Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dominican Nuns of Marbury, Alabama

I promised the Dominican nuns of the Monastery of St. Jude in Marbury, Alabama, that I would mention them to our readers and emphasize their dedication to Dominican Chant. But I also want to pay tribute to the community's commitment to racial justice. At the time of their founding in 1944, they were among the first cloistered nuns to break the color line in the Deep South, something very difficult at that time. To the right you can see a picture of the some of the youngest and oldest members of the community.

I have often been asked whether there are any houses of cloistered Dominican nuns in the United States who are dedicated to preserving the chants of the Dominican Order, and I have always answered that all the monasteries of nuns preserve the chant to a greater or lesser degree. But my friends, the sisters of Marbury, are especially dear to my heart because I have been collaborating with them for almost two years in the revision of their music.

Like most of the Dominican monasteries in the U.S., the sisters at Marbury were then using the "Neo-Gregorian" music produced back in the 1970s in the monastery of Buffalo N.Y. When the Dominican nuns, following the friars, adopted the new Roman Liturgy of the Hours back in 1970, they discovered that many, if not most, of the antiphons and other chants of the Liturgia Horarum were new creations and had no music in the medieval chant tradition. In a heroic project old melodies were adapted to fit the new texts. Monasteries of our nuns adopted this music around the world, when they did not convert to vernacular chants.

About two years ago, the sisters of Marbury contacted me asking if there were any way to replace the Neo-Gregorian music with authentic Dominican chants. I assured them that it was possible and we began the project of compiling a new Antiphonal using the order of authentic antiphons given in the Ordo Cantus Officii published by the Sacred Congregation in 1983. Almost all these antiphons have Dominican variants and the substitutions were made. Parts of this project were already in use by the nuns last spring, and when I visited Marbury to celebrate a Missa Cantata in the Dominican Rite for Ascension Thursday. I was then able to hear the Paschal Time Office, with its traditional Alleluia antiphons, in use with the Liturgia Horarum for the first time in my life. The chants for that Mass were those from the Dominican Gradual, which the nuns also use at their regular Extraordinary Form Masses according the Roman Missal of 1962.

The Marbury sisters have always maintained the chant as part of their life of prayer, and it is central to their daily Horarium. When complete, the Advent-Christmas volume of the new Antiphonal will contain the complete music for all the Hours, not just Vespers as at present. The sisters plan to begin introducing this restored music on the First Sunday of Advent. The only thing that will be lacking are the "prolix responsories" for use at the Office of Readings, but I have included those responsories appointed for use in place of the short responses at First Vespers of Solemnities by the 1983 Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum. And page references are will be provided for those for use at the Office of Readings when not included. These can all be found in the Dominican Antiphonals of 1863 and 1933, both available for dowload in PDF format on the side bar of Dominican Liturgy. When complete this new Antiphonal will be available there too.

The Marbury sisters are a small community, but they have been blessed recently with an increase in vocations. They have asked me to call their community to the attention of young Catholic women who feel called to the Dominican spiritual tradition of study and prayer in the form of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but especially to those women who have a love of Gregorian Chant. Those interested may find the vocation page here. Even if you are not thinking of a vocation to the sisters, their web page is still worth a visit.

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