February 26, 2021

We Should Glory: The Sacred Texts of Holy Week

We Should Glory: The Sacred Texts of Holy Week

Our Holy Week pilgrimage with Jesus through his passion, death and resurrection is the most important liturgical celebration of the year. In a companion blog, my friend and collaborator Bob Hurd writes about the ritual actions of Holy Week. In this blog, I want to focus on the rich deposit of sacred texts that have nurtured Christians for centuries during these seven days. These are the Scriptures and antiphons that inspired Bob and me to compose the music of our latest collection, We Should Glory.

When I was in middle school, a history teacher once asked the class, “If you had a time machine that would take you anywhere in history, where would you go?”

One kid said, “The American Civil War, to witness President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.”

Another said, “I want to go to the Jurassic era and study the dinosaurs.”

I raised my hand and said something that surprised many of my classmates. “I want to go back to the time of Jesus and see him preaching and performing miracles.”

Of course, we have no time machine, but we do have something arguably better: our celebration of the Eucharist and its splendid treasury of sacred texts. During the course of the liturgical year, we relive again and again the journey of Jesus — from his wondrous birth, through his dynamic ministry in the land of Israel, and onward to his saving death and resurrection. During Holy Week, the sacred texts of the liturgy truly shine and inspire.

The Liturgy of the Word is a dynamic liturgical dialogue of proclamation and response, with its flow from First Reading to Responsorial Psalm to Second Reading to Gospel Acclamation to Gospel. The homilist breaks open the sacred Scriptures we just heard, and we respond with our proclamation of the creed and our Universal Prayer.

But there is another text source of equal importance in the liturgy: the antiphons, most commonly the Entrance and Communion Antiphons and, during Holy Week, additional antiphons such as the “Ubi Caritas” on Holy Thursday, and the chants that are sung during the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. There is also the marvelous proclamation of the “Exsultet” and the joyous chant of the Easter Sequence. Many of these antiphon and ritual texts have been prayed continuously over the centuries, developed by the Church after deep reflection on the Scriptures of each day. The current reawakening of awareness for the antiphons is long overdue, blossoming into a diverse wealth of creativity from such composers as the late Benedictine Father Columba Kelly (Saint Meinrad Entrance and Communion Antiphons for the Church Year) and contemporary composers Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart and Curtis Stephan (Let Us All Rejoice). Here is a brief overview of the sacred texts of Holy Week and how they inspired Bob and me on We Should Glory.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Palm Sunday has thrilled generations of Catholic children with its colorful entrance procession that includes the blessing of palms. Without a doubt, Holy Week has arrived! Bob covers well the ritual aspects of the procession, so I will point out the scriptural and Roman Missal sources of the music we sing.

There are three forms for the procession, all of which share common text sources. First Form: The Procession (outdoor blessing and procession to church) and Second Form: The Solemn Entrance (blessing and procession from the entrance of the church) both share a common chant from Matthew 21:9. I set this verbatim text to music as the call-and-response “Hosanna to the Son,” which is sung as the priest and ministers arrive at the place of blessing.

The procession chants come from either Psalm 24 (“The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness”) or Psalm 47 (“All peoples, clap your hands”), with an antiphon, “The Children of the Hebrews,” which is inspired from John 12: 1; 12-13. Both this Gospel passage and Psalm 24 are the sources for the lengthy entrance antiphon of the Third Form: The Simple Entrance (no outdoor procession). To facilitate the singing of this text, I paraphrased it in my setting, “Six Days Before the Passover.” Since it is based on common text sources, I believe it can be sung at all three forms of the Entrance rite.

Both the First and Second form include a unique Gospel concerning the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. The Liturgy of the Word for Palm Sunday includes Isaiah 50:4-7 (the prophet’s poignant reflection on the Suffering Servant) and the iconic Philippians 2:6-11, which poetically expresses Jesus’ obedience to the will of his Father, even to the point of death on a cross. This leads to the proclamation of the Passion story from the Gospel of the current liturgical year.

Our settings for Palm Sunday’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 22 (“My God, My God”), and Communion Antiphon (“Father, Your Will Be Done” based on Matthew 26:42) will appear in the upcoming We Should Glory, Volume 2.

Thursday of the Lord’s Supper

The three liturgies of the Sacred Paschal Triduum are the one continuous liturgical celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Appropriately, there is only one entrance antiphon for the entire Triduum: the stirring Galatians 6:14 which begins the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

“We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.”

