Against Reading the Passion of the Lord in Parts

Although we’ve made great progress in nearly fifty years of liturgical reform, it seems that Lent and Holy Week can be opportunities for some backsliding.  Specifically, I still see practices that suggest that the Passion and Death of Jesus — which we celebrate each Sunday – is something that we need to “act out” or dramatize like it never happened, in order to make it more “interesting” for our assemblies.

A prominent example is our tendency to “perform” Gospel readings in parts, rather than proclaim them.  Of course, this is an allowed option for the Passion, but have we really considered the implications of this option (as well as some of the practices which sometimes accompany it, such as costumes and props, seating the assembly, and sometimes even having the assembly read parts themselves)?

Regarding multiple readers, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#109) says that “If there are several persons present who are able to exercise the same ministry, nothing forbids their distributing among themselves and performing different parts of the same ministry or duty…But it is not at all appropriate that several persons divide a single element of the celebration among themselves, e.g., that the same reading be proclaimed by two lectors, one after the other, except as far as the Passion of the Lord is concerned.”

So, according to the GIRM, the ONLY reading that is allowed to be read in parts is the Passion (an exception to this rule is found in Masses with Children).  That said, it is not required to be read in parts.  The rubric for Passion Sunday (#21) states that “The narrative of the Lord’s Passion is read…by a Deacon or, if there is no Deacon, by a Priest.  It may also be read by readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to a Priest.”  The rubric for Good Friday (#9) simply states that “the narrative of the Lord’s Passion according to John…is read in the same way as on the preceding Sunday.”

A few things should be considered carefully when preparing the proclamation of the Passion:

  1. Although the Passion may be read in parts, it is by no means required.
  2. Nowhere in the rubrics is the practice of the assembly taking a part (e.g., the crowd) presented as an option (except for Directory of Masses with Children, #47).  I would argue that this option would be less than desirable (though not forbidden), since the Lectionary for Mass: Introduction states the role of the faithful in the Liturgy of the Word clearly when it says that “The congregation of Christ’s faithful even today receives from God the word of his covenant through the faith that comes by hearing…the faithful at the celebration of Mass are to listen to the word of God with an and outward reverence…” (#45, emphasis added).  Although attempts to “act out” the scriptures at Mass may be well-intentioned, I believe that it goes beyond the principle of proclamation.
  3. On a related note, I would also argue that the custom of the assembly being seated for the Passion (a posture that is nowhere even suggested in any of the rubrics) puts the assembly in a passive “audience” mode, and removes the active stance of standing which sets the Gospel apart.

All that said, the Passion of the Lord is a lengthy text, with many twists and turns, and several voices.  The proclaimers of these most sacred scriptures — whether a deacon or a priest, or several readers — must be the very best, and be well-prepared and practiced (but, really, isn’t that true of every Sunday?

Mark F. Hoggard is a pastoral associate at the Church of St. Thérèse in Chesapeake, VA.

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76 comments

  1. I have taken the Passion readings and divided it into parts for 3 readers PLUS the Christus. There are no “crowd” parts or “narrator” parts, etc. Instead, the reader changes when the “scene” in the Passion reading changes. Of course, the Priest retains the verses spoken by Jesus. In effect, this is a form a “sacred storytelling”, inviting listening. The different “voices’ at ‘scene changes’ in the Passion provides a variety to help prevent a sense of monotony. I have found this “storytelling” form is far better received and understood than a Passion that is divided to read somewhat like a play with “characters”, which sometimes can come across as artificial.

  2. The “performance”-like format, particularly when the assembly rouses after a passive sitting experience to all read “Crucify him! Crucify him!” etc. also has the problematic effect of continuing subtly to reinforce the latent anti-Jewish reading of the Passion — that “the Jews” and “their” mob mentality are responsible for the death of Christ.

  3. Why are we upset about the division of the Passion into parts? It’s quite an old tradition, dating to at least the high middle ages, when it would have been chanted. It’s given an explicit exception in the GIRM no doubt among other reasons because of its antiquity. It has also been a deeply fruitful liturgical practice, spawning an entire genre of theatrical culture.

    I’m not strongly in favor of the practice – I wouldn’t try to persuade a local community to do it if it wasn’t local practice – but such a sober remonstrance against an ancient tradition confirmed by church documents strikes me as odd without a fuller explanation.

  4. Given “Nowhere in the rubrics is the practice of the assembly taking a part (e.g., the crowd) presented as an option,” why are missalette publishers allowed to section off parts for the assembly to play as The Crowd?

  5. I would divide it between three lectors as sectioned in the Lector’s Workbook from LTP (when Gabe Huck directed the program), and have the congregation sing a refrain (“Jesus, Remember Me,” “Lift High the Cross,” etc.) after each section, and with no special speaker for Christ. It took two or three years to really make an impact, but eventually peolle found it more prayerful and meaningful for the beginning of Holy Week and for Good Friday

  6. I have never felt comfortable with the part assigned to the people, which is invariably the part of the crowd that showed no mercy. OK, we are sinners, but is crying out “Give us Barrabas!” and “Crucify him!” the right way to go about praying with the passion?

    I also find that when refrains are sung throughout the Passion most are too centered on specific episodes of the story, usually from the crucifixion ignoring the Last Supper, the betrayal, etc, or else they are too much focused on a pietistic pity for Jesus. Finally, none of them is even remotely doxological.

    One of the solutions I have been most pleased with is one I devised when working with the music director of the Cathedral in in Milwaukee. We read the passion in sections. We punctuated the sections with a sung refrain taken from one of the sermons of St. Ephraim the Syrian (alluding to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans), which of course are written in verse:

    “For us, the ungodly, the master was given up. Who would not marvel? Who would not give glory? When the slaves had sinned, the master was given up.”

