Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Introit for Sexagesima Sunday

[One of our readers submitted the following reflection about the proper introit chant for Sexagesima Sunday in the classical Roman calendar.]

by Ted Krasnicki

The Gregorian introit for Sexagesima Sunday is one the great masterpieces of Gregorian chant. How well does the text of the psalmist express the cry of the faithful who at times are wondering if the Lord is listening to them, and how well does the music meditate on those words in the context of Lent.

The week of Sexagesima Sunday recalls the history of God's redemptive work through Noe, the second of the three fathers of mankind (cf. Saturday Vespers of the evening before). The Lord did not let man perish despite him going against His will: He again gave him another chance through Noe. Following God's will, Noe built the ark through which man was saved once more from his own perdition. It took Noe over 100 years to build the ark because it had to be huge to accommodate the multitude
of creatures and yet strong to resist the deluge for 30 days. Early in Christianity the Ark became the symbol for the Church (cf.1 Peter 3:18-21). Today, as then, the earth is deluged by sin and heresy, but the Ark withstands the deluge through its strength from the Holy Spirit.

Sexagesima calls us to escape from the deluge of worldliness, by taking shelter in the Ark of salvation: the Church of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, as She prepares to fortify our faith with Lent.

The introit for this Sunday is taken from Psalm 43: 23-26, and 2:

Exurge, quare obdormis Domine? Exurge, et ne repellas in finem: quare faciem tuam avertis, oblivisceris tribulationem nostram? Adhaesit in terra venter noster: exurge, Domine, adjuva nos, et libera nos.

Wake up, Lord, why are You sleeping? Wake up and don't leave us to perish: why do you turn your face away, ignoring our tribulation? Our belly is stuck to the earth: wake up, Lord, help us, and liberate us.

For the psalmist here, God does not turn his face away from his faithful people, just as He did not turn His face away from Noe. It is a prayer of faith and trust in God, that, despite the events, God, through His love and mercy, will come through and again will save his people and not turn his face away. Today, the Church, as the Ark, calls on us to become conscious of the world that we have made wretched through our sins, knowing that God will again save us from our perdition if we repent, and Lent will offer us the time to express our deep sorrow for these sins. We therefore sing today's introit in anticipation of the climax of Lent - the death of Christ – which, together with the His resurrection, has for all time saved us by offering us the door to the eternal World to come and has given the keys to His Church.

Musical Symbolism and Theology

The first sentence is a question, and, like some lection tones, it ends on a higher note as interrogatives normally do in speech. Notice the combination FA-MI-SOL-LA on “obdormis Domine”. The combination FA-MI is depricative, representing the suffering or death of Christ, while SOL-LA represents His resurrection. SOL is the note of the resurrection, while LA is beyond the resurrection- “surrexit Jesus”, that is, His divine realm. The music is asking God to not only wake up but to save us through the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son which we will recall specifically in the Paschal Triduum at the end of Lent.

The note combination on the second “quare” is taken from the “per omnia saecula...” such as before the “Pater Noster”. This “per omnia...” does not have a cadence as such, but is open ended, symbolising that God has no end, being timeless – for ages and ages. The music is asking God about our next World without end to come.

The highest note in the introit is the DO; this is the domain of God the Father and we can just barely get up there through the Church, and God will save us.

When one is going through great tribulations, there is trembling in one's speech. The repetitive FA-SOL-LA combination over “tribulationem” resembles our trembling voices, desperately beseeching the Lord for help. We reach to the divine realm of LA, but cannot stay there because we are prisoners of the earth. Indeed, our bellies are stuck to this earth. We try to lift ourselves up as if with our arms to get up but fall right down to the MI on our bellies: “adhaesit”; we try again but now fall back even further to the lower DO: “in terra”; we are painfully worn out: “venter”; then we just give up from exhaustion: “noster”. We need God's gracious help to free us from the earth, and this we find in Christ our Saviour: “et libera”, on which words the music has the symbolic combination FA-MI-SOL-LA telling us that Christ has liberated us from this sinful world through His death and resurrection to go to the next, to which the Church holds the keys. The musical symbols here, in other words, express the theology of the Church

Performance Notes

There are three “exurge”s (wake up) in this Introit; it seems God is not waking up so they should get progressively louder. The third one could even be one of desperation: quite loud as suggested by the use of single notes. The “u” of second “exurge” should be punctuated on the LA and not the SOL according to the codices. In fact, the SOL could be reduced to one note. Although the first syllable is always the strongest of the other non-accented syllables, be mindful of the Latin accents in the words, for instance in “repellas”, it is the second “e” that is accented (the music usually reflects this anyways). Make sure to break or mini-pause between “in” and “finem”, as they are different words and sung differently according to their meaning. The DO on “oblivisceris” should be soft. The LA's on “tribulationem” should be stressed as well as the two FA's on “venter”, despite what is written on the latter. On “libera”, the second MI should be sung fast, while the last one softly; do stress the LA, since that is our immediate goal.

It is unfortunate that this great introit is no longer sung as a preparation for Lent, but I hope and pray that this will one day be reversed, perhaps in the reform of the reform.

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