Choral Matins

Maintaining a tradition begun two years ago, this year's Choral Matins will be on Sunday, March 20th, the Second Sunday of Lent at the 11:15 a.m. service. In order to properly understand the mystical simplicity of this service, one must first go back to the earliest formal description of Matins which was written in the early seventh century by the founder of western monasticism, St. Benedict (c. 480-543). St. Benedict called the first hour of the day Matins - "pertaining to morning." In many times and places, daybreak has been a time of prayer. The Jews prayed in their synagogues at sunrise as well as at other times each day. This Jewish pattern of prayer formed the basis of the Christian monastic Daily Office, with its prayers or "hours" at seven times in each day that St. Benedict described.

When the Reformation swept across Europe in the early sixteenth century, the Anglican Church broke away from Rome. King Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries, where for hundreds of years monks had measured their days according to the Hours, eight times during the day from dawn to darkness when a daily cycle of prayer was said or sung. (Matins just before daybreak; Lauds at sunrise; Prime at 6am; Terce at 9am; Sext at noon; Nones at 3pm; Vespers at sunset; and Compline immediately after Vespers) In the sixteenth century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), revised these services into a Daily Office for the first English Prayer Book (1549) and reduced the numbers of services to two - one for morning (Matins) and one for evening (Vespers). Cranmer combined portions of matins, lauds, and prime to form his Matins. In the Second English Prayer Book (published in 1552), the morning service was given its present name, Morning Prayer. Morning Prayer was once the chief Sunday service in most Anglican churches on three out of four Sundays, the First Sunday usually being a celebration of Holy Communion. This practice was changed when the 1979 Book of Common was adopted and recognized Holy Eucharist as the "principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day."

Our Choral Matins service ("choral" referring to the fact that the choir will be participating and sing many of the portions of the service that would ordinarily be spoken) will begin with the Invitatory and Psalter. The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, two of several Canticles appointed for the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer will follow the first and second lessons, respectively. This year's important musical offering will be the Misersere Mei composed by Gregorio Allegri (date-1652). This chant for two choirs has been traditionally sung at the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week every year since sometime before 1638.

Derek Nickels