We love this time of year, we really do. Starting with Palm Sunday, this is the time when our church pulls out all the stops, becomes unapolegetically over-the-top and High Church and ushers in Holy Week with open arms.
All of that began today with a service that bar none had more happening than any service we’ve attended before. In the first place there were the palms. Great life-sized ones that the choir carries in and then have to juggle alongside the hymnal as they process. It’s awkward, especially if, as today the procession goes outside and the world sends out a reminder that this is a seaside place in the shape of wildly turning hymnal pages. To be a fully-functioning chorister of a High Scottish Episcopal Church, it is necessary to have at least 5 hands. Yes, we calculated this.
We came in from processing, found somewhere to set the palms down, but only after we’d concluded the processional hymn, the ‘prophetic hymn’ (we mistakenly supposed this to be the introit prior to reading the order of service) and introit hymn. These were sung back to back. Also to be a chorister at our church, you need to be able to survive an hour and a half of near continuous singing.
We got a reprieve in the psalm and then came the dramatic canting of the Gospel. Dramatic Canting is, we’ve decided, the official term. There were soloists, we were the angry mob before Pilate, there were neumes (think of those strange square notes on that 4-line staff) and we were canting. Mind, we didn’t sound a bit like an angry mob because all of us were choristers throughly and none of us (except perhaps one of the altos) has been trained in the kind of singing that enables a high line of chant to sound brutal and visceral rather than seraphic. But the performance came off. The congregation was rapt.
This isn’t to say it all went smoothly. That never happens. Today our overworked conductor got so confused that he threw out the Sursum Corda and put the Sanctus in twice. As it happened, we appreciated the aberration because shortly before the Eucharistic liturgy began we realised no one had told us what Mass setting it was. Hint; not the one in the back of the hymnal. The sometimes-tenor dutifully fetched the music from the choir room, but only for half the choir. So we spent an anxious moment wondering if this was a setting we needed music for. Hence the gratitude for the accidental first Sanctus, which assured us we could in fact, sing off-book.
All of this is only the beginning. As of Maundy Thursday we are going to have to sing 5 services in 4 days. There will probably be more canting, there will certainly be more processions, and we guarantee that today’s extra Sanctus won’t be the only thing to go wrong. It’s going to be glorious. We love being a part of that overarching narrative that we strive to communicate in Holy Week. We know full well too, courtesy of a Presbyterian upbringing no one here would believe we’d had, that we would never get to the triumphalism of Easter were it not for the drear and gloom of Lent. We will revel then, as always, in that emotional nadir of the Tridium, it’s Good Friday Theology, and enjoy singing our way through it. We’re still too Presbyterian to look beyond that presently, but we’re too High Anglican by now not to allow ourselves to be confident of what will follow.