A friend sent this talk he gave at a recent Passiontide Carol Service. When I heard Passiontide and Carols together, I was taken aback. I asked what carols were sung.
- The glory of our King was seen
- All glory, praise and honour
- Sing my tongue the Saviour’s glory
- My song is love unknown
- There is a green hill far away
- In the Cross of Christ I glory
- O sacred head sore wounded
- O Jesus crucified
- Glory be to Jesus
- When I survey the wondrous Cross
The program was interspersed with readings, like an Anglican Carol Service for Christmas. This raises the question of whether this belongs in a Catholic church. Maybe we would be better served with celebrating solemn Vespers. But it remains a good thing to meditate on Scripture and Hymns during Passtiontide. For better or worse, a concert format is more familiar to congregations.
Christian Walter Catsanos is an accomplished musician. A few years ago I wrote about his book New Catholic Hymns: 24 Hymns for the Liturgical Year. Keep reading to hear more reasons for singing Passiontide Carols in his talk at this year’s Service in Sydney.
Passiontide carols… What’s that all about, hey?
Perhaps you didn’t grow up singing carols at this time of year – Christmas, sure; but not so much around now. That’s OK – I didn’t grow up singing carols at this time of year either.
Why is that, do you wonder? After all, we all know Saint Paul’s words that had Christ never been raised from death, our faith would have been in vain – not had he never been born, not even had he never died; but had he never been raised from death. And it was the old Pasch of the Jews – that great forerunner to the new Pasch of Easter – which the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to keep as a day of festival for all generations and forever.
And indeed, we all know the prevalence of the Easter mystery in our day-to-day lives of faith, surely? Many of you tonight will be wearing your crucifix, symbolising the death of Christ, or else your bare cross to symbolise His resurrection; but I’d bet my bottom dollar no-one is wearing a manger around their neck! So then, we do acknowledge, even if only implicitly, the prevalence of the Easter mystery in our shared Christian faith and in our daily lives. Yet we follow the ways of the world in celebrating the carols of Christmas but not partaking in those particular to this time of the year – and why is it that the world thinks this way?
May I be so bold as to suggest that it’s because the world doesn’t like that the message of Easter challenges us. For all the many ways in which the modern world de-sanctifies human life in its many stages, at the moment when a mother and father are celebrating the birth of their newborn baby, the world celebrates with them. The message of Christmas is one which the world celebrates, and so the carols are sung with great enthusiasm, if not necessarily with the reverence and devotion which they merit, alongside the multitude of other traditions which the world embraces to ensure that this is a joyous occasion for all.
By contrast, Easter challenges us. The message of Good Friday is one of utter self-sacrifice, of emptying oneself of all inward desires to make a gift of ourselves in the name of love – not a message deeply admired by our indulgent, self-serving world. As far as Easter goes in the modern world, it doesn’t go far beyond indulging in chocolate and weekend getaways – even the joy of the Resurrection doesn’t gain the admiration of the world, simply because it first requires the pain of the Cross. Since the world won’t even sing with us the joyful carols of Eastertide which we’ll hear throughout our churches in a few days’ time, it’s needless to say that worldly pleasures leave next to no room for the reverent singing of the approaching suffering and death of the Saviour.
And yet, as Christians in the midst of the world, we have a solemn obligation to restore due reverence to these sacred times. Whether it’s encouraging a more reverent character to the celebration of Christmas, or ensuring that the. celebration of Easter is not forgotten in its entirety, we are bound to make disciples of all the nations, as Christ commanded us to do before His glorious Ascension. When I first held a Passiontide carols service, I wanted to bring greater prominence to Easter as was enjoyed by Christmas. With now a further sixteen years’ experience in which I have gained the wisdom of the celebration of both Easter and Christmas in our churches, I’m able to recognise that any celebration of these great occasions in our life of faith and in our sacred year is meaningless if not done with the true reverence and devotion of which they are meet.
As we now draw into the most sacred days of our year, let us reflect on how we live this time in our own lives. Let us commit ourselves now to making this a truly worthy celebration of the Lord’s Supper, of His most loving and sacrificial death, and of His glorious resurrection. Let us make 2023 our most reverent and our most worthy Easter ever.
~ Christian WJ Catsanos, during Passiontide carols at St Benedict’s Broadway, 31 March 2023