Contemporary Easter Sequence

I found this version of the Easter Sequence as I was looking for music to use during a parish mission. I couldn’t resist posting it. I wonder how many music ministers out there have adapted this text to meet the needs of their community.

Easter Sequence with music by Leonard Cohen


  1. I wonder if Peter Scagnelli is aware of how Leonard Cohen has ‘adapted’ his translation of the Sequence?! Copyright lawyers, anybody?

    The original text is to be found, among other places, in Paul Ford’s By Flowing Waters, and a setting is included in the forthcoming The Psallite Mass (At the Table of the Lord) by the Collegeville Composers Group, to be published later this year by Liturgical Press.

  2. It took my breath away, it was exquisite. I loved it. And I will listen to it every day during the Great 50 Days.

  3. Leonard Cohen himself has suggested that there ought to be a moratorium on this song of his, in light of how ubiquitous it’s become in the past few years. I say, respect the artist’s wishes…

  4. It’s a Leonard Cohen song. Only the goodness of his heart would prevent a lawsuit, as it’s copyrighted material, and without any authorization from the songwriter, writing and publishing an alternate text is litigable. One can appreciate the urge to popularize the text, which is a magnificent little poem in Latin. I think it’s difficult to render as economically in English, especially with its soft internal rhymes. But anyone who knows the original text of the Cohen song would be puzzled at its choice for sacred music. Cuique suum, I guess.

    1. Not being a Latin scholar, I can’t talk to the quality of the poem in Latin. The original text of Mr. Cohen’s song, while full of biblical references, isn’t a good fit for liturgy, no. BUT…

      Text and music being separate things, I don’t find it all that difficult to imagine the choice made here. I can think of a number of hymns that use the same tune, and several texts that we sing to any of several tunes, depending, perhaps, on locality.

      If you’re looking fora contemporary feel, this can work.

  5. This is just awesome! I am always trying to reach people through song and this is a great way to do it. Especially with Sequences….

    Also, doesn’t some of original text refer to David and Bathsheba?

  6. I’m going to dissent blisteringly with all those who think this is great stuff—and I can’t believe people are actually thinking about using it in the liturgy. I’m with Rory: If you’re even remotely familiar with Cohen’s original lyrics, there’s no way you’d use this musical setting for the Easter Sequence.

    * Original lyrics
    * A recent performance by Leonard Cohen of the original lyrics

    Paul, I don’t think Cohen did this adaptation himself. My guess is that whoever uploaded the YouTube video (user “themusicministry”) plugged the Scagnelli text into the Cohen tune. Yes, that’s a violation of copyright not only regarding the text, but also the music.

    And maybe it’s just me, but the moment this song appeared in Shrek (of all places!), it jumped the shark.

    1. I’m going to agree that this is not a good idea. Music, even separately from the words, has symbolic resonance, and it’s hard for me to hear this without hearing at least the emotional tone of the original text. And it’s a pretty strange juxtaposition.

      Even though covering this song has become a horrible, overwrought cliché , I still love the original song, which I find poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful. But here … it just doesn’t fit.

      1. Chris, you said exactly what I was thinking yesterday, but was having a hard time naming it. When I found the song I was troubled that this might be used in liturgy. Thanks for helping me name what I was feeling/experiencing.

    2. There are LOTS of songs we wouldn’t sing in church (or anywhere else) if we were bound by the original lyrics. But we’re not, so we sing new words: candles, caves, trees, altars, crosses, Christmas songs, flags, obelisks, . . .. And who thought dragging organs into church would help anyone?

  7. I’m thinking about adapting Rebecca Black’s “Friday” for the Triduum. I think people would find the following lyric particularly relevant and moving:

    Yesterday was Thursday (Thursday)
    Today i-is Friday, Friday (Partyin’)
    We-we-we so excited
    We so excited
    We gonna have a ball today
    Tomorrow is Saturday
    And Sunday comes after … wards
    I don’t want this weekend to end!

    I think the “Friday (Partyin’)” would help people remember that Good Friday is a celebration of the triumph of the cross and that we are an Easter people. Also, singing this on Good Friday would help people remember where they are in the Triduum and what days are coming up.

