Holy Week without going to church

Every church is shut

One of the measures taken by a lot of different governments in the current Corona virus situation, is to close all places of assembly, including the churches. This has been difficult already, with no Sunday going-to-Mass, no adoration sessions, no popping in to touch base with the Lord.  But the timing now is particularly difficult.  Lent meant that the family’s stocks of biscuits and chocolate were low even before we could go shopping, because everyone had given things up; but when they are all at home all day, it’s good occasionally to provide a morale-boosting treat. Now we have reached Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.  We can’t even have Stations of the Cross or the Last Supper Mass; we won’t be able to go to church on Good Friday to feel the ache of what’s missing. We have had to park the Holy Sacrament in the sanctuary a couple of weeks back, without even any ceremony; and when it comes to the Vigil or the joy of Easter morning, how joyful will we manage to feel?

Flocking to the house of the Lord in happier times
Nobody to pray with
praying with correct social distancing

Of course you can still pray ‘alone and in secret’, but the community part of prayer is turning out to be more important to most of us than we realised.   Ekklesia (Church) is from the word which means calling out to draw together, to assemble.  It is fundamental to our faith.  At least we should be able to have more empathy with those Christians who have to manage like this all the time, once this is over. But I’ve been trying to think of practical alleviations for now.

New use of new technology

Masses on-line are working really well, and we are all grateful to those who have managed to provide the technology and have it function more than adequately in these difficult days.  It seems only last week that our parish priest was having trouble with a single microphone, and now people are livestreaming and recording whole Masses.

even better social distancing
..but not the complete event

We attend attentively to these Masses, but it’s a strange experience.  The ones I have seen (attended? taken part in?) have been of either just a priest, or a priest and one other (either a reader, or a concelebrant).  The Mass as such is there, but no congregation, and (for me, crucially) no congregational singing.   One of the recorded Masses I attended had a priest who intoned the end of the Proper, and my family and I duly sang Amen, but somehow it emphasized the gap between us and what was happening on-screen rather than the opposite.

Holy Week with a mute button

So now we are facing a Holy Week with no congregational music, and I am planning ways to supply what I feel I will miss the most.  I know some people will think that we should offer up our discomfort, and of course that is an option.  We will all have to do that anyway, as I don’t think I will be able to compensate for what I am missing.  But here are a few suggestions of music which helps us to shape and understand the words of the Holy Week liturgies.   For me, and I’m sure for others,  much of the effect is added by the music.   I am sure these services, like our on-line Masses,  will be available on-line in some form, though without live music and congregation.  Even if you had a socially-distancing congregation, most non-professionals would not want to sing on their own so far away from the next voice!

easier to sing as a group
Holy Week hymns not an option

Before the virus overtook all our arrangements, I was wondering about assembling a list of the best Holy Week hymns, or even hymns creating a virtual Stations of the Cross, but I’ve parked that idea for now (maybe I’ll do it next year).  Hymns really are for singing yourself with a group, so I won’t be digging up favourite ones on YouTube just to listen to (though if the BBC plays me some services from past years with good singalonga hymns over the Triduum, I’ll probably join in while making my hot cross buns). 

Passion music to listen to : Bach, Schütz, Stainer

The Passion reading for Palm Sunday this year is St Matthew’s, and the Good Friday one St John’s.  Bach set both, quite differently.  The St Matthew Passion is a work of great scale, almost lush in its sweep, and the link is to a big choir and orchestra.  The St John is gentler and more intimate, and I like to listen to it with a small choir (here’s a link).   In both cases, the narrative is interspersed with comments (arias and chorales), which is the way that Bach’s church did it;  but both these linked recordings have subtitles, so you can follow where you are. 

Heinrich Schütz  (1585 – 1672)  also set both the St Matthew and St John Passions, but he did it in a straight run of the narrative, and with no instrumental support.  It’s simpler and more devotional, but I can’t find a subtitled version.  I know the Bach much better, but I love Schütz’s Christmas music, so I’ll be listening to his Passions as well.  Other listening music is the Passion part of Handel’s Messiah,  which means Part 2, but without the Hallelujah Chorus at the end.  Save that (and Part 3) for Easter Sunday.  Something else I love dearly is Stainer’s Crucifixion, unfairly neglected by us Catholics, which I find very moving.  

