Solus ad victimam is the Latin title of the anthem at the Offertory at the 10:30 service this Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion. Palm Sunday is the feast day’s official title.
The literal translation of solus ad victimam is “only the victim” or “the only victim.” Both versions have slight differences of meaning, but together they convey the message.
Jesus went to the cross alone for our sins.
The musical setting of this poignant text is not one we will be whistling as we walk away from worship, but I maintain it is one of the most effective musical settings of any anthem of the 1,000-plus octavos in our parish music library.
This anthem is one of those with harmonies and sonorities that may not sound correct when they are. Worshipers will hear the sparseness of the choir singing in simple same-note octaves, and in the next moment, dissonances between the choral voices will appear.
Though this 12th Century text is most certainly a Passiontide text, my favorite aspect is that it foreshadows Easter and the Resurrection.
The word play of the music that accompanies “laughter” in the text is notable. The choral voices are high in their tessituras, and the full choir ends literally on a high note, after which the organ accompaniment steals the show with great dissonant chords, only to land on a huge, bright E Major chord.
Talk about foreshadowing Easter!
Yes, Holy Week and the Passion are upon us, but as Christians, we know what comes three days later. Death is not the victor, thanks be to God.
Alone to sacrifice thou goest, Lord,
Giving thyself to Death whom thou hast slain.
For us thy wretched folk is any word?
Who know that for our sins this is thy pain?
For they are ours, O Lord, our deeds,
By must thou suffer torture for our sin?
Let our hearts suffer in thy Passion,
Lord, that very suffering may thy mercy win.
This is the night of tears, the three days' space.
Sorrow abiding of the eventide,
until the day break with the risen Christ,
and hearts that sorrowed shall be satisfied.
So may our hearts share in thine anguish,
Lord, that they may sharers of thy glory be;
Heavy with weeping may the three days pass,
to win the laughter of thine Easter Day.
(Peter Abelard 1079-1142, tr. Helen Waddell)