Chant of the Passion for Holy Week

Author: CDW


Volume 117, Number 1, Spring 1990

The Chant Of The Passion For Holy Week

(The following article and decree were printed in "Notitiae," 281, Vol. 25, No. 12 (1989), p. 856-859. They were translated from French and Latin by Casey A. Kniser.)

New Edition of the Chant of the Passion

For many of the faithful, one of the high points of the Holy Week offices was the solemn chanting of the passion, on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, as a recitative using three singers of different timbres and ranges: Christ, the chronista and the synagogue.

After the reform of the Gregorian chant by Pius X, and the appearance of the Vatican Edition, this recitative was duly restored in 1917. The reform of the Second Vatican Council, while leaving intact the reading of the passion on Palm Sunday (St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, according to the years A, B and C) and Good Friday (St. John), modified the official Latin text which is no longer that of the Vulgate, but of the new Vulgate (apostolic constitution, "Scriptuorum thesaurus," April 25, 1979). Although these modification are not extensive, they led necessarily to a revision of the melodies in order to adapt them to the new texts.

For the Congregation for Divine Worship, this was the occasion for reflection on the recitative in the "Missale Romanum" of 1972. For the various admonitions, prayers and readings there are still today two preferred tones: one is on C (doh) and the other on A (la), both of them traditional, although only the tone on A is linked organically with the chant of the preface and, today, of the eucharistic prayer. The same two tones are also, traditionally, used for the chanting of the passion: the first (C) was until now the only one in use; the second had been partially edited (two of the four passions) by the Cistercians S. O. in 1959. The present typical edition, approved February 8, 1989, and able to be put into use immediately upon its publication, presents, therefore, the two tones for each of the four passions.

It will be noted that the melody of the first tone, the only one universally in use until now, has undergone no other modification in this new edition beyond what is demanded by the incidental changes in the text or its punctuation. In this way, those who are accustomed to this tone and desire to retain it will not be inconvenienced.

On the other hand, for the second tone, the interest was to follow as closely as possible the authentic sources, with a view to improve further the link between the melody and the text. Here a solution was required for problems that had not yet, or barely, become apparent at the time of the last restoration of the first tone in 1917. These problems concern principally the appropriate treatment of non-Latin words accented on the final syllable, or of Latin phrases that end with an accented monosyllable. In order to keep the accentuation of the text from clashing with the melodies' musical accentuation, it has seemed preferable, in certain cases, not to put any accent on the text, when the melody cannot observe it. The differences of accentuation that are therefore to be seen between the texts set in Tone I and those in Tone II, far from being lapses, are quite deliberate.

Thus, according to Article 114 of the constitution, "Sacrosanctum concilium," not only will the "treasure of sacred music" not have undergone any loss, but it will have been enriched with a recitative of great value. Tone II, which appears for this first time in official editions, is without a doubt the oldest historically, and it rivals the other, already much celebrated, for the nobility of the intervals, the beauty of the structure, the economy of expression; in short, by the whole of its formal qualities.

The splendid edition, printed in two colors on suitably durable paper, by the Vatican Press, is perfectly legible and clear. The dimensions (25x35 inches), the typography of the text as well as the music, the red cover imprinted in gold, all bespeak that "noble simplicity" that the council (Art. 34) attributed to the new rites of the renewed liturgy.

Jean Claire, O.S.B.
Choirmaster of Solesmes

Decree Of The Congregation Of Divine Worship, Prot. 143/89

Among the liturgical books, which are used for the more solemn celebration of Holy Week, there is the traditional chant book of the Lord's passion.

For many years since the renewal of the sacred liturgy, other books have been recognized and are customarily used in liturgical assemblies. Now a renewed text of the passion narrative is offered for use.

The particular beauty of this text's chant, created according to the Latin liturgical tradition, admirably brings out the important place of the passion narrative on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

In the new edition of this book, the text of the "Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Sacrorum editio" replaces the Latin text of the old Vulgate, in accordance with the norms of the apostolic constitution of the supreme pontiff, John Paul II, "Scripturaum thesaurus," promulgated April 25, 1979.

Since the change to the text of the new Vulgate required a new edition of the ancient melodies, it seemed opportune to insert, in addition to the traditional one, another tone taken from the authentic sources of Gregorian chant: both are equal in nobility, beauty and formal qualities.

In this way, in accord with Art. 114 of the constitution on the sacred liturgy, "Sacrosanctum concilium," the treasure of sacred music is both preserved and further increased.

The present edition may be used in Holy Week celebrations as soon as it is published.

From the Congregation for Divine Worship, February 8, 1989, Ash Wednesday.

Eduardo Card. Martinez Prefect

Vergil Noe Tit. Archbishop of Voncariensis

Introductory Notes

1. The passion narrative is sung by three singers: the part of Christ (+), the part of the narrator or chronista (C) and the part of the people or synagogue (S).

The passion is proclaimed by deacons, or if none is present, by priests, or if these are lacking, by lectors; in which case the part of Christ must be reserved for the celebrating priest.

2. For the chanting of the passion, three bare lecterns are set on the floor of the sanctuary.

3. Candles and incense are not used.

4. While the gospel verse is sung, the deacons, carrying the book of the passion at chest height, accompanied by two acolytes or ministers, bowing before the priest, seek a blessing and say in a low voice:

"Jube domne, benedicere."

The priest says in a low voice: "Dominus sit in cordibus vestris et in labiis vestris ut digne et competenter annuntietis Evangelium suum: in nomine Patris, et Filii + et Spiritus Sancti."

The deacons respond: "Amen."

If the lectors are not deacons, they do not seek a blessing. In a Mass at which a bishop presides, the priests who, in the absence of deacons, sing or read the passion narrative, seek and receive a blessing from the bishop.

5. Afterwards, the deacons together with the acolytes, when they have made a reverence, proceed to the lecterns. The deacon who takes the part of Christ stands in the middle; at his right, the one who takes the narrator's part; at his left, the one who takes the people's part.

6. The Lord's passion is begun immediately: "Dominus vobiscum" is not said, nor the response "Gloria tibi, Domine." As they begin to sing, the deacons sign neither themselves nor the book.

7. After the death of the Lord is announced, all genuflect in their places and pause for a moment.

8. When the chanting of the passion is finished, the deacon who took the narrator's part, says: "Verbum Domini," and all acclaim: "Laus tibi, Christe."

9. The book of the passion is not kissed by anyone. The deacons, bearing the book, return together with the acolytes to their seats and the lecterns are removed.