A Good Friday Meditation

Today I observed two personal Good Friday traditions – one that I have not observed in many years and the other that I have honoured for neigh on half a century

For the first time in a long time I went to church for Good Friday liturgy. St Paul’s here in Charlottetown follows the tradition of a meditative service of spoken word and choral passages retelling the Passion story prefaced by the call to the ancient rite of Veneration of the Cross. The beautiful Harris sanctuary was, as is traditional, stripped bare of all ornamentation save a large wooden cross The spoken passages were taken from the Book of Common Prayer and the choral meditations in the tradition of the Hymnal with congregational participation. It was a simple service and moving in its simplicity and sincerity.

Then this afternoon I listened, as I have done every Good Friday for the past 43 years, to a recording of the Passione secondo Giovanni by Francesco Corteccia. A simple retelling of the Passion story in spoken word and choral meditations written in the 16th century, it is moving in its simplicity and sincerity.

Back in 2010 I created a video using photographs of a glorious altarpiece by the del Maino brothers and a few passages from this remarkable recording. I thought once again that I would share that video for this Good Friday 2018.

Willy Or Won't He

Again one of the small treasures, of so many, in the V&A collection was this altarpiece from Lombardy. Attributed to the del Maino brothers it would have been created in their workshop in Pavia. It was made for Sant’Agostino, Piacenza where it remained until 1841. The predella addresses the Nativity while the upper piece traces the events of the crucifixion. Back in my days as an avid record collector I had the wise counsel of my friend Alan when it came to buying things. Alan worked at Sam the Record Man’s and had a coterie of people that he would advise on what they should buy. If Alan said “buy it” I bought it and was very seldom disappointed. Back in 1975 he suggested that I purchase a Archiv recording of a little known Passion by Francesco Corteccia, a Florentine composer at the time of Cosimo di Medici. As…

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Ubi caritas est vera

Where there is true charity

Deus ibi est.

The Anglo-Catholic worship tradition that I spent many years observing is a theatrical one.  It was often mockingly referred to as “smells and bells” Christianity and indeed the smells and bells were there.  But so was the beauty of worship and the depth of devotion that ritual and all its attendant symbolism can bring to the worshipper.

I have always thought that the ceremonies and symbols of Maundy Thursday are the most theatrical of all the rituals in a week heavy in ritual and the theatrical.  Beginning with the Washing of the Feet, the commemoration of the institution of the Last Supper, the reserving of the Sacrament at a place of repose, the stripping and cleansing of the altars, the covering of images and furnishings, the open and empty tabernacle, and the final fleeing from the sanctuary of clergy, acolytes and congregation.  All leading up to the drama of the Liturgy of Good Friday.

It is traditional to intone the Ubi Caritas antiphone that was introduced into the liturgy sometime after 500 CE.  In most parishes where it is sung the Maurice Duruflé setting from 1960 is used however in searching I found a recent composition by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo which begins, as does the Duruflé with a chant theme but one that is closer to the Eastern tradition than the Gregorian.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.
WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

The text both Duruflé and Gjeilo use is a more recent one which begins Ubi caritas et amor (Where there is charity and love) however earlier manuscripts use the text of the post title.   And it is a title I prefer at a time more than any other I can recall in my life when it seems that “true charity” has become more and more difficult to identify in our world.

Musically it is a quiet and touching moment as the text, music and action portray an act of “charity” in the drama which began with the Hallelujahs of Palm Sunday and after the sorrow of the Reproaches and the Seven Last Words reaches the glorious proclamation of the Esultet and the Alleluias of the traditional Easter greeting.

On this day in 1613: Samuel Argall captures Native American Pocahontas in Passapatanzy, Virginia to ransom her for some English prisoners held by her father; she is brought to Henricus as hostage.

