I am disappointed: Vespers at St Mary´s Cathedral, Sydney, are far better than Vespers at Cologne Cathedral. The Office began promisingly enough, with a procession of thurifer, crucifer and cerifers, choristers and the celebrant in biretta and cope (the lot preceded by some sort of behatted and red-gowned beadle with a wand or mace) entering the choir where we layfolk had arranged ourselves not far from the high altar and the shrine of the Three Kings of Cologne, the relics of the Magi; but as soon as the chanting began, I was disappointed - the chanting seemed lifeless (though the organ accompaniment was grand). I could easily sing louder than the sixteen in the schola (and almost did before I restrained myself), and choirs I´ve sung with in Australia could have done a better job. How disappointing.
More seriously, the Office itself was not done properly. While the booklet provided promised Vespers of Trinity Sunday, none of the antiphons so much as mentioned it - the Magnificat antiphon was, I am sure, taken from Lent! And very annoyingly, this modern Office in Gregorian chant had been abbreviated - after the two psalms, there was no New Testament canticle at all, instead they skipped ahead to the short reading read in German (and a long homily). It is not right to do that. At least the high altar was censed at the Magnificat rather than the modern forward altar at the crossing.
As is allowable though regrettable, the expected short responsory was replaced by a fragment that sounded very much like Taize material (so much for Vespers in Gregorian chant!). But most oddly of all, after the intercessions (read in German, from the correct Office at least, with response sung in Latin) and chanted Pater noster, before the Collect (in German), Dominus vobiscum, Benedicat vos and Benedicamus Domino, was interpolated a silent pause, that rather puerile round Da pacem Domine, another Taize-style antiphon, and the Nunc dimittis from Compline! No wonder the English notice advertised the service as Evensong: Catholics aping Anglicans? And really it is liturgical nonsense to insert all manner of membra disjecta between the Lord´s Prayer and the Collect: far better to add such devotions later (better still, to actually sing that which should have been included - the N.T. Canticle - and omit such irrelevant material).
At least, to conclude, something highly appropriate was added and in a most Catholic manner: the servers, choir, priest and congregation all processed to the miraculous image of Our Lady in the north transept whilst the organ played, and then we sang Salve Regina while it was censed.
Still, it disappoints me to find that the liturgy, while conducted most reverently, was so misunderstood as to have the wrong antiphons sung, one essential part removed, and several irrelevant elements inserted. Compare it to Vespers at the Cathedral in Sydney (see what I wrote of it on this blog in July last year), where the chanting was perfect, the Magnificat sung in alternating chant and faux-bourdon, and, after Vespers, Benediction sung with several pieces of polyphony. To be honest, I had expected polyphonic Vespers, of some magnificence, and didn´t get them.
It´s a hard life.