Category Archives: Good Friday

Vexilla Regis = “Let Royal Banners fly!”

Jesus-Crucifixion

Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609 AD) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.

The hymn has, thus, a strong connection with the Cross and is fittingly sung at Vespers from Passion Sunday to Holy Thursday and on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The hymn was also formerly sung on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the repository to the altar.

Abroad the royal banners fly,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear his wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth’s Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.

Fragrant aromatics are thrown,
sweetest nectar is sown,
Dearest fruit of tree!
Be my noble victory!

Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life’s very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

Translation from “The Psalter of Sarum”: London 1852.

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday – “Popule meus, quid feci tibi?”, “My people, what have I done to you?”

jeffrey-tucker

-by Jeffrey Tucker, a convert from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholicism.

“It is puzzling what happened to the Reproaches on Good Friday, an essential part of the Roman Rite for ages, but all-but-vanished today. At least since the 9th century, they had been sung during the veneration of the cross: “My people, what have I done to you?” Or in Latin: “Popule meus, quid feci tibi?”

My copy of the missallete, which is the template that most choirs use to sing on Good Friday, contains no mention of the Reproaches at all. We instead are instructed to sing a song written in 1976 (with a chorus that sounds a bit like the theme to Gilligan’s Island) or to sing “other appropriate songs.”

The GIRM contains no instructions on the matter, but I’ve yet to discover evidence that the Reproaches have been abolished or are even optional.

The Reproaches are still in the Graduale Romanum. Many things appear in this book that are rarely used so perhaps that is understandable. However, the Reproaches are also printed larger than life in the Sacramentary itself, taking up three full pages with music. So let no one say that it was the 1970 Missal that caused them to disappear.

I gather that most celebrants skip over these pages since the music is for the choir to sing, not the priest. In some ways, it is a puzzle as to why they appear in the Sacramentary at all since this book doesn’t print other chants that are exclusive to the choir, such as the Offertory proper at every Mass.

But, as I say, there is no mention of their existence in my missalette at all. And let’s face it: if it is not in this fly-away book, it will not happen. That’s how much influence these publications wield. These private companies can wipe out whole swaths of the Roman Rite just by declining to print things. After 10 or 20 years, no one remembers that it was ever sung.

It seems Orwellian in some way, but I actually think it is a reflection of the chaotic system of: 1) endless numbers of choices over what to do at liturgy, 2) the lack of rubrical specificity in the ordinary form, 3) the way the parts of the Mass are sprawled out over so many books, 4) the remarkable and pervasive ignorance concerning the role of the choir at Mass, and 5) the way that the Missalettes are targeted for use by the people and tend to be inattentive to the parts that belong exclusively to either the celebrant or the choir.

In this thicket, some things gets lost.

The Reproaches are an important part of Good Friday because they highlight the essential injustice of the Crucifixion, the culpability of humanity in this action, and the role of sin in those times and our times in bringing this about. We are given remarkable gifts by God, and the signs are all around us, and yet we do not show gratitude. Rather, we turn our backs on God and deny God due reverence in our lives and in our worship.

The narrative of the Reproaches is presented as a historical epic but it is impossible to hear them and not think of the universal ethical and theological implications. When we leave them out, we are refusing to let the Christ of all history speak to us, saying perhaps what we do not want to hear but we must hear.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 15 – Improperia (The Reproaches), Our Lady of Sorrows

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
-Luke 2:34-35

And with “Woman behold your son.”  And, “Son, behold your Mother.”  cf Jn 19:26-27, Mary became our mother, and the mother of the Church.

Good Friday is a day of mourning, remembering Christ’s death, and so is not typically a day of songs and hymns. During the Veneration of the Cross, the following Antiphon and verses known as “The Reproaches” (Improperia) are sung. Individual parts are indicated by no. 1 (first choir) and no. 2 (second choir); parts sung by both choirs together are indicated by nos. 1 and 2.

The Reproaches (Improperia)

Antiphon 1 and 2:
We worship You, Lord,
we venerate Your cross,
we praise Your resurrection.
1: Through the cross
You brought joy to the world.
1: (Psalm 66:2)
May God be gracious and bless us;
and let His face shed its light upon us.

Repeat Antiphon by 1 and 2:

The Reproaches:

I.

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!
1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave Me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

Love,
Matthew