Thursday, April 21, 2011


Some readers will know of the office of Tenebrae, traditionally celebrated in the Roman Church on either the evening before or the morning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. For your edification on this Holy Thursday, here is the first lesson from today's celebration of Tenebrae, taken from the beginning of the Book of Lamentations, sung in the above video by the Choeur grégorien de Paris following the setting found in the Liber Usualis. The Latin text may be found below, followed by an English translation:

Incipit Lamentátio Jeremíae Prophétae.

ALEPH. Quómodo sedet sola cívitas plena pópulo : facta est quasi vídua dómina Géntium : princeps provinciárum facta est sub tribúto.

BETH. Plorans plorávit in nocte, et lácrimæ ejus in maxíllis ejus : non est qui consolétur eam ex ómnibus caris ejus : omnes amíci ejus sprevérunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimíci.

GHIMEL. Migrávit Judas propter afflictiónem, et multitúdinem servitútis : habitávit inter Gentes, nec invénit réquiem : omnes persecutóres ejus apprehendérunt eam inter angústias.

DALETH. Viæ Sion lugent eo quod non sint qui véniant ad solemnitátem : omnes portæ ejus destrúctæ : sacerdótes ejus geméntes : vírgines ejus squálidæ, et ipsa oppréssa amaritúdine.

HE. Facti sunt hostes ejus in cápite, inimíci ejus locupletáti sunt : quia Dóminus locútus est super eam propter multitúdinem iniquitátum ejus : párvuli ejus ducti sunt in captivitátem, ante fáciem tribulántis.

Jerúsalem, Jerúsalem, convértere ad Dóminum Deum tuum.


The beginning of the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet.

ALEPH. How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the cities has become a vassal.

BETH. She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

GHIMEL. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

DALETH. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the appointed feasts; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her maidens have been dragged away, and she herself suffers bitterly.

HE. Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.

For another approach to the traditional Tenebrae text, consider this motet by the German composer Rudolf Mauersberger, Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst ("How Lonely Sits the City"). Mauersberger served for over forty years as music director (Kreuzkantor) of Dresden's historic Kreuzkirche and as leader of the church's renowned boys' choir, the Dresdner Kreuzchor. Mauersberger composed Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst at the end of World War II in response to the Allied firebombing of Dresden, an act which had claimed the lives of over 25,000 people (including eleven young choristers from the Kreuzchor) and destroyed one of Germany's greatest cities. For more on Rudolf Mauersberger and his work, read this post from Pliable's On An Overgrown Path.

Though based on the same scriptural source as the Tenebrae chant featured at the start of this post, Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst takes a freer approach to the text. Mauersberger weaves together several non-sequential verses from Lamentations to produce a unique lament for his devastated city. Below you will find the German text of the motet, followed by an English translation based on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible with some adaptations that I made to try to come closer to Mauersberger's German; parenthetical citations are given to identify the relevant verses in Lamentations. Appropriately enough, the recording of Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst featured above was made by the Dresdner Kreuzchor.

Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst, die voll Volks war.
Alle ihre Tore stehen öde.
Wie liegen die Steine des Heiligtums
vorn auf allen Gassen zerstreut.
Er hat ein Feuer aus der Höhe
in meine Gebeine gesandt und es lassen walten.

Ist das die Stadt, von der man sagt,
sie sei die allerschönste, der sich
das ganze Land freuet?

Sie hätte nicht gedacht,
daß es ihr zuletzt so gehen würde;
sie ist ja zu greulich heruntergestoßen
und hat dazu niemand, der sie tröstet.

Darum ist unser Herz betrübt
und unsere Augen sind finster geworden:
Warum willst du unser so gar vergessen
und uns lebenslang so gar verlassen!

Bringe uns, Herr, wieder zu dir,
daß wir wieder heimkommen!
Erneue unsere Tage wie vor alters.
Herr, siehe an mein Elend!


How lonely sits the city that was full of people! (1:1)
All her gates are desolate. (1:4)
How the stones of her sanctuary lie
Scattered at the head of every street. (4:1)
He sent fire from on high;
into my bones he made it descend. (1:13)

Is this the city which was called
the most beautiful, that in which
the whole land rejoices? (2:15)

She had not thought
that this would be her final end;
therefore her fall is terrible,
and she has no one to comfort her. (1:9)

This is why our heart has become sick,
These things have caused our eyes to grow dim. (5:17)
Why do you forget us for ever,
why do you so long forsake us? (5:20)

Bring us, O Lord, back to you,
that we come home again!
Renew our days as of old. (5:21)
O Lord, behold my affliction! (1:9)

To all readers for whom these three days will be a time of prayer and reflection, I offer my hopes for a blessed Triduum. AMDG.


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