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“My people, what have I done to you?” The Reproaches of Good Friday

Catholic Diocese of Saginaw | CC

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/14/17 - updated on 03/25/21

An ancient hymn that reminds us of Jesus' sorrow on the cross.

During the Good Friday liturgy there is a time when all those present are invited to approach the altar and reverence the crucifix with a kiss, touch or genuflection. It can be an emotional part of the liturgy as the faithful are brought to the foot of the cross and feel the sorrow of Good Friday.

To highlight the mournful atmosphere, the Church provides an optional hymn that can be sung during the adoration of the Holy Cross. It is traditionally called the “Reproaches” (Improperia in Latin) and presents Jesus’ sorrow on the cross.

The verses, some of which are drawn partly from the words of Old Testament prophets, call to mind the many events in salvation history when God saved his chosen people and questioned them, asking why they had turned away from him. It calls to mind the reality that our sins are the cause of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Read more:
A powerful Lenten reflection from Blessed John Henry Newman: “Behold the Man”

Below is a sample of the many questions Jesus asks the crowd in the Reproaches.

My people, what have I done to you?
or how have I grieved you?
Answer me!
Because I led you out of the land of Egypt,
you have prepared a cross for your Savior.
What more should I have done for you and have not done?
Indeed, I planted you as my most beautiful chosen vine
and you have turned very bitter for me,
for in my thirst you gave me vinegar to drink
and with a lance you pierced your Savior’s side.
I exalted you with great power,
and you hung me on the scaffold of the cross.
This ancient hymn is meant to provide a fitting meditation while each individual walks up the aisle of the church to kiss the wounds of Christ on the cross. It points the soul inward and forces us to reflect on our own failings. In the end, it reminds us how every sin we commit hurts our beloved Lord and furthers his pain on the cross. It is a call to conversion, begging us to turn away from our sinful habits to embrace the good that God wants to accomplish in our lives.
In the Byzantine liturgy, and sometimes in the West, the Reproaches are interspersed with the Trisagion, the great prayer of supplication to God:
Holy is God!
Holy and strong!
Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!
Palestrina composed a famous version of the Reproaches that is often sung at the Vatican on Good Friday and reflects the somber mood of the day.

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