An annual Advent tradition and prayer service will again take place at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, and will be open to members of the community.
Solemn Advent vespers will take place in the seminary's St. John Vianney Chapel on Dec. 6, at 4 p.m. the second Sunday of Advent, with Bishop Richard J. Malone presiding. It will include music by the Christ the King Seminary Festival Chorus.
The community, including seminarians and their families, graduate students, faculty, staff and seminary benefactors and supporters, has been invited to participate in this evening prayer service. Alan Lukas, director of music for the seminary and the diocese, will be leading the chorus, made up of seminarians, faculty and others at the seminary, through a selected arrangement of Scripture passages and sacred songs.
"The vesper service, including musical prelude, is being held on the second Sunday of Advent," said Christ the King Seminary faculty member Father John Mack, who is helping the seminary organize the service along with other seminary staff. "The vespers are a prayer service that include Scripture, mainly Psalms, that are sung or chanted, in addition to Scripture reading and a reflection."
Since the service will be solemn vespers, they will be mostly sung. The word "vespers" refers to a very specific type of evening prayer and is not the same as a Mass.
"It is a service of the Word, and it is meant to help people prepare, hopefully, for the time of Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas," Father Mack said. "We have been having the vespers here, at Christ the King Seminary in the St. John Vianney Chapel, for a number of years. It's a prayer service, and usually there is a musical prelude that the festival chorus presents to the congregation beforehand."
These musical preludes help supplement the prayer experience, and Father Mack said this furthers the end goal of making this service in the Advent spirit of watching, waiting and longing. The service is also meant to encourage people to have their hearts be a "dwelling place for God," Father Mack said.
To add to the season, the list of music selections includes such selections as "Call to Advent," by J. Jerome Williams and "Rejoice, O Jerusalem, Behold Thy King Cometh," by Healey Willan. Vesper selections chosen for the prayer service will include the traditional Advent carol "On Jordan's Bank," as well as selections of Psalm 141, Psalm 122 and the Revelation Canticle 19: 1-7.
"The Psalms that we'll be using are Psalms usually used for the Sunday evening prayer, so we will just be setting those to music," Father Mack said. "It's not like we're creating something new. We're basically doing the liturgy of the hours, the evening prayer, which is really the prayer of the Church that we pray every day. We're just having to do it in a more solemn manner."
Father Mack reiterated that everyone is welcome to the event which will also include seminarians. Seminarians will be part of the chorus which will also include lay volunteers who enjoy singing.
"They volunteer their time because they enjoy being a part not only of the Advent vespers, but the diocesan festival chorus also sings for the chrism Mass downtown, and also for priesthood ordinations," Father Mack said. "Seminarians will be present, and they'll be participating in several different ways, including in the chorus. Some will be ushers, but they'll all be present in the congregation.
Father Mack also said having people from throughout the diocese at the service also adds to the significance of the vesper service. He said the music is beautiful and the seminary chapel is a beautiful place for prayer, worship and especially for musical prayer.
"It's one of those Advent traditions that help us to just take a step back and, in the midst of the busyness of December, to sort of still our hearts and prepare for all of the celebrations of Christmas," Father Mack said. "For me, this is one of the most beautiful things that we do during Advent time, not only just at the seminary, but as a whole. We've been doing it for a number of years and people from the area look forward to coming here and participating in the service, so there's a sense of continuity."