As I drove into town after supper on Sunday evening, the all-too-familiar boom, boom of some young man’s car stereo assaulted me. Otherwise, it was a lovely fall evening, just dark.
I was on my way to church for a bimonthly service of sung Compline, one of the ancient monastic offices that can be traced to the fourth century. It is the final service before bedtime, with the singing of psalms and the Nunc dimittis (the Canticle of Simeon). The version for the evening was partly from the Roman breviary as well as from the Book of Common Prayer.
The church was in partial darkness, illumined largely by the many votive candles in the windows and rood screen. A thurifer appeared from back, incensing the altar. We knelt in confession of our sins, followed by silence. Silence was easy with only seven of us, in addition to the choir.
And so began the psalms in plainsong. Tonight, they were sung by the men of our small, unpaid, but superbly trained choir. Then the lesson from Saint Matthew and a hymn. This old, fine, downtown church has a beautiful Schoenstein organ, recently built, and an organist more than capable of doing it justice. After the Nunc dimittis, the Lord’s Prayer, and collects, the choir and organ performed superbly to music by Haydn, “Trinity of Blessed Light.”
Then, they concluded (in Latin), “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope, hail! . . . show us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!”
Perhaps if this had cost a large sum to attend, like the local symphony that plays in a large theater, more would have come. The community is invited, and two of the seven of us were not members of the church.
Where are those who love contemplation? Who revere fine music? Are they watching the tube? Or listening to rock or country? Do they have so little musical training that they can only hear pop tunes? Aren’t there enough people in Sheboygan to fill this medium-sized church? Are there enough in other towns? Are there even other churches in those towns that offer this superb opportunity? What will the next generations know?