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Experience the somber beauty of the Good Friday “Reproaches”

J-P Mauro - published on 04/10/20

The traditional hymn for the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

In the Good Friday Liturgy of the Roman Rite, there is a moment when the faithful are invited to approach and venerate the Cross of our Lord, which is accompanied by a chorus lifting their voices in prayer. While it has become popular to sing more modern hymns, like “Behold the Wood of the Cross,” for hundreds of years it was the Catholic tradition to sing the Good Friday “Reproaches.”.

The “Reproaches,” known as “Improperia” in the original Latin text, are a series of antiphons and responses, performed as a conversation between Jesus and the faithful. Here, Christ expresses remonstrance with his people and asks them again and again “How have I offended you?”

The piece is performed in alternating pattern between the cantor and a choir, or even two choirs if there is no cantor. In each antiphon, the voice representing Christ lists another example of God’s good works and how His mercy was answered by the people with Crucifixion. The lyrics were largely drawn from Psalm 78, which chronicles the “praiseworthy deeds of the LORD and his strength,” in the Old Testament.

It is a penitential masterpiece that brings to mind the most striking line of the Act of Contrition, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Aleteia’s own Phil Kosloski describes it beautifully:

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.

The text has been arranged to dozens of musical scores, but we especially liked the compositions by John Sanders (featured above) and James Kennerley (featured below). The Sanders feels like a more traditional hymn, utilizing expansive, sustained chords that took our breath away. The Kennerley is a bit more interesting in its dynamics and the way the vocal lines overlap, and the choir is stronger overall.

Catholic MusicEasterGood Friday
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