Holy Week with Bach

For those who are involved in the various ministries of the church, Holy Week can be very hectic. By the end of the last service on Good Friday, many of us are physically exhausted and somewhat burnt out. Those serving in the Catechumenate cannot rest until after the Easter Vigil because the needs of the catechumens and candidates need to be nurtured right through their full initiation at the Vigil.

I have always found music to be an antidote to Holy Week fatigue, in particular the St. Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach. I pick out the pieces from the oratorio that are most meaningful to me and listen to them through the week. By allowing this incredibly beautiful music to wash over me, I have a greater appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice. That makes Easter even more glorious.

Note: Mark’s account of the passion will be read on Palm Sunday this year and, as always, John’s is read on Good Friday. According to his obituary, Bach wrote five passion oratorios, including one based on Mark, but only the Matthew and John have survived. The St. John Passion is magnificent, too, but St. Matthew Passion is my favorite. The English Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic recorded them in English some years ago and these  versions are still available.  If, miraculously, you do have the time, go to a live performance. There will be plenty this week.

This is the opening chorale of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, “Come ye daughters, share my wailing.” It’s in German, so here’s a translation. I hope it will enrich your appreciation of this most solemn time of the year and of the indescribably generous act of love it commemorates.

“Come, ye daughters, share my wailing.

See ye! Whom?

The Bridegroom see!

See Him! How?

A Lamb is He!


O Lamb of God, most holy,

The bitter cross Thou hast taken.

Look ye! What?

How patient He.

At all times meek and lowly,

Though by Thy children forsaken.

Look! Ah, where?

Upon our guilt.

All sins by Thee were taken,

Else hope had us forsaken.

Look on Him, for love and grace,

He Himself His cross must carry!

Have mercy on us, O Jesu.

Come, ye daughters, share my wailing.

See ye! Whom?

The Bridegroom see!

See Him! How?

A Lamb is He!”


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