    It fit every part of the passion narrative, not only one episode. It invited wonder and doxology. And it foreshadowed the exsultet text: “to ransom a slave, you gave away your son.” It still owned up to our sin, but in a totally different way.

    1. It’s more than a little interesting that no one has complained about the assembly chanting “Hosanna!” at the entrance with palms.

      The scriptures are quite powerful in noting the parallels between the cheers of the people at Jesus and his entrance into Jerusalem with palms and the shouts of the crowd to “crucify him!” You’d almost get the idea that Holy Week is supposed to be a little difficult for God’s people.

      All in all, we are much more comfortable with cheering Jesus as he enters Jerusalem with palms than we are admitting that we share in sending him to the cross.

      1. Hosanna is already part of our liturgical repertoire, in the Sanctus in every liturgy. That’s one reason why no one mentions it or objects to it.

        But more fundamentally, I would suggest that “play acting” the part of vicious bullies or a murderous crowd actually distances us from the story, and really doesn’t help us to live into our Christian vocation. The liturgy constantly calls us into the enactment of our best selves, not our worst. To hear the story, to live the story, does not mean everybody is/can/should shout loudly for Christ to be crucified.

        I lived through the pious upbringing that emphasized personal guilt as the point of entry into the passion. Everything we ever did wrong brought Jesus to the cross. Our personal sins all crucify Christ again. So if I disobeyed my parents, I drove a nail into his hands, and if I told even a white lie, I put the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head… etc. This sort of guilt-based spirituality may work for some; historically it has had a long run and been productive. But it has driven countless people away from Christ and the Church today, because after a while they feel the emotional effects are not rightly focussed on the real world evils we wrestle with, and that this approach in fact ends up being rather emotionally manipulative. Feeling guilty can be a dead end, not just uncomfortable but unproductive.

        More productive in our time has been the spirituality of solidarity with suffering, in which we enter the mystery of Christ’s passion precisely as a mystery of divine solidarity with all of suffering humanity, and especially with innocent suffering. It is about seeking conversion in our hearts and minds and actions, and growing toward greater compassion, responsiblity, solidarity, and healing.

    2. I think we should really reflect on the USCCB’s directive to participation aid publishers:
      “Its clearly preferable that the word of God be clearly heard by all who participate in the liturgy, for “In the hearing of God’s word the Church is built up and grows”. (GILFM 7) For this reason, the printing of readings and presidential prayers in participation aids is discouraged, unless other circumstances make it impossible for the word to be effectively proclaimed. Even in these instances, however, it is preferable that steps be taken to assure the effective proclamation of the Scriptures rather than resorting to providing a “read along” text to the members of the assembly.” Guidelines for publishers of participation aides

      1. Good observations – had the same and raised some questions below at the post on March 31st, 7:21AM.

        It appears that this is way down on the priority list for the USCCB. It falls into the usual USCCB liturgical directives that are more ignored than observed e.g. eucharistic bread at the same liturgy; doing other sacraments in the pairsh eucharistic celebration, etc.

      2. Mike I agree with your premise. Where I disagree is making people follow this mandate. So what if people want to follow a written text of the Mass, including the readings? Shouldn’t they be the ones who decide? However, if the proclamation of the Scriptures is well done and the sound system and acoustics great, then I think you will find people making a free-will decision to listen rather than read along, but why be so concerned if they choose to read any part of the Mass as it occurs, and then make them do so by removing any liturgical aid that has the printed words–isn’t that a bit too much in terms of controlling people at Mass where legitimate freedom has its place?

      3. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #12:
        Inteesting perspective Father. I once attended a Mass where the good sisters proclaimed the entirerty of the the Eucharistic prayer and all responses.- I must say it was very moving, fortunately I had not eaten much that day….

      4. Not providing texts, while well-intentioned, is grossly inhospitable (and condescending to, and disempowering of, the people in the pews) in practical effect. It’s not a progressive value, that’s to be sure.

  7. Rita, I love that text from St. Ephraim. It would indeed serve as a fitting refrain in the solemn proclamation of the passion.

    For a number of years I used: “Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.” It is similarly doxological. Plus, it provides a good way to re-cycle one of the community’s favorite, recently discarded, refrains.

  8. I’m just not excited to compel myself to forage for citations.
    Unless you’re doing the Victoria St. John, or somesuch, stick to the St. Peter’s model: narrator, Christus, voice. Period.
    The recited turbae, I contend, is an American pulp missal contrivance, and an exceedingly embarrassingly one over its many rhetorical adjustments over the decades.

    1. Not just American, I fear. Not only is it very common on this side of the Pond, but the publishers of the Jerusalem Bible even put out booklets of the Passion readings divided into parts, with the assembly taking the turba parts.

      The idea of musical interludes in the Passion was something that I introduced to England in the very early 1970s. We used to use verses of “O sacred head” with the Passion Chorale. More recently, people over here have expanded their repertoire to include (occasionally) the verses of “Go to dark Gethsemane” or (rather more often) Taizé “Jesus, remember me” or the wonderful refrain of Stephen Dean’s “Father, if this cup” with its wrenching chromatic harmonies. (It can be found in the Easter Mysteries collection from OCP.)

      I think the problem of the assembly reading the choir parts is threefold.

      (a) Reading along with proclaimed scripture readings is like watching the news on TV with the script in your hand. No one does that in real life. Yes, I know all the arguments about different learning intelligences, but when you are reading at the same time as listening, you are controlling the text, and controlling what you get out of it. Listening without a text enables God to speak the word into your heart, conveying God’s meaning rather than the meaning that you assign to it. It’s much easier to graft your own interpretation onto the proclaimed word when you’re reading along.

