One week after the fact is a good time to write my impressions down. One of the true tests of Easter, I suggest, is what happens when the party starts winding down—even if in theory, the party goes on until Pentecost.
I am listening to John Rutter’s Gloria, the first edition (he released a new version recently, featuring the sound-alike Ps. 150 he did for the Royal Jubilee), and it is a good CD to accompany these reflections.
Good Friday is one time in the year where the sound of music is subdued. It is also one year, where in recent Catholic practice, churches make an extra effort to have their readers get together and read the Passion according to John with enough passion to make people cry about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. No different, I suggest, from what the pilgrim nun Egeria says they were doing at Jerusalem many centuries before.
Yet before the age of dramatic readings, the Passion account was chanted. The chant is one of the most haunting—sung largely in sharps and flats, it was done by three deacons doing three parts: Chronista, Christus, and everyone else (I forgot the technical term). Each part is sung to a different pitch.
It is in the Episcopal Church, here in Manila, where the tradition is continued. On Good Friday, I went to St. Andrew’s, where the Good Friday liturgy was being celebrated for the first time in years. For this purpose, the Chronista part, which is the narrator’s role, was sung by one person, as was the Christus, but the third part was split among many people, with a crowd literally singing all the crowd roles (I joined in too).
The singing, as was the rest of the service, was good. The only problem was that in some cases, some of the cantors did not enunciate the words properly thus keeping me unable from understanding what they said. I also did not appreciate the fact that they used a setting that did not allow the Chronista to truly be one, because one distinguishing mark of the Passion chant is that, after the death of Christ is announced (and everyone kneels), the Chronista’s part involves multiple levels of melisma. Which was absent from the setting they used.
So once again, Holy Trinity still tops the list of best places to hear the Passion Gospel being chanted, for the Chronista pulls out all the stops, and does it very well.
What made me happy, though, was that Fr. Joseph Frary did something remarkable. He read an anonymous patristic sermon concerning the descent into hell. It was a commentary on the Eastern Resurrection icon I have in my room: Christ calling Adam and Eve forth from the netherworld, trampling down the doors of death. Even if it was a day too early (Galley’s Prayer Book Office and the Roman Office of Readings recommends it for Holy Saturday), it was a good idea to remind us that overcoming evil was not a matter of taking punishment but liberating all of us from death!
This year, our new parish clergy wanted to make the Easter Vigil different. When I arrived, they were giving out little flaglets for people to wave during the Gloria in excelsis. I actually asked whether they brought out those party poppers that spray confetti, and one of the priests told me that he saw people bringing in six of them.
I really liked the vigil for a number of reasons. First of all, they used the Filipino setting, for which the Service of the Light was written in the pabasa meter and could have been sung that way. It was a refreshing change, I might add. Secondly, Fr. Jun de Peralta (take note, Leo, a Josefino) made sure to follow the pattern of reading, psalm, silent prayer, and collect very well. The silent prayer part is part of the classic vigil, and often gets left out. Finally, there really was a celebratory mood once the Gloria was sung. And the baptism, while somewhat awkwardly done, was done in the simplest way possible, leaving out the litany of the saints.
(This year, considering the attention given to the Liturgy of the Word and the lengthier than usual Service of Light, adding the Litany would have made the service too long for some. Not for me. It would have worked if there was a procession from the chancel to the rear, where a “baptismal pool” would have been laid out for the occasion.)
But I was really hoping we could have more enthusiastic ways of expressing Easter joy. So next year, I suggested bringing handbells and yes, party horns. I had this idea, that whenever the priest shouted “Christ is risen!” we would all make happy noises, with clapping, cheers, bells, horns. Maybe this could be done after the dismissal. Or during the Salubong or encuentro.
What I wish they could have done was to sing, for the first time, the Regina Coeli after communion. David E. Ford’s By Flowing Waters recommends that this song be sung after communion, along with other Marian “antiphons” or anthems on occasion. I learned this practice from the Jesuits, who did this at one of their Easter Vigil liturgies in 2005, and this is the practice at San Jose as well.
I was happy about this Easter. I know now, though, that as a clergyman mentioned this morning, the challenge is to bring to the world a new way of seeing—one which tore down walls of hatred and fear, and one which loved and shared more and more.
That is, to have the vision of being kind and generous.
Speaking of generous, I will reflect upon why a generous orthodoxy is what St. Andrew’s needs, as this batch graduates. This is of course Brian MacLaren’s answer to the unfortunate tendencies of American evangelicalism, tendencies that have infected one controversial figure in the local Episcopal Church.