For musicians Holy Week is the richest time of the year for liturgical music. Many of the hymns that we sing during this time are centuries old and have a great deal of the tradition of the Church woven into them. The Paschal Triduum is one three-day liturgy. Beginning with Holy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday, these days journey through Jesus’ last supper, passion, death and resurrection. There are quite a few actions throughout the triduum that are particular to these few days and the music we use is designed to accompany these traditions forming a firm foundation in prayer.
Often people feel that with music accompaniment means merely listening, but accompaniment means to sing, to participate, to fully engage in the triduum and any liturgy through entering the music. Every song within the liturgy is a form of prayer, and by fully engaging in the prayer by singing the song one enters more deeply into the liturgy itself.
Two significant liturgical moments on Holy Thursday are the washing of feet and the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose signifying Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane. As we hear proclaimed in the Gospel for Holy Thursday), Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. (John 13:1-15) We mirror this action on Holy Thursday and sing, repeating texts from the Gospel themes including, “Love one another,” and “The Lord Jesus, after eating supper with his disciples, washed their feet…” (John 13:35,12) After Communion, the liturgy continues with a Eucharistic procession to an altar of repose utilizing St. Thomas Aquinas’ Pange Lingua.
On Good Friday, the liturgy continues and allows us to adore and venerate the cross while singing Ecce Lignum Crucis (Behold the wood of the Cross). We don’t simply recite these words; we proclaim them through song so that we can more deeply and wholeheartedly participate in beholding the wood of the cross, integrating the words and their meaning into our soul. By this “full” participation within all that the Triduum prays, this can be a life-changing moment in a person’s life.
As the liturgy continues to the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, we sing the Alleluia for the first time (since the beginning of Lent) before the proclamation of the Gospel. This is meant to be an extended Alleluia, raising our voices each time it is sung. This is our acclamation of praise to God as Jesus is risen from the dead.
To be truly present during the triduum is a great contribution to our parish community and our personal faith, this means fully participating in every element of the liturgy. By singing, we immerse ourselves into the totality of prayer that this beautiful liturgy is meant to be. The potential celebration we as a Catholic Church can offer to ourselves by fully entering into the prayer of the liturgy is unimaginable! The reason that a parish is considered alive or on fire is because the entire celebration is in full participation with and by the people of God in that church. And the music is a key element that the Holy Spirit uses to penetrate our souls to open our hearts to all that the liturgy offers to the body of Christ. There’s something about a song.
Listen to songs inspired by this article to bring Holy Week music to life!