shepherd sounds: The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter

7 April 2012

8:00 pm
Good Shepherd Choir


The Easter Proclamation
[Exultet iam angelica turba]

Psalm  136.1–9, 23–26
 For his mercy endures for ever.
 Tone VIII

Psalm 46
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Antiphon melody based on ‘Ein feste Burg’
Tone V

The Song of Moses
Exodus 15.1–6, 11–13, 17–18
Tone I; Tonus Peregrinus
 The Song of Miriam, Exodus 15.21
 para. Anon.
‘Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort’
 mel. Geistliche Lieder, 1543

Psalm 143
Revive me, O Lord, for your Name’s sake.
Tone VII


Gloria hymn  421
‘All glory be to God on high’
[Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’]
 Nikolaus Decius
 tr. F. Bland Tucker
‘Allein Gott’
 Nikolaus Decius
Based upon the Gloria in excelsis from 
the Mass for Eastertide (‘Lux et origo’)

The Great Alleluia

Offertory anthem [183]
‘Christians, to the Paschal Victim’
[Victimae paschali laudes]
 Wipo of Burgundy, c.11
 tr. The Antiphoner and Grail, 1880
‘Victimae paschali laudes’
 attr. Wipo of Burgundy
This is the Sequence for Easter

Communion anthem [202]
‘The Lamb’s high banquet called to share’
[Ad cenam Agni providi]
 tr. John Mason Neale & others
‘Ad cenam Agni providi’
 Mode VIII
 ¶ Historically appointed for Vespers in Eastertide

Communion hymns  200, 174
‘Come, ye faithful, raise the strain’
[Asômen pantes laoi]
 First Ode for Low Sunday
 John of Damascus
 tr. John Mason Neale
‘Gaudeamus pariter’
 mel. Ein Gesangbuch der Brüder im Behemen und Merherrn, 1544
 harm. Songs of Syon, 1904

‘At the Lamb’s high feast we sing’
[Ad regias agni dapes]
 tr. Robert Campbell
 mel. Jakob Hintze
 harm. J.S. Bach

Postcommunion hymn  205
‘Good Christians all, rejoice and sing’
 st. 1–4: Cyril A. Alington
 st. 5: Norman Mealy
‘Gelobt sei Gott’
 Melchior Vulpius

The Easter Vigil is the Queen of Feasts, the very crux of the Christian year. Our modern celebration of the Vigil, which in many ways sets the norms for our other liturgies throughout the year, is based upon early traditions of vigils before Sundays (which may have been the earliest form of Christian worship; see the twentieth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles) and major feasts, and an early (though not universal) tradition that this day was most suitable for Christian converts to be baptized. The texts sung at the Vigil draw richly upon scripture, not only of course texts about the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but also the Passover and the Exodus, in which the sacrificial lamb and its blood, the crossing of the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, and the manna in the wilderness figure prominently. Christ as priest and sacrificial victim, the cosmic battle between Life and Death, and the tomb (or death or hell generally) as a prison whose chains or gates Christ breaks are also common images.

The liturgy comprises four parts.

A special form of the Service of Light consists of the lighting of a new fire and blessing of the Paschal Candle (which symbolizes the Light of Christ), and, after a procession into the church, the singing of the very beautiful Easter Proclamation [Exultet iam angelica turba]. The Exultet, in the Prayer Book version (several versions exist in various sources, some of which it must be said are a good deal richer than current English-language versions), calls upon heaven, earth, and the Church to join the singer in praising the candle, then proclaims repeatedly that ‘This is the night’ when God brought our ancestors out of bondage into freedom, when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious, when innocence is restored, when earth and heaven are joined: it is the night of nights, the center of all time.

The Vigil itself follows. For the benefit of those about to be baptized, and all of us who will renew our own baptismal vows, a series of readings recount a number of God’s acts and promises of new life: creation itself, the saving of a remnant in the Great Flood and the covenant that followed it, the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, the animation of the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, and so on. Psalms and Canticles are sung in response to the long lessons during the Vigil itself, including the Song of Moses (from Exodus 15) with an anonymous metrical version of the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15.21, which forms the nucleus of the preceding Song of Moses and is considered by some to be one of the oldest parts of the Bible) as its refrain.

Holy Baptism – the Sacrament of death and new life, as Paul’s Epistle to the Romans tells us in a passage read later at the Mass itself – follows, including, as always, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows on the part of the whole congregation.

Finally, the Easter Eucharist is celebrated with an account of the Resurrection (from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in turn in the three-year lectionary cycle). Gloria in excelsis, suppressed in Lent, reappears, here in a metrical version particularly appropriate for Easter (the tune is based on the Gloria from the plainsong Mass [Lux et origo] traditionally appointed for Eastertide); it is one of several metrical adaptations of parts of the ordinary of the Mass made by associates of Martin Luther for congregational singing, with an English version by the prolific Episcopal priest-poet Bland Tucker.

At the Offertory the Sequence for Easter, ‘Christians, to the Paschal Victim’ [Victimae paschali laudes] – text and tune both attributed to the eleventh-century Wipo (Wigbert) of Burgundy, who was associated with the imperial court – will be sung. It brings together themes of not only Christ’s sacrifice, but the battle between life and death and the physical details of the empty tomb as recounted by Mary Magdalene.

Three more venerable hymns are sung at Communion. The first, ‘The Lamb’s high banquet called to share’ [Ad cenam Agni providi], sung by the choir to a rhythmical version of its proper plainsong tune, is the Office Hymn for Vespers in Eastertide, in a translation by John Mason Neale and others. The third, ‘At the Lamb’s high feast we sing’ [Ad regias Agni dapes] is a translation of a seventeenth-century revision of the first. In this very rich text, Christ is simultaneously the host of the Eucharistic feast, the priest and victim of the sacrifice, the bread and the manna, whose blood is the saving mark of Passover and the wine, the Red Sea that saves the believer but drowns the enemy. The second hymn, ‘Come, ye faithful, raise the strain’, was written by John of Damascus (St John Damascene) (born Mansur ibn Sarjun Al-Taghlibi, later taking the monastic name John [Yuhannâ] upon his ordination), a prominent seventh-century Syrian Christian writer on law, theology, apologetics, philosophy, and music, defender of icons during the First Iconoclastic Controversy, and Chief Administrator to the Caliph of Damascus (and considered a Doctor of the Church and the last of the Church Fathers). In the Israelites cross the Red Sea; Christ bursts from the prison of death, rising as a spring sun over a wintry earth; the ‘queen of seasons’ arrives at Jerusalem in a sort of royal triumph, and Jesus stands among his people bestowing his peace.

Eric Mellenbruch

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