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All Good Things
February 29, 2024

Chant and Liturgy of Lent

During this 2024 Lenten Season, we have just completed a year of celebrating the 800th anniversary of the first creche at Greccio, we are in the midst of a Eucharistic Revival, and we are just beginning the 8th Centenary observance of the Stigmata of Saint Francis. These three commemorations parallel the traditional features of Franciscan devotional life - crib, cross and ciborium - Incarnation, Redemption and Divine Presence.

I propose using this venerable context in presenting some of the music and sentiment of Lent expressed in liturgical chants of the season, particularly as we approach Holy Week. One ancient selection is an antiphonal series of lamentations called the Reproaches, a combination of Greek and Latin versicles whose music is drawn from the Gallican tradition and sung during the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. The sorrowful supplications of the text, enmeshed in the plaintive scales of the melismas create the platform for the congregant to express sorrow for the sins which have crucified Our Lord commemorated liturgically during the Liturgy of the Passion. As each worshiper approaches the altar to venerate the Cross, the Agios O Theos expresses the deep sense of personal regret for the sins which have pierced Our Lord’s side and crowned Him with thorns. The Reproaches act as a form of discursive meditation placing us at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, similar in sentiment to the Stabat Mater which meditates on each Station of the Cross, a popular Lenten devotion spread by Franciscans throughout the centuries. This same emotive response to the Passion is reminiscent of the haunting strains of the saeta of Semana Santa in the Andalusia Region of Southern Spain. The saeta is a melismatic composition originating from Gregorian compilations in the medieval monasteries, but later appended by Jewish converso, gypsies, flamenco singers and even North African influence. Each saeta is a very emotional, deep seated response to the Passion mysteries represented on elaborate pasos (floats) decorated with candles and flowers, representing Christ’s Passion and the sorrows of His Blessed Mother, borne by fervent brotherhoods and sisterhoods of penitents dressed in robes and hoods. The Reproaches, Stabat Mater, Saeta all can be compared to the emotional songs of the 12th-13th century flagellant confraternities which Saint Francis and the first Franciscans would have heard during religious processions, Laude Spirituali, which encouraged heart-rending identification with the suffering of Christ and His Sorrowful Mother. Saint Francis himself was often moved to tears for the Passion of Christ “he would pick up a stick...and going through the motions as if with a violin sing in French about His Lord. This whole ecstasy would end in tears and his song of joy would be dissolved in compassion for the Passion of Christ.” (II Celano). One last mingling of music and prayer is the processional music of Holy Thursday, the Pange Lingua sung as the Blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose where it is enthroned in the splendor of flowers, candles, incense, embroidered altar cloths and golden vessels. Whether singing in procession or kneeling in adoration, chanting the Tantum Ergo Sacramentum of the last verse, the text and music extracts an affectionate response from the penitent as we adore the Divine Presence of Our Lord.

These examples illustrate the Franciscan approach to liturgy and devotion. Franciscans often promote an emotional response to the mysteries of faith which are expressed in the Liturgical seasons whether it be the tender representations of the Infant in the crib at Bethlehem celebrated across the ages of history, the bitter scenes of the Crucifixion expressed throughout Lent, reaching a pinnacle during the Sacred Triduum, the Institution of the Eucharist as expressed on Holy Thursday - we cherish a soul-stirring response from our depths as we ascend in meditation on the mysteries of our Faith and are exhilarated in the graces which they promise.

Brother Joshua DiMauro, OSF, SFC '72
Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn
Assistant Principal, St. Anthony's High School

Crucifix Beaming

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