      (b) In the case of a Passion reading with crowd parts for the assembly, it actually changes the way that people listen, because they are subconsciously waiting for the next time they come in. Think of what it’s like when everyone is reading a Shakespeare play from the book: it feels artificial. The same is true here.

      (c) It can lead to bathos. In the Year of Luke, after a fairly lengthy opening section in which the crowd has nothing to say, the first thing they say is “No!”. A little later, “Lord, we have two swords!” A little later still, “Lord, shall we use our swords?” The whole thing runs dangerously close to descending into farce. This is not what meditating on the Passion is about.

      My personal preference for the Passions of Matthew, Mark and Luke is to have different voices for Peter, the maidservant, etc, and have them combine to do the crowd parts together. For the Passion of John, which is very different in character, my preference is to have the whole Passion read by a single reader. I also prefer in this case that the reader be seated on a chair in the centre front of the sanctuary, and that everyone sits to listen. This posture aids the contemplative dimension.

      1. Excellent ideas, Paul and have used this approach in the past successfully.

        Also, agree with Lee’s comment above – that was the foundation we used.

        Rita and Paul – given the various citations you have referenced, why hasn’t the USCCB worship committee addressed this? Fr. Allan’s experience appears to sum up the typical congregation across the US – thus, lack of education, awareness, and history in terms of the passion reading. Is this because mainstream publishers concretized the usual practice? Paul’s three points made imminent good sense and, on balance, anyone here has probably experienced what he observes.

        Can’t agree with Fr. Steve’s chanting point – have rarely experienced cantors who have the skills so that folks can actually hear the words. It also makes it even more of a performance.

  9. I think this is all much ado about nothing. As has been noted above, the ‘acting out’ of the Passion has a pedigree going back to the imaginative mediaeval era. A pedigree which continued long after Trent and into modern times, and which even sprouted branches in other ‘ecclesial communities’, such as the Lutherans: where, where! would we be without the Bach Passions, not to mention those of lesser composers, both Catholic and Protestant? Acting out the passion through semi-drama, liturgical musical settings with a high degree of sophistication can, verily be said to be organic toThe Palm Sunday Liturgy. What would really be droll whoud be to not have this at all… and I guess, then, that those puritans amongst us would be pleased at having robbed us and God of yet something else.

  10. The Passion being chanted in the vernacular to a Gregorian melody is hauntingly beautiful and profoundly meditative. Even a small parish can do this without too much trouble. The part of the crowed can be sung by three voices without the congregation. This keeps the medieval tradition alive without turning it into a play and maintains the solemn character of the event being pondered in word and sacred music.

  11. With only a few exceptions (instances where there were the three deacons chanting in Latin, each at his lectern), most of the performances for the reading of the passion I’ve witnessed come off sounding like contestants competing in an old radio and early TV weekly series, “The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour”. There’s something to be said for leaving this feature of Holy Week to trained readers, chanters, and to the clergy.

    From my experience, you just cringe and wish for it all to end soon. Knowing it would have been better if the priest had read the passion account himself. With maybe a choral response at certain points along the way permitting the people to join in.

  12. Ever since the Passion was written in parts for various people taking those parts including the ones mentioned above for the laity, that’s the only way I’ve ever experienced the Passion being read for as far back as I can remember as a lay person and as a priest. I presume this style of reading the passion goes back to the mid to late 1960’s? However, and this makes me nervous as a pastor, but at the suggestion of our music director, the good Methodist she is, for the first time ever in my 32 years as a priest, our parish will have the passion chanted by three professional cantors at our 9:30 AM and 12:10 Masses for Palm Sunday and again at the Good Friday Liturgy. I think our laity like taking the parts that have been assigned to them for over 40 years, so I expect some push back at the Monarchy of our Methodist music director and my humble acquiescence to her recommendation. Will Catholics leave the Church or my parish over this? Will this be one more reason for them to justify not going to Church anymore? Time will tell. Stay tuned.

  13. FWIW, Paschale Solemnitatis, the important 1988 circular letter on the celebration of the Holy Week and Triduum liturgies, provides as follows:

    33. The passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three persons who take the parts of Christ, the narrator and the people. The passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers. In the latter case, the part of Christ should be reserved to the priest.

    #66 for Good Friday refers back to this.

  14. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For years I have longed to HEAR the Word of God proclaimed. It doesn’t help [me] to pray if I’m reading along, looking/ waiting for my chance to jump in.

    Thank you for the references, too.

    Sr Michaelene

  15. On a regular Sunday, the pastor of a local parish who is also a scripture scholar “tells” the Gospel from memory standing at the top of the altar steps (but not behind the lecturn) while the Book of Gospels is held by the server in the center of the Church. At the foot of the altar, he signs the Book before the “telling” and kisses it afterwards. This practice definitely helps underline the oral character of the Gospels. The Gospel is meant to be in the midst of the community and in our hearts.

    For some long Gospels, e.g. the Samaritan Woman, the story telling nature could effectively be brought out by more than one reader. However, any suggestion of a play or reenactment should be avoided.

    In a local parish the Passion Narratives are interrupted by the Taize refrain “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I think this is an appropriate role and response for the people.

    I am against the people doing the “Crucify him” part for two reasons. First it gives us the false historical notion that Jewish people crucified Jesus.” Second, it fosters clericalism as if the laity are somehow more responsible for the death of Jesus than the clergy.

