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Music for Passiontide VII — Maundy Thursday responsories

This post presents the series of 9 brief texts that were traditionally sung on Maundy Thursday as part of the Divine Office.

Within the structure of the hours of prayer in the Western monastic tradition, Matins services were held at about 2 AM. On Maundy Thursday, Matins included three “nocturns,” i.e., groups of readings and prayers.

The readings in the first nocturn on Maundy Thursday was from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, a text which mourned the siege of Jesusalem in the 6th century BC.

These readings were followed by chanted responsories with texts that described the various sufferings of Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed. Chanted in plainchant for centuries, these responsories were eventually set to more elaborate choral music.

The first reading at Maundy Thursday Matins was from Lamentations 1:1-5.

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.

Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.

The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.

Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.

This reading was followed by In monte Oliveti, a text which depicted the experience of Jesus in agonizing prayer in Gethsemane. The text below is one of several variants of this responsory. While most variants say simply that the flesh is weak, this rendering heightens the opposition between flesh and spirit.

In monte Oliveti orabat ad Patrem:
     On the Mount of Olives He prayed to the Father:
Pater, si placet tibi transeat a me calix iste.
     Father, if it please You take this cup away from me.
Spiritus vero promptus est,
     The spirit is willing,
Caro enim concupiscit ad versum spiritum.
     The flesh, however, craves that the spirit be turned.
Fiat voluntas tua.
     Thy will be done.

Here is a setting of this responsory by the Scottish composer Robert Ramsey (1590s-1644). It is sung by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

The second reading in the first nocturn was from Lamentations 1:6-9.

And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.

Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward.

Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O Lord, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.

This was followed by the responsory Tristis est anima mea, recounting Jesus’s words to the disciples in the Garden:

Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem:
     Sorrowful is my soul even unto death.
sustinete hic et vigilate mecum.

     Stay here, and watch with me.
Nunc videbitis turbam quæ circumdabit me.

     Now you shall see the mob that will surround me.
Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis.

     You shall take flight, and I shall go to be sacrificed for you.

Here is a setting of the responory by Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594). The identity of the choir is unknown.

The third reading in the first nocturn was Lamentations 1:10-14.

The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation.

All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul: see, O Lord, and consider; for I am become vile.

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.

The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.

The responsory following this reading was Ecce, vidimus eum. The text here is from Isaiah 53.

Ecce vidimus eum non habentem speciem, neque decorem:
     Behold we shall see him having neither form nor comeliness:
Aspectus ejus in eo non est:
     There is no beauty in him.
Hic peccata nostra portavit, et pro nobis dolet:
     This is he who has borne our sins and suffered for us.
Ipse autem vulneratus est, propter iniquitates nostras:
     He was bruised for our iniquities,
Cujus livore sanati sumus.
     and with his stripes we are healed.

Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit,
     Truly he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,
Cujus livore sanati sumus.
     And with his stripes we are healed.

Here is the Gregorian chant of this responsory, sung by the Choeur Du Bec Hellouin directed by Philibert Zobel.

The second nocturn in the Maundy Thursday Matins contained readings from St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 55 (54 in the Vulgate). This psalm depicts anguish, terror, fear, and trembling in the face of betrayal. But these emotions are expressed in light of confidence in God’s faithfulness.

The first reading includes Augustine’s comments on the first verse of the psalm.

“Give ear to my prayer, O God, and despise not my supplication: attend unto me and hear me.” These are the words of a man travailing, anxious, and troubled. He prayeth in the midst of much suffering, longing to be rid of his affliction. Our part is to see what that his affliction was, and when he hath told us, to acknowledge that we also suffer therefrom; that so, partaking in his trouble, we may take part also in his exercise, and am troubled. Wherein mourned he? Wherein was he troubled? He saith: In my exercise. In the next words he giveth us to know that his affliction was the oppression of the wicked, because of the voice of the enemy, and because of the oppression of the wicked, and this suffering which came upon him at the hands of wicked men, he hath called his exercise. Think not that wicked men are in this world for nothing, or that God doth no good with them. Every wicked man liveth, either to repent, or to exercise the righteous.

The responsory following this reading was Amicus meus:

Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signo:
     The sign by which my friend betrayed me was a kiss:
Quem osculatus fuero, ipse est, tenete eum:
     He whom I kiss, that is he: hold him fast.
Hoc malum fecit signum, qui per osculum ad implevit homicidium.
     He who committed murder by a kiss gave this wicked sign.
Infelix praetermisit pretium sanguinis, et in fine laquaeo se suspendit.
     The unhappy wretch repaid the price of blood and in the end hanged himself.
Bonum erat illi, si natus non fuisset homo ille.
     It had been better for that man if he had never been born.
Infelix praetermisit pretium sanguinis, et in fine laquaeo se suspendit.
     The unhappy wretch repaid the price of blood and in the end hanged himself.

Here is a setting of this text by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611). (This essay discusses Victoria’s music for Holy Week.) The performance here and in the following recordings of the Victoria responories is by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

In the second reading from St. Augustine, he reflects further on the experience of betrayal.

