Easter, Day 5: Vidi aquam

LOOK: Paschal Candlestand by Thomas Mpira

Mpira, Thomas_Paschal Candlestand
Thomas Mpira, Paschal Candlestand, 1990. Tangatanga wood, height 104 cm. Mua Parish Church, Mua, Malawi.

This large Paschal candlestand was made by Thomas Mpira, a master carver at the Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in Mua, Malawi. Founded in 1976 by Father Claude Boucher Chisale, this center employed over 120 carvers at its height and is remarkable for how it synthesizes Christian faith and African culture. It is still active, with many locally produced artworks put on display at the center’s Chamare Museum. Others, like this one, are used in the liturgies at the Mua parish church in the diocese of Dedza, whose services are in Chichewa.

Traditionally, the Paschal candle is lit during the Easter Vigil on the night of Holy Saturday, representing the light of Christ’s resurrection expelling the darkness. It is raised and leads a procession, with the lighting blessing referencing

Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all humanity,
[God’s] Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

The candle is then placed on the stand and remains lit at all worship services throughout the Easter season, and during baptisms and funerals at any time of the year.

The central figure of Mpira’s carving is the risen Christ, his body constituted of people who’ve been incorporated by his death and resurrection into the “celestial village” he holds aloft, the kingdom of God. From his Sacred Heart gushes a river of life that waters a Chewa village, where a newborn is being passed over a fire to welcome him into the community. (Some Chewa Christians have adapted this ritual such that the child is passed over a lit candle at baptism.) Powerful and regenerating, Christ’s Spirit pours out over the villagers and their daily lives.

The arched forms that support the top of the stand are stylized rainbows, symbolic of God’s promise.

LISTEN: “Vidi aquam” (Wolof: “Gis Na Deh”) by the Monks of Keur Moussa Abbey, from Keur Moussa: Sacred Chant and African Rhythms from Senegal (1997)

English translation:

I saw water flowing out of the temple, from its right side, alleluia:
And all to whom this water came were saved,
And they exclaim, “Alleluia, alleluia!”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, now and forever.

I saw water flowing out of the temple, from its right side, alleluia:
And all to whom this water came were saved,
And they exclaim, “Alleluia, alleluia!”

“Vidi aquam” (“I saw the water”) is a joyful Easter chant for the asperges ritual at the beginning of Mass, in which the altar, the clergy, and the congregation are sprinkled with holy water. The Latin word “asperges” is taken from Psalm 51:3, “Asperges me hyssopo” (Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop), which is intoned during the rite for most of the year—except during Eastertide, when this text is replaced with one based on Ezekiel 47, in which the prophet sees a sanctifying flood issuing forth from the temple in Jerusalem:

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there water was flowing from below the entryway of the temple toward the east. . . . Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live . . . (vv. 1, 9)

(Related posts: “‘River’ by Eugene McDaniels”; “Music making at Keur Moussa Abbey, Senegal”)

This sensory ritual celebrates the cleansing power of Christ, from whose speared side, on the cross, gushed water and blood, a fount of life.

The monks of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal use a Wolof translation of the Vidi aquam, which they’ve set to music inspired by a diola melody from Casamance, southern Senegal. In this recording, they sing accompanied by two tom-toms.

This song is on the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist.

One thought on “Easter, Day 5: Vidi aquam

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