As evening falls on Palm Sunday and the Catholic Church begins the most solemn week of the liturgical year, the faithful are invited to participate in a vespers service at Immaculate Conception Parish in Bay View beginning at 6 p.m.

It is, say longtime attendees, the perfect way to enter into the observance of Holy Week.

The majority of the music for the service was composed by Fr. David Windsor, director of Pastoral Counseling for St. Francis de Sales Seminary. He originally wrote the pieces while serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the late 1970s. While in Los Angeles, he also received a bachelor’s degree in organ performance and master’s degree in musicology from California State University.

The service has been performed annually in the Milwaukee archdiocese since 2003, when Fr. Windsor joined the faculty of St. Francis de Sales Seminary. Previously, it had taken place at the seminary, Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin and St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield. This year, Immaculate Conception’s pastor Fr. Philip Schumaker will be the cantor, and Fr. Brad Krawczyk will be the presider. In addition to the pieces by Fr. Windsor, Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Popule Meus,” a traditional piece from the 16th century that refers to the words spoken by Christ from the cross (the Reproaches), will be performed by a part of the seminary schola (all-male choir).

Fr. Windsor described the service as a unique opportunity for the laity to familiarize themselves with the daily prayer of the church, the Liturgy of the Hours, of which vespers is one of the most sacred components. The term ‘vespers’ refers to the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. Said by all bishops, priests, deacons and religious, it is also employed by many lay people to sanctify the passing of the day with prayer. Morning prayer (“lauds”) and evening prayer are considered the most important of the Liturgy of the Office, and are sometimes referred to as the “hinge hours.”

These hours both include a Gospel canticle; for Vespers, it is the “magnificat,” or Canticle of Mary, proclaimed by the Blessed Mother in Luke 1:46-55. For the Palm Sunday vespers, a portion of the St. Francis de Sales schola of seminarians will perform an 18th-century composition for the Magnificat featuring both chant and figured music.

“Catholics are familiar with the liturgy of the Eucharist because most practicing Catholics are certainly going to the Eucharist. But most Catholics are unaware that there is another part to the liturgy. It’s an official prayer of the church in the same way Mass is an official prayer of the church,” said Fr. Windsor of the Daily Office. “It’s another way of experiencing that prayer – set to music.”

About 150 people usually attend the Palm Sunday vespers service from various parishes throughout the archdiocese. Tom Van Himbergen and his wife Lynne have made it an annual tradition.

“We have enjoyed attending and participating for many years. The music is outstanding, which provides a calming start to Holy Week,” he said. “It sets the tone for the most important week of the liturgical year.”