Music at the Monastery – Holy Thursday and Good Friday
Mar 15, 2004

Music at the Monastery – Holy Thursday and Good Friday

Online Edition


– Vol. X, No. 1: March 2004


Music at the Monastery

Holy Thursday and Good Friday

by Lucy Carroll, D.M.A.

[An Invitation Ad Jesum per Mariam, a program of sacred Latin music for choir and congregation, will be held Saturday May 15, 2004 at 2 p.m., in the chapel of the Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia, sponsored by the Philadelphia Latin Liturgy Association.

The music will be offered as prayer, with the congregation singing the Latin hymns and Gregorian chants. The event will begin with hymns to Mary, leading to her Son. It will close with Benediction in Latin. Choirs include the Monastery Choir, the Madrigal Singers of Warminster, and tentatively, the parish choir of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.]


HOLY THURSDAY, the memorial of the Last Supper, the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, is a time of great solemnity. It is a time of joy for the institution of the sacrament of the Real Presence, yet a sorrowful pre-shadowing of the crucifixion to come. It is the first of three services that together make one complete event: the Last Supper — the Crucifixion and death — and the vigil of the Resurrection of Jesus.

Music at our monastery reflects the serious and somber nature of those days.

In selecting music for Holy Thursday, one must consider not only the Eucharist itself through appropriate communion text hymns, but the act of institution, an event that transcends time and place, echoing through the centuries in every Consecration at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Gregorian chant is the ideal music for this day, for chant itself has a timeless quality. It is the one purely “Catholic” music, formulated only to serve the Liturgy, created solely for the Divine. Its long melodic lines weave upward, like musical gothic arches, leading us heavenward. It speaks to us not of the world or the mundane, but of the sacred. Surely this music, in its pure form, is unsuitable for dances, parades, rock concerts or romantic interludes. It was designed only for God’s house.

In the ancient tradition of the Church, the organ is silenced from the Gloria on Holy Thursday until the Gloria of the Easter Vigil. The single-line chants are ideal for this, for chant in its purest form should be sung unaccompanied, as it was at its inception.

In the monastery, we use the joyful Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa de angelis VIII (Adoremus Hymnal [AH] #210-211) led by organ and choir. As we approach the solemn consecration that re-enacts that first miraculous consecration, we use simpler chant: the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Missa Deus Genitor Alme (today known as Missa Primitiva or Missa Jubilate Deo, AH #203-204 or #208- 209). The simpler lines are not only easier for the congregation to master unaccompanied, but are more solemn in nature as we draw ever nearer to Good Friday.

At the foot washing, the “Ubi caritas” chant (AH #390) is best suited to the action: “where charity and love abide, there is God!” If this is too daunting for some congregations, and there is no choir to sing or lead it, there is a lovely chant-like hymn in the World Library/Paluch Hymnal or Seasonal Missalette: Where Charity and Love Prevail. This is a nice English adaptation of the Ubi Caritas (text adaptation by Omer Westendorf, music by Paul Benoit), sounding much like Gregorian chant and easy for the congregation to sing.

The chant hymn “Adoro te devote“, with its exquisite Eucharistic text by Saint Thomas Aquinas, is a perfect choice (AH #510 or 511) for Offertory or Communion. Another fine hymn is “O Lord with Wondrous Mystery” (text by Michael Gannon, music by Hendrik Andreissen 1892-1981). This melody is modal and chant-like, somber yet lilting, and easy for the congregation to sing. And its text tells of the miracle before us: “O Lord with wondrous mystery, you take our bread and wine, and make of these two humble things Yourself, our Lord divine”. Bread and wine become Body and Blood: the mystery of the Eucharist!

The monastery choir sings as the people receive Communion, usually a traditional selection or piece of polyphony such as “Jesu Redemptor” (Stadlmayr) or the traditional “Cor Dulce Cor Amabile“. Last year the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Boys Choir, led by Tom Windfelder, joined us. The boys sang some a cappella selections during the foot washing and communion, and sang with our choir in leading the congregation. When the boys received Communion, the monastery choir sang. So uplifting was this joining of boys, monastery choir, nuns, and congregation, that it will continue as an annual event.

The procession after Communion from the altar to the place of repose is still best accompanied by the ancient Gregorian chant “Pange Lingua” (AH #391): “Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory”. The tune is one that buries itself deep in one’s heart. I still remember the effect that melody had on me as a child (text: Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274; music chant mode 3.) At the monastery, we do the Latin, but there is a good English version in the Adoremus Hymnal #392, with translations by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and the Reverend Edward Caswell (1814-1878).

There is something very somber about stopping the organ and bells at the Gloria on Holy Thursday. The clack-clack of the wooden clapper that replaces the bells at the consecration echoes in dull fashion, unlike the bright chirping of altar bells. Its wooden sound foretells the hammering of the wood of the Cross.

