Singing the Hours: Musical Resources for Benedictine Daily Prayer

For many years since college, the staple of my private devotional life has been the Daily Office in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP). I’ve sampled other prayer books and breviaries over the years, but nothing has come close to the BCP. Nothing, that is, until I discovered Benedictine Daily Prayer (BDP).

I fell in love with this particular breviary because of its close similarity to the Office as it recited at my home monastery, St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers. It offers seven offices daily, with a robust cycle of longer biblical readings at Vigils. Of all the prayer books currently on the market, this is the one that most closely resembles the Liturgy of the Hours as prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict and the Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae. The editor of BDP, the Rev. Dr. Maxwell Johnson of the University of Notre Dame, has done an amazing job with this project. With the recent release of a revised edition, Dr. Johnson has even managed to improve on excellence. This volume is great for Benedictine oblates, monastic enthusiasts, or anyone else who is passionate about the Divine Office. Choosing between BDP and my long-beloved BCP has been a difficult challenge.

You can order a copy of BDP from the publisher by clicking here.

The biggest challenge with BDP is the lack of musical resources available for those, like me, who prefer to chant the Office. I have managed to piece together several helpful resources in this regard and would like to share them here. I would be remiss if I did not give credit to Dr. Johnson for recommending several of these resources to me.

The Mundelein Psalter <— Click here for link

This is a fantastic resource for chanting the Office. It was designed for chanting the Liturgy of the Hours for the Roman Catholic Church. There is a selection of lovely, simple psalm tones that are easily learned. There are hymn tunes from the Liber Usualis for most of the major office hymns. These could be easily adapted for the psalms and hymns in the BDP. Frankly, some of the hymn translations in the Mundelein Psalter are better than the ones in BDP. Additionally, there are tones for chanting the other parts of the office, like the opening versicle and doxology, the litany, and the Lord’s Prayer. I also really like that the editors printed the full text of the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours in the front of the book. The website (linked above) has several useful resources for learning the chants. It should be noted that the music in the Mundelein Psalter is printed in Gregorian notation. This system is different from the modern, five-line staff, but can be easily learned and is actually more adaptable than modern notation. The learning curve for Gregorian notation is steep at first, but well worth the effort, especially for those who are serious about chanting the Divine Office in the monastic style.

There are two significant downsides to the Mundelein Psalter. First, it is quite expensive (about $50). Second, it is almost a full breviary in itself (for the Roman LOTH), so you get a lot of material you don’t need and will likely never use. That being said, if it fits your budget, the Mundelein Psalter is an excellent resource for music and instruction.

The Lumen Christi Hymnal

This smaller, less expensive volume is great for the hymns. Like the Mundelein Psalter, many of these hymn translations are superior to the ones printed in BDP. The tunes are straight out of the Liber Usualis and are printed in modern notation (unlike the Mundelein Psalter). Also, I particularly appreciate that the Lumen Christi Hymnal includes tones for the Marian Antiphons in Latin. These are a beautiful way to end Compline just before bed.

[On a personal note, my very Presbyterian wife has come to love the Marian Antiphons by osmosis. She is usually settling into bed as I sing Compline in our room. One of the highlights of her day is when I “sing her to sleep” in Latin.]

St. Meinrad Psalm Tones

Click here for the tones in Gregorian notation

Click here to see them in modern notation

The first, best thing about these tones is that they are available for free. You can’t beat that on a budget. For those who don’t want to shell out the money for the Mundelein Psalter, these can be printed and used easily with the hymn tunes from the Lumen Christi Hymnal. St. Meinrad’s Archabbey is one of the largest and best-known Benedictine communities in the United States. Their tones are simple and elegant. Unlike the traditional Gregorian psalm tones, the St. Meinrad tones have more than two lines. This may be off-putting to strict traditionalists, but I am finding they have an elegance of their own that blends well with Gregorian chant. In many ways, I prefer them to the traditional tones for use with BDP because the multi-syllabic intonations and cadences of the Gregorian tones often don’t fit into the shorter psalm lines of the adapted Grail Psalms used by BDP.

Theses are the musical resources I am most familiar with. All of them have worked well for me in chanting the Divine Office as laid out in Benedictine Daily Prayer. I sincerely hope this is useful for others on the path.

3 thoughts on “Singing the Hours: Musical Resources for Benedictine Daily Prayer

      1. Gregorian. I am not musically inclined but can generally follow Gregorian notation. All 8 modes are used throughout, complete music for ordinary and propers, and a painstakingly accurate translation to english.

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