    The historical reality is that the Romans (Pilate) and their puppet ruler (the Chief Priest) were principally responsible for the death of Jesus. Secondarily, the Jewish religious leadership (priests, scribes, and Pharisees) collaborated in his death far more than the Jewish people. Thirdly, the Christian leadership (Judas, Peter, Apostles by betraying him, denying him, and abandoning him.) collaborated in his death just as much as the Jewish religious leadership

    Of course if we really acknowledged the complicity of religious leaders (Christian as well as Jewish) in betraying Jesus into the hands of political leaders, we might recognize the continuing betrayal of the Gospel throughout Christian history by our religious leaders collaborating with and becoming rulers of this world.

    1. Jack, we are all, (us who are human) responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus by our sins beginning with Adam and Eve. However Jesus is no victim of circumstances, as God the Son, He embraces His ministerial mandate to take upon Himself all of the sins of the world, past, present and to come and bring these to the His Sacrifice of the Cross. There isn’t a single person ever conceived apart from Jesus Christ incarnate and His blessed Mother, who are not responsible for Jesus passion and death. But I might add once again, that the priest taking the part of Jesus in the reading or chanting of the Gospel, does so “in persona Christi” in the liturgical sense, but I suspect he could also join in the chorus of “crucify Him…” since technically the priest could be reading or chanting the entire Passion, or the deacon. The priest as a person is as guilty as sin as anyone else, past, present and to come.

      1. Fr. Allan – you state: “….we are all, (us who are human) responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus by our sins beginning with Adam and Eve. However Jesus is no victim of circumstances, as God the Son, He embraces His ministerial mandate to take upon Himself all of the sins of the world, past, present and to come and bring these to the His Sacrifice of the Cross. There isn’t a single person ever conceived apart from Jesus Christ incarnate and His blessed Mother, who are not responsible for Jesus passion and death.”

        Well, that is an old approach. And could have sworn Jesus was also human? You might do well to learn from a priest of the diocese of Belleville:

        http://ncronline.org/blogs/spiritual-reflections/our-share-his-suffering

        Highlights in terms of reframing your approach:

        – “Few of us form our images of Jesus’ passion and death from the four Gospel narratives. Most of us shape them from pious devotions, the Stations of the Cross, Holy Week homilies, or, for us older folk, from the old Tre Ore (Three Hour) Good Friday service. Encouraged to zero in on the suffering and pain our sins caused the Son of God, we’re led not only to experience deep sorrow for those sins, but also to resolve never to commit them again. Nothing wrong with such a process, but it isn’t what our four evangelists intend us to take from their Passion narratives.”

        – thus, he refocuses away from a preoccupation on personal or even historical sin or on sin period. He ends by saying:

        “Nowhere in his letters does the apostle more perfectly describe such a mindset. “Though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … he humbled himself … becoming obedient to the point of death … because of this, God greatly exalted him.” Jesus’ exaltation takes place only because he first emptied himself.” (note – no use of “sin”)

        “We best do this by listening to the voices and needs of others.”

  16. I think of when my father died 40 years ago, and how we gathered and talked over the following weeks – telling the story, sometimes to one another, sometimes one person speaking, sometimes others coming in, sometimes to visitors. The same when my mother died 7 years later.
    That’s what we’re doing here: not re-enacting, but telling the story together as a family, about someone who was and is dear to us and still a living part of our lives.

  17. It always bothered me that the priest read out the part of Christ while the laity read the part of the crowd; it seemed the ultimate expression of clericalism!
    This practice may go back into the Middle Ages. Just because something is traditional doesn’t make it right and proper, it just makes it traditional.
    I have always been stunned by the austere nature of the narrative. I’d love to see a comparison of this narrative with other contemporary First Century literature. The story seems stark and excruciating, very modern in tone and style.
    I think this Gospel needs to be presented by a person or group of persons who can present it in a tone of witness. It doesn’t need to be dramatized, but to present it with a flat affect is wrong, also. I think the narrative can be broken up into sections, but to break it into speaking roles is distracting.

    1. I think the narrative can be broken up into sections, but to break it into speaking roles is distracting. An excellent suggestion Brigid, especially since the Gospel of Mark is written in contrasting sections.

      In my rendition I would have three readers. Reader One (1) reads sections which emphasize the actions of the Jewish authorities, Roman authorities and the Apostles. It should be read by a priest or deacon from a lecturn. Reader Two reads the sections that emphasize the action of Jesus. It should be read by a layman from the ambo. Reader Three should be a woman.

      1. Mark 14: 1 The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place in two days’ time …”Not during the festival, for fear that there may be a riot among the people.”

      During the next reading, the woman reader takes her place at the foot of the altar facing the altar and kneels placing a jar on the steps of the altar.

      2 Mark 14: 3 When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil…. what she has done will be told in memory of her.

      1. Mark 14: 10 Then Judas Iscariot…… Then he looked for an opportunity to hand, him over.

      All sing Taize “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

      2. Mark 14:12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,…. When it was evening he came with the Twelve.

      1.Mark 14: 18 And as they reclined at table and were eating, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” …. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

      2.Mark 14: 22 While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing …. Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

      All sing Taize “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

    2. 1. Mark 14: 27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will have your faith shaken… “I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly.

      2. Mark 14: 32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” …. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”

      1. Mark 14 37 When he returned he found them asleep…. Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?

      2. It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

      All sing Taize “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

      1. Mark 14: 43 Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd …. One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.

      2 Mark 14 48 Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs, to seize me? Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the scriptures may be fulfilled.”

      1. Mark 14 50 And they all left him and fled. …… “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?”

      2. Mark 14: 62 Then Jesus answered, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.'”

      1.Mark 14: 63 At that the high priest tore his garments … Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” He broke down and wept.

      All sing Taize “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

    3. 2. Mark 15:1 As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. … Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed

      1. Mark 15 6 Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested…. and led him out to crucify him.

      The Woman Reader goes up to the altar and kneels at its base.

