Weekly Reflection - 10/5/2021
by Eric Choate, Director of Music
In my music history courses in college, we learned of the offices of the church, as well as the Mass. The history of Western music is inextricably connected with the history of the Church, and a foundational understanding of her liturgies was necessary to learn about music of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. It was here where I first learned about Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, and I remember being moved by the faithful who would devote these hours of the day to prayer, as though our conversation with God is unbroken. The Anglican Church has included the offices of Matins (Morning Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer or Evensong), and Compline (Night Prayer) in various prayer books, and many collegiate churches pray the offices daily. Compline is on page 127 of our Book of Common Prayer.
When I came to St. Mary's 5 1/2 years ago, I was particularly moved, when at the end of our first choir rehearsal, everybody opened their BCP to pray Compline together. In all my years serving as a church musician, the choir never set aside time for intentional corporate prayer, but after all, why shouldn't we? I continued this tradition at St. Mary's, and the choir continues to regularly pray Compline after our Thursday evening rehearsals. This office has become particularly meaningful to me. The prayers are beautiful, the rhythm is simple and short, and it helps focus my heart on God after a long, busy day.
At the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I composed a musical setting of one of the collects from Compline, "Keep Watch, Dear Lord," attributed to St. Augustine. Although the piece was written at the request of a patron to memorialize his departed grandmother, it became my own personal prayer for our collective loss due to the pandemic.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake. Amen.
Earlier this year, in conversation with the patron who commissioned this work, he observed: there are thousands of choral Mass settings; thousands of settings of the Evensong canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis). Has anybody composed a choral Compline? I pondered this, and even inquired of some colleagues who work in music sales and publishing, and nobody could identify a choral setting of Compline.
I took this as my invitation. In the two weeks following Easter this year, I composed a 30-minute a cappella polyphonic setting of choral Compline, which I have called "St. Mary's Service." I was inspired by our choir's practice of praying compline, and offer it to our church with thanksgiving.
God finds ways to speak to us. For me, learning about the offices in music history class, and routinely praying Compline with our own choir has enhanced my prayer life. I invite you to join on Sunday, Oct. 10th at 8:00 p.m. to pray Compline with us, and continue our unbroken conversation with God.