  8. At our parish here in Kentucky we’ve been singing Tantum Ergo to “My Darlin’ Clementine” for generations and it works just fine. That Fifth Dimension “Up Up and Away” didn’t work out so well for Ascension or Assumption though …. Grandpa Eli Stevens who, as I said before, was one of the “old gray bearded men” outside Hanson’s General when poor Elvis came hitchin’ through town in the cold Kentucky Rain, tried to do something with “Hunk o’ Hunk o’ Burning Love” for the Sacred Heart but that didn’t go anywhere.

  9. While I like the music and find it moves me on an “emotional” level, I think it also characterizes so much of the modern idiom of contemporary music in the Church today. It sounds like something from a Broadway play. It sounds like something from Les Misérables or some other hit musical.
    It seems to me that if you simply listen to a contemporary tune intended for Mass or some other liturgy but without the lyrics and it sounds like you are sitting in a piano bar drinking your gin and tonic, then maybe it isn’t good for the liturgy, but great for the piano bar or the Broadway musical.

    1. I agree with the sentiment. Particularly for special occasions, I like music that makes me feel like I am in church… I wouldn’t prevent others from using it if that’s what they wanted, but would privately mourn more traditional liturgical music for the Easter sequence.

  10. I am not speaking for or against this piece, but I would just like to point out that many of our revered hymn tunes that we use today used to be popular songs/secular songs/even barroom songs. So, perhaps in 50 years when the original lyric is forgotten………who knows…..

    1. Linda…

      A bit of a misleading point… when most of our hymn tunes were written, there was no “popular music” in the sense that we know it. The term “popular songs” when referring to times before the 19th century usually means folk songs. There were secular songs for entertainment, and these did from time to time make their way into the liturgy, but they were also generally purged. Most of our revered hymn tunes were written as hymn tunes, not as popular songs. There are a few exceptions, but not enough to even say “many”. I can only think of two off hand… ODE TO JOY and SLANE.

      1. Perhaps I overstated with the use of “many” and I DO understand that “popular” did not then mean what it means today. But there was music that people sang and listened
        to whether it is called pop or folk or secular.
        But, to add to your list, I remember reading that Hassler’s tune for the Passion Chorale was originally written as a love song.

      2. Samuel;

        I didn’t say they were (secular)… although they are more born of the Revolutionary spirit than the Holy Spirit and Schiller was very much focused on humanism, freedom and the political implications of the Revolution on both. All that aside… I was noting that the TUNE was not originally composed as a hymn. In this case, it was part of a symphonic work by Beethoven.


        Yes, the tune from Hassler’s song Mein G’muth ist mir verwirret did indeed eventually become the Passion Chorale, although in this case, it was he who did the adapting (albeit for a different text) and claimed it as a hymn tune. This is a bit different than someone else copping a pop-tune and putting sacred lyrics to it. Very few (if any) would have known the original song by Hassler as it was unpublished when he decided to use the tune for a hymn text.

      3. @Jeffrey Herbert – comment #31:
        I can think of several Celtic folk melodies that have been adapted for Liturgy.

        All of these arguments have some merit. I liked the adaptation, and I found it suited the melody quite nicely. really well done.

  11. It’s gorgeous. My first thought was, “Can I use this, or would the masses freak?” But the comments are all valid re copyright, and of course outside associations could and would affect the way it was received, for good or for ill. However, I don’t think the fact that something mirrors the culture makes it automatically inappropriate for liturgy; after all, liturgy cannot and should not exist in a vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with having a style unique to liturgy–but nothing wrong with using the best of the surrounding culture, either.

  12. Because the tune is so closely associated with its original lyrics, it should be avoided by orthodox Christians most resolutely. These lyrics are a thinly-veiled promotion of gnosticism and of a musical elitism which has no place in Christian worship.


    1. “These lyrics are a thinly-veiled promotion of gnosticism and of a musical elitism”


      I just thought it was about a loss of idealism and a struggle to hold on to faith. But I agree with the “no place in Christian worship” part.

    2. It was a joke, guys.

      Gnosticism in that there is some “secret” knowledge which pleases God.

      Musical elitism in that it is a particular musical chord that God favors.

      Just a joke.

    3. “It should be avoided by orthodox Christians most resolutely.”

      Who put you in a position to judge what Christians should or should not do on a matter of taste such as this?

      The most you are entitled to say is “As an orthodox Christian, I shall avoid this.”

  13. I don’t know how I’d feel about it if I didn’t already know the original song – but because I do, it comes off as goofy and I found myself kind of laughing at it, to be honest.

    IMO, adapting tunes from popular songs is trickier than adapting a piece of classical music or an existing hymn tune.

