Palms and Branches
The use of palm branches on this day is an ancient custom, though in climates where palms did not grow, the use of other branches was common. Evergreens are used in many parts of the world, for instance, giving rise to the name Branch Sunday. Palms that have been used in the Palm Sunday liturgy are frequently kept as an object of devotion, and collected before Ash Wednesday the following year, to be burned, providing ashes for use in that day's liturgy.
The vestments and hangings for Holy Week at the Monastery are made of deep red silk, with orphries of black velvet, bordered by brown banding worked with a large Greek key pattern. All three colors (red, black, and brown), as well as the Greek key, were used in the Monastery’s Lenten Array, but in these vestments, what were merely accents in Lent are now “writ large” for the enormity of Holy Week with its solemn pageantry and drama.
Behold what you are. May we become what we receive.
The words used at the presentation of the Bread and Cup here at the Monastery derive from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist, a sustained teaching pointing to one of the deep truths of Christian faith: through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world. St. Augustine (354 – 430 ce), together with St. Paul and Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most influential voices in the Christian tradition, and the clerestory windows of the monastery feature a window in his honor.
On this day, the Brothers pray the ancient monastic office of Tenebrae. Tenebrae (from the Latin for shadows or darkness) is a service that derives from the monastic services of matins and lauds. The most conspicuous visual aspect of the liturgy is the use of darkness and the gradual extinguishing of candles, until only a single candle remains, a symbol of our Lord. The service provides an opportunity for sustained reflection on the Lord’s suffering and death. This liturgy is a choral offering by the Community, with chanted psalms and canticles set to plainsong, chanted lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), responsories set to harmonized Anglican chant, and a Taizé-style setting of Psalm 51.
Today marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgies of the so-called Triduum (from the Latin meaning ‘three days’) are in actuality one liturgy beginning with the Maundy Thursday Eucharist and foot washing, continuing on Good Friday with the veneration of the cross and communion from bread and wine consecrated on Thursday, and culminating with the renewal of our baptismal vows and the first Eucharist of the resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter. Once we commence with worship on Maundy Thursday, we are not formally dismissed until Easter Day. The liturgy of Maundy Thursday commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks.
The word maundy is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet. In our re-enactment and remembrance of that event, the presiding brother washes the feet of members of the Community, who in turn wash the feet of other community members, who in turn wash the feet of the gathered congregation, who in turn wash the feet of one another. At the conclusion of our eucharistic feast, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. Consecrated bread and wine are removed to the Lady Chapel, and the Brothers keep watch through the night.
It is a solemn, sober, and somber night – for we know what the first disciples did not: that Jesus will soon be arrested, tried unjustly, and put to death. Accordingly the church is quietly stripped of all adornment, and the organ and all the bells of the monastery are silenced until the Great Vigil of Easter.
Today marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death. It is one of the ironies of the English language that the day is called “good,” a likely corruption of the “God’s,” in much the same way as “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with ye.”
The worship offered at the Monastery is a continuation of the liturgy begun last night at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, and it will not ‘end’ until the Great Vigil of Easter. Consequently, the liturgy begins – or more properly, continues – without the familiar opening acclamation, and it ‘ends’ without a formal dismissal. The Gospel according to John is chanted to an ancient tone. The liturgy crests as a cross is carried in and venerated by the gathered congregation, during which the Schola (monastic choir) sings hymns extolling the crucified Lord and his cross. Afterwards, communion is shared from bread and wine consecrated at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, and all depart in silence to the awkward waiting of Holy Saturday and the restrained anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter.
Today is undoubtedly the most unsettled and unfocused in the entire liturgical year. No Eucharist is celebrated. No candles are lit. Few hymns are sung. And the Liturgy held at midday features a continuation of the Passion according to John, followed by an excerpt of an ancient homily for holy Saturday, which begins with the words, “Something strange is happening…”
The Great Vigil of Easter
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most solemn and ancient liturgy of the entire year. It is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week, and the Triduum. The service consists of four parts: The Service of Light, in which new fire is kindled outdoors to light the Paschal (Easter) Candle, the entire congregation then processing into the chapel; The Service of Lessons, in which God’s saving deeds in history are retold; The Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant, in which believers reaffirm their commitment to the Christian way; and The Holy Eucharist, which breaks the Lenten fast with the proclamation of the Easter Alleluia and the first celebration of the Eucharist since Maundy Thursday. The vesture of the sacred ministers is white, symbolizing the light of Christ. The liturgy is followed by a light breakfast, to which the entire congregation is invited.
Ring the bells!
Worshippers at the Great Vigil of Easter are encouraged to bring with them any sort of hand-held bell they would like to ring as we sing God’s Paschal Lamb at the beginning of the first Eucharist of Easter and during the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. This is our way of participating in the tradition of silencing church bells on Maundy Thursday and ringing them again on Easter Day. The custom likely reflects even more ancient habits of keeping silence before a spring equinox or a winter solstice, then celebrating it with a joyous celebration of light and sound announcing that the darkness has fled and that new life is coming back into the world.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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