      2. Mark 15: 21 They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian,…one on his right and one on his left.

      1. Mark 15: 29 Those passing by reviled him, …. At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

      2. Mark 15 34 And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ….. “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

      As the male reader leaves the ambo, the woman reader rises from the base of the altar and goes to the ambo

      3. Mark 15:40 There were also women looking on from a distance ….. they watched where he was laid.

      When the woman reader finishes, a server places a veil over her shoulders. She goes to the foot of the altar where she left the oil, kneels and covers the jar of oil. As she does this several women from the congregation gather around her and escort her out the center aisle of the church. During all this time the congregation sings “Jesus remember me.”

      N.B. Liturgical chorography to bring out the meaning of a text is not a play nor a reenactment. The division of the texts, the congregation refrain, etc. are all really a form of punctuation.

      1. Beautiful, Jack, and would have loved to be a part of this.

        OTOH, can hear my sainted liturgy mentor telling you that, yes, the way you did this was a play and a type of re-enactment.

        Guess, like art, it is personal taste although, IMO, the focus should be on the spoken/proclaimed word (no other action but pace, inflection, etc.)

      2. I have the feeling that this chorographed Passion would be outside the liturgical norms.

      3. Bill,

        My division of sections among three readers rather than among characters is far more faithful to the text’s meaning and far less a play or reenactment.

        Most scriptural scholars acknowledge Mark’s extensive use of sandwich structure (better called a bracket structure since it works like punctuation).

        My first section, Mark 14: 1 and third section Mark 14: 10 about the plot against Jesus bracket the second section about the Anointing of Jesus. Both the temple authorities and Judas look like they have the initiative, but as the Anointing shows Jesus is in charge. The temple authorities, Judas and even the disciples do not really understand who Jesus is and what is happening. It is the servant woman by her deed who comes closest to understanding Jesus.

        Many scholars have remarked upon the extremely negative view Mark has of the disciples; A central question of Mark is “Who is Jesus?” The disciples often show themselves as misunderstanding Jesus as much as his opponents. My combining of the parts which emphasize the actions of the Temple authorities, Pilate, and the disciples is consistent with the overall literary structure of Mark.

        The Anointing of Jesus and the activity of the women in preparation for burial anointing brackets the Passion establishing Jesus as priest, prophet and king (all anointed) and Jesus as the Anointed one. The women understand this Gospel by their deeds.

        The description of women in the Passion as those who serve brackets the end of Jesus ministry with the beginning of Jesus ministry and his first healing miracle the raising of Peter’s mother in law to serve. The center of this bracket comes when Jesus says he has come to serve not be served – and challenges the disciples to imitate him.

        As I have remarked several times before I think Dei Verbum’s affirmation of the importance of Scripture will ultimately reshape the Liturgy more than the constitution on the Liturgy, but that will take at least another 50 years.

  18. I wonder why – in the interest of honesty and being faithful to the reading of the Passion – the priest doesn’t say “Crucify Him” or “Give Us Barabbas.” It was the “religious leaders” who incited the folks, wasn’t it?
    And, since we’re the Body of Christ, why don’t the folks in the pews proclaim the words of Christ?

    1. Because the priest-celebrant acts in the capacity of “In persona Christi Capitas” by virtue of the specific sacramentality of Holy Orders? But of course, the congregational responses at all during the reading of the passion is a missalette concoction well accepted by clergy and laity ever since Vatican II, as they would say,
      taught them to do that.

      1. From Paul Ford’s opening post and GIRM: “The rubric for Passion Sunday (#21) states that “The narrative of the Lord’s Passion is read…by a Deacon or, if there is no Deacon, by a Priest. It may also be read by readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to a Priest.”

        Some practical concerns to go along with the missaletter/Worship/OCP issues:
        – starting with the new translation, deacons were required to read all gospels (not the presider). Yet, three out of four of our deacons are mediocre readers, at best. Yet, they took one of the reader parts of the Passion per pastor fiat
        – 30% of all US masses are presided over by a foreign priest. 10-15% of all catholics attending eucharist are hard of hearing. Foreign accents make this even more difficult and to have a foreign priest with poor english reading ability have a prime role in the passion reading, defeats the purpose from the get go
        – the GIRM suggests that the role of Jesus be reserved for a priest (they don’t use Fr. Allan’s justification; at least, in writing). Doesn’t have to be the presider and not sure it needs to be a priest since the GIRM’s higher principle would be effective proclamation; community’s ability to hear and understand, etc. vs. ontological 16th century theology.

        So, my experience has been that we have had to struggle to get various pastors to allow parts. This has been a focus over whether the community reads a part or not. We have also had to struggle to insert music; to have women be readers for the passion; etc.

        So, would really like to aim high but reality, at times, intrudes. Find pastors to be all over the place on reading the passion in parts; one lector; priest as Jesus, etc.

        Finally, Fr. Allan, your “in persona Christus” aligns with this how in your own words: “….parish will have the passion chanted by three professional cantors at our 9:30 AM and 12:10 Masses for Palm Sunday and again at the Good Friday Liturgy.” (IMO, this might be good)

      2. “Because the priest-celebrant acts in the capacity of “In persona Christi Capitas” by virtue of the specific sacramentality of Holy Orders?” Father A. J. McDonald

        The main problems with this answer are: bad grammar, muddled thinking, deficient theology and defective liturgical spirituality.

        “Capitas” is not a Latin word.

        “acts in the capacity of ‘in…” is unintelligible English.

        “by virtue of the specific sacramentality of Holy Orders” is another nonsense. In what sense does the ‘specific sacramentality’ of Holy Orders function to prevent people from proclaiming words which the Evangelists have put on the lips of Christ? We do this every time we recite the Our Father. Is there an unspecific sacramentality of Holy Orders?

