The liturgy on this the first of the days of the Triduum leads us through some of the central images and events of the Christian story.
The service, typically and most properly held in the evening, gives us, in the Liturgy of the Word, the story of the first Passover (Exodus 12.1-14), and of the institution of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11.23-26, and the account of Jesus's last supper(Jn 13.1-17, 31-15)). There is also the washing of the feet (love and service); and the celebration of the Eucharist for the last time before Easter, this time incorporating into the words of the Eucharistic Prayer 'On this very night...'. After the Eucharist, things take a dramatic turn: the abandonment of Jesus is represented in the stripping of the altar and covering of the cross, and the congregation is invited to reamain in vigil, or Watch, (as the Disiciples were to do whilst Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives).
Music for this night is profound and beautiful.
During the Washing of the Feet, the appointed text is Ubi Caritas. There are many marvellous settings by composers (and the original Gregorian Chant is equally beautiful), but, none, perhaps, suprpasses Duruflé's setting:
Where charity and love are, God is there. Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him. Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart. Amen.
As a motet during Communion, the text O Sacrum Convivium, attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, though relevant during any celebration of the Holy Eucharist, gains particular resonance tonight (though be careful of the Alleluias which often conclude this text - Alleluia doesn't return till Easter!).
After Communion we sing Now, my Tongue, the mystery telling, the last time the organ is played until Easter. Here are verses 2 and 3 from Common Praise.
That last night, at supper lying, with the Twelve, his chosen band,
Jesus, with the law complying, keeps the feast its rites demand;
then, more precious food supplying, gives himself with his own hand.
Word-made-flesh, by word he maketh very bread his flesh to be,
wine his blood, for whoso taketh; and if senses fail to see,
faith alone, the true heart waketh to behold the mystery.
Here's a slightly different translation sung by the St Thomas choir (NY):
During the stripping of the altar, verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah are sung. This year I had hoped to use the first part of the setting by Victoria.
The beginning of the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah.
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.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.
Here are the Tallis Scholars: