Dear friends, this week and next, in view of Easter, we are not bringing out any regularly scheduled programming. Nevertheless, we thought it fitting to bring you some meditative reflections on the significance of this week in the life of the Church and of all those, who profess her creed.
In this special edition, we’ll be reflecting first on Holy Week in general, and on this Holy Week in particular.
Nowhere is it more visible – to those with eyes to see – that the Church is the Body of Christ, than in her liturgical life, and so at no time more clearly than during Holy Week.
Her official prayer is tense, taut, more and more so as the Week progresses; the Propers are terse, pregnant with anticipation and foreboding; her music wanes, tempos become irregular, harmonies withering as the hour of Passion approaches; then, all erupts in a song of lament to break the heart and shatter the sky, and then all tone gives way to thunder, and thunder to a soul-slaying murmur on Good Friday, with the cacophony of a death rattle, then…silence, and the darkness of the tomb; sometime later, a still, small voice pierces the silent but unquiet gloom, and a light flickers, grows, and spreads to fill the universe with its splendor and its glory, and a song of deathless joy fills the world.
Seven days, to mirror the Seven Days of Creation: we begin with a riot of color and pomp, as Our Lord enters the Holy City, Jerusalem; as the week progresses, the sounds and the colors and even the textures and olfactory delights first grow, then quickly fade and darken; they lose their strength, their vital complexity; on Good Friday, we are left only with the clang and clatter of the crotalus; then, silence.
Gaudenzio Ferrari, Stories of life and passion of Christ, fresco, 1513, Church of S.M. delle Grazie, Varallo Sesia, Italy, via Wikimedia Commons
Holy Saturday, the Seventh Day, Our Lord rests: not in glorious regal and imperial presidency over His creation, which He made for His abode and dwelling place among his creatures, with Men to be his stewards in the Garden; this is the silent sleep of death.
All creation is plunged into utter darkness.
Then, out of the darkling silence, a glimmering light, and a single, still sad and solemn note, that together split the night: Lumen Christi. Deo Gratias.
Then, not a riot, but a song of exultation and of praise: rising from beneath the basement of Time, a Song of Victory, waiting to be sung since before the fashioning of the world.
Exsultet iam angelica turba caelorum exsultent divina mysteria et pro tanti Regis victoria, tuba insonet salutaris. Let now the heavenly hosts of angels rejoice let the living mysteries be joyfully celebrated: and let a sacred trumpet proclaim the victory of so great a King.
Read the whole text of the Exultet at Preces Latinae
Reflections on the pitch and moment of this week, in which the whole course of history – from the first casting of light, to the cold failure of the universe – is played out for us in a pageant mysteriously more real than you or I – can often give rise to sentiments of penitence, gratitude, and deep delight.
The past several years, running, this has been the case for me: no matter what has been going on in my life, Holy Week has presented itself to me as a time of consolation.
This Week is different.
This Week for me is signed by dryness: I rise and work and eat and sleep a little, answer letters and run errands, and the world seems to fall apart.
If I am honest, I will say that I am angry – and I believe my anger to be righteous.
Then, I reflect that the Iscariot was worldly wise, politically savvy, and as legitimately aggrieved as almost any other member of his people.
That is as it must be, I suppose – and there, but for the Grace of God, go I (there go we all).
There is, however, something I have described elsewhere as a sort of grim determination: adamant, even uncanny.
This comes from knowing that what might go wrong must go wrong, that the center cannot hold, that the world is given over to the infernal powers for the punishment of the wicked.
This knowledge, however, is coupled with another: that, beyond history, there is the Victory established before the foundation of the world, in the slaying of the Lamb.
Just before his election to the See of Peter, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI said, “The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself suffers for us, in the person of his Son.”
Here we are.
Show notes: all the music used for the audio package is under fair use.
The pieces are:
- Lauda Ierusalem (Vivaldi)
- Tantum Ergo (Gregorian)
- Christus Factus Est (Gregorian)
- Ecce Lignum Crucis (Gregorian)
- Lumen Christi (Taizé)
- Praeconium Paschalis (Gregorian)
- Sicut cervus (Palestrina)
The links take to full executions of the pieces, with full performance credits.
The crotalus sound effect was our production, based on a sample from FC Ziegler.