Friday, March 30, 2012

Cum ramis palmarum

Jesus Enters Jerusalem, by Giotto
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  Long, long ago, in a religious tradition now (for me) far, far away, I sang in the children's choir.  The mass was still in Latin (yep, I'm that old!), and Christ's entry into Jerusalem was celebrated with an almost rowdy festiveness. It was the last time the organ or any instrument would be played in church until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil mass. So the music on Palm Sunday was fortissimo, rendering the silence that would follow all the more dramatic.

We practiced at lunchtime and after school for months to master the Palm Sunday music, and I took the responsibility very seriously. Getting dressed that morning I felt especially proud as I again donned the white veil that I had worn at my first Communion. Spring was more fickle back then, and I recall also having to don boots for my walk to church through the freshly fallen snow.

I took a divine pleasure in singing Latin. To this day I still remember one of the first antiphonal pieces we sang as the celebrant blessed the palm, enveloping it in a cloud of incense and sprinkling it with holy water:

Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem,
Hebraeorum pueri resurrectionem vitae pronuntiantes,
Cum ramis palmarum: «Hosanna, clamabant, in excelsis.»

As the Lord entered the holy city,
The children of the Hebrews proclaimed the resurrection of life. 
Waving their branches of palm, they cried: "Hosanna in the highest."

Earlier this week I searched the Internet for that bit of nostalgia. To my surprise I found it, and to my even greater surprise I discovered that the setting we used to sing was composed by Franz Schubert!

So here it is:

We sang it a bit more andante but with the same sforzando. 
My spiritual journey has guided me to a worship space of exterior and interior calm and simplicity, far from music and other elaborate liturgical trappings. Yet those early experiences are a part of me still.

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