Liturgy of the Hours

Thursday 14 March 2019


This is the 16th edition of the Misteria Paschalia Festival, the programme of which has been showcasing music related to the liturgy of the Holy Week and Easter for many years now. During the concerts at the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria and at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre, we have been listening to various versions of the Passion and Leçons de ténèbres, but do we wonder why these works were created in the first place? What was their function?

This year, thanks to the cooperation with the inCanto Foundation — organisers of the Musica Divina Festival — we go back and focus on their original context. Our joint efforts resulted in two services of the Liturgy of the Hours: Tenebrae on Good Friday, 19 April at 8:00 am at the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord, as well as Easter Vespers in the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec on Easter Sunday, 21 April, at 7:00 pm. Additionally, you can take part in workshops preparing you to the Vespers, which will be led by Sławomir Witkowski on 23 March and 6 April in the Tyniec Abbey.

Miserere mei, Deus

Imagine this — it’s Good Friday and the day is dawning. The previous evening ended Lent and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper began the Paschal Triduum. This is the only mass during the year which is not finished by dismissing the faithful — the liturgy still goes on. After the night vigil, people gather in front of the empty altar and tabernacle. The darkness in the church is lit only by the light of candles. In a poignant silence, the cantor starts singing the antiphon preceding the first of the psalms. The celebration of the Tenebrae begins.


Sounds like a scene taken out of a historical film about life in monasteries, doesn’t it? But this is exactly what the beginning of Good Friday rituals in the 1960s looked like, when the Tenebrae were solemnly celebrated with the numerous participation of the faithful. The music accompanying the ceremony contributed significantly to this – Tenebrae were an inspiration for various musical works. Composers, such as Charpentier, Couperin, de Lalande, as well as Wacław of Szamotuły were particularly keen to work on readings of the first Nocturn from the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah. We already had the opportunity to listen to many of them during the previous editions of the Misteria Paschalia Festival.

This time around, however, we decided to present the Tenebrae in their original liturgical context. On Good Friday, thanks to the cooperation with the Musica Divina Festival organised by the inCanto Foundation, in the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord, we will have an opportunity to participate in such a service. One of the most characteristic elements of Tenebrae is using — apart from the standard six altar candles — a triangular candle holder named hearse, holding 15 candles.


On Good Friday, 19 April, we will have the first opportunity in the history of the festival to participate in the Matutinum and the following Laudes. Matutinum encompasses three parts called nocturns. Each of them starts with singing three psalms with antiphons (short pieces preceding and following each of the psalms). Psalms and antiphons intertwine with recited readings. During the service in the church, candles on the hearse are extinguished one by one, until only one remains — a candle symbolising Jesus Christ. The service ends with the psalm Miserere mei, Deus, which is sung in the darkness. The celebrant concludes by singing a short prayer, and then everyone in the church hits the pews with their song books. This sound (strepitus) is to symbolise the earthquake at the moment Jesus died.


The Tenebrae is a true marathon of prayer and psalms. On a special commission of the Misteria Paschalia and Musica Divina festivals, the JERYCHO Early Music Ensemble led by Bartosz Izbicki, with the support of the inCanto Foundation, undertook to prepare this service. The antiphons and psalms will be performed according to the Gregorian chant version restored by the Vatican Edition of the Chant, nearly identical to the old sung versions, preserved in the mediaeval manuscripts of the Diocese of Krakow. The readings in the first nocturne of the Matutinum, taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah — or simply Lamentations — will be sung according to melodies characteristic for Poland, taken from the so-called Piotrkowczyk edition — books printed in the 17th century in Krakow. Each of them ends with a dramatic cry “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum, Deum tuum” (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God). The Misererere mei, Deus psalm concluding the liturgy will be performed in a simple arrangement by Bartosz Izbicki based on the melody of the recitative known as “tonus peregrinus”, which could have been also connected with the original version composed by Gregorio Allegri — probably the most famous rendition of Psalm 51.


Vesperae Dominicae Resurrectionis

One of the oldest Gregorian chant albums released in Poland – Benedyktyńskie śpiewy chorałowe – was published by Veriton in 1988 on vinyl. The entire B side features Vesperae Dominicae Resurrectionis. The album was recorded in a church in Tyniec and all the pieces were performed by the Benedictine monks from the Tyniec abbey. The hymn, subsequent antiphons and the responsory are sung by Father Leon Knabit in his characteristic voice, albeit thirty years younger at the time. These days, he does not serve as a cantor any more – he passed that duty on to the younger monks – although he still participates in the singing of the monastic community during the daily service. Since then, the line-up of the schola, which leads the singing of the convent, has changed several times, also with some of the abbots serving as cantors. The style of singing has also changed, just like even the most fundamental of all matters, such as accompaniment. On the 1988 recording, the monks sing a cappella, although at that time they were accompanied by an organ during the daily liturgy to “lead” the singing. These days, for more than a decade now, the monks have been singing the chants without accompaniment. Of course, the organ is still used, but it serves a role that is auxiliary to singing, accompanying during the entry and exit processions, when there are no chants. This is very much in line with the traditional use of this instrument in Catholic liturgy.


On Easter Sunday, the Misteria Paschalia Festival and the Musica Divina Festival together with the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec would like to invite you to the solemn Easter Vespers led by Fr. Szymon Hiżycki OSB. Together with the monks, we will be able to participate in an extraordinary service celebrated according to the Monastic Antiphonary, which has been published since 2005, after many years of hard work of the monks from Solesmes and their collaborators. This book respects the new layout of Latin liturgical texts and quotes all the biblical texts in a revised version of the Vulgate (the so-called Neo-Vulgate). From the musical point of view, the Antiphonary very faithfully conveys the melodies preserved in the oldest Benedictine manuscripts.


The renewed liturgy does not have to be simplistic, cheap, infantile, focused on people instead of God, adapted to the cognitive capabilities of the congregation, instead of being captivating or even waking people up from lethargy, from the spiritual and cultural void. Finally, it does not have to – or even must not – be detached from tradition. Instead, it has to be shaped in accordance with the hermeneutics of continuity, as Pope Benedict XVI appealed. There is a need for competent singers, cantors who will be able to use the prepared materials. Not everyone is fit for it – Saint Benedict was aware of this when he wrote that: As regards singing and reading, no one should presume to carry out these functions unless he is capable of edifying the listeners. (RB 47:3).


This is what you will be able to experience for yourself when you join us in Tyniec on the evening of Easter Sunday. If you would like to prepare yourself better for full participation in the service, we invite you to the Tyniec Abbey on 23 March and 6 April – there, you will have an opportunity to participate in a workshop on Vespers led by Sławomir Witkowski. The workshops will be held from 9:00 am until noon.