In the 11th and 12th centuries the visit to the Sepulchre tropes and antiphons (chanted verses) developed into a liturgical Easter drama of great complexity and profound theological insight. This liturgical drama fulfilled both a didactic (teaching) and a ritualistic function. It was meant to teach the mystery of the Resurrection and also the proofs for the Resurrection. According to Saint Augustine, the most important feature of the Visit to the Empty Tomb is that it furnished "ocular proof" of the miracle on which the entire fabric of Christianity depends. Such visible evidence includes the abandoned graveclothes, the empty tomb, the appearance of an angel, and the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene.
In the Quem Quoeritis drama each member of the congregation is asked the same question that the angel asks the three Marys, "Whom do you seek?" The re-enactment of the Visit took place after the third lesson of Easter Matins, or Morning Prayer. Each member of the congregation participated in the drama, so in a sense all were immediately present at the events succeeding Christ's rising from the dead. (The reading of the Passion in Churches today similarly assigns roles to be read by every participant, although it is not actually dramatized.)
This very beautiful and very ancient dramatization of the Gospel was meant to be performed in Church with the principal roles always performed by clerics, as the stage directions indicate. But it might be read in the home, with family members taking the roles, or in a religion class at school or Church. The following text is based on one that appears in Karl Young's Drama of the Medieval Church (vol.1, pp. 363-365.) This liturgical drama concluded with the singing of the Te Deum (English text also follows.)
The Visit to the Sepulchre (Visitatio Sepulchri)
from Saint Lambrecht
Stage Directions: Near the end of the third lesson, let the custodian distribute a candle to each brother, and let the deacon re-vest himself in a white stole, and go sit on the stone beside the sepulchre. When after the second the third response has begun, and all the candles which they hold in their hands have been lit, let the cantor arrange the procession as follows. First the students with the schoolmaster, then the abbot, after him those clerics who are older, then those who are younger and the uninstructed; but let those who are to visit the sepulchre in the persons of the holy women remain in the choir and veil their heads with humerals or whit the hoods of the copes they are wearing. The rest of the community should go, as mentioned before, to the place of the sepulchre, and there be silent. Let the aforesaid three sing in a soft voice:
The Holy Women: Who will roll back for us from the entrance the stone that we see covering the holy sepulchre?
Angel: Whom do you seek, O trembling women, weeping at this tomb?
The Holy Women: We seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.
Angel: He is not here whom you seek, but go quickly tell His disciples and Peter that Jesus has risen:
After this, as they draw near, let him rise and raise up the curtain and expose the sepulchre to view, and say to them:
Angel: Come and see the place where the Lord had been laid, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Let them coming forward with bowed heads, inspect carefully within the sepulchre, and lifting from there the woven cloth in which the cross had been wrapped and the kerchief which had been over the head of the cross, and returning thence, let them stand in the vicinity of the altar and, turned toward the assembly, let them sing in a loud voice:
The Holy Women: We came mourning to the tomb, we saw an angel of the Lord sitting and saying that God has risen.
This said, let the whole community sing together, saying:
Congregation: Tell us Mary, what did you see on the way?
The first Holy Woman: I saw the sepulchre of the living Christ, and the glory of His rising.
The second Holy Woman: Angelic witnesses, the head-cloth and the shroud.
The third Holy Woman: Christ, my hope, has risen; He will go before His followers in Galilee.
After the let all the community sing together as follows:
Congregation: The single, truthful Mary ought to be believed more than the lying mob. We know that Christ has truly risen from the dead; have mercy on us, triumphant King.
Then let the people themselves begin this loud hymn [in their own language]:
Congregation: Three Women went to the Lord's grave.
Meantime, while the people produce this loud sound, let the cantor appoint two, one old and the other young, who, after the loud rejoicing of the people has been finished, should come to the sepulchre, the youth first and let him wait; let the old man, following, gaze attentively into the tomb, and the other with him. And when these things are begun, let the cantor give the antiphon:
Cantor: Two ran together, and the other disciple hastened on before more swiftly than Peter, and came first to the tomb, Alleluia.
When this is finished, let the three women come before the near altar holding up the shroud, so that it may be seen by all, singing together thus:
The Holy Women: Behold, O companions, behold the shroud and head-cloth, and the body is not to be found in the sepulchre.
And thereupon let them raise the cross on high, singing out loudly together in a resounding voice [with the entire community] as follows:
Congregation: The Lord has risen from the sepulchre.
Te Deum Laudamus
We Praise Thee, O Lord
We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting.
To Thee all Angels cry aloud: the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy Glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise Thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise Thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee;
The Father, of an infinite Majesty; Thine honorable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man,
Thou didst humble Thyself to be born of a Virgin.
When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God,
in the Glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints,
in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine heritage.
Govern them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify Thee;
And we worship Thy Name, ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us: have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let Thy mercy lighten upon us: as our trust is in Thee.
O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.
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