Lent: Classics Old And New

Today’s match-up finds our first chant entry, an antiphon usually yoked to Psalm 51. In the other corner is an NPM number 24 from Gregory Norbet very early in his Weston Priory days (1973). Also interesting is the confluence of texts from Old Testament “minor” prophets: Joel and Hosea.

Parce Domine is on the “Lent Essentials” list for many parishes. The text is Latin, and not that hard to pick up:

Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo:
ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.

And the English translation:

Spare, O Lord, spare your people:
not forever be angry with us.

Of course you hear the echo of Ash Wednesday Scriptures here. Psalm 51 also happens to the assigned to the Liturgy of the Word for that day. I hesitate to program “Parce Domine” for that reason. Psalm 51 is great, but two appearances in one liturgy seems like two overly generous dinner servings on a fast and abstinence day.

Gregory Norbet composed dozens of Biblically-based songs for his community at Weston Priory in the 1970’s. He grew as a composer through these years–some of the early collections were filled with very saccharine material: awkward lyrics and not very imaginative musically.But to give the man his due, he was a self-taught musician leading music in a small Benedictine community. He wrote for the need, and my sense is that publishing and selling music was a secondary concern.

No doubt that these early songs were influenced by acoustic music of the time, as well as a monastic sensibility. “Hosea” is one of the better representative pieces of these efforts. It remains a parish favorite where I serve. People have told me they regret it’s not programmed more often.

The lyrics, very romantic, don’t communicate the bitterness of the prophet Hosea. But they do draw out the tenderness of God for his people–a very good theme for Lent.

One last comment about Gregory Norbet’s music. While I know most all of what he wrote was for guitar and voices, his best pieces translate very well to piano and choir. That speaks to his natural gifts as a songwriter. Very little of guitar-based music moves well into a more serious rendition on instruments.

So you have 72 hours to vote on which of these tunes moves on to the Theological Thirty-Two:

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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