1 March 2017, Ash Wednesday
At the blessing:
Antiphon: Exaudi nos
During the distribution:
Antiphon: Juxta vestibulum
Introit: Misereris omnium
Gradual: Miserere mei
Tract: Domine, non secundum
Offertory: Exaltabo te
Communion: Qui meditabitur
Recessional: Parce Domine
This antiphon Exaudi nos has two phrases:
- Exaudi nos Domine, quoniam benigna est misericordia tua
- secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum respice nos, Domine.
It is a serious time, this season upon which we are now entering. But in this very first antiphon the Church aims at giving us a consoling thought, one which is to sink deeply into our consciousness. The high range of the notes and the resounding tristrophas give animated voice to the words expressing God's mildness and mercy. Be our guilt ever so great, depressing, or shameful, though the floodwaters of sin penetrate our very soul, the benignity of God and His mercy are greater still. The miserationum tu-(arum) occurs also on the second Sunday of Lent with the same notation. Nos Domine is an amplification of -drum.
The antiphon Juxta vestibulum has three phrases:
1. Juxta vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes et levitae ministri Domini, et dicent:
2. Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: et ne dissipes ora clamantium ad te, Domine.
Plorabunt—They shall weep—is the word which characterizes the spirit of this chant. The first half of the first phrase rests on /, and goes beyond it only to lay stress on the word-accent. The e-f preceding plordbunt, demanded by the rules, serves to combine these two parts of the melody. Special emphasis is then put on the dominant a in the following group of notes, as well as in the second and third phrases, with the result that the melody is heavy, depressed. A leaden weight seems to burden the singer. Parce Domine is an urgent entreaty. We are still Thy people, despite the fact that we have sinned.
The responsory Emendemus has three phrases in the corpus and two in the verse:
- Emendemus in melius, quae ignoranter peccavimus
- ne subito praeoccupati die mortis, quaeramus spatium paenitentiae, et invenire non possimus.
- Attende Domine, et miserere: quia peccavimus tibi.
- Adjuva nos, Deus salutaris noster:
- et propter honorem nominis tui, Domine, libera nos.
Responsories occurring in the Divine Office and in blessings have the general arrangment A B A . But generally only a part of A is repeated. There are even more typical melodies here than in the Gradual responsories. The verse with its Gloria Patri is such a typical melody, and consequently no account is taken of the meaning of the text. The first half of the verse has the recitation on the dominant together with a five-syllable middle cadence. The second half recites on the tonic. Without exception, the final cadence begins at the fifth last syllable:
5 4 3 2 1 5 4 3 2 1
Domi-ne li-be-ra nos and Spi-ri-tu-i sancto.
The corpus of the Responsory has many typical turns: peccavimus = non possimus and also the second -vimus tibi; and spatium paenitentiae = Attende Domine et miser e-(re). The melody greatly resembles the Responsory Obtulerunt of Candlemas. But the second phrase of our present chant has a character peculiar to itself; with its heaped-up fourths it well represents the excited state of the singer's soul. He is moved by the words with which the priest placed the ashes on his sinful head: Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. Here, as well as on Palm Sunday and on the feast of the Purification, the Responsory rounds out the first ceremony of the day, and leads over to the Solemn Mass which follows it.
The Introit antiphon has four phrases:
- Misereris omnium, Domine, et nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti
- dissimulans peccata hominum propter paenitentiam
- et parcens illis
- quia tu es Dominus Deus noster.
Progressing in full-step intervals, the melody has the ring of conviction, of confident hope. The opening motive is heard again in omnium Domine and nihil. The note a predominates in the first half of the phrase, the note f in the second.
In the second phrase, propter paenitentiam emerges rough and rugged, like a mountain ridge which must first be scaled and crossed before one can reach the beautiful valley of peace which lies beyond. God ‘overlooks’ our sins that we may do penance, that we may have time for introspection, for sorrow and atonement. We know that God's patience in this matter is not a license to sin. But if we turn to Him with true contrition He will also turn to us, will become Deus noster, ‘our God.’ The more sincere our penance and our conversion, the closer will He be to us. The composer cleverly gives the words Deus noster, at the end of the Introit, the same melody that paenitentiam has, except that it is a fifth lower. The logical connection is, therefore, indicated by the melodic correspondence. In its deeper setting the melody has, moreover, none of that ruggedness or severity which we noted before. Our God is the God of peace. This makes the effect of paenitentiam all the more severe because of the appealing melody over hominum which precedes it. We have already met this formula in the Introit Gaudete and elsewhere.
The third phrase, despite its brevity, is treated as an independent sentence. It follows the closing cadence over paenitentiam and precedes the new sentence opening over quia, so the manuscripts call for a broad rendition of the climacus over parcens. Consolation and repose pervade this short phrase, but the rising third at its end prepares us for more vigorous lines, and thus serves as a solemn introduction to the fourth phrase. Here the melody becomes rich in neumes; it breathes a prayer of thanks for the good fortune of those who have been raised from the slough of sin to the fatherly heart of God. The proportions are worth noting. Tu is divided by the mora vocis, eight notes to the first part and eight to the second. Dominus and De-(us) likewise have eight, and -us and noster seven and eight notes respectively.
The Gradual has three phrases:
- Miserere mei Deus,
- miserere mei
- quoniam in te confidit anima mea
- Misit de caelo, et liberavit me
- dedit in opprobrium conculcantes me.
