They seem to be a wake for the three days that Our Lord spent in the tomb. They evoke in the Christian something of the anguish of that first Holy Week, filled with betrayal and confusion. As the psalms are completed, the 15 candles are extinguished, one by one, until only a single candle remains. This candle represents Christ. It is taken down while the congregation makes a thunderous noise in remberance of the moment of Christ's death. The loss of these evocative ceremonies in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or at least their loss throughout the greater part of the Church, is one of the greatest losses to the Christian Faithful in the recent reform of the Roman Liturgy.
Our first clip is of Tomas Luis de Victoria's setting of the Offices of Holy Week. It is the most familiar polyphonic setting of Tenebrae, perhaps because of the completeness of the text, which was first published in 1585. As a composer of the Tridentine era, the emphasis he gives to the text, in combination with the musical setting, is striking and one of the keys to the impact of his composition. Victoria kept strictly to the text in terms of repetitions and draws out, by means of colour and number of voices, the meaning and the proper impact of the words.
The second clip is the second responsory after the second lesson of the second nocturn in the 1680 composition of Marc-Antoine Charpentier of the Office of Holy Thursday for use at the Abbaye-aux-Bois. While the presentation of the libretto, the text of the Office, still has a directness, we can sense that, a century later than Victoria, the need for mere display in terms of music has already begun to appear, even while the composer must still bow to the requirements of the liturgical text.
The third clip is part of Francois Couperin's 1714 setting of one of the Lessons of the Office of Spy Wednesday for use in the Abbey of Longchamps. In contradistinction to the first two clips, which are austere and relatively simple and direct in sound, Couperin's composition is more florid and senuous. This reflects the change from a Renaissance to a Baroque style. The text of the Lamentations of Jeremiah deplore the destruction of Jerusalem, a symbol of the betrayal, abandonment and Crucifixion of Christ.
Finally, we have two clips of the service itself from Blackfriars in Oxford. The service is performed by Dominicans who, in the first clip sing the preces on Maunda Thursday and, in the second clip sing two responsories of Matins and then the Benedictus of Lauds. You will see the hearse of candles in the centre of the Sanctuary. For those who might question the cantors having their backs to the Tabernacle in the second clip, the Blessed Sacrament has been removed to the Altar of Repose.
Mother of Sorrows, pray for us!