Music for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

Music for Maundy Thursday


Ubi caritas– Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)

Maurice Duruflé was an introspective and highly self-critical musician. As a result, he only published fourteen works in his lifetime. As a boy, Duruflé was a chorister at the Rouen Cathedral Choir School, and the choral plainsong tradition at Rouen became a strong and lasting influence. Ubi caritas, composed in 1960, is based on the Gregorian chant of the same name.

This ancient hymn is one of the antiphons for the washing of feet sung on Maundy Thursday at St James’, and also reflects the verse from this liturgy’s Gospel reading which gives Maundy Thursday its name: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) The meditative text of the ancient antiphon is set here by Duruflé so that the freely flowing motion of the chant, first heard in the altos, is always at the forefront. It is primarily homophonic, with the voices moving together in hymn-like fashion.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.


O sacrum convivium– Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

Thomas Tallis is considered one of England’s greatest composers, and he is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship. Like his contemporary William Byrd, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him throughout his service to successive monarchs, though he, like Byrd, remained an an avowed Roman Catholic.Tallis’ music presented here was originally conceived as an instrumental fantasia.

Subsequently, during the course of its extensive musical reshaping, it was adapted to a variety of English texts as well as to the present Latin words, which constitute the Magnificat antiphon for the second Vespers of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Attributed with some probability to St Thomas Aquinas, the text and this setting also beautifully reflects our restrained joy on Maundy Thursday in giving thanks for the Lord’s gift to the church of the Holy Eucharist.

O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur:
Recolitur memoria, recolitur memoria passionis eius:
Mens impletur gratia:
Et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.

O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received:

The memory of his passion is recalled:

The mind is filled with grace:

And the pledge of future glory is given to us.


Music for Good Friday


The Reproaches– John Sanders (1933-2003)

Among the more striking and moving parts of the extensive liturgy for Holy Week are the Improperia, or Reproaches. These come from the liturgy for Good Friday and are the words addressed by the crucified Saviour to his people. They are sung during the Veneration of the Cross and comprise twelve verses which contrast Divine compassion towards the chosen people with the sufferings inflicted on Christ during his Passion. In the full rite the first verse is preceded by the refrain Popule meus and each of the three verses is followed by the Trisagion (in Greek, ‘thrice holy’), a refrain chanted first in Greek and then in Latin, and the remaining nine by the refrain ‘Popule meus, quid feci tibi?’, etc. This rite has an ancient history, parts of it being traceable back to the seventh century.

In our Good Friday liturgy at St James’, we alternate annually between the setting by the renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and this setting of the text in English, by John Sanders, organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1967 to 1994. The form and atmosphere take as a point of reference Allegri’s Miserere, with its use of plainsong contrasted with harmony in the verses, although the bitterly stark harmonies used by Sanders perhaps have more in common with Gesualdo, which the composer said ‘gives the music a sense of timelessness’.


O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Saviour to the cross. O my people…

Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us.

For forty years I led you safely through the desert. I fed you with manna from heaven, and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Saviour to the cross. Holy is God…

What more could I have done for you? I planted you as my fairest vine, but you yielded only bitterness: when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, and you pierced your Saviour’s side with a lance. Holy is God…

I opened the sea before you, but you opened my side with a spear.
I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud, but you led me to Pilate’s court. O my people…

I bore you up with manna in the desert, but you struck me down and scourged me.
I gave you saving water from the rock, but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink. O my people…

I gave you a royal sceptre, but you gave me a crown of thorns.
I raised you to the height of majesty, but you have raised me high on a cross. O my people…

Tenebrae factae sunt– Carlo Gesualdo (c. 1566-1613)

A responsory is a sung response to a scripture reading; Tenebrae factae suntis the fifth of the nine responses for Matins of Good Friday. Its biblical sources are the Passion Gospels – Matthew 27:45-46, John 19:30 and Luke 23:46. The Italian renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo wrote his responsoriaas madrigali spirituali– madrigals on sacred texts. Most striking in this setting is the use of particularly sharp dissonance and shocking – about three centuries before its time – chromatic juxtapositions, especially the parts highlighting text passages concerning Christ’s suffering.

Tenebrae factae sunt, dum crucifixissent Jesum Judaei:
et circa horam nonam exclamavit Jesus voce magna:
Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti?

  • Et inclinato capite, emisit spiritum.
  1. Exclamans Jesus voce magna ait: Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.
  • Et inclinato capite, emisit spiritum.

Darkness fell when the Jews crucified Jesus:
and about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

  • And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.
  1. Jesus cried with a loud voice and said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
  • And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.


A monastery of Benedictine nuns living in seclusion in southern France has opened its doors to allow recordings of its Gregorian chants to be made available to the outside world. Click here for Guardian article and links. Deanna