HYMN 133 Veni Sancte Spiritus, Taizé
Norwegian: Heilag Ande, Kom til oss
John 4: 13-15
Text: Medieval Prayer Tune: Jacques Berthier (1923-1994)
Holy Spirit come to us
Light in us the fire of love
Holy Spirit come to us
The Taizé movement started in 1940 when the founder of the community decided that with the defeat of France by the Germans, there needed to be spiritual reconciliation. Brother Robert Schütz, a Reformed Protestant from Switzerland, a neutral country, found a place in Taizé, just north of Cluny, which had once been the largest church in Western Christendom.
While he was home in Switzerland raising money for his project, the Gestapo took over the house and prevented him from returning. Brother Roger published a pamphlet wondering what a life based on Scripture would be like. Three men read it and joined him. They lived together on his parent’s property until they could go to Taizé. In 1944, after the Germans were defeated in France, the men returned to Taizé and in 1949 they formed a community making vows of simplicity, celibacy and community.
The movement grew slowly. Communities connected with it were established around the world, from Calcutta, the Philippines, Algeria, Brazil and Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. As the communities became better known and as their membership became more and more ecumenical, including more people from different Christian traditions, it became a youth movement. During the 1960s thousands of young people began making pilgrimages to Taizé to join in the community and its worship. In 1966 the first gathering of young adults from 110 countries occurred. Soon the village church became too small for the masses of young people who were coming. They built a larger church, the Church of Reconciliation, which has had to be expanded several times since.
To accommodate all those young people from every country and language they had to be shrewd about their worship so that everyone could participate equally without language separating them. Their solution was sheer genius, perfectly in touch with the times. The icons of the Orthodox tradition spoke visually and brought that tradition into the worship, helping make the gatherings more and more ecumenical as you can see in the first link.
Furthermore, the music was in the form of a mantra. It could be a phrase from a psalm, an familiar liturgical phrase, one that could easily be memorized, understood, and sung over and over again by the congregation while a singer would sing another text in the vernacular over their repetitive chorus. The mantra was in the universal language of the Western church—Latin--which most understood in the short phrases used. It could be translated into any language and sung by gatherings anywhere, but the Latin gave everyone at the Taizé gathering the same words to sing. Most important was that on hearing the music, they could quickly memorize it and easily lose themselves in the singing. The repetitions did not end until they ended. This was different for those used to closed, printed forms like hymns who found it difficult to adjust to the open repetitive mantras. This was also at the time of the new era in media, where the electronic was taking over and the visual more important than it had ever been. The young found the physical experience mesmerizing, enjoying the tactile eucharist, the sights, the smells, and the sounds, losing themselves in the mantra of the music.
The composer Jacques Berthier understood what he needed to write for such worship and composed music for the hours and the mass that could be sung by the congregation without texts or notes. It worked and spread throughout the world.
Pope John Paul said when he visited the community that one passed by the site "as one passes by a spring of water. The traveler stops, quenches his thirst and continues on his way. The brothers in the community do not want to keep you. They want, in prayer and silence, to enable you to drink the living water promised by Christ, to know his joy, to discern his presence, to respond to his call, then to set out again to witness to his love and serve your brothers and sisters." We all thirst for it; drink deeply and go tell others, as the Samaritan woman did..
Brother Roger began something that grew, that the Holy Spirit blessed. When you hear how it started you can think of many other such efforts that did not grow. The Holy Spirit’s work is mysterious and unseen, but we can see the results of its work. The genius of a leader, who can well communicate his or her vision, who has a place to call people to, with a song, is usually what it takes—with the Spirit’s breath moving gently among them, firing their zeal and working amongst them for life. Brother Roger lived in the community until 2005 when, at 90, he was killed by a mentally ill woman wielding a knife.
Berthier wrote this piece in 1982 as the movement was gaining in full force. One can hear in the music it has no ending, like the song that never ends. The music just trails off, or one just stops.
Berthier was an organist in Paris at Saint Ignace church for many years. He was first asked to compose for the Taizé community in 1955. Then in 1975 he was commissioned again to write new music that was chant based and were widely ecumenical. They have swept the world church. One can find Taizé worship in almost any area in the world where there are Christians.
Taizé community in Poland
Taizé Community Brothers