Mercoledi Musicale

Back in the days when I observed the Feasts, Fasts and Obligations of the church calendar I recall that on Quinquagesima my friend Bob was always delayed in coming to lunch after High Mass.  It was his duty – as Secretary of the Acolytes Guild – to prepare  for the following Ash Wednesday.  He would take bundles of palm fronds that had been saved from the previous Palm Sunday into the little courtyard between the church and the parish hall  and turn them into ashes.  I was always surprised by how many of those brittle branches it took to make enough to serve for the four impositions of the day.

Though I remember that and the rituals of the first day of Lent I don’t recall any of the music of that day.  While searching for something for the Imposition of Ashes I came across this lovely setting by Feliks Nowowiejski of the Parce Domine the antiphon prescribed as part of the canon of the Mass for the Day in the Roman rite. It is performed here by Chór Uniwersytetu Rolniczego w Krakowie at the Ohrid Choir Festival in 2011.

Parce Domine
Spare o Lord,
Parce populo tuo
Spare Your People
Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.
Be not angry with us forever.
Miserere nostri Deus
Have mercy upon us o God
Secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
According to Thy great mercy (love).

Composed in 1906 the Parce Domine is a section of Nowowiejski’s oratorio Znalezienie Świętego Krzyża (The Discovery of the Holy Cross).  The text of the Antiphon comes from  Joel 2:17 in which the Prophet calls the people to repentance in the face of God’s wrath and judgement.  To it Nowowiejski adds the “Miserere”, that petition for mercy that begins Psalm 51. His setting is not the agonized cry that is suggested in Joel but has the gentleness of a plea from a repentant people who have seen the error of their ways.

On this day in 1355: The St Scholastica Day riot breaks out in Oxford, England, leaving 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead in two days.

Mercoledi Musicale

Recently my friend Richard has been introducing (in some cases reintroducing) me to some of the great English church composers of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. The tradition of English church music is a rich one that includes music for services and offices, oratorios, motets, preludes and anthems.  A search for an anthem for Michaelmas led me to one of the earlier and largely ignored Victorian composers of church music, Samuel Sebastian Wesley.

Wesley brothers
John Wesley (1703-1793) and his younger brother Charles (1707-1788). Their influence on the Christian church went far beyond England.

The influence of the Wesley family on the religious history of Great Britain, and by extension her Empire and the English speaking world, is monumental in things both theological and musical.

John and Charles Wesley are perhaps the best know for breaking with the received Anglican church and, with George Whitefield, founding the evangelical Methodist church. However clerical dissent in the family can be traced back to their Great-Grandfather Bartholomew who was a Nonconformist clergyman and was run out of several parishes for his freethinking. Their Grand-father John was also an “ejected minister” but oddly their father Samuel broke the chain and though brought up in the dissenting tradition became a High churchman. He was however no stranger to controversy and became embroiled in a fight with Daniel Defoe and was lampooned by Alexander Pope for his views on dissenters expressed in a series of pamphlets.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) painted in 1849 by William Keighley Briggs   Collection of the Royal Collage of Music

There is probably not a Sunday where one of Samuel Sebastian’s grandfather Charles’ hymns is not being used to praise the Lord in some part of the world.  He wrote the words to over six thousand hymns many of which form the backbone of Methodist and Anglican hymnals – and I have even heard them in more than one Roman service over the past few years.

The work of Charles’ son Samuel is less well-known but at the time he was know as the “English Mozart”.  Though he wrote a good deal of church music he was also known for his choral, keyboard and orchestral works.  His life was unconventional, even for the period and his conversion to Roman Catholicism scandalized his Uncle John.  After living with Charlotte  his first wife for several years he married her and they had three children; however when she discovered he was having an affair with their teenage serving girl Sarah they separated.  He was to live with Sarah without benefit of clergy until his death and they had four children, one of whom was Samuel Sebastian.

Samuel Sebastian (his father worshipped Bach) was to become one of the leading organists and choirmasters in England.  Unlike his father he composed almost exclusively for the Church of England.  His anthems, services and hymns were popular and though his service music has fallen into disfavour one of his hymns has remained a constant in the church: his hymn tune Aurelia is in every hymnal in Christendom and is best know as a setting for S. J. Stone’s lyric The Church’s one foundation.

