Throughout the night we kept watch with Jesus before the Altar of Repose. At midnight the candelabras were extinguished. In the early morning the rest of the flowers were removed leaving just one candle and one pot of purple hyacinth flowers before the Altar of Repose. In keeping with instructions of the Sacramentary the Blessed Sacrament remains there until after holy Communion of the Service later this afternoon.
The office of Matins and Lauds today carried us deeply into the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection and what it means for us. "Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross," we sang for the first time at Lauds and will repeat it over and over again through the day's liturgy. The psalms and canticles immerse us into the sufferings of Christ--not only His physical sufferings but His moral sufferings as well. "My God, I call by day and you do not listen. I call to you by night, but no rest comes." "I am afflicted, utterly cast down." "Do not abandon me, Lord: my God, do not leave me," Jesus cries out through the voice of the psalmist.
And yet, the Church, even on this the most sacred and solemn day of the year doesn't let us stay in an attitude of despair. The final antiphon and psalm of Lauds is full of joy and hope, reminding us that Jesus' suffering, dying and death must also be united with the glory of the Resurrection:
"Lord, we venerate your Cross and we give praise and glory to your holy resurrection. Through the wood of the cross joy has come to the whole world," we sing for the antiphon of Psalm 147. "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem!"
Our monastic office is rich in customs that go back hundreds of years in the Order. At the closing of the Office two chantresses go up to the grille while two other chantress stand at the back. "Kyrie eleison!" sings one set of chantress. And like a plaintive echo of a deer the other set of chantresses repeats, "Kyrie eleison". Verses echoing the scriptures are sung each responded to by the whole choir with, "Christus factus est obediens, usque ad mortem." And finally at a pitch higher than the proceeding verses the chantresses at the grille exclaim, "Mortem autem crucem!"
We all drop to our knees and chant the Our Father, the prioress recites the closing prayer and over an hour of chanting the psalms, mediating on the passion and uniting with Christ as he makes his way to the Cross for our salvation comes to end.