Spy Wednesday also brings one of my favorite liturgical happenings of the year: the Tenebrae service. Technically speaking, Tenebrae is celebrated on each day of the Triduum (traditionally very early in the morning, as it encompasses both Matins and Lauds), but most parishes only do it on Wednesday night. The format of the Tenebrae service is very loose these days, but traditionally, there are set readings for each nocturn of the Matins service. The first lesson from the first nocturn is the beginning of Lamentations, which I think is among the most beautiful text in all of Holy Scripture:
Alone she dwells, the city erewhile so populous; a widow now, once a queen among the nations; tributary now, that once had provinces at her command.
Be sure she weeps; there in the darkness her cheeks are wet with tears; of all that courted her, none left to console her, all those lovers grown weary of her, and turned into enemies.
Cruel the suffering and the bondage of Juda’s exile; that she must needs dwell among the heathen! Nor respite can she find; close at her heels the pursuit, and peril on either hand.
Desolate, the streets of Sion; no flocking, now, to the assembly; the gateways lie deserted. Sighs priest, and the maidens go in mourning, so bitter the grief that hangs over all.
Exultant, now, her invaders; with her enemies nothing goes amiss. For her many sins, the Lord has brought doom on her, and all her children have gone into exile, driven before the oppressor.
Fled is her beauty, the Sion that was once so fair; her chieftains have yielded their ground before the pursuer, strengthless as rams that can find no pasture.The utter desolation present in these words is almost overpowering. Given that we are about to embark upon the most sorrowful time of the Church year, it is a good time to reflect on these words.
This beautiful text has inspired some breathtaking musical compositions. For the past two years, we have done the setting by Tallis at the parish where I sing:
Seriously, one of the richest and most profound pieces of music I have ever heard. I also came across another setting by Victoria on YouTube that also sounds lovely.
And off we go into the Triduum. In just three days from now, we will be celebrating the Paschal Vigil...hard to believe, isn't it?