Last night I participated in a Tenebrae service here at the seminary, which you can find here. Tenebrae was originally a part of the Divine Office for Holy Week previous to the liturgical changes called for by Vatican II and promulgated by Pope Paul VI. There is still some retention in the Liturgy of the Hours we now use, but it became the practice of some parishes and monasteries to retain the older form as a preparation for the final days of the life of Christ which we celebrate liturgically on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The basic format is: there are three nocturns followed by an silent Our Father, a closing prayer, and the strepitus, which if you watched in the video, is the loud noise at the very end. The strepitus symbolizes the earthquake at Jesus’ death. Each of the nocturns follows the story from garden of Gethsemane to Calvary, the pinnacle being the strepitus. Within each nocturn, there are three parts: a psalm, a reading, and response. As the liturgy moves on candles are extinguished from a large candelabra called a hearse.
The Schola Cantorum here at the seminary prepared pieces for the musical responses that are at the end each of the three nocturns. We tackled very difficult pieces. Believe you me, chanting with twenty men together at once, and sounding good, is very difficult. Trying to create one voice from twenty is a monumental task for amateurs like ourselves.
After the service, I was struck again by how moving it is. It proved to me that there are certain types, yes, types of music, specially suited for the liturgy. Yes, the church documents tell us Gregorian chant is the greatest form of liturgical music and is the scale by which all other liturgical music is compared, polyphony being the second loved but still very supported child. These forms of music conform themselves to the other-worldliness of the liturgy. They are intended for no other purpose and do not resemble any other form of non-liturgical music (unless those non-liturgical musics become derivative sub-genres of popular music that resemble the forms of chant and sacred polyphony). The allign the mind and the body toward that which is beyond complete intellection and sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. They are means by which the soul can encounter the divine. Through the creations of His creations, the Creator reveals Himself to His most beloved creatures.
If you didn’t before, click the link above and soak in some of the glory of God communicated through music. Be moved to sorrow for the sorrows of Christ in the garden. Be moved to hope by the small glimmer in Christ’s eye walking up to Calvary. Shudder in disgust and fear (the good kind) standing at the foot of the cross of the Savior of the world; and hear the loudness of the earthquake that shook the earth, the very cosmos commiserating with the death of Jesus Christ.