(Note: This is a continuation of the previous Holy Week introduction, sent to the Young Adults at St. John's. If you recall, we left off at the Maundy Thursday service which ended in silence and the altar had just been stripped -- symbolizing the humiliation of Christ. All beauty is taken from the Church -- except for the Sacrament, the real presence of Christ.)
What is the Watch?
At the end of the Maundy Thursday Service, the remaining Eucharistic elements are taken to the side Chapel. After the Last Supper, Christ retired to the Mount of Olives to pray, accompanied by Ss. Peter, James and John (Mt 26: 36-46; Lk 22: 40-46; Mk 14: 32-42). Christ told them to wait and pray while he went "a stone's throw away", resigning himself to the upcoming acts of torture. His suffering became so great that he began to sweat blood. Christ returned to his disciples and found them sleeping; he rebuked them, saying "Could you not watch with me one hour?" Since that time, many Christians began watching with the Sacrament (which is the real presence of Christ) as a way to prepare with him for the upcoming actions of Good Friday. We, too, carry on this tradition: the Church will be open through all night and someone will be with the sacrament until the Good Friday service around noon. If you can't make an hour commitment in the middle of the night, consider stopping by on your way to work or for sometime before the Good Friday service. Let us keep company with Our Lord.
What is a Tenebrae Service?
This year at Midnight of Maundy Thursday, we will have a Tenebrae service. Tenabrae is Latin for "shadows" and it is a compilation of the early morning monastic hours of Matins and Lauds. It consists of 15 Psalms and 9 Readings from Lamentations. After each Psalm, one of fifteen candles is extinguished. During the Song of Zechariah (Lk. 1:68-79), all of the lights are turned off and we are thrust into darkness -- with the exception of one candle. This lone candle is hidden from sight, symbolizing Christ and his descent among the dead. Then, Psalm 51 and a truncated Collect are prayed. At the end of the service a loud noise is made (usually by banging a hymnal on a pew) and the lone, lit candle is replaced from its hiding place. The loud noise is to symbolize the earthquake that happened when Christ died. We leave in silence. If you've ever been to a Tenebrae service, you know how moving it is. I encourage you to come.
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is the Friday preceding Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Having watched through the Night with Our Lord, the Church follows him to the foot of the Cross, by which he redeemed the world. The fourth-century pilgrim Egeria (remember her?) wrote about a complex day spent entirely in prayer by the Church in Jerusalem. They kept the whole day in three specfic parts; we keep them in only an hour. In this special liturgy, three things happened in Egeria's day and will in our own: 1) The Passion of John is read; 2) "The Solemn Collects" are prayed; and 3)The Cross is Venerated.
2) The Solemn Collects are a series of prayers, where an assisting minister bids our prayers for the Church, the government, the world and those who do not know Christ and the Priest adds a final Collect. Think of this like the Prayers of the People on Sunday morning -- only on steroids. We will kneel for the bidding and stand for the collects.
On this day, we pray for "those who have not received the gospel of Christ." (BCP 279) Following after the Roman Rite, The 1549 Prayer Book prays it this way: ". . . have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock . . ." The liturgical reforms of the 1928 BCP softened this language. Nowadays, we pray for "those who have lost their faith" or "become hardened by sin and indifference (BCP 279)." Perhaps we should ask ourselves while we pray, "what difference does the suffering and death of Christ make in the world?"
After all of this, the remaining Sacrament is consumed by everyone at the service in a truncated form of the Eucharist. This is the Sacrament that was consecrated on Maundy Thursday and people keept the watch in front of it. It is entirely consumed: until the Vigil, the Church is left without her Lord. All the beauty is stripped from the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday. But, on Good Friday, the tabernacle is left open and empty, with its red vigil candle blown out. In other words, we are symbolically left (much like on the actual Good Friday) without a Lord. It is a frightening and lonely experience.