March 22, 2022

We Should Glory: Beyond Holy Week and Easter

OCP 100 years


One of the great traumas of my childhood was having to live through not one, but two Kennedy assassinations. There is no denying that the murders of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and his brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968 were American tragedies that changed the course of history. But this is not an essay on politics. I want to make an observation about their respective Catholic funeral liturgies as evidence that the paschal mystery is not limited to Holy Week and Easter liturgies.

President Kennedy’s funeral was celebrated in Latin. The bishops of the Second Vatican Council were still in deliberations, and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, with its decree that the Mass would be celebrated in the languages of the people, was yet to be promulgated. The Kennedy family chose to have a Low Mass for the funeral at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, which meant that music could be sung simultaneously over the silently spoken prayers of the priest, who wore black vestments that were the custom of that era. On television, we heard Schubert’s “Ave Maria” sung by a soloist, accompanied by organ, during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. The somber “Dies Irae” was chanted from the choir loft during the readings. There was no assembly singing, and no English was spoken except during the homily and at the commendation prayers led by Cardinal Richard Cushing at the end of the liturgy.

Five years later, the funeral of Senator Robert Kennedy showcased how much Catholic liturgy had changed since his brother’s funeral. That liturgy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York was entirely in English. The priest concelebrants wore white vestments. The assembly sang the Entrance Song, the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia, and other chants and hymns. The New York Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, performed a beautiful Offertory meditation by Mahler as the children of the late senator brought the gifts to the altar. Perhaps the most surprising element was the singing of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (with its refrain of “Glory, glory, hallelujah”) after the eulogy, followed by Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at the conclusion of the liturgy.

My point is this: The Church recognizes that the paschal mystery is not limited to Holy Week and Easter. When the funeral rite was revised in the late 1960s, we were encouraged to sing joyful Easter hymns, such as “The Strife Is O’er” and “Ye Sons and Daughters,” at a funeral Mass, even in the heat of summer or the cold of winter. Indeed, seasonal compartmentalization – singing Christmas carols only during Christmas, or Easter songs only during Easter – confines the saving work of the eternal and timeless God to mere calendar dates. I love surprising my parishioners by inviting them to sing “What Child Is This” when the Feast of the Presentation (February 2) falls on Sunday. At the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24, we sing Advent hymns like “Ready the Way!”

This goes a long way in saying that the music of We Should Glory, the new two-part collection of music for Holy Week and Easter by Bob Hurd and me, should not be confined to just Holy Week and Easter. Here are some suggestions on how these songs can be sung throughout the liturgical year.

Bob’s “Not by Bread Alone” is a song that is well suited for the first Sunday of Lent since it is a reflection on that day’s gospel story of Jesus in the desert. But our Lord’s struggle with temptation also makes this an appropriate song for Reconciliation services, and for retreats where participants are discerning their spiritual journey.

Our song “We Should Glory,” with text from Galatians 6:14, is the Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday. It is also the Entrance Antiphon for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14. When that feast falls on Sunday, assemblies that sang the song during Holy Week will already be familiar it; and in their singing they will draw the connection to the paschal mystery. This scripture is also proclaimed on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. Franciscan communities and parishes that are named after the humble saint will find this song meaningful for their celebrations on that day.

My setting of “Psalm 22: My God, My God,” is the Responsorial Psalm for the liturgy of Palm Sunday. But this psalm may also be appropriate for singing during the lengthy rite of the Adoration of the Cross. Similarly, Bob’s song, “Father, Your Will Be Done,” is a setting of the Communion Antiphon for Palm Sunday, but it will also serve well as a Communion chant for Good Friday. In both instances, a connection will be drawn through music between the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

Speaking of Good Friday, Bob and I composed “We Adore Your Cross” specifically for the rite of Adoration of the Cross on that solemn day. But the text from 1 Corinthians 1:23-25 is also proclaimed on the third Sunday of Lent, Year B. This song will not only support that day’s readings, but it will also serve to familiarize your assembly with the tune in preparation for Good Friday. The refrain is useful for Stations of the Cross services that are celebrated throughout Lent, perhaps as a song between stations. It is also a text for the liturgy of Religious Profession. Lastly, this song will be appropriate for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

Bob’s “Christ Our Passover,” drawn largely from 1 Corinthians 5 as well as John 13:15 and 15:4, is an Easter Vigil text that is recommended for singing throughout the Easter season. This scriptural wisdom will also be appropriate for any celebrations of unity when Christians of various denominations gather for prayer and fellowship as they often do during Christian Unity week in January. Similarly, Bob’s “I Give You a New Commandment,” based on John 6:27, 13:1-15 and 15:4-5, is a song for the Washing of the Feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy, but the John 6 text also appears on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. This song is also appropriate for celebrations of Christian unity and at gatherings centered on social concern.

“Alleluia! He Is Risen,” Bob’s spirited celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, is obviously a song for Easter Sunday and the Easter season. It will also fire up the parish’s newly baptized adults when they gather for the period of Mystagogia that is an important follow-up to their RCIA journey. The song’s Easter hope also makes it appropriate for funerals. Lastly, its focus on evangelization will serve to inspire national conferences, synods and parish convocations.

My song, “See, I Make All Things New,” with its focus on Christian hope, is based on Revelation 21, a text that appears in the Lectionary on the fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter, Year C. It is appropriate for singing throughout the Easter season on any liturgical year. It is also a Lectionary text for Mass of Christian Burial, and that makes it useful for All Souls Day. In the past year, I have also used the song at services for the Anointing of the Sick, for youth retreats, and for parish gatherings and convocations. The text also figures prominently in the liturgy for the Dedication of a Church.

These are just a few examples of how the music from We Should Glory will serve the Church not only on Holy Week and Easter but throughout the liturgical year. May God bless you as we celebrate the paschal mystery all the days of our lives.