The full, round harmonies of the “Gloria Patria,” the “Magnificat,” and the “Nunc Dimittis,” flew to the oak rafters before falling softly over the bowed heads in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church Sunday.
A full choir, comprised of Hillsdale College students, faculty and community members came together to participate in a Choral Evensong, one of the few Holy Trinity holds each year, to celebrate All Saints Day, and the presence of Bishop Rev. Julian Dobbs. Below the choir balcony, the pews overflowed with parish members eager to participate in the evening service.
The service moved through various sung psalms and prayers into two scripture readings, one from Isaiah and one from Revelation, and concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving followed by an interlude from a Widor Symphony, performed on the organ to the scene of altar boys extinguishing the church candles as parishioners proceded out of the church.
More than 100 people squeezed into the small church. The rarity of the service makes it even more attractive to community members, said Rev. Adam Rick, though he lamented that Holy Trinity only has the musical capacity to hold the event a few times a year.
The Anglican tradition of Evensong stems from the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer, which lays out the morning and evening prayer service that Anglicans still use today.
However, the tradition of daily morning and evening prayer for Anglicans reaches back even farther to monks in the Middle Ages who used to pray in a chant eight times a day.
The Book of Common Prayer narrowed the service down to two times a day, and simplified some of the language to make it more accessible to the common churchgoer. This more accessible version also features two “lessons” from the gospel in each service. The yearlong schedule of scripture reading that accompanies the morning and evening services would lead participants who, in the 16th century, often did not have a Bible at home, through the entirety of the four gospels.
However, this Sunday’s service was special in that it was sung.
For senior and Holy Trinity choir member Henry Brink, this was the most important part.
“I love singing, I love liturgical music. I love singing liturgical music,” Brink said. “They say to sing is to pray twice. I love singing as a devotional thing.”
Father Rick explained that committing to the extra time, practice, and actual act of singing the evening prayer bears a certain extra significance.
“First, it is beautiful,” Rick said. “But also, the way music forms in our brain is a different location than the rest of verbal location. So we remember something longer when we have sung it. It gets the gospel theology even deeper into the soul than if you had just heard it.”
Rick added that the Bible frequently portrays heavenly worship in which saints sing to God.
“There is something primordial, or almost divine about song and poetry,” Rick said. “By singing here on earth, we are getting a glimpse of the heavenly chorus in heaven.”
While the choir was magnificent, Father Rick said that even without the music there is something essential about praying in the evening. The death of day can be symbolic of human mortality. Reflecting on Christian death at the end of the day while falling asleep provides an opportunity to be mindful of human mortality from the perspective of the gospels.
Junior Paul Esposito began to attend Holy Trinity his sophomore year, but this was the first Choral Evensong he has attended.
“The choral part and the spoken part both work together to not only communicate that this is a work of art that expresses the beauty of God,” Esposito said, “but it is also an opportunity for the person to participate in the worship and understand what is actually being communicated.”