In Judaea under Roman and Tiberian domination, a man drove from the Temple 'those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money'. 'What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?' asked the Jewish authorities. 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,' was the reply. 'But,' as St John tells us,'he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.' (John 2: 13-22)
Just over six hundred years earlier, after Egypt's defeat by the kingdom of Babylonia, which thus became the new world power, extending its domination throughout the region, a man rebuked the puppet kings of Judah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, and denounced the suicidal folly of their derisory rebellions against Nebuchadrezzar. That man was Jeremiah. After the disaster, after the sack of the city and the temple (587BCE), a voice was again raised in Jerusalem - the voice of a man attempting to understand the incomprehensible: Eikha? - Why? The Scroll of Lamentations - five elegies describing the solitude of the devastated city and the sufferings of its people abandoned by God - is also traditionally attributed to Jeremiah. This Scroll is read each year on the ninth day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar - Tisha be-Av - commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the latter destroyed by Titus's Roman legions in 70CE.
And each year at Matins on the three days commemorating the Passion and death of Jesus (the destruction of the temple of his body), Christians read passages from the Lamentations of Jeremiah: Quomodo? - How?
The solitude of the man on the cross and his incomprehension of his adversity is also expressed in the cry 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' A cry that appears at the beginning of Psalm 22, which is sung at Mass on Palm Sunday (tractus Deus Deus meus) and recited while the altars are stripped after evening Mass on Maundy Thursday.
The first four chapters of the Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics. Chapters 1, 2 and 4 have twenty-two verses, which is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The first letter of the first verse is aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) and that of verse 22 is taw (the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Chapter 3 has sixty-six verses - aleph beginning the first three, beth the second three, and so on. Chapter 5 is not an alphabetic acrostic, although like the others it has twenty-two verses. This acrostic symbolises language: the language of revelation, but also the language of everything that man is capable, or incapable, of saying. Like many other translations, the Vulgate mentions the initial letters by their Hebrew names at the beginning of each verse. What could have been simply a rather unusual means of numbering the verses has thus become part of the text and seems to have fired the imagination of all those who have set these verses to music. The vocalises of Couperin's LeÄ“ons de TÃ©nÄbres are in everyone's ears, but they did not come to the composer as a brilliant stroke of inspiration: they had antecedents. The Spanish tones presented on this recording, possibly deriving from an ancient recitation on a D string from Aquitaine, concentrate all their emotion in the vocalised part, investing in these plain letters all the sadness that cannot be adequately expressed in words. At the end of each of the passages from the Lamentations, the liturgy adds the exhortation Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord thy God!' This is not arbitrary: these words reflect the endlessly repeated prayer that appears at the end of the Scroll itself: 'Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.' (Lamentations 5: 21-22.)
Later came the man who brought about great changes, Saul/Paul, the man who saw meaning in all this desolation: 'But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.' (Galatians 6: 14). Misfortune is meaningful to the world. The suffering of the righteous, i.e. the part of the office that is entrusted to the psalmist (the tract) or the reader (the Lamentations), is answered by the suffering expressed by the full chorus, the murmuring of the world - compassion and the coming into possession of a heritage: the responsories, during the office of Matins, and, concluding this programme, the gradual Christus factus est, which punctuates the liturgy throughout Holy Week. The scandal of the righteous dying alone and abandoned is not only a mystery on which to meditate, but also a gift that is to be understood through the interpretation given by the Christian Church, which is summarised in the response Ecce vidimus eum: Hic peccata nostra portavit, et pro nobis dolet ; ipse autem vulneratus est propter iniquitates nostras, cuius livore sanati sumus. 'This is he who has borne our sins, and who grieves for us. But he was wounded for our iniquities. By his stripes we are healed.' (cf. Isaiah 53: 4-5).
The modes used in this rendering of the Lamentations of Jeremiah were transcribed from Spanish manuscripts by Dom Germain Prado of the holy order of Benedictines, and published by DesclÃ©e in 1934. We have used this edition. The melodies of the responses were recently reconstructed from a large number of manuscripts by Dominique Crochu. They sometimes differ considerably from the usual versions. Except for one note, the tract and the gradual are true to the standard editions.
Jean Pascal Ollivry
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1. Tractus Deus, Deus meus
2. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Toledo)
3. Responsorium In monte Oliveti
4. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Silos)
5. Responsorium Tristis est anima mea
6. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Silos)
7. Responsorium Ecce vidimus eum
8. Jeremiah's Lamentation
9. Responsorium Omnes amici mei
10. Jeremiah's Lamentation
11. Responsorium Velum templi
12. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Leon)
13. Responsorium Vinea mea electa
14. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Silos)
15. Responsorium Sicut ovis
16. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Leon)
17. Responsorium Ierusalem luge
18. Jeremiah's Lamentation (Silos)
19. Responsorium Plange quasi virgo
20. Graduale Christus factus est