One might think that a eucharistic hymn might serve as an entrance song for Holy Thursday, but notice how the Church wisely chose a text that sings of the Cross, of Christ’s saving act and his resurrection — all on the first day of the Triduum! Thus, the fullness of the three days is contained in that one short but powerful antiphon. See Bob’s companion blog for his thoughts on the ritual aspects of singing this text through our setting, "We Should Glory".

The Liturgy of the Word includes the very first scriptural account of the Last Supper from 1 Corinthians 11:223-26 and concludes with the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ humble example of service from John 13:1-15. We learn from Jesus that the Eucharist is a call to service and total giving of self to others.

Bob’s setting of the text for The Washing of the Feet (“I Give You a New Commandment,” based on the antiphon texts from John 13) will appear in the upcoming We Should Glory, Volume 2.

Friday of the Passion of the Lord

The sacred texts of Good Friday include the continuation of Palm Sunday’s moving first reading of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, and its responsorial psalm, Psalm 31 (“Father, Into Your Hands”), which was prayed by Jesus as he hung upon the Cross. Bob’s thoughtful setting once again utilizes the verbatim official text.

The second reading from Hebrews 4:14 is the sacred author’s reflection on Jesus as the great high priest who offered himself and “became the source of eternal salvation for all.” And the Liturgy of the Word climaxes in the dramatic proclamation of the Passion According to John.

Good Friday’s unique service of the Adoration of the Holy Cross includes the antiphon text from the Roman Missal, “Crucem Tuam Adoramus.” Our setting of this text will appear in the upcoming We Should Glory, Volume 2.

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

After the impressive Service of Light and the chanting of the remarkable “Exsultet” (Easter Proclamation), the Liturgy of the Word unfolds with the seven Old Testament readings that trace salvation history from the story of creation in Genesis, through the Exodus and the prophets. Our RCIA Elect who will receive the Easter sacraments are thus dramatically given context for their place in salvation’s ever unfolding story, which leads to the New Testament reading from Romans 6:3-11. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The Service of the Word climaxes in the proclamation of the Easter Gospel from the current liturgical year.

Bob and I composed an Easter “Alleluia” for the vigil that includes the verbatim verses from Psalm 118. This is part of our new Mass of the Compassionate Christ that will soon be released by OCP.

After the Liturgy of Baptism, our new RCIA Christians can now participate fully in the Eucharist. Bob’s setting of the vigil’s Communion antiphon, “Christ Our Passover,” captures the joy of its source text from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.

“Christ our Passover sacrificed himself for us;
let us keep this holy feast of God’s unending love, alleluia.”

This song can also be used on Easter Sunday since it is repeated as the Communion antiphon for that day.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

The extraordinary sacred texts continue on Easter Sunday, including the once-a-year Easter Sequence that is sung before the Gospel, “Christians, to the Paschal Victim.” My setting utilizes the exact verbatim text and even the original Gregorian chant melody, albeit with guitar chords and a contemporary metrical feel. As all pastoral musicians know, there is no time to teach a new song to the assembly on Easter Sunday. Rather than just relegate the beautiful sequence as a choir-only song, I use the opening line as a repeating refrain that allows the assembly to easily sing along.

“Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!”

Bob and I tried as much as possible to set the official verbatim texts of Holy Week to music. For pastoral reasons, we sometimes paraphrased those texts, but at least we used them as a source. We also composed original sacred songs that celebrate Easter joy and can be sung throughout the season. We Should Glory, Volume 1 concludes with Bob’s spirited “Alleluia! He Is Risen.” Volume 2 will include Bob’s “Our Life Is Hidden in Christ” (based on Colossians 3:3) and my Easter season anthem, “See, I Make All Things New” (based on Revelation 21).

We composed so many songs for Holy Week and Easter that it necessitated a release in two volumes. However, we deliberately did not create new music for every single text or ritual moment. There is too much amazing music for these sacred liturgies from other composers and from tradition. For example, we would be remiss if we did not sing “Were You There” on Good Friday, or “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday. But we hope We Should Glory will provide a fresh approach for singing the official texts during these holiest of days that comprise both the destination toward which Lent is leading, and the home from which we as disciples continue our Easter journey with that Risen Stranger on the road to Emmaus, our hearts burning inside us as we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

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

Ken Canedo
Ken Canedo

Ken Canedo is an eminently qualified liturgical composer, author-historian and workshop presenter. He has released numerous contemporary and gospel-style Catholic albums, along with historical works chronicling the history of modern Catholic music. He is the voice of the popular Liturgy Podcast, a weekly planning resource on He is also a pastoral musician at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Beaverton, Oregon.