There is so much music for Holy Week and Easter that it’s daunting just to assemble it. There are so many different moods and styles that need to be incorporated, and it’s one of the times in the year when you can hope for a bigger congregation than usual, so the responsibility is huge to make them feel not just welcome but able to join in.
The sequence has to start on Palm Sunday. First there is Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but then we have that truly distressing psalm (21/22) and the reading of the Passion. Lots of people can’t get to services in the week, and this may be the only time they hear the Passion narrative before the Easter Sunday Gospel. So after the Hosannas at the beginning of Mass, that psalm is not only a response to the Isaiah reading about the suffering servant, but also immediately throws us forward to the Crucifixion, because these are the terrible words that Jesus cries from the cross. It would be unbearable without the last verse.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in the evening, though, is one of the most beautiful masses of the year, and it has a lovely exultant psalm (115/116), whose only real difficulty is the Response, as it’s been taken not out of the psalm itself, but out of St Paul. I know he’s a towering genius and an amazing theologian, but he didn’t write to be sung, and it shows. It’s a bit long as a Response, but I’ve tried to give it a sufficiently predictable shape so that people don’t get lost in the middle. That particular Response is there, of course, to bridge the gap between the (Old Testament) psalm and the (New Testament) institution of the Eucharist and the New Covenant, so it’s very important to do it like that, it’s just that it doesn’t scan the way that the Grail psalms do, and you really don’t want a crunch between verse and response. I hope you think that this works.
I’m always slightly surprised to find that the Good Friday psalm isn’t the same as the Palm Sunday one, but the Good Friday psalm is the more comforting Psalm 30/31. Again, the Response is something Christ says on the cross; again, the later verses are positive and confident, but I can’t help being arrested by the picture of the man that everyone runs away from (as the Apostles did); like a broken dish, used in the home so often, maybe carrying the Bread the night before, now broken and thrown in the rubbish, no further use. The link back to Palm Sunday is provided not by the Psalm, but by the Gospel Acclamation verse, which is the same. It is quite long, so it’s a bit squashed to fit onto one page, but still readable, I think.
I’m going to leave the Easter Vigil to my next post, as the mood change is so total and the quantity of music so enormous!