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.

Lenten Lament: Parce Domine

They may not be up-beat, but they are definitely some of my favorite chants. I’m talking about the traditional Latin chants used in the Roman Rite during the penitential and preparatory season of Lent. I call them “Lenten laments”, and I would like to share a few of them with you over these next 40+ days. (Hey, it might get me to blog more frequently… what bloggers do you know who are giving up not blogging for Lent?)

For each lament, I’ll provide the Latin text, a rather literal translation, and then my attempt at a flowing translation (either one that rhymes or that adheres to the meter of the Latin… maybe both).

The first lament of the season is Parce Domine. This chant, “Spare, O Lord”, comes from Joel 2:17, which you probably recall hearing on Ash Wednesday:

Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?'”

Here is the chant (an antiphon with verses) in Latin:

R. Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo; ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.
(Spare, Lord, spare your people; lest you be angry with us forever.)

1. Flectamus iram vindicem, ploremus ante Judicem;
clamemus ore supplici, dicamus omnes cernui.
(Let us bow before the avenging wrath, let us weep before the Judge;
let us cry out with words of supplication, let us speak, all falling prostrate.)

2. Nostris malis offendimus tuam Deus clementiam;
effunde nobis desuper remissor indulgentiam.
(By our wickedness we have offended your clemency, God;
pour forth pardon on us from above, forgiver.)

3. Dans tempus acceptabile, da lacrimarum rivulis
lavare cordis victimam, quam laeta adurat caritas.
(Giving us an acceptable time, grant, in the rivers of our tears,
to wash [our] hearts’ sacrifice, enkindled by joyful charity.)

4. Audi, benigne Conditor, nostras preces cum fletibus
in hoc sacro jejunio fusas quadragenario.
(Hear, benign Creator, our prayers, with lamentations,
poured forth during this holy fast of forty days.)

5. Scrutator alme cordium, infirma tu scis virium;
ad te reversis exhibe remissionis gratiam.
(Kind searcher of hearts, you know [our] bodily weaknesses;
to those returning to you, show the grace of forgiveness.)

Here is my translation which can be sung to the Latin chant’s melody:

R. Spare Thy people, Lord; spare thy people kneeling here before Thee;
lest Thy anger stay upon us forever.

1. To our knees we fall before Thy wrath, weeping tears of true contrition;
crying out in supplication, we call to Thee with sorrowful hearts.

2. By our sins we have offended Thee, transgressing upon Thy mercy;
pour down upon us from on high Thy gracious pardon, merciful One.

3. Cleanse the off’ring of our hearts, O Lord, in our tears and Thy charity:
now is the day of salvation, now is a most acceptable time.

4. O benign Creator, hear our prayers, bend Thine ear to our lamentations,
in this season of penitence, this holy Lent of forty days.

5. O, provident searcher of the heart, Thou Who know’st our ev’ry weakness;
grant Thy grace of forgiveness to those returning unto Thee.