Holy Week and Easter Sunday
also known as Holy Week, contains some of the most dramatic music from the pens of great comp
The final week of Lent, closes, with the focus being on the suffering, Passion, and crucifixion of Christ. Our Palm Sunday worship starts with the great triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, as Jesus is proclaimed King of Israel by the gathered crowds at Jerusalem, the same crowd whose cries of “Hosanna!” will all too soon turn to “Crucify!”. Our liturgy thus begins with the great processional hymn “All Glory, Laud and Honor”, with a text written by the 9th-century priest Theodulph of Orleans. These words were later sung as a Palm Sunday processional in such diverse locations as Hereford, England, and Tours and Rouen in France, being sung first at the town’s gates and later at the entrances to the churches themselves. In our liturgy, this mood of triumph changes after the Passion gospel is read, and a more sober and introspective tone takes over for the remainder of the service, which is reflected in the hymns and music. The final hymn of the day, “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”, is an observation of, and prayer to, Christ on the cross. The text comes from the hand of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the German translation of his original Latin became the ultimate expression of Holy Week in the Lutheran churches of the Reformation. The English translation in our Hymnal 1940 was made by Robert Bridges, poet laureate of England in the early 20th-century. Lastly, the organ postlude for Palm Sunday is quiet and introspective, as befits the conclusion of a service that ushers us into Holy Week; Bach’s great prelude on the Passiontide chorale “O Man, bewail thy great sin” will be heard this year.
Maundy Thursday’s hymns reflect both the Epistle’s focus on the institution of Christ’s body and blood as the Holy Eucharist, and the Gospel’s continuing Passion narrative. The great plainsong hymn Pange lingua is sung as a fitting conclusion to the liturgy, with words that comment on the final meal shared by Jesus with the disciples before going into the garden of Gethsemane to begin his final agony.
Our celebration of Easter Day is appropriately filled with great music, including hymns both beautiful and familiar. “Jesus Christ is Ris’n Today”, “He is Risen” and “At the Lamb’s High Feast” are among the great hymns for the day, with texts from Latin originals translated by Miles Coverdale and John Mason Neale, among others. Careful observers will note that the composer of the well known “Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” is none other than Sir Arthur Sullivan, of “Gilbert and Sullivan” fame! Sullivan composed some of the best Victorian hymn tunes, and was actually a bit frustrated that he was known principally as the composer of the Savoy operas, and not for his more serious undertakings. How many of us know that the music for arguably the most famous Victorian hymn was actually written by Sullivan? The tune is St. Gertrude, and the hymn we all know is “Onward, Christian Soldiers”!
Texts and music from the great heritage of church history all combine to assist us in delving deeply into this, the richest and most profound time in our liturgical year, as celebrated at Trinity Anglican Church.