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CNP Feedback -
Good Friday Prelude?

Q. Dear CNP:

I am asking this question about music around the Good Friday Celebration of the Passion of the Lord.

In my parish, we have embraced the idea of reducing the use of organ during Lent, and our Good Friday service is sung entirely a capella. We use a mix of Gregorian chant (both in Latin and in English) and hymns sung in full SATB.

My question is with regards to music directly before the service. I know that there must be complete silence at both the entrance and the exit of the priest and ministers; this is made quite clear. What, though, would be the legality of performing a choral piece directly before the entrance — essentially a choral prelude? The idea is that it would place the congregation in a prayerful frame of mind, and then that the stark contrast with the silence of the entrance would serve to remind them that this is no ordinary day, and emphasise the gravity of the liturgy. The piece in question is John Stainer's "God So Loved the World" from The Crucifixion, which is a masterpiece of choral music, and whose lyrics are a very pertinent meditation prior to the liturgy.

This is not something we have done before, so you don't need to work too hard to change our minds. We're happy to comply with whatever is the most appropriate.

Thank you.

Stayn R. Knott

A. Dear Mr. Knott:

What an excellent question!

First, congratulations on the way you're treating Lent and Good Friday. Limiting organ during Lent and omitting it completely on Good Friday are monumental examples of the instrumental austerity that the Church seeks at those times.

Further, I couldn't think of a better a cappella selection for Good Friday than John Stainer's God So Loved the World. We sing it every year and the choir and people love it.

That said, it probably shouldn't be sung as a prelude. Here's the reason:

The Sacred Triduum is called such because it spans three days ("Tri-duum") but is seen liturgically as one single celebration. Note that the Triduum begins with (Prelude) and Introit at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. This Mass closes without any blessing or dismissal — instead, the Eucharistic Procession to the Altar of Repose and Adoration until midnight take place. The Good Friday Liturgy begins in silence, with no Introit, and ends in silence, with no blessing or dismissal. The Great Easter Vigil begins outside with the Lucenarium — again no Prelude or Introit. This Mass finally closes with a blessing and dismissal (with double Alleluia). Hence, three days form one grand liturgical celebration.

Including any music after the Thursday Eucharistic procession, before or after the Friday liturgy, or before the Saturday Lucenarium destroys this idea that Thursday has no ending, Friday has neither beginning nor ending, and Saturday has no beginning.

My advice would be to sing the Stainer during the Good Friday liturgy. There are plenty of opportunities. The Adoration of the Cross usually takes a long time (if people actually come forward to venerate) so there's time for quite a bit of music: congregational, choral, chant. Communion time, too, may be long, if there are many people in church. And … there's always time during the Offering for the Holy Land.

Hope this helps.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written 28 March 2014

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