Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday in Rome - The Polyphonic Settings of the Crowd

Every year on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, at the Fraternity of St Peter’s Roman parish, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the choir sings those parts of the Passion that represent the crowd. Most of these are quite short, but the Passion of St Matthew contains two longer ones towards the end, at chapter 27, 39-43. As recorded here, they are each preceded by a verse sung by the narrator, who is called Chronista in Latin, and whose parts are marked with a red C in the chant books. The parts that are neither those of the narrator nor of Christ Himself, whether a single speaker or many, are collectively known as the Synagogue, and marked with a red S. I have reproduced the text in Latin and English below with these markings. It was never mandatory for the choir to sing the parts of the crowd (sometimes called “Turba” in Latin), but these beautiful polyphonic settings by Tomás Luis de Victoria show why the custom was so widespread and loved by the faithful.

C. Praetereuntes autem blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua, et dicentes: S. Vah! qui destruis templum Dei, et in triduo illud reaedificas: salva temetipsum: si Filius Dei es, descende de cruce. C. Similiter et principes sacerdotum illudentes cum scribis et senioribus dicebant. S. Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere: si rex Israël est, descendat nunc de cruce, et credimus ei: confidit in Deo: liberet nunc, si vult eum: dixit enim: Quia Filius Dei sum.

C. And they that passed by, blasphemed him, wagging their heads, and saying: S. Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it: save thy own self: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. C. In like manner also the chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, mocking, said: S. He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him now deliver him if he will have him; for he said: I am the Son of God.

Here are a few photos taken after today’s Pontifical Mass.
Palms used in place of flowers on the main altar.
The dome filled with incense.
In Italy, as a general rule, olive branches are distributed to the faithful, and relatively few palms are blessed and given out. (This is why the day is called “Palm Sunday” in the Ambrosian Missal, but “Olive Sunday” in the breviary; olives are also mentioned along with the palms in the traditional form of the Palm Sunday blessing.) Here we see special palms woven and decorated for the bishop and assistant priest to carry in the procession, along with a few other items for Pontifical Mass.

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