  14. The music on its own is beautiful and applying the new words gives it new meaning. But not all beautiful, meaningful music is intended or appropriate for church. This might find a great place in a youth group meeting or some sort of weekend retreat, but as music for the Mass … no.

  15. The fact that a song has the word “Hallelujah” in it, and makes some sideways Biblical references, does NOT make it appropriate for Liturgy.
    Really, folks- this is silly. It’s just as silly as doing music from Godspell at Mass.
    Its style is not the issue for me (although for others, the style is a concern). The big problem is that it makes everyone in the room think of the original (and probably the movie Shrek, which included Rufus Wainwright’s cover on it’s best-selling soundtrack).
    In today’s divided liturgical environment, with a strong and continuous attack on contemporary styles in liturgy, it’s a bad move to champion (or even really bring up) this sort of worst-example of “enculturated” silliness.

    1. Adam;

      I know what you’re saying, but the problem with the songs from Godspell ISN’T the text!s They are mostly actual, unaltered hymns from the Pilgrim Hymnal (Yes, including the seemingly tawdry “Turn Back, O Man”). I wouldn’t advocate them for use in Catholic liturgy, but they are at least solidly Christian, moreso than some of what I’ve heard sung at some Masses!

      The music… well, there is a bit of a problem there!

  16. Jeffrey, I was trying to respond to #29, but it won’t let me, so I’ll respond here 🙂
    What you say may well be true about who did the changing and how well tunes were known, but I wasn’t making a point for point comparison between the two pieces. No doubt, you know more about this than I do! The only point I was trying to make was that there are tunes in use at liturgy that were originally in usage elsewhere.

  17. I appreciate this song being posted on this blog. It is really beautiful, and I will be using it in our liturgy. Would it be possible to post more music like this from time to time? Again, it is stunning. So moving.

  18. One Northern Ireland priest of my acquaintance used to use the signature tune to Dallas as a hymn tune. It works perfectly well to “O God, our help in ages past” and many other Common Metre hymn texts.

    I know this because I had suggested in a workshop that the connotations of the tune meant that no one would ever want to do something like this — but he decided to shock his congregation out of their complacency by doing it anyway. Apparently they sang it with gusto….

    1. Polka Masses can be filled with gusto, though I am not sure why gusto is the summum bonum here. (Did that priest get copyright permission? You are usually very forward on that point on these boards.)

      1. In the UK, hymns are often sung words-only, allowing any suitable tune to be used. (This has the advantage of being able to see the words as poetry, which interlined verses makes impossible.) So no, he didn’t get copyright permission and didn’t need to. He just got his organist to play it, and led the singing himself. Gusto is his word, not mine. I think he was quite surprised that they didn’t seem to mind about JR and Sue-Ellen lurking in the background…..

  19. “When I was a child….” I thought like a child.
    Young in the faith and understanding of the dichontomy that is the gravity between traditon and innovation, I often yearned to program and share the personal revelations of a couple of pieces at the Good Friday Liturgy:
    “The Rose Above the Sky” by Bruce Cockburn, and
    “Adagio” (String Qt/Orch) by Samuel Barber.

    I suppose if K.D. Lang showed up this Easter wanting to sing the sequence to Cohen’s tune, the child in me would want to suffer that joy. But RCC doesn’t stand for “The Roman Church of Charles.” I’m okay with that.

    PS (for the record) Even if I had the horses to “do” the Barber “Agnus Dei” adaptation, I’d know that would amount to a conceit from within my heart, and thereby not in concert with serving the liturgy.

  20. My dear old friend Charles. I was just thinking of suggesting this might only be appropriate if kd Lang showed up. As always, you’re quicker on the draw, Did I share the wonderful liturgical experience I provided to my tiny upstate New York parish when I had our resident dramatic mezzo sing the Barber “Crucifixion” during veneration on Good Friday? What a wonderful gift I gave them. I’d go on about how marvelous I am, but I seem to have bitten my tongue whilst getting it out of my cheek. Blessed Easter to you and yours.

  21. Leslie!
    I was surprised no one remembered how k.d. (you got me on the eecummings!) went yard on the Cohen at the Vancouver W.O’s.
    I’ve heard so many EMO bathetic renditions of it, that it’s sort been banned to Charles’ booth in purgatory play list. You know, where I’m untangling mic cords from Escher whilst be serenaded by accordian versions of Kanon in D, Messiah, Who Wrote the book of Love, and now “Hallelujah.”
    (Lord, I’m not presuming the grace of purgatory, just sayin’)
    Blessed Pasch to you and Rheinbeckians all.

