OCP offices will be closed on Monday, May 27 in observation of Memorial Day. Additionally, due to site maintenance, ocp.org may be unavailable 7 p.m.—10 p.m. PT on Wednesday, May 29. We apologize for the inconvenience.


November 29, 2022

We Should Glory: Music Serving the Rituals of Holy Week

We Should Glory: Music Serving the Rituals of Holy Week

Each Sunday, we celebrate the paschal mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. But, of course, Holy Week is the grand, concentrated celebration of this mystery, which then continues throughout Easter season. We celebrate not only what Christ freely and lovingly endured but our participation in it as well. In the same passage where Paul says Christ died to sin once and for all and now lives to God, he concludes, “Consequently, you must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:10-11). We are to walk the same spiritual path as Jesus — through, with and in him. This is the path of self-emptying love of God, humankind and all creation. That is why Christian Initiation is at the heart of the Easter Vigil. Ken’s blog provides a wonderful tour of the profound texts of Holy Week. My focus will be on the ritual function of music in relation to many of these same texts. But first, a word about how our new collection, We Should Glory came about.

It was 1991 when Ken Canedo and I brought out Alleluia! Give the Glory, a collaboration including songs, psalm settings and a gospel-style setting of Eucharistic Prayer II. A few years later, we added the rest of the Mass parts that became the complete Mass of Glory. Thirty years later, we have collaborated once again to compose and record We Should Glory: Music for Palm Sunday, Triduum, and Easter Season. Evidently, Ken and I have a thing about glory — God’s glory. What could be more glorious than the resurrection of Christ! And the gift of our call to participate in it? St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.”

Because of the large amount of material we composed, We Should Glory was released in two volumes. We also composed the new gospel-style Mass of the Compassionate Christ, which was published separately. We have great hopes for this new Mass because it has all the energy of the Mass of Glory but is simpler and easier to learn. Our collaboration on all this music took various forms. One of us would create an initial draft and the other would give feedback and suggestions for further shaping. Sometimes, one created the refrain and the other composed the verses. In both cases, the result was a co-written song. In other cases, the song remained either Ken’s or mine after mutual feedback. In one way or another, every piece of music involved significant collaboration.

Liturgical music can function ‘ritually’ in at least two ways. Most often a song functions ritually by accompanying and enhancing a ritual action. Secondly, sometimes singing the song itself is the ritual action. An example of this is the “Gloria.” To sing it is to do the ritual at this moment in the liturgy. It is not meant to accompany any other action — it is the action. That is why, despite what some parishes do, it should not be used to accompany the sprinkling rite. It is a rite all on its own. Likewise, singing the “Exultet” at the Easter Vigil does not accompany any other ritual action — it is the ritual action. For music to accompany sprinkling, especially for the Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday and Easter Season, Volume Two features “I Saw Water Flowing.” In what follows, I will give examples of songs serving ritual in both ways. I will focus mostly on songs in Volume One, though I may mention examples from the upcoming Volume Two.

This new collection actually begins with one Lenten song, “Not by Bread Alone.” In a sense, this song sounds the theme of the entire season. In the face of temptation, Jesus in his humanity freely hands himself over to the will of God. This begins and grounds his whole ministry — doing the will of the One who sent him. The refrain is based on the communion antiphon for the First Sunday of Lent found in the Roman Missal. It accompanies the ritual action of the Communion procession and reception, helping people to meet the same Lord in the Eucharist that they have met in the Word. The verses not only tell the temptation story but also envision it as a way of viewing the conversion/transformation we are called to throughout the season. Verse 4 prays to Christ to work this transformation within us. The final verse, “O taste, taste and see, the goodness of our God,” invites the assembly to see the whole unfolding Lenten season as a story of God’s goodness and love as they receive the Eucharist.

Hosanna to the Son/Six Days Before Passover” is an excellent example of song enhancing ritual action. The two titles correspond to the two gathering actions on Palm Sunday. We gather, usually outdoors, as the priest and other ministers take their places to lead the assembly in the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem. What kind of song is needed here? Something easily learned without hymnals or worship aids because people are holding palm branches. In Ken Canedo’s call/response refrain of the antiphon, “Hosanna to the Son,” the cantor sings a short phrase which is then repeated by the people. This can be accompanied simply by a guitar. The second ritual action has everyone processing into the church. Again, no hymnals or worship aids because we are processing with palms. In “Six Days Before the Passover,” the first half of the call/response refrain, “Hosanna to the Son” is again used, which the assembly already knows. Cantors sing verses from a close paraphrase of the entrance antiphon for the Third Form of the Procession. As more and more people enter the church, piano, organ, trumpet and other instruments may be added. On the recording, we featured percussion as a bridge from the first to the second song.

