The Sacred Triduum is behind us, with its shadows, deprivation and purifying lamentation. Renewed, we now enter a liturgical season of light and joy. Our Easter Sunday celebration changes from the usual sprinkling rite with penitential hyssop in the Asperges to reveling in the newly blessed Easter water. In the Vidi aquam we are washed by the water and blood that gushed from Christ’s side, a fulfilment of the prefiguring blood and water that flowed from the Temple’s altar out of the side of the mount. If Christ is the new three-day risen Temple (John 2:19), then His spear-ripped Sacred Heart is its new altar.
For Sunday Mass, and during the Octave of Easter, we sing one of the few medieval liturgical Sequences to remain in the Roman Mass. After the Council of Trent, in the 1570 Missale Romanum, the poetic sequences were reduced to four: Veni Sancte Spiritus for Pentecost, Lauda Sion for Corpus Christi, Dies Irae for Requiems, and Victimae Paschali Laudes for Easter. As I write, it is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which received a fifth sequence, the Stabat Mater, in 1727.
In the Ordinary Form the Victimae sequence is obligatory before the Alleluia on Easter Sunday and optional on other days of the Octave. In the Extraordinary Form we sing it from Easter through the Octave to Saturday, but after the Alleluia, as an extension of the jubilus (the stretching out of the final syllable with a long vocal dance called a melisma).
Speaking of dances, the pavements of great medieval churches were often adorned with labyrinths. On Easter afternoon in Auxerre, the dean of the cathedral danced through the labyrinth as the Victimae was sung, symbolising Christ’s winding route out of hell after its harrowing, back to the place of resurrection, His tomb. Surely after the duellum mirandum, the “awesome duel” with Death sung in the sequence, the holy souls danced and sang in Christ’s triumphal procession from their waiting place.
We Christians have so many reasons to sing with joy even in the world’s lengthening shadows. Love incarnate is risen. Death was bested. We’ve been offered eternal life. St Augustine wrote that “cantare amantis est … singing is what a lover does”.
I sometimes muse about the first thing Christ did at His tomb-bursting light-blast back to life. I think he sang. Sing now your Easter jubilus of gratitude and love.
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