Oculi Mei – Introit for 3rd Sunday in Lent

A reflection on the difficulties of the Introit for the 3rd Sunday in Lent:-

Singing the introit instead of a processional hymn might be the ideal in the Ordinary Form but in practice it is challenging. It excludes the congregation and it excludes half the choir.

This Sunday, in both the EF and OF masses we are singing or some may say struggling through the same introit.

‘Oculi Mei Semper ad Dominum

My eyes are always towards the Lord

qui a ipse evélet de láqueo pedes meos :

for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare:’

Personally, I think this is a really tough Introit. I struggle with Mode 7. I haven’t sung a great deal in Mode 7 and the pieces I am familiar with tend to have some sense of fearful apprehension associated with them. The ‘Lauda Sion’  for example, THAT sequence for Corpus Christi, a test of anyone’s physical and mental endurance – mode 7. The ‘Hosannah Filio’ which is always sung in great chaos as people jostle to get to their places outside, often in the wind and rain, as Palm Sunday commences, is Mode 7. The ‘In Paradisum’ and so on.

So with that back history of Mode 7, the subject of this Third Sunday Introit seems particularly apt. We see the psalmist in the pit of darkness looking up to the light asking merciful God to free his feet from the snares of sin and despair. It could almost be a metaphor for the singer struggling for their notes as they reach for that first 5th on the ‘Oc’ of ‘Oculi, that trademark fifth that begins so many Mode 7 pieces of chant.   As we continue, lingering briefly on ‘semper’ to reinforce our prayerful intentions, we launch with great gusto into the second line, ‘evelet’, the highest point in the Introit.

‘Evello‘ means to tear out, to root out, to remove. ‘Laquem‘ can be a snare, a trap or even a noose.

From this point of great determination the psalmist looks back towards the darkness and proclaims,

et miserere mei.’

Have Mercy on me.”

As we sing the notes quietly at this point, we acknowledge our humility and our failings.

Quonium unicus et pauper sum ego.”

“For I am alone and poor.”

The words become difficult to say, and so the music continues to be equally formidable. The two liquescents on ‘et pauper’ remind us to tread carefully through the syllables. These words have to be said with great sincerity or the intention is lost.

This Introit is difficult. The text is challenging. The neumes are challenging. The tonality is challenging. We are not even half way through Lent and the singers could be hitting their musical equivalent of the ‘Dark night of the Soul.’ We can either keep on struggling to learn these Lenten Introits or chuck the Graduale in the corner and go back to singing a hymn at the beginning. A hymn would be much easier after all.

‘Ad te Domine levávi ánimam meam ; Deus meus, in te confido, non erubéscam.”

‘To you Lord I lift up my soul : My Lord, I confide in you, I am not ashamed.”

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