In pews, worshippers hold their own candles, long and slim, then light each others’ one by one until the church is alive with even more candlelight. They chant together, slowly repeating a single line over and over as they rise and carry candles toward the altar, adding their own flames to the ones already burning.
Returning to pews, worshippers then sit in silence just beholding this magical scene: dozens of small flames on and around the altar like a sunburst in shadowy darkness. There is no other light. There is no sound save the occasional cough. And nothing moves, save the flames, which dance.
This is a Taizé prayer service.
There is no preaching, no teaching. There is just this elegantly simple service: short chants, often in Latin, repeated over and over in the dark. Plus some short Scripture readings or psalms. And silence, at least 8 or 10 minutes, sometimes more. In 45 minutes, it’s over.
For decades now, Taizé prayer has been gaining popularity in Catholic and Protestant churches. Taizé prayer is the creation of a monastic community in Taizé, France, founded in the 1940s by a Swiss man known as Brother Roger. The brothers emphasize service and ecumenicalism, particularly reconciliation between divided peoples and divided Christians.
Surprisingly, the Taizé community has also brought together young people — teens to 30-somethings — not the age that typically flocks to church, any church. But flock they do to the Taizé community, which claims 100,000 young pilgrims every year. They work, farm, cook, and pray together three times per day in the Taizé style.
The silence of Taizé prayer may not seem like a big hurdle to mature contemplatives, he says. But to the average churchgoer and especially younger pilgrims, the idea of prolonged silence can seem daunting. “When does the noise ever stop in our society?
On a very practical level, Taize worshi is calming, quieting, and a welcome respite from the craziness of life. On a spiritual level, it is transporting, almost mystical. According to Brother Roger, Taize worship wants, 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 to serve your brothers and sisters.
Adapted from an article by Margary Eagan.