The Spirit of Lent

                    Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;  yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5-4)

 Capturing the Spirit of Lent

     The Spirit of Lent is penitence and sorrow.  If I may state the obvious, penitence and sorrow are not a lot of fun.  Rewarding, salvific in fact, yes . . . but not a cause for joy until later, when we realize their fruits. Not surprisingly, composers creating music for Lent need to make music that’s moving and beautiful, but at the same time appropriately somber.

     As we saw in a previous post, George Friedrich Handel originally composed his oratorio The Messiah for Lent. Much of the music, however, is far too sumptuous for this most penitential of seasons, which is why we have come instead to associate Handel’s greatest work with Advent and Christmas. Nevertheless, the sections of the oratorio dealing with the Passion and Death of Christ powerfully capture the spirit of the liturgical season leading up to the Triduum and Good Friday.

Grief and Healing

Christ Carrying the Cross, by El Greco, c. 1580

     The selection below is a good example.  The first part is the chorus “Surely he hath borne our griefs,” a musical meditation on Isaiah 53, verse 4 and the first part of verse 5.  Handel’s libretto, following the King James translation of the Bible, reads:


Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised.
The chastisement of our peace was upon him.


The second piece completes verse 5.  In a haunting fugue, the chorus repeats the line: “and with his stripes we are healed.”

     Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a clip on Vimeo containing both of them, although “With his stripes” comes immediately after “Surely he hath borne our griefs” in The Messiah. There are good performances of the two togeher on another platform.  Sadly, Google owns it, and I reject Google and all its works and empty promises. Well, as Hannibal said before leading his army across the Alps, Aut viam inveniam aut faciam! (“I’ll either find a way or I’ll make one”). I made my own video and posted it to the Vidyard platform.  The music is a perfomance by AD LIBITUM Orchestra and Chorus.  The images are Christ Carrying the Cross, by El Greco, painted c.1580, and the Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98.

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