Many thanks to Paul, a reader (God help him) of this silly blog, who met me at Carmel at Christmas, and subsequently let me know that at St Francis, which according to the actual borders on the ground is my local parish here in Launceston (though I hardly ever go there!), there was a group of parishioners interested in Gregorian chant about to meet - so I braved the cold and fog and went along...
Fr Allan, a very pleasant Franciscan (new to me, though 14 months in the parish), was there already, at the organ. Once a half-dozen of us interested persons assembled, and he'd led us in a Glory be, prayer, and a "St Cecilia, pray for us, St Gregory, pray for us" - it's nice to see humble unaffected piety in a priest - we began: fortuitously (or providentially) enough, this evening is the eve of St John Baptist, and Fr explained, from the handout he'd provided, that the familiar sol-fa scale derives from the first verse of the hymn Ut queant laxis, whose words are a supplication to St John that he cleanse sordid lips to sing the wonders of his life.
To begin with, Father had provided us with In manus tuas Domine, the usual form of the Responsory at Compline, the night prayer of the Church: I can't say how good it was to be among those singing the chant again! In due course we practiced a simple syllabic setting of the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei; and concluded learning for now (the hour having ended) with the first stanza of the Veni Creator Spiritus. As a final prayer, we sang through In manus tuas once more, said a Glory be and prayed a blessing. It made for a very gentle meditative closure of our first meeting.
Clearly Father has a lot of knowledge of the chant: and I recognize from his photocopies that some of the chants come from an old edition of the Liber Usualis with English rubrics, while other items from an old-rite Compline book put out only a few years back (the font is distinctive).
As I mentioned to the others, I was actually baptized there in the church at yon font, only a few metres from where we were practising around the organ: my spiritual birthplace, strange to think! Please remember, however, poor Fr Anthony, who baptized me, but has left the ministry subsequently.
Afterward, while lingering in the narthex and saying a quick goodbye, to my embarrassment-and-gladness (let's be honest, we all like a bit of attention), it turned out three of my fellow singers knew of me via this blog; Hi, Paul, Mary, and Daniel- it'll be good to see you, Fr, and everyone next week on Tuesday at 7.30 pm.