Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Psalms in Words, Pictures and Prayer

A new online course in Scripture is now available for the first time, offered as part of Pontifex University’s Masters in Sacred Arts. It is called the Psalms in Words, Pictures, and Prayer; we also see this three-credit Masters level course as one that might be audited as a stand-alone, as part of a mystagogical catechesis.

It examines the sung texts of the Divine Office, both the Psalms, which, according to St Thomas Aquinas, contains “all of theology,” and the various canticles of the Old and New Testaments traditionally sung as part of the Office. Each psalm and canticle is examined exegetically, with a focus on the historical context of authorship and composition, and then considered in light of its use in the traditional liturgical setting, including visual imagery related to the text in the illuminated manuscripts.

The Scriptural part of the course is taught by Fr Sebastian Carnazzo, Ph.D. and I will assist on those parts relating to the imagery.

I am especially excited to see this course offered. I hope that it will play a part in encouraging lay people to pray the Office in conjunction with imagery, so as to engage the whole person in prayer. As such, it is a complement to the book The Little Oratory, published by Sophia Institute Press. As well as being a Scripture class that is illuminated by pictures, it is an art class in which students will learn how both content and style of imagery can harmonize with the text in the context of worship.

The first class went live last Thursday at 12 noon, EST and it is offered weekly thereafter. Each class is recorded and uploaded, so you can come in at any time and take the class in your own time and your own pace. Alternatively, enroll and register at Pontifex University and then catch up and join us live in future classes.

As part of the class, we consider what part visual imagery has to play today. Do we need calligraphers and illuminators who can reproduce the breviaries of the past, or do we think as well about new ways of engaging people? I think that the developing pattern of people praying from smartphones represents a new opportunity for engagement with visual imagery that we haven’t seen before. It has never been easier to include high-quality images along with the text being prayed, as well as information about why the particular images are appropriate.

In addition to the enrichment of our students’ prayer lives, our goal is to see them contribute to the adoption of existing images in a way that it brings out the truths contained within the text for people today; this may even lead to the creation of new art, perhaps in a style that is designed to be smartphone friendly!

This man might not be checking his email - he might be praying!

In conjunction with this, I have created a short course, also available through Pontifex University, teaching people to Sing the Divine Office in English. This is not for credit but is intended for personal enrichment and for teachers, parish leaders, community leaders, and households. (Normally costing $99, this is offered free to any who sign up for the Masters in Sacred Arts “bundle”, by committing to pay for the whole program in 30 scheduled monthly payments of $300.)

No prior experience necessary. If you sing in the shower, then you can do this!

The course on singing the psalms is based upon the materials I developed to enable the students of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts to sing the Office daily; most of the materials for the course are available for free on the psalm-tones page of my blog, thewayofbeauty.org. If you need help in learning how to use them, then this www.Pontifex.University course will help you. It is designed so that you can learn to sing the Office and then pass it on to your household, school, parish, community or just sing in your personal icon corner! All the melodies are taken from traditional plainchant in the traditional modes.

Here we are singing the Magnificat:

Just to give an example of what might come out of this - I have a monthly potluck and Vespers for friends, and it is a wonderful social occasion enjoyed by all that builds community in a city setting. It helps us to reach for that Christian ideal where we are in the world but not of it! We use all the psalm tones and settings, and new people learn this in no time as they go along. We also started a men’s group in a local church offering fellowship and prayer, and it is beginning to gain attention; for example, the Catholic San Franciso newspaper wrote about it, here. Our group is now open to men and women!

To read more about this course, follow the link here; to sign up follow the link here.

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