CNP Feedback - The Easter Sequence
The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians.
From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.
Q. Dear CNP:
As I plan the music for an approaching Easter Sunday liturgy at our church, I know that the Easter Sequence will need to be sung after the Second Reading and before the Gospel Acclamation.
But I find that there are several versions of the Easter Sequence (traditional and contemporary) and I'm uncertain which version is correct.
Also, I've only ever seen the Easter Sequence sung by a cantor from the ambo.
However, you indicate in your liturgical planning guides that a choir can sing the Sequence.
Q1: Is there a correct version of the Easter Sequence?
Q2: Who can sing the Easter Sequence and from what location can they sing it?
Esther C. Kwenz
A. Dear Ms. Kwenz:
The Easter Sequence, known as Victimae paschali laudes in Latin, is a beautiful and ancient poem, telling a short narrative story of Resurrection morn, set to a wonderful Gregorian chant melody.
Here's the Latin text:
Victimae paschali laudes
Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
Mors et vita duello
dux vitae mortuus,
Dic nobis Maria,
quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
et gloriam vidi resurgentis:
sudarium, et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea:
praecedet suos in Galilaeam.
Scimus Christum surrexisse
a mortuis vere:
tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere.
and a few video links:
Here's the approved English translation that appears in the Lectionary [the book used by the lectors]:
To the Paschal Victim let Christians offer a sacrifice of praise.
The Lamb redeemed the sheep.
Christ, sinless, reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life were locked together in a unique struggle.
Life's captain died;
now he reign, never more to die.
Tell us Mary, "What did you see on the way?"
"I saw the tomb of the now living Christ.
I saw the glory of Christ, now risen."
"I saw angels who gave witness;
the cloths too which once had covered head and limbs."
"Christ my hope has arisen.
He will go before his own into Galilee."
We know that Christ has indeed risen from the dead.
Do you, conqueror and king, have mercy on us.
The above approved text is much better suited to being read than being sung.
Some sung versions take liberty with the words to make them more singable.
CanticaNOVA Publications has the chant version in modern notation and an English version for cantor/choir and congregation.
It is also available in the Graduale Romanum, the Gregorian Missal and the Graduale simplex, in Gregorian square-note neums.
The Easter Sequence is not sung at the Easter Vigil Mass — it is part of the Easter Sunday Mass, where it must be used [i.e. it's not optional!].
It may be optionally used at each daily Mass during the Octave of Easter, from Easter Monday to Easter Saturday.
Occurring as it does in the "official choir book" of the Church, the Graduale Romanum, we can be sure that the sequence is ideally meant for a choir or schola to sing.
If your church has these resources, I would encourage a group of singers to present the sequence on Easter Sunday, preferably from somewhere other than the sanctuary [choir loft, back of church, transept].
It should be actively listened to by the congregation, meditating on the narrative text.
You might accentuate the narration by having only men in the choir sing the phrase, "Tell us, Mary... and the women sing the answer, beginning at "I saw the tomb," ending with "...into Galilee."
There's nothing to say that the Easter Sequence can't be sung by a cantor at the ambo, or elsewhere — but I think it sounds better (and more authentic) when sung by a schola or choir.