By the time we get to Easter Sunday, if you want joyful music, try putting ‘surrexit Christus hodie’ or ‘surrexit Christus vere’ into Google and YouTube.  Baroque Czechs and Netherlanders wrote some truly beautiful music for this, exciting to listen to (and really exhilarating to sing in different times).

A modern take on the Via Crucis

One other suggestion for those of you with children at home, who want to tell the story of Holy Week.  When I was teaching the First Communion class, some years ago, we did models, like little tableaux,  of the crucial stages of the Passion narrative for the class coming up to Holy Week.  I did it with Playmobil, but it would work just as well with Lego.  You need a clearly recognisable Jesus figure, a few representative apostles, some Roman soldiers (capes and helmets), a Pilate figure with something that can double as a basin for handwashing, a Herod figure with crown, a spare crown (of thorns, or you can improvise with brown wool or even paper), and a couple of representative women.  For scene setting you need a few trees and bushes, fires, a throne or two, a plate and a cup (some of the Harry Potter Lego would give you cups and fires).   You need a base plate for each separate scene, just to keep it reasonably straightforward. 

Set up the Last Supper;  the Garden of Gethsemane;  Herod’s palace, Pilate’s palace; and a green path, which will lead to Calvary.  Then what I did was to tell the story slowly, moving the little figures from place to place.  Spread it out over two or three tables if you can, so that everyone has to follow the journey.  You can have a real crucifix at the end of the green path, and light a candle there when you reach it (put Jesus in your pocket here, because he’s on the crucifix).   You can repurpose two of the apostles as the thieves for this scene, because they’ve all run away, but make sure the women are there, however peripherally, in every scene.  I found the children were absolutely rapt and reverent, and it helped us all to understand exactly how the story unfolded. 

The power of the cliffhanger

You stop fairly abruptly at the Crucifixion, which is entirely appropriate, and you don’t need to go into detail.  Indeed, saying to the children, ‘And now we all have to wait and see what can possibly happen next’, is a good way to leave it.  You could then secretly (I haven’t actually done this, because we’ve never not been able to go to church for Easter before) make one of the little Resurrection gardens that you see in Anglican churches, and leave it to be found on Easter morning with the Lord standing outside it (and Mary Magdalene looking baffled or surprised  – lift up the arms on the little figure – in the garden).  I think that would work, because it’s like leaving the crib empty on Christmas Eve and filled with the baby on Christmas morning.

Christ emerging from tomb
resurrexit sicut dixit

Use whatever helps, because the message is so much more important than the ways we use to tell it.  Even music, though it pains me to admit it.  And the Lord will himself turn our mourning into dancing, as it says in Ps 29/30, even if it is to music that we can only make when we get back to our churches.

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Gentle Guide to my Holy Week music

The hill of the skull, a mountain to climb?

Icon crucifixion
The central, not final, event

Holy Week is a daunting prospect for church musicians. There is so much to do, so many different services, several extra musicians if you’re lucky, because it’s the holidays, and a bad time of the year for coughs and colds.  It’s like Christmas but on a much bigger scale, and it’s not remotely cosy and cuddly, but elemental and dark. This is not an attempt to tell anyone how to do it; I just thought I would walk you through the options in my musical settings, and hope that someone finds it helpful.

I find it helpful to think of it as a walk, because you only have to take one step at a time.  Don’t worry about the Vigil while you’re doing Maundy Thursday; don’t worry about Isaiah while you’re responding to Genesis.  We’re all travelling together, and the Church has laid out the path clearly over the last two thousand years.  We just have to walk along it, one step at a time, and we’ll get there.