        The phrases you have gathered together, in the way you have assembled them combine to say nothing to answer the question.

        It is precisely because one is a member of the People of God that one may function as a priest.

      3. He means in persona Christi capitis.

        Many who would espouse the use of Latin do not actually know enough Latin to carry it off successfully.

      4. Sorry, Paul, Latin is my 4th language, I learned in the following order, Italian, English (although together) Spanish and then finally Latin. If not for spell check, my English spelling would be abysmal too and that’s my primary language today, liturgically and otherwise, although I’ve taken a stab at Spanish liturgies.

      5. While a Priest is also a member of the Christian community (by virtue of his Baptism), not any member of the Christian community can act/be a Priest.

        It is the firm faith of the Church (as valid today as in the 16th century and at Vatican II) that Holy Orders imprints a special character on the ordained so that they can act/be in the person of Christ. Through this Sacrament, they have put on Christ for a new dimension of service (when compared to Baptism): so that Christ continues to pray/lead/sanctify etc through them, i.e. through the ordained, Christ continues his presence and ministry as Head of his Body in his Church and in the world. This ontological (essential) difference is a reminder that the ordained are, like the Apostles, called and sent by the Lord himself, and also of the great love of God who contnues to call men, unworthy as they all are, to participate in his own mission in such an intimate way.

        Since a Priest has been configured by the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Holy Orders to act in persona Christi capitis, it is fitting to reserve the parts of the Lord to him; at least, if for no other reason, in the hope that he might learn to more closely imitate the humility, obedience and kenosis of the Lord, whom through the Sacrament he has already been configured to act as his representative.

      6. Even if this understanding were correct, Simon – and I don’t think it is – I don’t see how it responds to W. W. O’Bryan’s question: I wonder why – in the interest of honesty and being faithful to the reading of the Passion – the priest doesn’t say “Crucify Him” or “Give Us Barabbas.”

        Nor, to me, does it make liturgical sense. There is no question, in either the Tridentine or the normative Mass, that the priest is a sinner; among other things he says the confiteor and the munda cor meum and the nobis quoque peccatoribus.

        Surely you aren’t asserting that his special imprinted ontological difference precludes a priest from joining with the crowd in saying ‘Crucify him!’? What about a priest in the congregation or a concelebrant?

        Or – to Gerard’s point above – are you saying that only the priest should say the Our Father, as in the Tridentine Mass? Luke 18.11, and all that…

  19. This seems to create a problem for the missalette publishers.

    Do they follow the recommendations and suggestions as indicated above, or do they continue the present practice?

    Knowing that many communities have been doing the “parts” for years it might be hard to sway them to something else, particularly so soon after being traumatized by the rest of the missal.

  20. Having taken part often in Passion readings, as a single reader and as part of a trio, I am in full agreement with Mark Hoggard’s conclusion. Everything depends on how the church prepares. If this reading is treated as a longer version of the normal Gospel reading (as it nearly always has been in my experience), better to leave it to one very well prepared person. Then at least the assembly will be drawn into the spell of the story and not checking out in boredom. I recommend this in my Lector Works commentaries.

    Indeed, ban the turba parts! To publishers: Stop encouraging us to peer at your Holy Week booklets! You boldly adopted inclusive language 20 years ago as the institution rejected it. Be bold again! To lector coordinators: Engage readers whom the people judge to be fluent in the language of their celebration.

    There are more appropriate ways to engage everyone, if the parish intends to celebrate these Liturgies of the Word more profoundly. Other commentators have reported them here. I can’t help noticing how, in the Bach passions, the congregation was given many opportunities to sing familiar hymn tones along with the “performers” to identify themselves with the ancient witnesses and the “beloved disciples.”

  21. This year, I am trying to move toward some of the suggestions here, while accepting the reality that the the pastor will definitely be doing the Christus part, we have a deacon, and the people in our parish want to have a part in the passion narrative, so …

    We will have four people taking turns in reading the gospel, with our pastor doing the words of Jesus, our deacon doing the four lines that Peter has, and the people taking Pilate’s five lines. In preparing the parts, my sense was that Pilate’s three-fold reference to “the King of the Jews” and his final question, “Why, what evil has he done?” have the potential to touch people’s hearts in a new way, and the condensed role might allow people to listen more attentively to the rest of the gospel, since they won’t have to be watching and waiting for their next line.

    The narration parts are divided up to draw on Mark’s parallels – two suppers, two betrayals, two trials – and we will be doing the final portion, which contains eight of the stations in the way of the cross, by having these four people each take two stations, and reading them from the postions of the respective stations in the church.

    I expect that some of this will work well and be retained in future years, and some will be set aside. I’ll post an assessment as a comment to this comment.

    1. This turned out amazingly well today! (No fooling.)

      We received a much larger than average number of comments, all positive, particularly about doing the final portion from in front of the stations. Many said this was the most poserful passion narrative ever. Some folks said they hope we do it the same way next year.

      I’m not sure we needed to break the narration into four parts, and I think we could have done without the separate part for Peter.

  22. We divide the Passion into “scenes” that are distributed among three readers — one of whom is the deacon. It seems to work pretty well as far as not wearying people’s ears with a single voice, but get’s away from the “play acting” problem. This is not, I realize, envisioned by the rubrics. Maybe it’s an “organic development.”

    I must say that the most effective proclamation of the passion I ever heard what a Good Friday back in the late 1980s when I heard it chanted at St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale. I still have engraved in my mind the Bass who sang the part of Jesus chanting “It is I.”

