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.

 

Music for Holy Week (up to Saturday)

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.

Palm Sunday

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.

Maundy Thursday

The Chrism Mass is mostly for the clergy, and the psalm (88/89) is a short one for everyone except the Canadians, who have an extra (third) 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.

Good Friday

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!

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2017. 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.