Sunday, March 02, 2008

What music must we hear in Lent?

It was probably ten years ago when I had experienced my third Lent in a row without hearing "O Sacred Head"--a piece that, for reasons that are unclear in my mind, I was somehow sure had to be sung in Lent, no matter what--that I made a resolution to do something, anything, within my ability to change what I could in my own liturgical universe, even if it meant start and directing a choir myself.

This morning, the choir in which I sing, in this very parish, presented the introit Laetare from the Graduale Romanum, as the actual entrance song. We did the whole of Mass XVII from the Graduale. We did the communio from the Graduale, plus some polyphony from Spain's 16th century. And, yes, we sang O Sacred Head with the congregation, following communion.

I know now what I did not know then, namely, that vernacular hymnody can be used in the Roman Rite--less often in the EF than the OF--but it must always and everywhere take a secondary role to the sung parts of the Mass itself: the propers and the ordinary. It is not identical to the Catholic experience. O Sacred Head is not, in fact, somehow integral to Lent.

Today, my sense has matured far beyond my own preferences of music I like and dislike, and instead long to become completely familiar with the music of the Church, of which I know only a tiny fraction. But, sure enough, there are some new pieces that I now identify as essential to Lent. I would list here Hosanna Filio David for Palm Sunday, and Crux fidelis for Good Friday, printed below (only the first verse of many).

So I'm curious here what music you believe you must hear in Lent. It is one of the great tragedies of our time that so must has been lost. But the rebuilding is taking place. What melodies are nonnegotiable for Lent?

Here is crux:

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