I am delighted to invite you to a new offering at St. Peter’s, St. Louis this year. As part of our Evensong series on the second Sunday of every month, the St. Peter’s Singers will lead A Meditation on the Passion of Christ on Palm Sunday, April 9 at 5:30 p.m.
What is this service? It is a compelling synthesis of ancient and modern. And, like Evensong, I hope that it can be a space for real contemplation and prayer, especially at the start of the holiest week of the liturgical year.
A couple weeks ago St. Louisans had the good fortune to be able to hear a performance of The Gospel According to the Other Mary by American composer John Adams, which is a rare modern setting of the Passion. In the program notes Paul Schiavo notes “because its inherent pain was at odds with Western culture’s increasingly determined pursuit of happiness, the Passion story lost popular standing among Christian chronicles to the more comforting Nativity tale during the 19th century and beyond.”
One of the benefits of this cultural affinity toward the Christmas story has been renewed attention to the musical form of the carol, largely music with a focus on the Nativity, but not exclusively. The popularity of carols was so great that it prompted the editors of the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols to call upon churches to hold “carol services” not only at Christmas time, but also Advent, Epiphany, Eastertide, and – why not? – Lent too! Indeed, within the Oxford Book of Carols a number of pieces of music marked for Lent and Holy Week can be found.
This impulse to use the carol to draw Christians deeper into their faith arose at an academic community where there was no liturgical observance of Holy Week. This place is St. John’s College, Cambridge (which also served as the source of the liturgy for our Advent Carol Service). The students of Cambridge University are not present during Holy Week, so a service was designed for the St. John’s College community to reflect on the mysteries of this key part of the Christian story beforehand. The service was designed in 1985 by the Dean of Chapel, the Rev. Andrew Macintosh, and the Organist, George Guest.
The original name of this service was “A Meditation on the Passion of Christ, with Carols,” though it should be noted that at St. John’s, and many other places where this service is offered, the designation “with Carols” has been dropped, and now many different types of music are used.
Read more on the on the St. Peter's, St. Louis website: Carols and the Passion: Drawing on Many Traditions for a Modern Meditation
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