  22. Somewhat unrelated to the question of whether this (sort of thing) is appropriate to Catholic Mass specifically or Liturgical worship generally is the odd idea that this (sort of thing) would be appealing/useful to “the youth.”
    This is a serious problem when middle-aged adults start tinkering with music/worship for the “good” of people they are hopelessly out of touch with.
    Reality check #1: “Hallelujah” premiered in 1984. No current teenager was alive in 1984.
    Reality Check #2: The movie “Shrek” (probably the most famous use of the song) premiered in 2001. That was ten years ago, so the 16-year-old in your youth group was 6 years old when that came out.
    Reality Check #3: No normal teenager knows or cares who kd lang is. Ditto Leonard Cohen.
    Reality Check #4: The only thing teenagers hate more than boring old music is boring old music combined with adults telling them how hip this boring old music is.
    Reality Check #5: Most teenagers are not really into music the way adults think of it (the 1960’s concert-going model).
    Reality Check #6: Teenagers don’t go places (church, concerts, clubs) for the music. They go places in the hopes of either being popular, alleviating boredom, or getting laid. Bringing secular music into Church is not going to make Church seem like a place where one of those three things is going to happen.
    Reality Check #7: Just want to make sure we’re all clear that 15 year olds don’t think kd lang is really cool.

    1. Dude, 4 a teenager u are mad articulate man! Unless someone in ur age group tells us older people what’s up, how r we supposed 2 kno? So thanks! What year of HS r u in or u in college already? & last of all is Thursday “Jersey Shoresday” @ ur crib? Peace out!

  23. Adam, I wonder if Mr. Stevens’ satire was in proportion to the intensity of your rant. O.F. that I am, I even wondered if you’d just had a root canal, or you were prepping to inherit the Dennis Miller legacy once he hangs up his spurs.
    Neither Les nor I are in the placate the teens corner, I’d say more the punc-tum, punc-tum, SA-li-cus, punc-tum category.
    But ease up on us ol’ hippies, fine young whippersnapper! We all get crochety. (That was a pun!)

    Heh, heh….he said “crotch.”
    Oh, that was before their time, too? Nevermind.

  24. I do not have, nor would claim to have, any particular insight into teenagerness. My issue is exactly that point, though. I am in my 20s, so my teens were not that long ago. But I can recognize my out-of-touchness and unhipness readily, based on the cultural difference between my generation and the one immediately following it (FaceBook was invented when I was in college, for example).
    I’m not trying to be hard on Old Fogeys generally. What I find problematic is the ridiculous (and patronizing) insistence I have found among adults that they have some sense of what will reach teens, which usually means “contemporary music” (which may or not be a mistaken conception), which usually means stuff that’s already out of date (compounding the problem).
    The first issue (is contemporary music better than traditional music for teenagers and youth?) is an interesting question, worth exploring.
    The second issue (does stuff considered cool by people in their 30s and 40s count as “contemporary music” in relationship to teens and youth) has a definitive answer. No, it doesn’t count.
    We can skirt around whether I have stated my case in a polite or compelling way (my arguments often fail based on the fact that I’m not a very good diplomat), or we can recognize that it is a common and sad phenomenon for some middle-aged white woman to declare that doing a song from Godspell or the Beatles (or having a U2charist) is a good way to “reach the youth.”

    1. My dad’s in that category. I know him. He has right to his beliefs just as much as do I. We was right about my label, by the way. I know God better now because of him. I’m sure glad I didn’t label him.

  25. We did this after Communion on Easter Sunday last year….it went over so well that we are going to do it again this year.

  26. Well, let me say that I debated about whether to use the Cohen Easter Sequence because of what I read here and having sung the original Cohen version in concert. I finally opted for singing it as a solo with the choir coming in on the halleluias and then adapting the gospel acclamation. I took a chance and if it is sung quite straight without attempts at sounding Broadwayish, I think it worked. A few young people perked up and surprisingly, there was a lot of positive reaction from older people. Compare this to the Thomas Kendzia Pentecost Sequence which I love. (sung version) (print version)

    Is this too much of Broadway??
    Anyway, I compliment those who can think outside the box and take a few risks. Also, John Becker’s Litany of the Saints is much preferable to the old version we grew up with.

    Happy Easter and Pentecost!!

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