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April 2, 2024

Singing the Resurrection Song this Easter Season

Singing the Resurrection Song this Easter Season header image

One of my favorite Easter hymns is “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain.” It has an eighth-century Latin text by St. John of Damascus; the music or tune is from the sixteenth century. Both text and tune are joyful, driving and triumphant, an exuberant celebration of the resurrection. One of my favorite lines is, “Led them with unmoistened foot, through the Red Sea waters” (verse 1). Another is, “Now the queen of seasons bright with the day of splendor, with the royal feast of feasts, comes its joy to render” (verse 3). Singing this hymn, one can’t help smiling! It fosters within you the very thing it celebrates: profound joy in the resurrection.

For Catholics, Easter isn’t a single day or even a single service; it’s an entire season concluding with the feast of Pentecost. The celebration is spread over the course of seven weeks; that’s how long it takes to unpack the mystery of Easter: the paschal mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

That gives us seven weeks to reflect on the gift of the resurrection, to pray, and to sing alleluia. Why so much joy and celebration? Because of the salvation Christ gained for us by his sacrifice and victory on the cross. Through that great gift, we have been given new life through the Holy Spirit.

How do we celebrate the resurrection? How do we express our joy and gratitude, and our praise of God for such a priceless gift? Music and singing is one of the best ways! I mentioned that beloved eighth-century hymn earlier. Today, the Holy Spirit is still inspiring poets and composers to create beautiful new music for prayer, worship and liturgy. OCP’s mission is “to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 121), to provide that music for your parish community, and through it to enable a life-changing encounter with the Risen Lord.

Pope Francis reminds us: “It is necessary to ensure that sacred music … be fully ‘inculturated’ in the artistic and musical language of the current time; namely, that they are able to incarnate and translate the Word of God into song, sound and harmony capable of making the hearts of our contemporaries resonate, also creating an appropriate emotional climate which disposes people to faith and stirs openness and full participation in the mystery being celebrated” (March 4, 2017; on the 50th anniversary of Musicam Sacram).

Another favorite Easter hymn is “Three Days,” with text written by M.D. Ridge in 1999. I love the way this song tells the whole story of the Triduum, from Good Friday (“Three days we hid in silence, in bitter fear and grief”) to Easter morning. But just try singing that third verse, set to Holst’s majestic THAXTED, without tears of joy: “Though still Christ’s body suffers, pierced daily by the sword, yet death has no dominion: the risen Christ is Lord!” He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!

May God bless you richly this Easter and may all the songs we sing, old and new, express and foster resurrection joy, so that, “hearts burning bright within us,” we can witness to all the world: “we’ve seen his glory shine” (“Three Days,” verse 2). Amen.