And here we are at Maundy Thursday. The most beautiful and dramatic piece of liturgy I’ve ever seen or been a part of was a Maundy Thursday service I sang in at an Anglo-Catholic church not far from here, in which we had the usual foot washing and lovely choral music, and then we all chanted one of the more gloomy psalms while the priests and acolytes went out, changed their festive robes into sackloth, and methodically stripped the altar of flowers, candles, cloth, and, as I recall, a small space heater, down to bare wood, before carrying a single candle and some flowers around to the side chapel, where we were invited to come and spend some time watching and praying in a kind of Gethsemane.
I’ve not been to a service quite like that before or since, and I don’t think I can recreate it here, but I thought you might enjoy hearing about it.
I’m giving you lots of music this evening, to watch and pray with.
For the washing of the feet, I love Ubi Caritas, particularly the version by Duruflé, which incorporates the original Gregorian chant, but adds beautiful and eerie harmonies. The lyrics are about loving and serving one another, which seems very appropriate.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other
with a sincere heart. Amen.
Maundy Thursday is also where the sacrament of Holy Communion comes from, so we need something to celebrate that. The Messiaen version of O Sacrum Convivum is mysterious and a little unsettling, and I think fits the bill rather well.
O sacred banquet! in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia.
The next piece of music is the Gregorian chant Pange Lingua. I’m actually not quite sure why it is specific to Maundy Thursday, but I do know that every Anglican or Catholic church I’ve sung at uses this music at the end of the Maundy Thursday service, and so I will do likewise. I suspect it is in fact filling the same theological/ecological niche as the Messiaen, since it is very communion-y, but it just wouldn’t feel like Maundy Thursday without it. You can find a full translation of the lyrics here.
And one bonus one, because you know I couldn’t stay away from German church music for long. Rheinberger’s Abendlied. The lyrics are
Bide with us, for evening shadows darken,
And the day will soon be over, soon be over,
O bide with us, for evening shadows darken.
As we go into the shadow of Good Friday – and, honestly, as we are now living under the shadow of a frightening epidemic, this feels like a good note to end on.
To Sing along with
Two hymns to sing along with, should you be so inclined. The first is pretty much compulsory for Maundy Thursday, a day named for Jesus’ command to his disciples to love one another. Sadly, most of the recordings of this are musically distressing (yes, I’m a snob, but no, I don’t want your weird electric organ accompaniment). This one isn’t perfect, but it is imperfect in the right kind of ways – it feels like a church full of people singing together in community, which meets my needs right now.
The other is a Taizé chant. Taizé music is really designed to meditate and pray to – it is very simple and repetitive (if you haven’t heard this one, you will know it by the third repetition), with the occasional verse sung by a cantor. If you want to spend some time meditating in Gethsemane, then this is the music to do it with.
Wishing you a quiet night.