Holy week is always a special time at the Abbey as clergy, choir and congregation follow the Passion story from the adulation of cheering crowds via betrayal, despair and, finally, joy and hope.
On Palm Sunday morning we gathered in the South Garth and processed into the Abbey carrying palms to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to short-lived popular acclaim, a mood continued in Thomas Weelkes’ motet Hosanna to the son of David. In the evening, however, Edward Bairstow’s setting of verses from the prophet Jeremiah, The Lamentation, turned the mood back to mourning, albeit with a concluding vision of hope.
On Maundy Thursday the gentlemen returned to Jeremiah in Alfonso Ferrabosco’s haunting Vocem meam audisti, coupled with Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. The choir sang Evensong entirely without accompaniment on Good Friday, reflecting the starkness of the Abbey, from which all decorations had been removed. Plainsong, polyphony and Lutheran hymns were thus the order of the day; Palestrina’s setting of The Reproaches proved to be especially powerful.
On the Saturday evening we kept a service of vigil at the Abbey. It began with the lighting of the Paschal Candle outside the Abbey and moved inside, still in darkness, for readings from the Old Testament interspersed with psalms sung to plainsong by the gentlemen. The definitive move from darkness to light was symbolised by flooding the Abbey with light midway through the service, after which the Gloria from Louis Vierne’s Messe Solennelle was sung. The service concluded with the renewal of baptismal vows.
The rest of this mass was sung at the Eucharist on Easter Sunday morning, which proved to be a colourful and joyous occasion as ever. The final service of term was the Festal Choral Evensong at 6.30 pm, when My beloved spake, Patrick Hadley’s setting of verses from The Song of Solomon, received its first performance by the Abbey Choir. For lo, to quote words it sets, the winter is past indeed.