"The Deer's Cry" draws its lyrics from a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.
As the months of isolation wear on in some states and others are beginning to reopen, we are entering an uncertain time that can pry on our already flaring anxieties. In such periods of strife it is the monastic tradition to rely upon loricas, or prayers recited with the intention of protection.
One of our favorite loricas is attributed to St. Patrick, called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” or “The Deer’s Cry,” which invokes the name of Christ in repetition against the forces that would see our faith’s fall. It is especially relevant in today’s pandemic, where we are uncertain from which direction the great coronavirus enemy might strike. A portion of the prayer states:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
“The Deer’s Cry” was put to music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in 2008. The music is written in the old hymn style of a motet, most popular during the Renaissance era, and it sounds as though it could have been written by Palestrina, with emotive chord changes that suit the seriousness of the lyrics.
In October of 2019, VOCES8 recorded this sublime rendition of “The Deer’s Cry,” featured above. Once again displaying a sensational understanding of sacred music, VOCES8 sings through the piece with perfect fluidity, which is much harder than it sounds considering the constant ebb and flow of the melody, especially in the lower male voice parts that have slowly changing rhythms to their response of “Christ with me.”
Although the song begins as a dirge, there is something so comforting in hearing the name of Christ invoked repeatedly. As the music swells it begins to sound more like a choir of angels calling for a miracle. It contains a message of hope, centered around a beautiful prayer from the patron saint of Ireland.