Chant Comment

Offertory  Erit vobis

Friday of Easter Week

Graduale Romanum p. 213

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.  You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout your generations; you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 

 

At first sight this may seem to be a rather austere, even uninteresting piece, something like a liturgical rubric put to music.  In fact it has great solemnity and carries a profound message.

The text is taken from the institution of the ritual of immolation of the paschal lamb on the night of the exodus Ex 12, 14, and is a key Biblical text.  This is a ritual which has continued to be observed on Passover night by devout Jews until this day.  According to S John, Our Lord died on Good Friday at the beginning of Passover at the hour when the Passover lambs were being immolated in the Temple. (Jo19, 31.42)   The evangelist makes it clear to his Jewish readers that he understands Jesus to be the true paschal lamb by quoting a verse from its description in Ex12, 46 and by applying it to Jesus: Not one of its bones shall be broken. (Jo19, 36) [1]

 

[1] The phrase legitimum sempiternum diem of the third section is actually taken from Leviticus 23,41 and refers to the Feast of Tabernacles which in fact celebrated the event of the Exodus.

We can see then that it is no coincidence that this piece falls on the Friday of Easter Octave, the octave day of Good Friday.

The day we are being invited to commemorate is the day of the immolation of our new and definitive Paschal Lamb, the day of the Crucifixion.  We sing this text at the moment of the Offertory, just as the event of Calvary is about to be renewed in the sacrifice of the Mass.

In former days, Good Friday was sometimes referred to as Easter of the Crucifixion, thus underlining the unity of the paschal celebration, seen as a single whole that embraced both the death and resurrection of Our Lord.  It is in this sense that the priest says in the Roman Canon: As we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord…  So just as on Good Friday we were already celebrating our Lord’s Resurrection (Crucem tuam adoramus, Domine: et sanctam resurrectionem tuam laudamus et glorificamus…antiphon sung during the Good Friday liturgy), so in the Easter octave, and especially on the Friday, we continue to commemorate his blessed Passion: it is all one great saving event.Our Offertory Chant has 3 sections or phrases:

1-Erit vobis hic dies memorialis, alleluia:

2-et diem festum celebrabitis solemnem Domino in progenies vestras:

3- legitimum sempiternum diem, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 

The bar lines of the Graduale do not quite follow this division, but it seems to express both the flow of the text and the musical structure more faithfully.  If this interpretation is correct, then it is advantageous to reduce the full bar after phrase 2 to a half bar.

Thus each phrase ends in the 6th mode, even if it sometimes gets there by very complicated paths! (This is true of the first two phrases; the third is an uncomplicated 6th mode.)  And each phrase centres around the word DIES: this is a great day, a solemn day.

In fact the piece opens with a very solemn first phrase, which begins in a way that is reminiscent of the most solemn of all the Christmas responsories: Verbum caro.  There seems to be a musical association made between the Incarnation of our Lord and his Crucifixion, an association which is very ancient if we are to go by the tradition that our Lord died on the 25th March, the feast of his Incarnation in our Lady’s womb.

The second phrase has a lighter, more cheerful ring, at least in its opening, which seems to skip along merrily.  The third and final phrase begins more solemnly, but ends in an explosion of joy with the triple alleluia, of which the third in particular overflows with ebullient happiness into a long melisma that sparkles with paschal light, life and joy. Yes, Christ truly died and rose for our sake: alleluia!

                                                                                                                                                                                      Sr B B