  23. Occasionally I am a little embarrassed by the authoritative posture of some who post here. It certainly has become a custom in countless parishes in the US for the people to play a small role in the proclamation of the Passion on Palm Sunday and/or Good Friday. In our parish, the people punctuate the proclamation on three occasions by singing: Jesus, remember me…. The choir starts it off and everyone joins in. They are not staring at texts (we never profane the liturgy with missalettes ) and just know when to come in.

    Someone said by having people sit during the Passion they are acting like passive spectators. Really? Is that what they’re doing during the proclamation of the first two lessons and responsorial? The people know how to actively listen whether sitting, standing, or kneeling.

    On Palm Sunday, we use the short reading of the Passion as provided for in the lectionary. This leaves time for an exhortation to participate fully in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery on the high holydays to come.

  24. I wonder if any priest-presiders, taking the Christus part in the Passion, don’t get just a little nervous when the “crowd”/congregation shouts out “Crucify him”? And if some members of the congregation don’t relish the opportunity to shout “Crucify him” at the pastor, er, the Christus. Anyway, it might be a good catharsis. 🙂
    Blessed Holy Week to all. (Caveat: Palm Sunday, April 1, is also……)

    1. It’s always made me nervous! Tonight at the Vigil Mass we did the missalette thing and I made a point of joining in on the Crucify Him as the congregation hurled it at me, I mean Christ, with just a little bit too much relish. However, tomorrow we’ll have three professional cantors chant it and yes, the Roman Missal does have the rubric, “It may also be read by readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to a Priest.” Actually the rubric doesn’t indicate anything about chanting it, only reading it! Oh well, the radical that I am I have three lay cantors chanting it nonetheless and one of them taking the part of Christ and the rest of us listening intently, actively listening I hope.

  25. Just the thought of hearing “prophesy” mispronounced four times this weekend is enough to make me cringe.

  26. Christian, the ispronounciation of “prophesy” is nothing to the mispronounciation of “brazier”. Our good God must howl with laughter sometimes.

  27. I love the word “Brazier” as I worked there as a teenager (Dairy Queen/Brazier) and yes we teenage employees intentionally pronounced in a way that would be indelicate at the Liturgy! Sadly even the Dairy Queen, like the 1998 Lectionary, has dropped that trademarked name and even prefers today to be called DQ rather than Dairy Queen, like KFC. Sad, very sad.

  28. Thursday of the 12 Week in Ord Time, Yr I, provides the potential for some holy humor: the Genesis reading describes the to-be-born Ishmael as “a wild ass of a man”. I had a lector crack up on me once over that one.

  29. Even though I didn’t have to do a thing but stand there and listen, I was extremely nervous and uneasy as for the first time in my life, lay or ordained, I heard the Passion chanted by three professional, operatic voiced cantors. It was stunning. Everyone stood for the entire chanting of it at our 9:30 AM EDST Mass. The three cantors had such strong voices, they did not need to have microphones in our Neo-Gothic, Romanesque Revival church. The reason for my nervousness was doing something different with what had become a tradition in this parish, but only for the last 8 years since I came here. Prior to that the pastor now retired and still living in the parish who became pastor in 1974 continued to have until his retirement 2004 the acting out of the Passion at every Palm Sunday Mass by the parish’s youth group. It had been a tradition since 1968. He is a saint, but he hated change and the way things were in 1974 were the way things were when I came in 2004. It was a time warp and warped by the wrong time period. My first Palm Sunday in 2005 we did not act out the passion but read it from the missalette in parts. Many were very unhappy with me about that major change but others were thrilled. Today, though, I think everyone was awe struck by what they heard in their participation. It will become a new tradition for us.

  30. Like Fr. Allan, I think our parish has found a new tradition, though I don’t imagine it will last as long as the 30+ years for the version that his predecessor introduced.

    Details of what we did appear above at what are currently items 31 and 32.

    Thanks to all who have offered reflections on this topic.

  31. Btw, regarding the *other* Gospel of the day: the entry into Jerusalem (at least if you’re not doing the simple form) – has anyone here chosen the Gospel from St John instead St Mark as is permitted in Year B? (trivia bit: it’s only in John’s account that palm branches are specified) What about the option for a homily thereafter?

    1. We had John this morning, but no homily following (it was a celebration with a large number of primary school children).

      1. I actually like the option for John during Year B; I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used (I just happened to read it this morning because our early Mass used the simple form). It also helps bracket Good Friday.

    2. We read Mark outside and at 9:30 AM with the brilliant sun blazing down on us it felt like 85 degrees, so no homily and we have no sound system outside, so the deacon and I really had to project.
      My homily after the chanting of the Passion was about a minute and a half. Standing for the Passion did seem long to me but I don’t think it was much longer than reading it in parts. As well I used Eucharistic Prayer II and chanted the Preface as we always do on Sunday but I also chanted the Epiclesis through the institution narrative and Mystery of Faith. I’m working toward chanting that part on a regular basis and the entire Eucharistic Prayer for more solemn occasions. I was pleased that even with a full church that the Mass which began at 9:30 was completed by 10:50 AM. On a normal Sunday our sung Mass goes to about 10:40 AM.

  32. I’ve spent lots of time recently studying Osvaldo Golijov’s setting of the St Mark Passion. Though thoroughly non-liturgical, it has some implications for how we could be reading the Passion. Golijov makes a point of moving the “role” of Christ through all of the various voices – sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, often a choir – sometimes a soloist in Afro-Cuban style, sometimes an operatic soprano. This morning at my parish the Passion was read in parts, but I found myself being disappointed that the part of Jesus kept being read by the same person.

  33. Fr. Allan, and why do this “…..but I also chanted the Epiclesis through the institution narrative and Mystery of Faith. I’m working toward chanting that part on a regular basis and the entire Eucharistic Prayer for more solemn occasions.”

