Sacred Music to Comfort and Inspire – Good Friday
Good Friday, and everything about it has a special place in my heart. It has always been a very special day to me, not because it was filled with an unusual amount of getting or enjoying things, like Christmas or a birthday, but because it was filled with an unusual amount of NOT. In my family, my parents insisted that on Good Friday , there was no loud talking, no playing music, no rough- housing or goofing around. The fasting, the quiet, the time spent at church where the altar was bare and the statues were covered, where we kissed the feet of Jesus – all of these things made a huge impression on me that this day was about an unusual amount of giving and paying homage, showing our love to the One who gave us His all. It was a special and important day. We were not to be thinking about ourselves this day but about Jesus and His sacrificial love for us.
The music for Good Friday is especially powerful in it’s ability to draw us into the intense sufferings of Jesus and draw out of us sorrow and tears, for our sins. However, It does this with such great beauty that it reflects the mercy of God. Drawing from the vast treasury of music that belongs to the Catholic Church, it is rather difficult to select just a few things for you to listen to at home to meditate on and pray with, but I have shown restraint and sent only 5!
Here are some things that I hope you might draw inspiration from. These are pieces that could be used for any time during Lent but are most appropriate for Good Friday, specifically for the Veneration of the Cross.
O Sacred Head Surrounded – JS Bach
Italian composer, Antonio Lotti (1667- 1740) takes just a few words from the creed and sets them in a magnificent motet for 8 voices. The text is-
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio pilato; passus, et sepultus est .
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; died and was buried.
Listen at the beginning for the aching dissonance that is created as each voice enters and creates a point of tension with the voice already singing. This long 11 measure treatment of the single word, “Crucifixus”, is a fantastic example of a compositional technique called word painting (common in this time period) of Jesus’s ascent to the hill of Calvary and each painful step being depicted in the notes.
O Vos Omnes – Pablo Casals (1876- 1973 )
Text from Lamentations for use during Holy Week (complete text included in video link)
Behold, if there be any sorrow, like unto his sorrow
Miserere Mei Dei – Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652)
Priest composer Gregorio Allegri’s setting of psalm 51 is among the most stunning and well loved of all time. Often sung for tenebrae services and other parts of Holy Week, the soaring refrain (reserved for a soprano with golden high notes) is among the true jewels of Catholic sacred choral music.
Were You There- American Spiritual
While this piece does not come from the Catholic musical tradition, its text is clearly depicting the events and emotion of Good Friday which have deep meaning for any Christian. It appeared in a collection called Old Plantation Hymns by William Barton in 1899. It was eventually adopted for use in the Episcopal church and over the years has become a dearly loved Good Friday hymn, sung by many Christians denominations.