Would to God that they which now exercise us were converted and exercised with us! Yet, while they are as they are, and exercise us, we will not hate them: for we know not of any one of them whether he will endure to the end in his sin. Yea, oftentimes, when thou deemest that thou hatest thine enemy, he whom thou hatest is thy brother, and thou knowest it not. The Holy Scriptures show us that the devil and his angels are already damned unto everlasting fire, and therefore of their repentance it behoveth us to despair; but of theirs only. These are they against whom we wrestle within; to the which wrestling the Apostle stirreth us up where he saith: We wrestle not against flesh and blood, (that is, not against men whom we see,) but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world [Eph. 6:12]. He saith not the rulers of this world, lest perchance thou shouldest deem that devils are the lords of heaven and earth; what he doth say is, rulers of the darkness of this world, of that world which they love who love the world, of that world wherein the ungodly and unrighteous do prosper, of that world, in fine, of which the Gospel saith: And the world knew Him not.

The second reponsory in the second nocturn sung after this reading was about the infamous betrayer.

Iudas mercator pessimus
     Judas, the vile merchant,
osculo petiit Dominum
     required a kiss from the Lord
ille ut agnus innocens
     who, like an innocent lamb,
non negavit Iudae osculum.
     did not deny the kiss to Judas.

Denariorum numero
     For a large amount of dinarii,
Christum Iudaeis tradidit.
     he betrayed Christ to the Jews.

Melius illi erat
     It would have been better for him,
si natus non fuisset.
     had he not been born.

The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

The final reading from St. Augustine’s commentary in this psalm begins with a paraphrase of Psalm 55:9.

“We have seen iniquity and strife in the city.” Behold, the glory of the Cross. That Cross which was the object of the insults of God’s enemies, is established now above the brows of kings. The end hath shown the measure of its power: it hath conquered the world, not by the sword, but by its wood. The enemies of God thought the Cross a meet object of insult and ridicule, yea, they stood before it, wagging their heads and saying: If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross! [Matt. 27: 39, 40]. And He stretched forth His Hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people [Rom. 10:21]. If he is just which liveth by faith [Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4], he is unjust that hath not faith. Therefore where is written “iniquity” we may understand “unbelief.” The Lord therefore saith that He saw iniquity and strife in the city, and that He stretched forth His Hands unto that disobedient and gainsaying people, and, disobedient and gainsaying as they were, He was hungry for their salvation, and said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. [Luke 23:34]

The following responsory also reflects on the betrayal of Jesus. (Re-reading all of Psalm 55 deepens appreciation of this text.)

Unus ex discipulis meis tradet me hodie:
     One of my disciples will betray me today.
Vae illi per quem tradar ego:
     Woe to him by whom I am betrayed.
Melius illi erat si natus non fuisset.
     It were better for him had he never been born.

Qui intingit mecum manum in paropside,
     He that dips his hand with me in the dish,
hic me traditurus est in manus peccatorum.
     Is he who will give me up into the hands of sinners.
Melius illi erat si natus non fuisset.
     It were better for him had he never been born.

The third nocturn in the Maundy Thursday Matins featured readings from I Corinthians. The first reading was 1 Corinthians 11:17−22.

For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

This text speaks of bread and sacrifice. So does the responsory that follows, although in a different register.

Eram quasi agnus innocens:
     Behold, I was like an innocent lamb;
ductus sum ad immolandum, et nesciebam:
     I was led to the slaughter, and I knew it not.
Concilium fecerunt inimici mei adversum me, dicentes:
     My enemies have conspired together against me, saying:
Venite, mittamus lignum in panem ejus,
     Come, let us put poison into his bread,
et eradamus eum de terra viventium.
     And let us cut him off out of the land of the living.

Omnes inimici mei adversum me cogitabant mala mihi:
     All my enemies have thought evil things about me;
Verbum iniquum mandaverunt adversum me dicentes.
     They have spoken evil words against me, saying:
Venite, mittamus lignum in panem eius,
     Come, let us put poison into his bread,
et eradamus eum de terra viventium.
     And let us cut him off out of the land of the living.

The second reading in the third nocturn was from I Corinthians 11:23-26.

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

The following reponsory contrasts the spiritual lethargy of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane with the earnest energy of Judas in pursuing the betrayal of Jesus.

Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum,
     What, could you not watch one hour with me,
qui exhortabamini mori pro me?
     you that were eager to die for me?
Vel Judam non videtis quomodo non dormit,
     Or do you not see Judas, how he sleeps not,
sed festinat tradere me Judaeis?
     but makes haste to betray me to the Jews?

Quid dormitis? Surgite et orate,
     Why do you sleep? Arise and pray,
ne intretis in tentationem.
     lest ye fall into temptation.
Vel Judam non videtis quomodo non dormit,
     Or do you not see Judas, how he sleeps not,
sed festinat tradere me Judaeis?
     but makes haste to betray me to the Jews?

The final reading in the Maundy Thursday Matins was from I Corinthians 11:27-34.

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

In the final responsory, the scene changes from the intimate circle of Jesus and his disciples to the organized and violent opposition plotting his apprehension.

Seniores populi consilium fecerunt,
     The elders of the people discussed
Ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:
     That they might by craft apprehend Jesus and kill him.
cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.
     They came out with swords and clubs as against a robber.

Collegerunt pontifices et pharisaei concilium.
     Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council,
Ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:
     That they might by craft apprehend Jesus and kill him.
cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.
     They came out with swords and clubs as against a robber.

Seniores populi consilium fecerunt,
     The elders of the people discussed
Ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:
     That they might by craft apprehend Jesus and kill him.
cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.
     They came out with swords and clubs as against a robber.