WORSHIP AT TAIZÉ
Bells ring in dissonant chaos inviting wandering souls from around the world into worship at Taizé. As you approach the entrance a young adult holds a sizable sign with just one word. This one word is three things: command, invitation and announcement of what you will find inside. This one word is simply "silence."
The sanctuary is spacious. It is clear that it has been expanded several times, always to make room for all; though some have to sit a long way from the front if they arrive as the bells are almost rung out. The brothers of Taizé with their white monastic albs sit in the front and center in a long procession. Perhaps with their vows of poverty and work, we can agree that they have earned it. Some sit on the scarce steps at the edges of the sanctuary. Others sit on the even fewer chairs and benches scattered by doorways. Most sit on the floor, being sure to leave the aisle (defined only by white duct tape) open.
The dissonant chaos of the bells gradually slows down until only one bell rings in tempo. Then it too is silent. There is a moment of holy pause like the breathing of a choir before it begins in concert. Then the cantor announces the first song, only by singing the first phrase. But even before the first phrase is complete, a choir of voices has joined the one voice. First in unison, but it is not long before a glorious harmony fills the sanctuary.
Always the music at Taizé is simple, but it is deceptive. However, simple need not mean shallow or supervicial. It seems as though those who compose music for Taizé never get past the writing of a refrain. There are no verses. Only simple refrains, which are sung again and again until they seep into your bones and saturate your soul. Song becomes prayer. Prayer becomes meditation. Meditation becomes song in a circle of repetition.
After several songs, there is a reading. Perhaps a few verses from the prophet Isaiah or a short teaching of Jesus. First in French, then spoken in English. Again in German. Also in Spanish. Perhaps Polish or Russian as well. Then another song.
Then silence. A long silence. The kind of silence where you are left alone with only your wandering thoughts and feelings. But if you listen very carefully, your soul whispers.
After silence (perhaps five to ten minutes?) there are a few more songs and perhaps a spoken prayer in each language. Then the brothers leave, always with around four or five children (about five to ten years old) leading them out. Still the singing continues as some begin to wander out of the sanctuary.
Eventually you find yourself wandering to an exit as well as you make your way to breakfast or lunch or the close of night.
Worship forms the backbone of life at Taizé. Matins (morning prayer) is at 8:15am (before breakfast at 9:15am); Midday prayer is at 12:20pm (before lunch at 1:15pm) and Vespers (evening prayer) is at 8:30pm and is always the final organized activity of the day.
It seems there is always Eucharist (communion) served at Matins (with a Roman Catholic communion served by the brothers, a Protestant communion is served at one station and blessed bread is also served). Also, it seems that at the Matins service there is usually an Old Testament reading, at the Midday prayer there is often a short reading from the Epistles and at the Vespers there is usually a saying or story from the Gospels (such as the Beatitudes or the Temptation of Jesus). After evening prayer, some of the brothers walk out into the sanctuary as the many young adults (it seems that about nine out of ten people who visit Taizé are between 18-25 years old) come to them bringing confessions, questions or simply wanting conversation.
Otherwise, the three worship services are very similar and form a backbone, provide a rhythm, give a structure to life at Taizé.