Maundy Thursday

We have already had Palm Sunday (hosanna), so the next liturgical event is the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, which most parishes don’t need to worry about, as it is for the assembled clergy of a diocese and happens in cathedrals. Here you would have much more in the way of musical resources than most parishes have, so I imagine most people will go for big four-part settings.  But I have set the Chrism psalm (88/89) just in case anyone wants a simpler setting.  It is the same psalm as for the feast of St Joseph last week, which feels appropriate, but with a different response. Instead of ‘the son of David will live forever’ to emphasize Jesus’ parentage through Joseph (slightly odd, because Joseph is not part of the direct line, but never mind), we have ‘Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord’, which is a wonderfully encouraging note to strike before we go down into the valley of the shadow.

The Sacred Triduum (the holy three days) only starts after the Chrism Mass, with the evening Mass on Maundy Thursday. We call this ‘the Mass of the Lord’s Supper’, but I was delighted to hear a non-native English speaker refer to it as ‘the Mass of the Holy Dinner’, because that is exactly what we mean, only we are so used to ‘the Last Supper’ as a phrase that we don’t think about its original meaning.

Last Supper, Cranach the Elder
Holy Dinner at a round table

This is a long, complicated and very beautiful service.  With the first reading we have the original Passover story, because this is the reason why Jesus is holding a formal dinner with his friends.  The psalm (115/116) neatly picks up this reference (responding to God’s goodness, celebrating formally with the cup of salvation), and carries us across to the story of the Messiah, connecting him to the sacrificed lamb of the Passover, ‘precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful [..] I am your servant, the son of your handmaid’, and then moves brilliantly to the Eucharistic Sacrifice by using Paul’s line in 1 Corinthians 10 ‘our blessing cup is a communion with the blood of Christ’ as the Response.  Thus we have the whole circle, and I could draw a lovely diagram if I knew how to do it with this software.  It is elegant and economical, liturgically speaking, and a three-verse psalm has done the whole job.  It’s quite a long Response, and it’s not out of the psalm itself, and I know I fulminate against both those things occasionally, but here is an example where it works superbly well.

Then we have the Gospel, the footwashing, Communion and the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament.  There are ancient and modern hymns and anthems for these parts of the liturgy (Pange lingua, Wash me throughly, Ubi caritas etc) but no more psalms till the next day.

Good Friday

An unexpectedly serene and confident psalm (30/31) for Good Friday, when we have a Liturgy of the Word and Communion and other parts of a special service (the Adoration of the Cross, the Reproaches), but no Mass.  But this psalm does have a dreadful middle section, and the two moods within the psalm are so different that I had to write it as two tunes, as I was saying in my last post.  The US and CAN versions have four verses, with v2 as the terrible part; UK and OZ divide that verse into two, so there are five verses overall.  This means that I can start on a positive note, dip into the middle verse(s), and come out again for the last part, so the two tunes seem to work with the congregation, especially as the Response stays the same.

Trying to get this psalm onto fewer pages is really difficult, and I couldn’t improve on 4 pp for CAN.  But you do only need 2 pp at once; once you’ve finished p2, ditch those sheets and use the second pair, as I have put the Response on again at the end.  By careful squeezing I got everyone else’s version on to 3 pp.  Although it’s Good Friday, this is actually an easier psalm to sing than Palm Sunday (and you’re already the other side of that one):  the psalmist is so confident and serene that he even has time to think of others in the last verse, and encourage them to be brave (which is of course exactly what the Lord does in Luke’s Gospel, ch 23 : ‘This day you shall be with me in paradise’).

Saturday night, the Vigil

And on to the Easter Vigil.  Lots of music, lots of choices, some of the best words in the whole year.  Many parishes do shortened versions (understandably), but I’ve tried to pace and pitch the music so that it’s not too much to manage.  You will not be hoarse at the end even if you have to cant all the psalms, as I’ve used the instruments to bring in the colour of high notes where I wanted them.   I’ll just go through and make a couple of comments on each.

