T IS NOT EASY FOR US to understand how long it took for some to abandon the Major-minor system when accompanying plainsong and to adopt instead a “modal” system similar to what was pioneered by Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (d. 1881). Around 1916, Fr. Adrian Fortescue created a magnificent organ book, described by Fr. Aidan Nichols. In 2013, Charles Cole posted several photographs of the book itself. 1 The accompaniment Fortescue provides for the hymn “Vexilla Regis Prodeunt” is not very impressive:
Not all of the accompaniments were composed by Fortescue. Some were copied from publications by Dr. Franz Xavier Mathias—and this “Vexilla” strikes me as potentially belonging in that category. Either way, it doesn’t really matter; because the very fact that Fortescue spent time placing it in pencil (and then ink) shows he valued it. I’ll never forget how scandalized I was to discover the Mathias accompaniment books: dreadful stuff. The sad part is, those by Mathias are among the better specimens from that era—and one reason CCWatershed spent so much time uploading thousands of pages of historical plainsong accompaniments (by Mathias, Springer, Wagner, Ebner, etc.) was to demonstrate how terrible some were!
When I saw this page, my opinion of Fortescue went down. But then I remembered there really weren’t better options available in those years. And I must say, the falsobordone verses he provides are lovely, although the perfect fourth in the bass at the end of the version by Gino Visonà (d. 1954) strikes me as questionable.
REGARDING THE CEREMONY on Good Friday referred to as the “Solemn Veneration of the Cross” or the “Adoration of the Cross,” I would like to share two statements which—in my humble opinion—are helpful and should be borne in mind. The first is from an 1845 Missal, with an 1845 IMPRIMATUR by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster:
The second statement comes from a much less obscure source:
The (Roman Catholic) Office of the Holy Week, According to the Roman Missal and Breviary; In Latin and English; With an Explanation of the Mysteries Represented in the Office and Ceremonies of the Holy Week (1796) says the following on page ix:
Next, both Priest and people adore Jesus Christ crucified,
expressing their adoration by kneeling thrice before they kiss
the sacred wounds represented by the figure on the cross.
This ceremony is a great stumbling-block to Protestants,
who think us guilty of idolatry by it, especially when the Rubrick
calls it, the Adoration of the Cross, and the Choir at the same time
sing, We adore thy Cross, O Lord, &c.
But we presume they will give us leave to know
the meaning of our own words and actions, and believe us,
when we tell them, that our genuflexion, and kissing of the cross,
are no more than outward expressions of the love and adoration
which we bear in our hearts to Jesus Christ crucified;
and that the words adoration and adore, as applied to the Cross,
signify only that respect and veneration which is due
to things relating to God and his service.
Here is a section from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471):
HY FEAREST THOU then to take up the cross which leadeth to a kingdom? In the Cross is health, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection from enemies, in the Cross is heavenly sweetness, in the Cross strength of mind, in the Cross joy of the spirit, in the Cross the height of virtue, in the Cross perfection of holiness. There is no health of the soul, no hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up therefore, thy cross and follow Jesus and thou shalt go into eternal life.
The hymn for Palm Sunday and Good Friday:
1. Vexílla Regis pródeunt:
Fulget Crucis mystérium,
Quo carne carnis Cónditor
Suspénsus est patíbulo.
2. Quo vulnerátus ínsuper
Mucróne diro lánceae,
Ut nos laváret crímine,
Manávit unda et sánguine.
3. Impléta sunt quae cóncinit
David fidéli cármine,
Dicens: In natiónibus
Regnávit a ligno Deus.
4. Arbor decóra et fúlgida,
Ornáta Regis púrpura,
Elécta digno stípite
Tam sancta membra tángere.
5. Beáta, cujus bráchiis
Saecli pepéndit prétium,
Statéra facta córporis,
Praedémque tulit tártari.
6. O Crux, ave, spes única,
Hoc Passiónis témpore,
Auge piis justítiam,
Reísque dona véniam.
7. Te summa, Deus, Trínitas,
Colláudet omnis spíritus:
Quos per Crucis mystérium
Salvas, rege per saécula.
English translation by Fr. Matthew Britt, OSB:
1. The banners of the King come forth;
brightly gleams the mystery of the Cross,
on which Life suffered death,
and by His death, obtained for us life.
2. He was wounded
by the cruel point of a spear,
and there issued forth water and blood
to cleanse us from the defilements of sin.
3. Now is fulfilled
what David foretold in faithful song,
saying to the nations:
“God has reigned from a Tree.”
4. O beautiful and resplendent Tree
adorned with the purple of the King,
chosen to bear
on thy worthy trunk, limbs so holy.
5. O blessed Tree upon whose branches
hung the ransom of the world;
it was made the balance of the body,
and snatched away the (expected) prey of hell.
6. Hail, O Cross, our only hope!
In this Passiontide (*mutable)
increase grace in the just,
and for sinners, blot out their sins.
7. May every spirit praise Thee,
O Trinity, Thou fount of salvation;
to whom Thou gavest the victory of the Cross,
grant also the reward.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Charles Cole is a famous conductor—but you might not realize he’s also a fabulous photographer. The 2013 article URL can be found here.