19 July 2011

The Carthusian Liturgy

The exercises of piety of the Carthusian are varied: all forms of prayer, meditation, contemplation, mental or vocal prayers, and spiritual reading are available to everyone, according to grace and temperament. But most important in his life is the singing or psalmody of the Canonical Office "which expresses the prayer of the universal Church." He accomplishes this duty either in church or in his cell. As well as the Canonical Office, the Carthusians recite the Office of Our Lady each day in their cells: they have inherited from Bruno and Guigo a great devotion to the Mother of God; each of the hours of this Office is recited in parallel with the corresponding canonical hour. Once a week they also recite the Office for the Dead.

At the Charterhouse, Matins and Lauds are always sung in full, and not just chanted. During these nocturnal vigils of prayer in the church (when at certain moments all the lights are extinguished), the contemplative soul can peacefully dwell on the riches of the liturgical text. All Carthusians have a great love for this long Office (two or three hours) in the middle of the night.

The Carthusian liturgical Offices are characterised by the simplicity of their plain-chant and the sobriety of the singing. Descant and musical arrangements have never been accepted in the Charterhouse, and the melodies of the repertoire have been preserved practically unchanged, right up to our day. All musical instruments are forbidden by the Rule.

It is certain that, in the first centuries of the Order, the musical executions were very basic. This is not surprising, considering the small number of religious, the austerity of their life, and the climatic conditions of some of the Houses. The Carthusian is more concerned with sincerity, than with the beauty of the singing: "Simplicity and measure should so regulate the chant that its hallmark will be a gravity which will encourage the spirit of devotion. For we should sing and praise the Lord with mind and voice." Far from being put off by it, people from outside have always appreciated this unadorned style of singing, which perfectly expresses contemplative prayer.

-Saint Bruno and the Carthusians-