    As my sainted liturgy mentor would have barked – the eucharistic prayer is one, total pray – there is NOT a “higher” section (e.g. epiclesis or institution narrative). To highlight this is to misunderstand the eucharistic prayer and our church’s tradition. It is the same reason why he counseled against kneeling only during the institutional narrative; or use of bells; or “major” elevations which distract, etc.

    And from your earlier post, help me understand:

    “Prior to that the pastor now retired and still living in the parish who became pastor in 1974 continued to have until his retirement 2004 the acting out of the Passion at every Palm Sunday Mass by the parish’s youth group. It had been a tradition since 1968. He is a saint, but he hated change and the way things were in 1974 were the way things were when I came in 2004. It was a time warp and warped by the wrong time period. My first Palm Sunday in 2005 we did not act out the passion but read it from the missalette in parts.”

    Am struck by your phrase – “time warp and warped by the wrong time period” You might want to think about that phrase for some of your EF and Baroque Latin Music “solemn” feasts. But, then, have trouble with the whole concept of “solemn, high, low” masses. Thought they were all the same?

    1. You must really be opposed to singing the preface, sanctus, mystery of faith and great Amen! Bill we must have had the same liturgical theology from the warped ’70’s! Bill this is 2012, join us.

    2. I’m not sure if the Church’s tradition would agree with you though. For a very long time, the Roman Canon was not quite seen and prayed as a single prayer. And there can be parts that are deemed more central/essential even in a single prayer. In the Latin tradition, the institution narrative would be that central element in the Canon/EP.

      Of course, the whole Mass is one single prayer, viewed through a different lens, and the whole Mass, including the readings, can be chanted. Has anyone participated in such a Mass before?

  34. 2.Nowhere in the rubrics is the practice of the assembly taking a part (e.g., the crowd) presented as an option

    Unfortunately, it is the ONLY option given in the pew missalettes, as the Passion is given there in three parts (+) crowd. Perhaps if the “part” version was relegated to an appendix in the back of the missalette and the complete version was given in the Order of Mass, more parishes would choose the latter.

    1. Interestingly, we have those crowd parts in our missalettes too, but at the Cathedral this Sunday, the congregation did not auto-pilot and join in the Crowd parts. Most of the time, only 1 choir member read both the “Voice” and “Crowd” parts so that the reading was actually intelligible throughout.

      So maybe if the people aren’t invited, they would not join in?

  35. During the proclamation of the Passion according to St. Mark yesterday, I noticed that most in the assembly, including myself, were move by the gift of tears. It was beautifully read by three readers and punctuated with two hymns sung by choir and assembly and two chorale pieces sung by the choir to aid in our meditation. I believe Christ suffers in his mystical body (2 Cor.4:8-11) and this continues the revelation of his work of salvation. As the homilist pointed out, we need to be like Simon of Cyrene and help alleviate the suffering. Yesterday’s Passion had me think of this song so wonderfully covered by Johnny Cash.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp4UI_FxGLE.

  36. I participated from the pew yesterday at a parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Before the lenten gospel acclamation the presiding priest (who was the pastor) announced that everyone should remain seated for the passion and join in reading the crowd parts from the missalette.

    That had this salutary effect:

    1. Most folks did not immediately stand for the gospel acclamation. In fact, it wasn’t until the choir had almost finished the “Christ became obedient…” verse that everyone was standing.

    2. The pews contain both hymnals (GIA’s Gather Comprehensive II) and WLP’s Word and Song. I’ve been to the parish a number of times during the past 5-6 years and never saw a single person following the readings in Word and Song. But musical selections would often alternate between the two resources. So after the gospel acclamation everyone had to sit down and grab a copy of Word & Song and then find the page (which had not been announced).

    3. “Prophesy” was mispronounced by nearly everyone around me.

    4. I did not follow the script nor make the turba responses. In the homily, the pastor actually asked, “Did anyone here not say ‘Crucify him’?” I raised my hand after the question was repeated, hoping that there would be a follow-up “Why?” but there was not.

    5. I do not think the people were as attentive to the reading as they usually are in the parish, owing to the phenomenon described by others on this thread: they were getting ready for their next speaking part.

    I am greatly aware of the growing “accent” problem of deacons and presbyters who proclaim the gospel readings in our Sunday assemblies. In the parish I normally assist at in Orlando, only one of the parish’s five deacons (all of whom speak English as a second language) is intelligible in English. And there are no participation aids containing the readings in the pews. I have spoken to the pastor about this issue and the fact that the English-speakers ordinarily do not hear the gospel readings. He is unbending, saying it’s liturgical law that the deacon must read the gospel. Sorry, but I do not see things that way, since the result is that most of the people do not understand what the gospel is saying.

    I used to be pretty strong in my opposition to participation aids containing the Sunday readings. I have mellowed in my opposition as actual proclamation of the sacred texts has deteriorated.

  37. Great reflections, Fr. Ron. I also attended an inner city parish in Dallas – exact same experience but no music was used during the passion (as in previous years). The three readers (deacon, woman, man) were mediocre – little tone, inflection, etc. Hard to hear the woman – find this is typical in some parishes were the third microphone does not have much amplification power. The deacon was loud but no inflection. Thankfully, all three read slowly, intelligibly but not much spirit or emotion.

    After kneeling when Jesus died – folks stood for the rest of the passion since no one directed them otherwise which probably says more about the congregation then anything.

    My parents can barely hear – my mother went with us but heard little to nothing. Her actual parish has foreign priests – she goes but hears/understands nothing. But, in most of my parishes, aids have been made available (Worship) and specifically pointed out that these are for those who have difficulty hearing and that the usual way to participate is to listen to the readers rather than read along.

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