O Life, How Can You Die?

 

In a tomb they laid You, O Christ the Life. The angelic hosts were overcome with awe and glorified Your condescension.
O Life, how can You die? How can You dwell in a tomb? Yet by Your death You have destroyed the reign of death and raised all the dead from Hell.

The music of Holy Week is the most beautiful of all the liturgical year, whether in the Western Church or the East, or in the Orthodox Church.  The words above are taken from the Lamentations for Holy and Great Saturday in the Orthodox Church.  These are sung as part of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday, during a unique service that takes place on Good Friday  evening.

A tomb festooned with flowers is erected in the church upon which is placed a life-sized icon of the dead Savior, called the epitaphios, or winding sheet, around which the service is centered.  You can read more about the service here.  One beautiful part which struck us is that after a procession around the outside of the church with the epitaphios, the faithful enter the church again by passing under the icon, signifying their entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ.

As with so much of the Eastern and Orthodox liturgy, the words of the many chants are poetic and sublime.  Below are the three Lamentations sung professionally by a Greek Orthodox Church in California.  They make an ethereal and contemplative background for your Holy Saturday as you prepare for the Mother of All Feasts tonight, the Easter Vigil.

The words (though not this exact translation) of the Lamentations, as well as many of the other Holy Week chants may be found here.

 

A Great Silence and Stillness

jesus-dead-in-tombA solemn day, a silent day, for what words can adequately describe the sorrows of yesterday?

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

– from An Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

Our Lady alone never lost hope, she who suffered most with Him.  She stood at the foot of the Cross and spiritually suffered and died with her Divine Son. She is the Queen of Martyrs.

Pieta with border

Let us keep watch with her as she waits in hope and prayer for His return.

One of our favorite chants for these days: Vexilla Regis.  The beautiful words and translation can be found here.

Awake, O Sleeper

The Dead Christ by Philippe de Champaigne

The quiet stillness of this day, as all creation anticipates it’s Lord’s return, will soon be broken by the beautiful chanting of the Exsultet.  Until then, Christ sleeps in death, and we wait…

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Continue reading

Stabat Mater by Pergolesi

When I was a novice I practically wore out my tape (yeah, we were still using tapes in the year 2000 – seems like an awfully long time ago, doesn’t it?) of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  I don’t think I could ever get tired of listening to it.  Unlike the music you find today, both the music and the lyrics are beautiful and meaningful.

1. Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius.2. Cuius animam gementem
Contristatam et dolentem
Pertransivit gladius.

3. O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater unigeniti!

4. Quae moerebat et dolebat,
Pia Mater, dum videbat
Nati poenas incliti.

5. Quis est homo qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si videret
In tanto supplicio?

6. Quis non posset contristari,
Christi Matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?

7. Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Iesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

8. Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriendo desolatum
Dum emisit spiritum.

9. Eja Mater, fons amoris
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

10. Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum
Ut sibi complaceam.

11. Sancta Mater, istud agas,
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide.

12. Tui nati vulnerati,
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Poenas mecum divide.

13. Fac me tecum, pie, flere,
Crucifixo condolere,
Donec ego vixero.

14. Juxta crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.

15. Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara
Fac me tecum plangere.

16. Fac, ut portem Christi mortem
Passionis fac consortem,
Et plagas recolere.

17. Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.

18. Flammis ne urar succensus
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus
In die judicii.

19. Fac me cruce custodiri
Morte Christi praemuniri
Confoveri gratia

20. Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria. Amen.
(Note: Verse 19 differs from translation)

1. At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.2. Through her soul, of joy bereaved,
bowed with anguish, deeply grieved,
now at length the sword hath passed.

3. Oh how sad and sore distressed
was that mother highly blessed,
of the sole-begotten One!

4. Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

5. Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

6. Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

7. Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

8. For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

9. O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

10. Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

11. Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

12. Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

13. Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.

14. By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

15. Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.

16. Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

17. Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.

18. Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.

19. Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defence,
Be Thy cross my victory.

20. While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.