Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Let's get our church on!

I left the house tonight for choir feeling like total crap. The onset of a cold, horrible cramps, general malaise. Sucksville. I had taken a nap upon arrival at home and just did NOT want to get out of bed to go to choir. Le sigh.

But you know what, it's really frickin' hard to stay pouty and pitiful when surrounded by some fabulous people, making incredible music and preparing for the ultimate of spiritual experiences. It's as if God doesn't allow it. I went from mopey and near feverish this afternoon to dancing down the aisles to galavanting around the church during breaks. Thank God! ;-)

If you're not familiar with the concept of Holy week, it consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Tenebrae, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. A quick overview of each:
- Holy Thursday: the Last Supper, the washing of the feet (as Jesus did for his apostles), the last opportunity for Eucharist (communion) before Easter
- Good Friday: Jesus is crucified, Veneration of the Cross
- Tenebrae (friday also): Jesus is buried
- Easter Vigil: people gather to await the rising of Christ... starts very dark with candlelight, the great Alleluia is proclaimed again (Alleluia is not sung in the church throughout Lent), and everyone sits for a really long time as new Catholics are baptised, communed and confirmed.
- Easter Sunday: the fun parts of Vigil but in pretty pastel clothing (and little girls in frilly dresses in white patent mary janes with ruffled socks!)

While most "CAPE Catholics" (Christmas, Ashes, Palms, Easter) come for mostly the fun stuff (Ash Wednesday obv not 'fun'.... you can kinda tell by the name) - Christmas Carols, Easter lilies, rainbows, puppies, all that is happy - we in the choir know when the REALLY good stuff happens..... FRIDAY.

All Catholic churches will have a Good Friday service. This is very central to our Christianity, as it is the moment where Christ dies on a cross for us. Heavy stuff. It's a very introspective, meditative atmosphere as you ponder that reality. And then they pass the cross. Literally - it's essentially 'crowd surfed' over the congregation. From a choir perspective, we watch from above as each person bears that weight. Then everyone has the opportunity to go forward to genuflect at the cross, each silently expressing their gratitude, and leaving, singing "Stay here and keep watch with me... the hour has come."

Oh but wait.... there's more....

A very special and unique experience happens at 7pm -- The Office of Tenebrae. It's maybe not something you've heard of before, but it is a spiritual experience unlike any other.

Traditionally, Tenebrae was celebrated on Wed, Thurs and Fridays. From wiki: "Lighting was gradually reduced throughout the service. Initially 15 candles were lit and placed on a special stand known as a hearse, which were extinguished one by one after each psalm. The last candle was hidden beneath the altar, ending the service in total darkness. In some places the use of a strepitus (Latin for "great noise") was included as part of the service. The great noise was usually generated by slamming a book closed, banging a hymnal or breviary against the pew, or stomping on the floor, symbolizing the earthquake that followed Christ's death. This custom seems to have originated as a simple signal to depart in silence. Following the great noise a single candle, which had been hidden from view, was returned to the top of the hearse, signifying the return of Christ to the world with the Resurrection."

It's seriously unbelievable.... but you can't forget MUSIC.....

At Tenebrae, the Basilica Chamber Choir sings the Miserere by Allegri. Now, this piece is absolutely beautiful and instantly gives the feeling of meditation. But there's more to that story.... a pretty cool history, in fact (from wiki again):

Miserere by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri is a setting of Psalm 51 (50) composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during matins on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. It was the last of twelve falsobordone Miserere settings composed and chanted at the service since 1514 and the most popular: at some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music and it was only allowed to be performed at those particular services, adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication.

Although there were a handful of supposed transcriptions in various royal courts in Europe, none of them succeeded in capturing the beauty of the Miserere as performed annually in the Sistine Chapel. According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Some time during his travels, he met the British historian Dr Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. Once published, the ban was lifted and Allegri's Miserere has since become one of the most popular a cappella choral works now performed.

Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius.

All in all, it's an amazing experience and, in my opinion, the best service of the entire year. I've managed to get Andrea and Ana to commit to joining us, so hopefully it'll live up to my hype!

And there you have it.

1 comment:

  1. Your post was a very bright way to start my day! Thanks for the lessons on Tenebrae and Miserere - I learned a lot! I hope you're feeling better and I look forward to joining the choir on Friday!