First Reading psalms : either 103/104 or 32/33

This is a real choice, as both psalms include beautiful nature poetry, as you would expect after the reading of the Creation.  I’d probably choose 32/33 myself, because I like the swing of it.  That one has twinkling stars, the other one has twittering birds, so you choose.  I do like the stars being made by God’s breath in the earlier psalm.  I was once waiting for a tram, under a streetlight in Prague, with the temperature at minus 25 degrees, and if you puffed out a breath all the moisture in it instantly froze and reflected the light as separate sparkles.  I created stars with my breath, and it was wonderful.  CAN and UK please note that the final flourish on the recorders is only printed in the extended version as I couldn’t fit it into the compact.

Second Reading psalm 15/16

This follows the reading on the nearly-sacrifice of Isaac, which is a difficult one to respond to (I know it’s about representation and archetypes, but I still respond to it as a parent rather than anything else).  The US words are a bit unwieldy, but all the other country versions are a lullaby, because of the confidence in the words.

Third Reading, Exodus

These are glorious words, but hopelessly irregular (the words were outsourced to prophets rather than psalmists).  I cannot find any way that works to telescope the pages, so you will need someone to turn over for the person on the piano/organ/keyboard, even with the piano copy.  This one was great fun to set and to sing.  It is exciting, and a wonderful story, so make sure the words are clear.

Pharoah's horses in the Red Sea
The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea

Fourth Reading psalm 29/30

Another joyful psalm.  Emphasize the contrast words, because that is what drives the movement (night/day, mourning/dancing, anger/ favour, moment/life, tears/joy, life/grave).  The US version has two instruments, because we were lucky enough to have them available when I was writing it.

Fifth Reading, Isaiah

This is a fun psalm in all the versions even if they get their water of salvation differently.  UK and CAN have to pump from wells (so the music does), the US has springs (so the music bubbles up and runs over), and OZ confusingly has both, so I just concentrated on making it watery.  This time I managed to get the final flourish even into the compact format (not US).

Peaceful holy well
Holy well where you would need a bucket

Sixth Reading psalm 18/19

This nearly came badly off the rails, as I mixed up my everlasting with my eternal and thought OZ and CAN had the same words, but they are not the same, and luckily I spotted it in time.  We had this psalm in Lent, so there might be a folk memory of the tune in the congregation if you are lucky.

Seventh Reading psalm 41/42 +42/43 or 50/51

Another one where you get an alternative (unless you live in Australasia).  41/42 + 42/43 is a lovely psalm (as well as having the longest label in the book), but it’s also good to be offered the positive verses of Psalm 50/51.  The mood has darkened again slightly with these psalms, away from the ebullient joy of the psalms in the middle section, because we are now coming up to the big moment.  This is the last OT Reading, so we go back to thinking about how much we are longing for the Redeemer and how sad we are at our part in causing his death.  Yearning and patient waiting is the note here.

Easter Vigil Mass psalm 117/118

Now we have arrived at the psalm we are going to use repeatedly  for a couple of weeks, sometimes with a different Response, sometimes with different verses (this is a big psalm).  Here the Response is the ancient triple Alleluia, incantatory and soberly joyful (note the full stops, not commas or exclamation marks).  This is your first proper Alleluia since before Lent began, and you have to warm up into it.  This is why the Easter Vigil is so long.  Enormous joy has to be approached with care.  We kindled a tiny flame at the beginning of the Vigil: now it is a proper bonfire, a feu de joie,  a conflagration of celebration.

and Sunday morning, the day after the Sabbath

Easter Sunday Mass psalm 117/118

Same psalm, different Response : now we can do more than just stutter our Alleluia, we have a story to tell and we can frame it in words.  We can rejoice ourselves, and we can call others to come and rejoice with us.

So much emotion, so much music.  It’s not surprising we feel exhausted by the end, but it’s positive exhaustion which will keep on giving.  It has been a long walk up the hill, but the view from the top is sublime.  Well done all choirs, church musicians and especially music directors, who have to remember to congratulate and thank everyone else but might not get thanked themselves.  I am extremely grateful to you, especially of course if you have used any of my music!  Happy Easter, alleluia, alleluia.

He hath op’d the heavenly door/And man is blest for evermore

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.