Service music

Passion Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 29, 2020)

This Sunday marks the beginning of the two-week period historically known as Passiontide. During these final days before Easter, more attention is given to the sufferings and death of Jesus.

This Sunday has also been known as Judica Sunday, that designation taken from the first word of the day’s proper Introit, a text taken from Psalm 43:

Give sentence with me, O God, and defend my cause against the ungodly people: O deliver my soul from the deceitful and wicked man: for thou art the God of my strength. O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me: and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling.

Might this Psalm have been included in the prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane? There are other texts throughout this day’s liturgy which suggest that we read them from the point of view of Jesus encountering his enemies — especially during the events leading to the cross — and praying to the Father for deliverance.

Here is today’s Introit chanted in Latin by the Schola of the Hofburgkapelle, Vienna. The Latin text is below the embedded recording.

Iudica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta:
     Give sentence with me, O God, and defend my cause against the ungodly people:
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me:
     O deliver my soul from the deceitful and wicked man:
quia tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.
     for thou art the God of my strength.
Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam:
     O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me:
ipsa me de duxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum et in tabernacula tua.
     and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling.
Iudica me, Deus . . .

If we were gathering together on this Passion Sunday, I probably would have chosen as the Processional hymn “Behold the Lamb of God” (#338). The text of this hymn is by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), better-known for “Crown him with many crowns.” Our Hymnal’s editors altered the text from the original, which had 7 stanzas, each of which began more sparely: “Behold the Lamb!” The imagery throughout Bridges’s poem resonates with the beholding of the Lamb in Revelation 5. The third stanza in the original hymn read:

Behold the Lamb!
Archangels, — fold your wings, —
seraphs, — hush all the strings of million lyres:
the Victim, veiled on earth in love, —
unveiled, — enthroned, — adored above,
all heaven admires!

The tune we sing to this hymn — WIGAN — was written by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) especially for this hymn text. In his lifetime recognized as a leading choirmaster and organist, S. S. Wesley is recognized today as one of the 19th century’s greatest composers of music for the Anglican liturgy. In his book, The Musical Wesleys, music historian Erik Routley notes that S. S. Wesley was “easily the most cultivated musician of his day” who could “induce a sense of spaciousness and authority which none of his contemporaries could approach.”

His father, Samuel Wesley, was also a composer and gave his son the middle name Sebastian in honor of his love for Johann Sebastian Bach. S. S. Wesley’s grandfather was Charles Wesley, whose hundreds of hymn are a great treasure of piety and theology. While Samuel Sebastian Wesley wrote some hymn texts, his principal work was as a composer of works for choir and for organ, as well as hymn tunes. His tune for “The Church’s One Foundation” — AURELIA — is probably his best known.

If you would like to sing “Behold the Lamb of God” at home, and you have no Hymnals in your home (which you really should), here is the text to the three stanzas, and below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.

Behold the Lamb of God!
O Thou for sinners slain,
let it not be in vain
that thou hast died:
thee for my Saviour let me take,
my only refuge let me make
thy pierced side.

Behold the Lamb of God!
All hail, incarnate Word,
thou everlasting Lord,
Saviour most blest;
fill us with love that never faints,
grant us with all Thy blessèd saints,
eternal rest.

Behold the Lamb of God!
Worthy is he alone,
that sitteth on the throne
of God above;
one with the Ancient of all days,
one with the Comforter in praise,
all light and love.

The Gradual for today is taken from Psalm 143 and Psalm 18. As in the Introit, there is here a plea for deliverance:

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee. It is the Lord that delivereth me from my cruel enemies, and setteth me up above mine adversaries: thou shalt rid me from the wicked man.

The verses from Psalm 143 in the first part of that Gradual are also sung as the Offertory on the Monday of Holy Week. Here is the text as it appears in the liturgy in eight days:

Eripe me de inimicis meis,
     Deliver me from my enemies,
Domine, ad te confugi;

     O Lord, to thee have I fled;
doce me facere voluntatem tuam,
     teach me to do thy will,
quia Deus meus es tu.
     for thou art my God.

Here is a setting of that text by Andreas Raselius (c. 1563-1602). It is sung by Gloriæ Dei Cantores, conducted by Elizabeth C. Patterson.

The Tract for Passion Sunday (from Psalm 129) contains an even more explicit reference to the suffering of Christ, describing the specific wounds that Christ would bear: “Many a time have they fought against me from my youth up. May Israel now say: yea many a time have they vexed me from my youth up. But they have not prevailed against me: the plowers plowed upon my back. And made long furrows: but the righteous Lord hath hewn the snares of the ungodly in pieces.”

The Offertory in today’s Mass includes phrases from Psalm 111 and Psalm 119:

Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo.
     I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart,
Retribue servo tuo, ut vivam et custodiam sermones tuos.
     O do well unto thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word:
Vivifica me secundum verbum tuum, Domine.
     Quicken me according to thy word, O Lord.

Here is the Offertory chanted by the Schola of the Hofburgkapelle, Vienna.

Here is a setting of this Offertory by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), sung by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

Before the quarantine began, our choir had been working on an anthem to sing during today’s Offertory. In the Sarum Rite — the liturgical form that was centered at Salisbury Cathedral — the Passion Sunday liturgy included the singing of this text:

In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.
      Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Redemisti me Domine, Deus veritatis.
     You have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.

This text from Psalm 31:5 — with its obvious connections with the Passion of Jesus — was sung every evening during Compline from Passion Sunday to the Wednesday in Holy Week. The setting we had hoped to sing this year (maybe next year!) is by John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558), one of the greatest English composers of the Tudor period. You can hear in Sheppard’s music a distinctive musical voice; conductor Peter Phillips says that “Sheppard’s Latin music [i.e., music for the Catholic rather than Anglican liturgy] displays one of the most consistently worked, strongly personal compositional styles of the whole period.”

Sheppard was a prolific as well as distinctive composer. Music historian Peter Le Huray, in his Music and the Reformation in England, 1549-1660, judges that “In terms of sheer quantity Sheppard has no mid-sixteenth-century rival.” Yet, sadly, large portions of his music were destroyed in the wholesale destruction of monastic libraries during the Tudor period. We are deeply grateful for the pieces that remain available to us.

Here is Sheppard’s In manus tuas sung by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

The Communon Proper for Passion Sunday is a familiar text from I Corinthians 11:

Hoc corpus quod pro vobis tradetur:
     This is my Body, which is given for you:
hic calix novi testamenti est in meo sanguine, dicit Dominus:

     this cup is the new testament in my Blood, saith the Lord:
hoc facite quotiescumque sumitis, in meam commemorationem.

     this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

Here is the Proper chanted by the Capella Antiqua München, conducted by Konrad Ruhland.

During Communion, the choir had planned on singing John Sheppard’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, which is sung below by by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, conducted by Stephen Darlington.

To close this first Passiontide post, below is a vintage recording of music for Passiontide. Recorded in 1967, it features the Guildford Cathedral Choir, directed by Barry Rose. The works sung are:

1. Go to dark Gethsemane (Johann Sebastian Bach)
2. Lord, hear my prayer (William Byrd)
3. Miserere mei Deus (William Byrd)
4. I would beside my Lord be watching [from St Matthew Passion] (Johann Sebastian Bach)
5. Drop, drop, slow tears (Orlando Gibbons)
6. Out of the deep (Thomas Morley)
7. Have mercy upon me, O God [The “Miserere”] (Gregorio Allegri)