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St. Michael’s College Campus Ministry setting the tone for Holy Week through song and prayer

Posted : Mar-20-2024

On Sunday, March 24 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto will be hosting a day-long workshop on the spirituality and practice of praying the Divine Office, concluding with Sung Vespers. Christina Labriola, Director of Music at the USMC Office of Campus Ministry (and artistic director of the St. Mike’s Schola Cantorum) took some time to answer some questions about this unique event.

For more information and to register, please click here.

1. To start us off, tell our readers about yourself and how this Liturgy of the Hours Workshop came to be.St. Mike's Campus Ministry

As Director of Music in the Office of Campus Ministry at St. Mike’s, I’m passionate about liturgy, prayer, and the shared experience of musical beauty as a powerful means of encounter with God. This event, the first we’re offering of its kind, was born of a desire to offer a time and space for those interested in liturgical music to come together for shared reflection, singing, and prayer at the cusp of Holy Week. The workshop combines an educational, theological element – a presentation on the spiritual significance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of the Church – with a practical opportunity to learn and sing some beautiful chants, hymns, and polyphony for the celebration of Vespers on Palm Sunday evening.

2. What exactly are the “Liturgy of the Hours”?

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is the daily prayer of the Church, marking and sanctifying the hours of each day through psalmody, antiphons, canticles, readings, and prayers. Rooted in the psalms, the Hours are a beautiful and ancient way that the Church offers a continual “sacrifice of praise” to God, a means of “praying without ceasing” by offering up praise, thanks, and intercession. This practice of daily prayer at multiple times throughout the day, incorporating the psalms, is drawn from early Church practice rooted in Jewish tradition. Monasticism brought greater discipline and structure to the practice, which was revised during Vatican II. Of the five canonical Hours, the two most important are Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers). Not only ordained, religious, and consecrated, but all the laity, too, are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, whether individually or communally. Ultimately, through the Divine Office, the Church joins with Christ in offering an eternal hymn of praise to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

3. The Liturgy of the Hours Workshop at St. Michael’s College is happening on Palm Sunday, just as we are about to enter Holy Week. Given this timing, and seeing that it is being held in what Pope Francis has declared “A Year of Prayer”, what are you hoping attendees will get out of this workshop?

This workshop has a three-fold aim: first, to offer those who are new to the Liturgy of the Hours an opportunity to learn about and to participate in this beautiful tradition; second, to offer those who are already familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours an opportunity to pray and chant it in a new context, enhanced by special choral music chosen for the occasion; and third, to create a contemplative experience, marked by beauty, that will refresh and ready us to embark upon Holy Week with hearts focused on the Lord. The event has a bit of everything: it’s part lecture, part retreat, and part choral rehearsal, all culminating in the liturgical celebration itself. It’s intended to sit at that confluence of spirituality, prayer, community, liturgy, music, and beauty that touches so deeply the roots of our faith. Finally, the Liturgy of the Hours are a gift of prayer, engaging many dimensions of the Christian understanding of prayer as a vital relationship with the living God. It’s especially fitting to spend time reflecting on their meaning and participating in a communal experience of this form of prayer especially during our current “Year of Prayer.”

4. The workshop is being led by yourself, the Director of Music and leader of the St. Mike’s Schola and begins with a theological reflection by Professor Michael O’Connor who also happens to be the founder of the St. Michael’s Schola Cantorum. There will be an opportunity to learn the psalm tones, a choral rehearsal and Vespers sung in the evening. Does this mean that it is for highly trained singers only? What would you say to someone not so confident in singing to encourage them to attend?

St. Mike's Campus Ministry

To sing is to pray twice, as the old saying goes – and this workshop takes that adage very much to heart! Because the day will culminate in Sung Vespers, there will be a focus on learning the chants, hymns, and choral music that will enliven the celebration. However, advanced musical training is not a prerequisite! The emphasis instead is on the transformative power and beauty of singing together and on uniting voices and hearts in communal prayer uplifted through song. The workshop seeks to be encouraging and welcoming of all, regardless of musical skill level or liturgical knowledge. An interest in liturgy and music, plus a willingness and openness to try, learn, give, and receive are all that are needed. While some musical experience is useful, such as playing an instrument or singing in a church or community choir, we’ve also given some thought to accommodating varying levels of experience in the music we’ll prepare, so that there truly will be a place for every voice. Conversely, perhaps you are an experienced singer with a curiosity about, but not much experience in, the formal prayer of the Church. You, too, are welcome!

For more information on this workshop including a schedule for the day, please visit the St. Michael’s College website. To register, please click here.