceeds. It sounds like somewhere behind the melody, there's an alleluia hiding, not quite showing itself. St. Benedict tells his monks that during Lent they should await Easter with the joy of spiritual desire; it seems to me that this joy suddenly erupts at the end of the tract.

During the rehearsal, our maître de choeur told us something he learned from the choirmaster of Le Mans cathedral, who is one of our secular oblates and one of the best non-monastic experts on Gregorian chant in France. In one of the folio Graduales in the chapter library in Le Mans, there are annotations to the longer tracts which read, "Here the cantors have a drink." It made me think of how St Benedict says that the servers in the refectory are to have a snack ("mixtum") before serving a meal, so that they can acomplish their task without undue fatigue. We must always bear in mind the needs of human weakness in the service of God! Nonetheless, we will get through this Sunday's tract without having a drink, as we do every year.