Churches that have discarded bells during ordinary time do a great disservice. (Our chaplain told us of a parishioner in one of his parishes who loved the bells, for, being blind, the ringing told her when the Sacred Elements were raised for the people to adore). Bells are joyous, a perfect accompaniment to the miracle of transubstantiation, and when they are silenced for the Easter Triduum there is a powerful sense of loss on the bereft listener. This loss is joyfully restored at Easter Vigil, when the bells ring out at the Gloria, ending the solemn time of the Passion and proclaiming the Resurrection. At the monastery, little hand bells are given to the first few rows of congregants on Easter Vigil, and the tintinnabulation is nearly deafening!

Those churches that continue to use instruments after the Gloria on Holy Thursday do not give the congregation that sense of deprivation, of sacrifice, of loss, of that solemn introspection.

Easter is the great day of rejoicing, when Christ conquered the grave. Yet it has always seemed to me that Good Friday is no less miraculous. There would be no Resurrection without death. And what a death! Christ had already defied death when He brought Lazarus back to life, and raised the daughter of Jairus. Death was already shown to be under His control. But the fact that God Himself, the Creator of the universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God should Himself succumb to physical death — and the most horrid death the cruel Romans could devise — well, this is beyond our comprehension.

Good Friday can be a musical quagmire: how do we adequately use music to accompany not only our sorrow but also our sense of awe? The stark somber sounds of only voices can be intimidating to singers accustomed to “leaning” on the keyboard. Unlike Holy Thursday, there is no instrumental accompaniment at the beginning of the service. Singers are on their own from the very beginning of the service. Yet in the first few hundred years of Christianity, only the voice was permitted in church. Some Christian denominations, attempting to recreate “primitive” Christianity, returned to this tradition for all their worship services — the early Quakers, the Shakers, the Amish, Brethren, River Brethren, Ephratans, Old Order Mennonite. The absence of the organ in our church on Good Friday only increases the sense of solemnity.

Good Friday’s service is not a complete Sunday Liturgy. There is no consecration, for it continues from and completes the first consecration on Holy Thursday. Yet in addition to the responsorial psalm and Gospel acclamation, there can be music at the veneration of the cross, and at reception of Communion. What music to choose?

Once again, Gregorian chant, with its spiritual quality, melodic line, and timeless nature, is the perfect choice, as are pieces in chant style.

As to hymns, for the congregation, a simple setting of the “Reproaches”: “My people, what I have I done to you?” in English is ideal for the Veneration, drawing as it does on questions Jesus might have asked from the cross. We have a simple chanted version in our monastery hymnal; but the words can be set to almost any psalm tone.

An excellent hymn is the chant-like “Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle” (AH #404) to the tune of “Picardy”, a 17th century French melody. The text is powerful, springing from the ancient “Pange Lingua” text, and continuing:

Now the thirty years are ended, which on earth He willed to see; willingly He meets His Passion, born to set His people free. On the cross the Lamb is lifted, there the sacrifice to be.

(text © Proprietors of Hymns Ancient and Modern)

There is the classic Passion Chorale, “O Sacred Head Surrounded“, in its harmonization by Bach (AH #403). With the choir singing the harmony, the congregation can manage the melodic lines.

At the monastery, Veneration and Communion also offer a time for the choir to sing harmonized selections, alternating with congregational hymns to give the congregation time to focus on what is happening, and to draw them up with powerful musical phrases. Our choir has in repertoire a number of suitable pieces, as “O Bone Jesu” by Marc-Antoine Ingeneri; “Per Signum Crucis” (attributed to F. Durante); “Salvator Mundi” by Joseph Roff, with alternated harmony and chant; and the magnificent setting of “Vere Languores Nostros” by Antonio Lotti. The lines of such polyphony evolved from chant, and offer a similar timelessness. They afford the congregation the opportunity to participate vicariously. The melodic lines and modal harmonies lead the singer and listener to the mystery of the cross.

All this music has a sacred quality to it; it is not popular in style: it does not echo of pop tunes, Broadway melodies, or revival meetings. There is no element of dance club, supper club, or karaoke. None of it makes us want to dance, march, clap, or reminisce. It draws us inexorably to the tabernacle, to the Divinity. It assists us to contemplate the awesome events of the Passion and death of the Savior. Its timelessness makes it a perfect accompaniment for the timeless re-enactments of the sacred mysteries of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.


Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A., is organist and music director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, and adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton. She is also the creator of Churchmouse Squeaks in AB.

Copyright © 2004 Lucy Carroll, DMA






Lucy E. Carroll

Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages. In Memoriam: Dr. Lucy E. Carroll, DMA