Good Friday: The Reproaches (Improperia)

The Improperia (or “Reproaches”) are a series of antiphons and responses which are part of the Good Friday liturgy in the Roman Rite (although you may not have ever heard them). They are presented as Christ crying out to His people (contextually, the Israelites) for the injustices they showed their God after all the wonders God had performed for them.

Here is my own (somewhat loose) English translation of the Latin (and Greek) text:

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

For I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
but you brought out* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

For I led you through the desert for forty years,
and fed you with manna,
and brought you into a land of plenty,
but you prepared* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

What more should I have done for you, that I did not do?
Indeed, I planted you, my precious chosen vine,
but you have become terribly bitter to me.
Indeed, you gave me vinegar to drink in my thirst,
and have pierced your Savior’s side with a lance.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

I scourged the first-born of Egypt for your sake:
yet you scourged me and handed me over.

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

I plunged Pharaoh into the Red Sea and plucked you out of Egypt’s hand:
yet you handed me over to the high priests.

O my people…

I parted the sea before you:
yet you parted my side with a lance.

O my people…

I led you as a pillar of cloud:
yet you led me into Pilate’s palace.

O my people…

I rained down manna for you in the desert:
yet you rained down blows and lashes on me.

O my people…

I gave you saving water from the rock to drink:
yet for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.

O my people…

I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites:
yet you struck the head of your King with a reed.

O my people…

In your hands I placed a royal scepter:
yet upon my head you placed a crown of thorns.

O my people…

I raised you up in great power:
yet you raised me up on a cross.

O my people…

* The Latin is the same for these two lines (“but you … your Savior”), but I have chosen to render them differently.

3 Replies to “Good Friday: The Reproaches (Improperia)”

  1. I would like to know what is the origin of the Reproaches. I have sung them in Latin (in the ‘old days’) and in English. Where does the text come from? Is it biblical? We have been singing them in my church for several years, after a break following the move to the vernacular.

    1. From Wikipedia: “The Improperia appear in the Pontificale of Prudentius (846-61) and gradually came into use throughout Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, finally being incorporated into the Roman Ordo in the fourteenth century.”

      The old Catholic Encyclopedia has an entry on them as well; here is an excerpt pertaining to the textual origins, which are either scriptural or allusions to Scripture:

      In all they consist of three distinct parts.

      Of these the third — composed of the antiphon “Crucem tuam adoramus”, the first verse of Psalm lxvi, the versicle “Crux fidelis”, and the hymn “Pange lingua gloriosi lauream” — does not belong to the Improperia strictly so called.

      The first part consists of three reproaches, namely, the Popule meus” (Mich., vi, 3), “Ego eduxi” (Jer., ii, 21) and “Quid ultra” (Is., v, 2, 40), the Trisagion (Sanctus Deus, Santus fortis, Sanctus immortalis) being repeated after each in the Latin and Greek languages.

      The second part contains nine reproaches pervaded by the same strain of remonstrance. Each of these is a verse taken from some portion of the Scriptures and followed in every instance by the “Popule meus” as a sort of refrain.

      […]

      The precise date of the appearance of the Improperia in the liturgy is not ascertained. Definite references to it are found in documents of the ninth and tenth centuries, and even traces exist in manuscripts of a much earlier date. In his work “De antiquâ ecclesiæ disciplinâ”, Martène (c. xxiii) gives a number of fragmentary Ordines, some of which go back as far as 600. Many others mention the Improperia.

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