This Wednesday’s Music: Ash Wednesday
Well, we’ve packed away the Gloria and the Hallelujah, and so, we today begin Lent with fasting, prayer, and ashes. Cool fact: those palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday “celebration” — for lack of a better term —… yeah, those make the ashes we put on our foreheads today. P.S. In some cultures, the tradition is to place those ashes in your hair.
To mirror the solemnity of the season, you’re going to notice something starkly different in our music: a new Mass setting. What is a “Mass setting”? More about that in a later post. But our new Mass setting, entitled Missa Spei Viventis (in Latin, “The Mass of Living Hope”), will, in a very dramatic way, prepare us throughout Lent for the glory of Eastertide.
N.B. This blog post refers specifically to the selections for the 6:00 PM bilingual Mass on East 96th.
Well, if the title doesn’t give it away, we will use this hymn every week as a mantra for the season. Its text and melody derive from an old Gregorian chant, but please… we’re SFDS: we know how to make the old both new and relevant. The lyrics of the refrain are:
Atténde, Dómine, et miserére,
Quía peccávimus tibi.
(Hearken, O LORD, and have mercy,
For we have sinned against Thee.)
No matter how grim that wording may sound to our post-Vatican Council II ears, the indisputable fact remains that we are not perfect and do every day stray from the grace of God in small and not so small ways. Let’s humble ourselves in this season and realize that we can always find ways to improve our lives as Christians who live out the Gospel not just on Sunday mornings from a pew but every day in a world that needs love and compassion.
This Psalm definitely sets the tone for the day, but mind you, it comes up during the liturgical year in other scenarios. It’s not always so quote-unquote dark. Pay attention to the countermelodies in the antiphon: you’ll hear this Psalm in Greek and Latin, as well. A Psalm from Missa Spei Viventis, this is an interesting interplay between the old and the new with a modern melody!
HYMN DURING THE DISTRIBUTION OF ASHES:
RISE FROM THE ASHES
Another hymn from Missa Spei Viventis, we already are hearing musical motifs that will resurface throughout Lent and even Eastertide. Principally, we hear the ancient chant Parce, Dómine (“Spare, O LORD”) in a modern way and a reiteration of our processional hymn (Atténde Dómine). Take to heart these words:
Rise from the ashes.
Rise with the Son.
Rise beyond tomorrow.
Lord, change our hearts:
Let Thy will be done.
Though many parts,
May we live as one.
This is one of the first post-Vatican Council II hymns to rise to immense popularity in the English-speaking world. Why? Its language is modern, and its melody is in the folk style popular in the 60s and 70s — both a recipe for a modern Church to make itself relevant to a people always progressing and changing. We heed Gregory Norbet’s setting of the words of the Book of Hosea: “Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new love”. We are found renewed and rejuvenated in the mercy of God.
INTO YOUR HANDS
The surprising fact about this hymn, unless you remember it from the folk Masses of the 60s and 70s, is that it was actually composed in English by Ray Repp but that its legacy is so strong in the Spanish-speaking world that it is as recognizable as “Amazing Grace” in the English-speaking world. Take to heart the words of this beloved hymn, which paraphrase in English most predominantly Psalm 22 and in Spanish John 12:24-26.
Lead Me, Guide Me
Oh yes, SFDS… even in a time of solemnity and self-reflection, we stay bright. We sing the words of Doris Akers in a plea that the Lord stay close to our side as we walk with Him through this Lenten journey. A favorite of Elvis Presley, this hymn is so iconic that one of the first hymnals devoted to the music of African-American Catholics was named after it.
Lead me, guide me along the way,
For, if You lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with Thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me.
As we will sing this coming Sunday in I Want Jesus To Walk With Me, we truly need the Lord at all times, and let us use this season of preparation to understand even more fully how much we truly do need Jesus to walk with us each and every day.