Saturday, April 4, 2009

pre-Paschal events, tenebræ

For the byzantines, and others using the gregorian calendar, to-day is Lazarus Saturday. To-morrow is Palm Sunday, some german churches wheel in a palmesel figure, a statue of Christ on an ass. The poles have a lamentation service, Gorzkie zale, throughout lent, similar to the way of the cross and to tenebræ. The spaniards have parades.

I have been busy with latin, tenebræ, singing practice. It will, probably, be the first time since 1955, that, at Saint Stephen, Cleveland*, tenebræ in the original form will be done. I would like to know, how many times it has been done in the entire diocese in this form since.

In this format, it is the combined matins and lauds for Holy Thursday. Matins chant the psalms 68 to 76, the beginning of Jeremias’ Lamentations, responses and antiphons; in addition: Augustine on part of psalm 54, and a selection of Paul to the Corinthians is read. Lauds has four psalms, and the canticles of Moses and Zacharias (the Benedictus), and antiphons. In other forms, it is truncated, and other readings may be used, but the Miserere (ps.50) of David, and Jeremias
cry over Jerusalem are generally retained.

The tenebræ hearse is a triangular candelabrum used for this service since, at least, the seventh century. It is triangular with fifteen prickets. This hearse was also used during the funeral mass, and placed by the casket, and now the wagon, that carries the casket, is called the hearse. At the end of each psalm a candle (unbleached wax taper, preferably) is snuffed, until the last candle, remaining lit, is taken away; this candle represents Christ and returns after the strepitus. There are six candles on the altar, that are snuffed, consecutively, at the last six verses of the Benedictus. The antiphon, that begins Christus Factus est, has the last candle leave.

The strepitus, latin for din, or loud noise, or crash, is the theatrical climax. The church is in darkness total and silent, and then an unexpected, isolated sound terrifies those, whom, do not know about it. This can be the most, memorable moment of any tenebræ service. I vaguely remember a rain storm, occurring one night, to help the dramatics. The theatre for the strepitus has possibilities. The simplest is to drop a phonebook from the choir loft. There is a musical instrument sheet of bronze or brass, a tonitruone, that can be used; a thunder sheet, or piece of sheet metal used for ventilation ducts could be shook, one can strike wood with a heavy, hand hammer, or lay both forearms across an organ keyboard. Sixteen foot pipes would make a great sound.

There is much symbolism, and much interpretation. The strepitus is the tomb closing, the tomb opening, the destruction of the first temple, the third temple, the earthquake of the crucifixion. The Christ candle is joined by the eleven apostles and the three Maries.

While going over the practice singing, I was hit with the eloquence of Saint Jerome’s latin. He was a ciceronian. The joy of the hebrews over the destruction of faro’s army is also evident.
―Tu confregísti cápita dracónis ; dedísti eum escam pópulis Æthíopum. (Ps. 73. v.14)
Thou hast smashed the heads of the dragon [faro’s army]; and given it as meal to the ethiopians.
―vox tonítrui tui in rota. Illuxérunt coruscatió nes tuæ orbi terræ ; commóta est, et contrémuit terra. (Ps. 76. v.19)
the voice of thy thunder in a wheel. Thy lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled.DRC
―equum et ascensórem dejécit in mare. (Exodus xv. 1b)
horse and his ascendant [usually trans. rider] He has thrown [poured, deposed] into the sea.
―currus Pharaónis et exércitum ejus projécit in mare : elécti príncipes ejus submérsi sunt in mari Rubro. (Exodus xv. 4)
Pharao's chariots and his army he hath cast into the sea: his chosen captains are drowned in the Red Sea.
*6.30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 April 2009.
postscriptum: in this
tenebræ, there was a very muted strepitus, it consisted of rapping the missals, but there was an addition, the throwing of thirty silver coins onto the marble steps.

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