Praying at the Holy Sepulchre: the new community liturgical booklets

Praying at the Holy Sepulchre: the new community liturgical booklets

After many years of work, the new edition of the 53 liturgical booklets for the prayers of the Franciscan community of the Holy Sepulchre has been completed. They are all available and free for download in the section of the Liturgy (Resources for the Liturgy at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre) on the website of the Custody.

The President of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, fra Stéphane Milovitch completed the long operation of revising and updating the sung liturgies.

A liturgist,  fra Stéphane has been engaged in readapting the Gregorian antiphon and the melodies in the prayer of the community of the Holy Sepulchre for five years: this community has been in the Basilica for 700 years together with the other Oriental communities, with which relations are regulated by the Status Quo.

We asked him to enlighten us on these precious texts:

Fra Stéphane, the liturgical question in the Basilica fo the Holy Sepulchre is truly a unique one, because it has always been linked to the Status Quo.

Yes, the liturgy is very particular and indissolubly linked with the history of this place. For centuries, until the middle of the 19th century, the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was locked, morning and evening, with limited openings independent of the friars’ wishes. For this reason, the liturgy has greatly developed: there was no space for the apostolate and therefore the friars’ activity was structured around prayer and the liturgy of the hours.

The friars of the Sepulchre had to live and survive in this closed atmosphere, adapting the prayer times to the hours of the other communities, which were also closed around the tomb of Christ Risen. The Status Quo which regulates the spaces today, the times and the lengths of our functions is the one that the friars had more than 150 years ago.

With the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, we went from the Liturgia tridentina to the Liturgia Horarum with a new distribution of psalms, texts and  prayer times: what happened at the Sepulchre?

The Status Quo here at the Holy Sepulchre did not allow any variation of times. The Liturgy of the Hours of the Franciscan community therefore begins at 11.30 p.m. with matins and lauds, two offices which are celebrated in the heart of the night. Then private Masses follow on in the different shrines of the Basilica until the community sung Mass at 6.30 a.m.

Here in the Sepulchre, however, the Status Quo allows us to keep some night prayers sung in Gregorian for feast-days and solemnities. While the texts of the liturgy are established univocally in the books of the Liturgical Reform, the question of the melody remains more complex.

Initially, immediately following the Vatican II reform, the  Franciscan Emílio Scheid was able to adapt the new Liturgy of the Hours  to the pre-Council melodies, saving, in a certain way, the dignity of the sung office. However, an update became necessary as time went over, because musicological research in ancient Gregorian chanting had made progress. Especially thanks to the work of the French Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes who, since about 1880 have carried on a highly detailed study on Gregorian melodies, publishing the “updated” antiphons.

So your work has been to adapt the texts to the melodies of Solesmes?

Exactly. Complex, long and painstaking work. Now all our offices of the Hours are based, we can say, on the right texts and on “more correct” and official music: i.e. a Gregorian melody that seeks more to approach the authentic one, at least according to the musicologists of Solesmes.

I am not a musician, but in this work I have also been able to rely on the invaluable help of fra Giuseppe Gaffurini, Cantor of the Holy Sepulchre, of fra Johnny Jallouf, deputy director of the Magnificat music school and – over time- also of other volunteers.

Can you describe the graphic appearance of the new booklets?

These 53 booklets refer to 53 liturgies that contemplate th sung nocturnal office. The colour follows that of the liturgy of the day and the images on the covers are taken from works of art, paintings,  and liturgical objects preserved in our convents and in our communities. This also allows giving visibility to the enormous artistic heritage of the Custody of the Holy Land. Many ofthese works will also be presented in the section of  History and Art of the Terra Sancta Museum .

St Francis’s Rule says “the friars must pray according to the model and the rules of the Roman Church”: now we can say we pray “with the Church of Roma” more appropriately. With these new booklets, we also give all those who want to pray with our community the chance  to follow the nocturnal office and the morning liturgy, lauds and the community sung Mass more easily.

Silvia Giuliano