Corpus and verse have perfect similarity of ending: (me)-a-me. In the corpus both the first and the second sentences descend to low c. The second miserere mei is more forceful than the first, but this is probably due not so much to the text itself as to the rules for melodic development. The third phrase and the greater part of the second phrase of the verse are sung in the same manner on the tenth Sunday after Pentecost. In the first phrase of the verse the prominence given to the high c is the outstanding feature. Its first half closes with the same formula as that over the word David in the Gradual Sacerdotes of the second Mass for a Confessor-Bishop. The words of the corpus are the same as those we heard in the Introit. They would impress on us the fact that we can never have too much confidence in God's merciful love. The singer thankfully acknowledges the guidance of almighty God and his liberation from the enemy.
The Tract is in three sections:
- Domine, non secundum peccata nostra † quae fecimus nos: (—) neque secundum iniquitates nostras (—) retribuas nobis.
- (Hic genuflectitur.). Adjuva nos Deus salutaris noster: (—) et propter gloriam nominis tui, Domine, libera nos: † et propitius esto peccatis nostris, propter nomen tuum.
This tract is not found in the oldest manuscripts. It would seem that it received its present form no earlier than the twelfth century. The similar middle cadences are indicated above by the mark †, and the caesura (—). In the first verse the phrasing of the text and the melodic phrasing are not quite parallel. The second and third verses have much in common. In the third verse, the introductory notes and the prolonged clinging to a reveal the underlying emotion of the soul; it is a suppliant call, heartfelt and urgent. It presents one of the more dramatic moments of the liturgy, the kneeling of all the faithful to the accompaniment of this chant. We cry to the Lord: Your Being and the glory of Your Name demand that You enter the lists for us and grant us Your lasting help.
The Offertory has three phrases:
- Exaltabo te Domine, quoniam suscepisti me
- nec delectasti inimicos meos super me:
- Domine clamavi ad te, et sanasti me.
How can this text belong here, at this solemn opening of Lent? On Easter Day we should readily understand it as the victorious song of the Risen One, as a second stanza to the Easter Introit with its tecum sum, as a song of victory, or as the glorified Saviour's song of exultation after all the wounds that had been inflicted upon Him. But today it seems out of place. We must not forget, however, that the Lenten season which we are now ushering in is but the great preparation for Easter. Moreover, the melody itself does not course upward in extraordinarily bright and jubilant tones, but adapts itself, more than does the text itself, to the prevailing spirit of the day.
This was the day on which public sinners were thrust out of the church to do public penance. Not till Maundy Thursday were they again permitted to participate in the divine service. This must have reminded the faithful in a most vivid manner of what they themselves owed to the grace of God, to that divine help which ever led them on, which protected them against the allurements of the enemy and the contagion of sin. The same grace makes them participants today in the blessings flowing from the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Perhaps this song can be taken as coming from the heart of St. Sabina, in whose church the station was held on this day. Then it would be the thanksgiving of the saint for God's help during her martyrdom, and therefore also an encouragement toward a renewal of the spirit of sacrifice in us.
Our sincere thankfulness for the grace of regeneration should be reflected in suscepisti me. This passage, which sounds much like a resolved major chord, must not be rendered hastily. Though we might feel that this chant is of the fifth mode, the whole piece nevertheless contains turns so characteristic of the second mode that to assign it to the fifth mode with an augmented third (a) over the tonic (f), is hardly defensible. There is, morevoer, a frequent recurrence of the chief repercussion of the second mode and the immediate following of the tonic by the dominant, which latter is usually broadened out or continued in the following note-group (here a—ccc). A skillful rendition of this chant will obviate the monotony which would otherwise result in such passages.
One should, therefore, avoid giving any prominence to the c in the conclusion over sanasti; that note should be comparatively subdued. The second phrase widens the ascending range, and favors intervals of fourths. Rather unexpected is the array of neumes over the unimportant word super, just as it was over the last syllable of quoniam. If the melody here reaches its climax, we must no doubt attribute it to tone-painting, for that seems to be the purpose of the groups over super ("above, higher"). (Compare the Gradual for the third Advent Sunday.) The close of this second phrase with a g has the effect of a modulation, the kind favored by the second mode. Domine in the third phrase should not be sung heavily; it should rather indicate a childlike confidence in God. Clamavi ad te repeats the melody of inimicos meos. Sanasti me calls for an impulsive crescendo. The transposition of this piece by a fifth is, no doubt, due to the fact that suscepisti me would, in its normal position, have been written b♭ d f d b♭ b♭ c b♭ b♭, a notation which would appear strange so low on the staff.
The Communion antiphon has two phrases:
- Qui meditabitur in lege Domini die ac nocte
- dabit fructum suum in tempore suo.
The two phrases have similar endings. But the first speaks radiantly of God's law, and emphasizes the dominant, whereas the second rises but once to high c. The law of God, His holy word! How willingly we should open our hearts to it and receive it as the precious seed it is! How carefully we should cultivate it in loving meditation, and with hearty good will make it our rule of life! From the quiet of our inmost soul— the calm, deep melody reminds us of this quiet—it will develop outwardly in our practical life and bring forth fruits in due season, fruits which will endure forever, even when eternity begins and time is no more.
But our song is also a song for Holy Communion. The new covenant is sealed by the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and the Saviour's first commandment is simply: "Do this for a commemoration of Me." Our meditation on the law of God must also include this command concerning the Blessed Eucharist and all that is bound up therewith. Day and night we must ponder this great truth and make it the treasure to which our heart will, according to today's Gospel, ever remain attached. Then will the life-giving sap and the life-giving strength of Christ, the true Vine, flow into us and bring forth rich fruit.
The text is taken from Psalm 1. From now until the Friday preceding Palm Sunday the Communion text on week days is taken from the psalms, from Psalm 1 to 26. On five days, however, the texts are taken from the current Gospels, and the accompanying melodies are almost entirely syllabic. Thursdays are likewise exceptions, because originally the Thursdays in Lent had no Mass of their own.