Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Do We Still Sing the Divine Office in G?

Every year in late July we celebrate Heritage Day, giving thanks for Sisters who helped put down strong roots here in our monastery. A special part of the day is recalling Sisters who made their profession 100 years ago—who they were, what their lives were like. One of those professed in 1910 was Sister Ursuline Venne, a musician who was on mission in China between 1937 and 1948.

I spent weeks this spring reading the letters of the Sisters in China in preparation for a presentation, “In Their Own Words.” [for a podcast of a local radio program on these letters, click here.] In one of her letters, Sister Ursuline asks the prioress, “Do we still chant the Divine Office on G?” She said she blows G on the pitch pipe and one Sister starts chanting on a lower pitch and another on a higher. She asked to prioress to write right away and let her know “if we still chant on G.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks! Kaifeng, where the Sisters were, was under siege in the mid-1930s. The Japanese bombers came over regularly, destroying parts of the city. Refugees from the countryside were pouring into Kaifeng, seeking food and shelter. Wounded Chinese soldiers coming through the city on trains needed bandages changed. And Sister Ursuline wanted to know if the community still chanted the Divine Office on G.

The Divine Office, prayer in common, was without a doubt a significant part of the Sisters’ daily life in China. Our commitment to Liturgy of the Hours today is just as important in our daily lives. I think what Sister Ursuline was teaching me is that if the basic elements of our life in community are anchored, one need not sweat whatever else comes along. God is faithful. Pay attention to what is essential and God will help you face the rest.

Benedict puts it this way in Chapter 43 of the Rule: Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.

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