Easter Hymnody: Victimae Paschali Laudes

In the liturgical year at my parish, there are many small moments I anticipate. After the weighty liturgies of Holy Week, including the Easter Vigil, we have the multiple and crowded Masses of Sunday morning.

My friend Scott is often called upon to cantor at one of both of the early Masses. When he begins the Victimae Paschali Laudes, it is one of those small grace-filled moments of liturgy.

When I was younger I used to wonder about the mode. It didn’t seem to fit. Either I understand it better now, or I’ve grown used to it.

It’s too bad the Easter sequence only comes once a year. I used to wonder why Pange Lingua was so easily sung by pewfolk with the same once-a-year appearance. I have to say that he doesn’t invite the people to sing it (though it is in our hymnals). Anybody in the commentariat who sung it this year?

Victimae paschali laudes
immolent Christiani.
Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
reconciliavit peccatores.
Mors et vita duello
conflixere mirando:
dux vitae mortuus,
regnat vivus.
Dic nobis Maria,
quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
et gloriam vidi resurgentis:
Angelicos testes,
sudarium, et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea:
praecedet suos in Galilaeam.
Scimus Christum surrexisse
a mortuis vere:
tu nobis, victor Rex,
Amen. Alleluia.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Easter Hymnody: Victimae Paschali Laudes

  1. Gavin says:

    I don’t understand this post because part of it is in Latin.

    I had it sung (in English) at our late Mass. WRT it being sung once a year, it’s my impression that the sequence is allowed for the whole Easter Octave. So we used it Easter Sunday, at the school Mass, and on Low Sunday/Divine Mercy Sunday/Whatever the next pope wants to rename it.

    I know it’s in the vogue to have sequences performed, but with something this magnificent I can’t understand not letting the congregation join in.

    The mode is an interesting point I’ve harped on about often. Our western ears interpret “minor” keys or modes as sad, but traditionally those modes are more triumphant than sad. The old Lutheran and Genevan tunes often use minor keys for the happiest of melodies. One of the reasons I think a return to chant is beneficial in that it lets the western ear adapt to the idea that a lowered third doesn’t mean that someone died.

  2. Liam says:

    Actually, it (uniquely) comes *seven* times a year – each of the days of Easter week, in fact.

    And of course unsuppressed sequences can be added to the liturgy, as we’ve learned. It’s just that only two are *required*.

    It’s Mode 1, btw.

    My choir sang it, per the usual; the congregation sings the vernacular form of the Pentecost sequence at Pentecost, while we sing a Latin setting with bells and whistles, as it were.

    I would make it a goal for congregations to be familiar and comfortable with singing this. It would be a priority for Easter music were I asked for my opinion.

  3. Back in the dear dead days when I was still RC, the Victimae Paschali Laudes was my favorite piece of chant. As a matter of fact, it is still my favorite piece of Western chant.

    Probably part of the reason is that it is one of the few sequentiae which are permitted in the Western Church. I personally credit Hildegard of Bingen for prompting the prohibition. Whatever.

    However, I suspect that the reason why sequentiae are so haunting is that they appear to be attempts to put Byzantine chant into a Latin mode. Case in point: try putting an ison (or sustained note) to Victimae and see what happens. Go on. I dare you. Have one singer stay on the note that it starts with (I believe it is a ‘re’) while another singer does the rest. I think you may be favorably impressed.

  4. Liam says:

    You can also have the tenors sing the organum a fifth above the basses on the Amen/Alleluia….

  5. Our cantor sang it in Latin at Evening Prayer to close the Triduum. In a brief homily I spoke about the ancient texts that were ours that night, Phos Hilaron and Victimae Pschali Laudes.

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