The gospel-style song “We Should Glory” features the text of the entrance antiphon for Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. It accompanies and enhances the ritual action of gathering. The most obvious action is the procession of the priest and other ministers. But gathering is more than the procession. It is the coming together in mind and heart of the whole local church — priest, ministers and people — to enact the liturgy. The ritual action of the procession, accompanied by everyone singing, displays this action and unity of the one Body of Christ. There are two sets of verses, one for Holy Thursday, based on the psalm verses suggested by the Roman Missal, and another set for the whole Easter Season. Why the Easter verses? The antiphon expresses the unity of the paschal mystery — not just the death but also the resurrection of Jesus. We “glory” in this whole paschal mystery when we glory in the Cross of Christ. So, the addition of the Easter verses allows music ministers to use the song during the whole Easter Season.

Christ Our Passover” is another example of song accompanying the ritual action of the Communion procession. Ritual is never simply or even primarily functional. It is always symbolic of larger-than-functional meanings. Each ritual of the liturgy, whether it is signing our bodies with the Cross of Christ or processing to Communion, is entry into the paschal mystery. In processing to Communion, we symbolize/embody the Church as a pilgrim people. The Word and the Eucharist nourish us along the way. We display the inherently communal meaning not only of receiving Communion but of the whole Christian journey. The writer Flannery O’Connor once said of the Church, “[H]ere comes everybody.” By baptism, these people I process with, whether close friends or strangers, are my sisters and brothers. By sharing the one bread we, though many, are made the one Body of Christ. “Christ Our Passover” is based on the communion antiphon for Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. The verses make it appropriate for use during much of the Easter Season as well. I changed the passive voice of “has been sacrificed” to the active voice of “sacrificed himself for us.” As Jesus says in John’s Gospel (10:18), no one takes his life from him — he lays it down freely. This aligns well with Philippians 2:7, “[H]e emptied himself.” Though cruelly taken and executed by others, Christ turned his passion into a free act of self-offering for love of God and humankind.

Two poignant ritual actions belonging to the Triduum are the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday and the Adoration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. For the foot-washing, Volume Two provides “I Give You a New Commandment” and for Good Friday “We Adore Your Cross.”

Alleluia! He Is Risen” seems best as an accompaniment to the Communion procession or for sending forth. It expresses our Easter joy and our baptismal commitment to be Christ’s presence in the world: “Let us be his compassion, washing feet and sharing the bread of life.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal actually does not make provision for a sending forth song. The last song it mentions is the option of post-Communion song. But the custom of sending forth music has become standard practice in most parishes. The USCCB document, Sing to the Lord (199) affirms the custom. It says, “[A]ll may join in a hymn or song after the dismissal,” emphasizing how the ritual act of processing should be wedded to the song: “[T]he procession of ministers should be arranged in such a way that it finishes during the final stanza.”

As I said above, sometimes the song is itself the ritual. “Christians to the Paschal Victim” is such a song. Ken Canedo’s setting of this Easter Sunday Sequence, sung before the Gospel, uses both the verbatim text and the Gregorian chant melody but in a pleasing contemporary arrangement. Ken gives the assembly a repeating refrain throughout: “Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praise.” This turns what often seems like a long song by a cantor or choir alone for the assembly into a collaboration between the assembly and music ministers. Singing with such repetition plants the Word in our hearts and minds. Ken and I hope the music of We Should Glory may make it so. “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8).

Go here to learn more about Bob and Ken's We Should Glory, Volume 1.

Bob Hurd
Bob Hurd

Bob Hurd has served as a teacher, composer and liturgist in various pastoral and academic settings, including Loyola Marymount University, the Franciscan School of Theology and St. Patrick’s Seminary. He currently teaches in the summer program of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. With more than 45 years of composing under his belt, his songs for worship have become classics in the repertoire.