There is no incidental organ music on this day.
More than with any other musical instrument, the life and fate of the organ has been inextricably entwined with the life and fate of the Church of the West. Where the Church has been alive and vibrant, the organ too, has generally flourished. When choirs and places have fallen into disuse and decay, the organ, ever a mistress in need of constant love and attention, has often been the first piece of the fabric to fail. Although there have been exceptions, particularly since the Protestant reformation, where the voice of the instrument was sometimes banished in favor of the chorus of human voices, the organ has ever been the ready handmaiden to serve the People of God in the work and discipline of the liturgy. The sound of the organ has, for people of the Faith, formed the musical prelude and postlude of our lives, bearing us into the community of faith at our baptisms and leading us out of our time in this world into the eternal Communion of the Saints at our funerals. It has been a voice of joy in times of celebration and the soft sound of comfort in times of our great griefs. The organ, like all instruments and all music, participates in and echoes the Great Song of all creation from the very birth of the universe when “the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy.”
In the Passover liturgy of the Old Covenant, one of the participants traditionally asks, “How is this day different from all other days?” Such a question is not unfitting for us to ask on this day – indeed how is this Good Friday different from all other days? In the Gospel accounts we read that “Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land…”(Matthew 27:45) In our mind’s eye, we are transported back this day to that desolate and dark place. The silence of Creation surrounds us in astonished awe. Even the Greater Light of the Daytime cannot illumine such deep darkness. There is, in this day, a depth of despair that subsumes and encapsulates the entire history of despair, taking us each into those dark hours that we can scarce recall without the sharp intake of breath that comes with remembered pain too great to bear. Through the ages, many have tried to make a musical reply to this great silence, and our heritage is filled with many noble accomplishments–Bach’s great Passions of Matthew and John, innumerable “Misereres,” Sir John Stainer’s Crucifixion and its hauntingly sweet “For God so loved the world…” Yet, upon each brave and beautiful song sung into the enveloping darkness, the answering silence descends and surrounds. The voices of the Faithful are ultimately, and ever will be, silent, before these aweful events. As today with the church, so also with its faithful servant; the organ offers a breathless silence, as the Music dies into the silent dark of death and the grave.
Opening Voluntary: Prelude on RHOSYMEDRE , “My Song is Love Unknown”
– R. Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
At Communion: Chorale Prelude on Pange Lingua
– Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
The text “My Song is Love Unknown” was written by Samuel Crossman (1623-1683) and published in The Young Man’s Meditation, or Some Few Sacred Poems upon Select Subjects and Scriptures (London, 1664). Crossman was born in Bradfield Monachorum, Suffolk, England in 1623. After earning a bachelor of divinity degree at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he ministered at first to both an Anglican congregation and a separate Puritan one. Although he had strong Puritan sympathies, and was briefly expelled after the 1662 Act of Uniformity, he later recanted and was ordained in 1665 and became a royal chaplain. He was eventually made dean of Bristol Cathedral in 1683, serving briefly before his death that same year. Although we will sing the hymn (#458) tonight to the tune by John Ireland (1879-1962), the text is also often (and optionally in The Hymnal 1982 ) paired with the Welsh hymn tune RHOSYMEDRE by John D. Edwards (1806-1885). The tune name is a reference to the village of Rhosymedre in North Wales where Edwards served as vicar from 1843-1885. The Opening Voluntary is based on this hymn tune and is from a collection of Three Preludes for Organ on Welsh Hymn Tunes by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me
love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh, and die? – Samuel Crossman, 1664
A new commandment I giue vnto you, That yee loue one another, as I haue loued you, that yee also loue one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if yee haue loue one to another. John 23-34-35 (KJV, 1611)
The organ composition at the offertory is based on the Latin hymn, Pange Lingua (#329, The Hymnal 1982) and was composed by Flemish organist Flor Peeters (1903-1986). The text is attributed to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and was first notably translated into English by Edward Caswall (1814-1878) and later emended by others. Although originally a married Anglican Cleric, Caswall came under the influence of John Henry Newman (1801-1890) and later converted to Roman Catholicism along with his wife, who shortly after in 1849, after which he was received into the order of the Oratorians. The hymn, Pange Lingua has been used traditionally as we employ it tonight, during the procession to the Altar of Repose as well as at the feast of Corpus Christi.
In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus
cibum turbae doudenae
se dat suis manibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum
et si sensus deficit
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit
– Thomas Aquinas from Pange Lingua Gloriosi
In the night of that final Supper
reclining with his brothers,
He carries out the full Law
with the food of the Law.
He gives himself as food to the Twelve
with his own hands,
The Incarnate Word
makes true bread Flesh by a Word
and makes wine the Blood of Christ.
And if the senses are not enough
to strengthen the sincere heart,
faith alone shall suffice.
-Thomas Aquinas from Pange Lingua Gloriosi (Translated)
In keeping with the solemn nature and customs of the Holy Triduum liturgies, there is no closing voluntary, and the liturgy concludes with the singing of Psalm 22, seen by the early Christians as a prefiguring of the crucifixion.