Improperia

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The Improperia are a series of antiphons and responses, expressing the remonstrance of Jesus Christ with His people.[1] They are also known as the "Reproaches". In the Catholic liturgy they are sung as part of the observance of the Passion, usually on the afternoon of Good Friday. In the Byzantine Rite, they are found in various hymns of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. 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.[2]

Opening line of the Gregorian chant setting of the Improperia, with rubric, as found in the Liber Usualis.

Roman Rite[edit]

In their present form in the Roman Rite, the Improperia are a series of three couplets, sung antiphonally by cantors and followed by alternate Greek and Latin responses from the two halves of the choir; and nine other lines sung by the cantors, with the full choir responding after each with the refrain "Popule meus, quid feci tibi? . . . ." Thus the Improperia begin with this couplet:

Cantor 1: Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo constristavi te? Responde mihi.
Cantor 2: Quia eduxi te de terra Ægypti: parasti Crucem Salvatori tuo.
Choir A: Hagios o Theos.
Choir B: Sanctus Deus.
Choir A: Hagios Ischyros.
Choir B: Sanctus Fortis.
Choir A: Hagios Athanatos, eleison hymas.
Choir B: Sanctus Immortalis, miserere nobis.

My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!
I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Saviour to the cross.
Holy is God!
Holy is God!
Holy and strong!
Holy and strong!
Holy immortal One, have mercy on us.
Holy immortal One, have mercy on us.[3]

The second couplet is sung antiphonally by two cantors of the second choir, and the third couplet by two cantors of the first choir; after each the two choirs respond as above. The nine following reproaches are sung alternately by the cantors of each choir, beginning with the second, with the full choir responding after each reproach with the line, "Popule meus . . .":

Cantors 3 & 4: Ego propter te flagellavi Ægyptum cum primogenitis suis: et tu me flagellatum tradidisti.
Choirs A & B: Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo constristavi te? Responde mihi.
Cantors 1 & 2: Ego eduxi te de Ægypto, demerso Pharaone in mare rubrum: et tu me tradidisti principibus sacerdotum.
Choirs A & B: Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo constristavi te? Responde mihi.

For your sake I scourged your captors and their firstborn sons, but you brought your scourges down on me.
My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!
I led you from slavery to freedom and drowned your captors in the sea, but you handed me over to your high priests.
My people . . . .[4]

After the last Improperium and its refrain, the hymns Crux fidelis and Pange lingua are sung.


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Anglicanism[edit]

In the Anglican Church during the English Reformation, the Reproaches were suppressed by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury when he authored the first Book of Common Prayer in the sixteenth century. However, the liturgical movement and the desire to connect with ancient liturgical traditions has led to some Provinces in the Anglican Communion to reintroduce the Reproaches. For example, the revisers of the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to reintroduce the Reproaches as “The Solemn Adoration of Christ Crucified.”[5] The revisers of the Anglican Prayer Book have sought to downplay the historical anti-Semitism associated with the Reproaches. In the Anglican Church of Korea, the Reproaches (책망가) have been traditionally sung since the beginning during the Veneration of the Cross.

Lutheranism[edit]

In Lutheranism, the Reproaches are commonly chanted each Good Friday during the Tenebrae service.[6] The Reproaches begin with the first of three exchanges between the priest and congregation. The priest begins:

Thus says the Lord:
"What have I done to you, O my people,
And wherein have I offended you?
Answer me.
For I have raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death,
"And you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged.
For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage,
And you have nailed your Savior to the cross.
O my people!"

The congregation responds:

Holy Lord God,
Holy and mighty God,
Holy and most merciful Redeemer;
God eternal, leave us not to bitter death.
O Lord, have mercy!

The priest continues:

Thus says the Lord:
"What have I done to you, O my people,
And wherein have I offended you?
Answer me.
For I have conquered all your foes,
And you have given me over and delivered me to those who persecute me.
For I have fed you with my Word and refreshed you with living water,
And you have given me gall and vinegar to drink.
O my people!"

The congregation responds:

Holy Lord God,
Holy and mighty God,
Holy and most merciful Redeemer;
God eternal, allow us not to lose hope in the face of death and hell.
O Lord, have mercy!

The priest continues:

Thus says the Lord:
"What have I done to you, O my people,
And wherein have I offended you?
Answer me.
What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
My people, is this how you thank your God?
O my people!"

The congregation concludes:

Holy Lord God,
Holy and mighty God,
Holy and most merciful Redeemer;
God eternal, keep us steadfast in the true faith.
O Lord, have mercy!

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ PD-icon.svg "Improperia". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ d’Uzer, V, “The Jews in the Sixteenth-Century Homilies” in Wood, D (Ed) (1992) Christianity and Judaism Studies in Church History, Vol. 29
  3. ^ Rubrics, Latin text, and English translation from the Gregorian Missal, pp. 311–317, Solesmes, 1990. The same, though without translation, will be found in the Liber Usualis (Latin text and English rubrics), pp. 737–41, Solesmes, 1961; the Graduale Romanum (Latin text and Latin rubrics), pp. 225–31, Solesmes, 1961; and elsewhere.
  4. ^ Id.
  5. ^ An Anglican Prayer Book (1989) Church of the Province of Southern Africa
  6. ^ "Improperia (The Reproaches)". Retrieved 23 March 2013.