Here is his setting of a passage from Isiah 26:3 – Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.  For it’s time (1850) it an unusual piece and Wesley is exploring beyond the boundaries of established musical form in the Church of England and in many ways leading to the work of those later composers.


He was to experiment further in exploring the “verse anthem” that had been popular in English churches during the 17th and 18th centuries. Mixing solo voices with choral and organ, or instrumental, passages allowed texts to be more clearly heard and contrasting moods to be established within the relatively short anthem structure.  Here is one of the loveliest of choral passages from his larger verse anthem Praise the Lord my soul.


To my mind Wesley is definitely a composer to explore and fortunately there are several examples of his work available on YouTube.

On this day in 1965: Trapped in the Sky, the pilot episode of Gerry Anderson’s  Thunderbirds, airs on ITV for the first time.

Mercoledi Musicale

Until last week my only knowledge of the music of John Sheppard came from a recording by the Gabrieli Consort of his Messe Cantate written for Christmas in the Chapel Royal of Queen Mary and her husband King Philip.  Sheppard was one those composers,  who like Tallis and Tye, lived through the turbulent religious changes during the reign of the Tudors.  He composed for Catholic Cathedral and Protestant Chapel; for Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I however he died within the first few days of the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, the last Tudor.

A Sarum missal created for Florence Chichele Darell circa
1418 and now in the collection at SMU. A left click will
take you to a larger view and a short history of the missal.

Much of his music was written for the Sarum rite celebrations that were common in the Catholic church in England of the time.  Established in the 11th century by St Osmund in Salisbury (Sarum) it was the standard liturgical practice (Use) for much of England, Wales, Ireland and eventually Scotland.  Osmund created very little himself but took what he saw as the best from the many Uses in the dioceses around him – each seemed to have its own way of doing things – and set them forth as the standard for the Divine Offices, Mass and the Church Calendar.  Though originally meant for his own diocese of Salisbury the usage spread and within a hundred years became the liturgical standard in most of England.

The Sarum rite was more ritualistic than the Roman rite and certainly more elaborate in its ceremonies and its use of music.  Music – plainsong and polyphony – were central to the form of worship.  Many parts of the Offices and Mass were sung:  collects, antiphons, canticles, psalms and responsories as well as prayers, litanies, invocations and at Festal masses even the consecration.  The ability to sing was much valued in a priest or for that matter in a parishioner – even when he was Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More sang in his Chelsea parish choir at Evensong.  More than one wealthy patron saw to that his local church had the monies to employ “an able priest, and in especiall a syngynge man yf he may be gotten”*.

The rite disappeared under Edward but was re-instituted when Mary came to the throne.  It was during this brief five year period that Shepperd wrote many of his most complex masses and motets.  I was unable to find a date for this Lenten motet which Christopher Hossfeld used as inspiration for the conclusion of his In Pace premiered by the Cantata Singers last week but it is possible that it was written during his time at Magdelen College.

In Pace In Peace
In pace, in idipsum dormiam et requiescam.
Si dedero somnum oculis meis,
et palpebris meis dormitationem,
dormiam et requiescam.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
In peace and into the same I shall sleep and rest.
If I give slumber to my eyes
and to my eyelids drowsiness,
I shall sleep and rest.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
 and to the Holy Spirit.

The first line is from Psalm 4:9, and the second two lines are from Psalm 132:4, both in the Vulgate version.

With the advent of Elizabeth the Sarum rite disappeared from use however it’s influence can be seen in the Book of Common Prayer and also in the musical tradition of the Anglican Church.  The rite also strongly influenced the founders of the Oxford Movement and many of the practices within the Anglo-Catholic church can trace their roots to the traditions instituted by St Osmund.

*From a bequest in the will of John Lang of Lincolnshire in 1516.  He also requested that the priest be able in plainsong at the least but suggested that someone also skilled in “pricksong” or polyphony was preferable.

November 12 – 1439: Plymouth, England, becomes the first town incorporated by the English Parliament.