Eight Songs for the Easter Octave

Filed in Arts by on March 28, 2016 0 Comments

Divna Ljubojevic, Christos Anesti

Normally Orthodox liturgies are considerably more verbose than their Latin equivalents, but the opposite is the case for the Easter proclamation. While the Exsultet lasts ten minutes, the Byzantine version is a one liner, which the congregation sings, waving their candles: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by means of his death, granting life to those in the graves’. The above video is non-liturgical, but I think it gets across the simple majesty and joy of this proclamation of the Resurrection.

King’s College Choir, Jesus Christ is Risen Today

Nothing quite spells ‘victory’ like this hymn sung lustily to brass accompaniment! What a joy it is to repeat ‘Alleluia’ after each strophe, feasting on this word of praise from which we have been fasting during Lent. And it’s worth dwelling on the ‘today’ in question: each day of the Easter Octave is treated like a repeat of Easter Sunday, with all the feasting and liturgical trimmings. So if you’re back to work on Easter Tuesday, maybe this is a hymn you could sing along to each day of the Octave as a reminder of the extended festivities: Jesus Christ is risen today! And at a deeper level, it’s worth asking what the ‘today’ really means. The historical event of the resurrection happened a long time ago, not today, but its effects are ever-available to those with open hearts – whenever we Christians benefit from the resurrection of Christ we inhabit the Paschal ‘today’.

Hristos Voskrese, Radost Donese

In the ‘old world’ of Christianity, Easter coincides with the arrival of spring, and this connection is exploited wonderfully in folk songs and customs that surround Easter. This Serbian folk song is a great example, as the singer exhorts the rejuvenated natural world to join in the celebration of the Resurrection:

Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Nightingales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Edwin Hawkins Singers, Oh Happy Day

You can’t beat a bit of gospel music to get you praising with a full heart. Here’s a classic that we all know from Sister Act, that high-point of Catholic low culture. I love the words: ‘He taught us how to live rejoicing’. Eastertide is the time to put that teaching into practice, so let’s sing along, ‘Oh Happy Daaaaaayyyyyy’!

Rend Collective Experiment, Burn Like a Star

We often speak of Lent as a time of conversion and Easter as a time of celebration. I’m not sure this is quite right: even if Lenten penance comes to an end at the Easter Vigil, Lenten conversion doesn’t. In fact, our conversion to Christ undergoes a ‘key change’, or even an intensification, at Easter. In this new season we live our daily conversion not under the sign of ashes, but in the light of the Paschal Fire. Burn Like a Star by the Irish group, The Rend Collective Experiment, really gets this point across. In Easter, just as in Lent, we are aware that ‘we were born for greater things’, that we must ‘turn from our sin’, and in Easter too we are ‘aching for the real thing’. So we ask God daily to ‘Burn like a star, light a fire in our hearts’, to give us the grace of spiritual freshness, the gift of a personal springtime.

Nicolaus Radomiensis, Alleluia

Sometimes a single word is quite powerful: ‘sorry’ can heal broken relationships, a ‘yes’ can change lives. If we have to sum up Easter in one word it’s the one repeated in this little piece of 15th-century music: ‘Alleluia’, a Hebrew word meaning ‘God be praised’. At the consummation of the love story that is the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this word says everything we need to say.

Mumford & Sons, Awake My Soul

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ opens our eyes to what’s possible for humans when they co-operate fully with God. Christ’s risen body is the ‘first fruits’ of a harvest which will, please God, include us: ‘We were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’ (Rom 6:4). His glory is a promise of ours. Without the Paschal event, we are trapped in the logic of decay, we are sleepers with our eyes closed to our true potential. In a very ancient Easter homily, an anonymous preacher imagines Christ speaking to Adam as he releases him from hell and guides him towards glory: ‘I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you’. I like to imagine the chorus of this song as Adam’s delighted response: ‘Awake my soul, you were made to meet your maker’! And if it’s Adam’s response, let it be ours too.

St Petersburg State Capella Choir, Thy Resurrection, O Christ Saviour

Sometimes we make poor use of joy and transform it into chaotic pleasure. We all know what it’s like for a party that starts well to end messily. The best way to avoid this is always to seek peace in our joy. For me, the most powerful example of peaceful joy in the musical sphere is Russian Orthodox chant. Have a listen to this Easter antiphon: ‘O Christ Saviour, the angels hymn Thy Resurrection in the heavens. Grant that we on earth may glorify Thee with pure hearts’. There is nothing overboard in this hymn, nothing irrational in its praise. It captures beautifully the spirit of the first encounter of the risen Christ with the disciples in the Gospel of John, when Christ says twice, ‘Peace be with you’.

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Br Conor McDonough

About the Author ()

Br Conor McDonough OP is a student in the Irish Province of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Some of his posts were first published at http://dominicansinteractive.com/ They are re-posted here with permission.

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