Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Story of Easter Through Its Introits

The chant arrangement of the liturgical year offers an endless opportunity for examination and reflection. Information is provided by the chant alone that would otherwise be missed or misunderstood in absence of the music, and the Introits for the Easter season provide a great example.

We are used to the idea that Easter takes place suddenly, as if we wake up and it is a done deal, so everyone cheers. And so on it goes until Ordinary Time hits us. This is what happens when choosing music for Mass is reduced to selecting hymns from a list.

The liturgical sense is different. Easter begins with a sense of awe or even fear that is the first impulse upon discovery the reality of the impossible: the dead come back to life. And it comes to dawn on people slowly that it is not only true but also offers an in depth meaning concerning our own salvation. Our death can be new life too in Heaven. Our conversion to the faith in Christ gives us new life as well.

The jubilation emerges progressively as the weeks move forward, as Christ visits and walks among the believers before his Ascension into heaven, when we look up to observe yet another astonishing reality, breathtaking in its transformative power.

If we look only at the incipits for the introits for the season, we can see this drama unfold progressively as the weeks move forward. There is the awe, the fear. Then attention turns to the metaphor of conversion and new life (Quasi Modo). On the third week we should joyfully (Jubilate). On the fourth, we reflect on the mercy of the Lord, and the great gift he has left us in the opportunity of salvation (Misericordia). On the fifth, we sing a new song about wondrous deeds (Cantate). On the sixth, evangelism: spread the good news (Vocem). Then we rejoin the historical narrative on the following week: "Men of Galilee, why are you gazing in astonishment at the sky?"

Even if you know nothing about music, you can observe the drama in the lines of notes and the shapes of phrases. I've put together this little tool so that you can see how this works. Now compare the first chant with the last one. The story is in the line of notes.

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