Laughing in Holy Week

I was singing the Lauds hymn for Holy Week this morning which begins from the sixth verse of Fortunatus’ Pange Lingua Gloriosi ‘En acetum‘ and it suddenly struck me how marked the difference is between the beautiful melody l was singing (Crux Fidelis is one of my favourite hymns) with the horrific graphic prose l was reciting.

En acetum, fel, arundo,
sputa, clavi, lancea:
mite corpus perforatur,
Sanguis, unda profluit7
terra, pontus, astra, mundus,
quo lavantur flumine!
Lo, with gall His thirst He quenches!
see the thorns upon His brow!
nails His tender flesh are rending!
see His side is opened now!
whence, to cleanse the whole creation,
streams of blood and water flow.

How could l be enjoying singing this most glorious of tunes while reeling off a list of the most ghastly things done to Christ? ‘Acetum‘, vinegar, ‘fel’, Gall, ‘Arundo‘ Reed or the shaft of an arrow, Sputa, phlegm, Clavi, Club, ‘Lancea,’ spear.

This got me thinking about the mixed emotions that we have to wrestle with during Holy Week, that blend of pain and then pleasure. We know that Christ is going to be crucified, we are prepared for that bitter silence in the hours after his death, but at the same time we know the outcome –  we know what happens in the end.

Two years ago, my friends Candy and Martina from St. James’, Spanish Place, had come to sing with us at the Good Friday liturgy. This was the first time we had sung all the propers from the Graduale Romanum, and as those who have sung at Good Friday will know, that Tract is a killer. At the ‘Veneration of the Cross’ we had sung some of the Improperium but then had moved onto singing the Crux Fidelis because we were not sure how long the Veneration would take.

As we got towards the end of the hymn, countless verses later, it became apparent that the veneration was taking much longer than anticipated. I knew that the final verse, the doxology ‘Aequa Patri Filioque’ had to be the last verse sung so l hastily pointed to the top verse of that page and we began the last few verses again. As we reached the end of those flipping back and forth between the ‘Crux Fidelis’ and the ‘Dulce’ refrain, the veneration was still nowhere near finishing, and then l got the giggles –  which verse would we sing next? –  and when one starts it’s infectious. So there we were at one of the most dramatic points of the Good Friday liturgy, where the faithful are called to kiss the feet of the crucified as an act of sorrow, and l shamefully could not stop laughing.

So why am l telling you about my irreverent behaviour during a solemn liturgy  (and l have to tell you it was not the first time l have been in fits…) ? Because this is what Holy Week and the Triduum is all about. Whilst we know that Jesus was crucified in a vicious, brutal, horrific manner, we also know that he died for us and on the third day he rose again to save us from our sins. And for that, we can’t help but smile.

Incidentally, below is an exclusive recording of us singing the Crux Fidelis last summer along with Bara Brith of Blackfen. When you listen to the music l wonder if you find yourself feeling sorrowful or full of joy?

Crux Fidelis

Please pray that l manage to maintain a straight face throughout the Triduum.


One thought on “Laughing in Holy Week

  1. Stan says:

    If my own experience through the years is any indication, laughter at inappropriate times is an occupational hazard of chanting in a schola or any choir. My present schola even considered making a t-shirt with imprints of some of the funniest of our ‘inside humour’ bits but thought that might just increase the risk of our bursting into laughter at a very wrong moment. So we thought it best to save that kind of sharing for our post-practice wine & cheese sessions.

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