The Solemn Reproaches on Good Friday

By Mark Mummert, Director of Worship at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas

In the Good Friday rite of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, one of the options during the Procession of the Cross is to sing the Solemn Reproaches. This ancient text, known also as the Improperia, first appeared in Good Friday or Holy Saturday rites of the ninth century. The text then slowly spread in use through the middle ages and then was finally added to the Roman rite in the fourteenth century. One of the great controversies with the ancient text is its anti-Semitic stance. This known history makes the use of the text today very difficult. But, thankfully, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship text of the Reproaches has been revised for contemporary usage.

The structure of the text is simple: each reproach begins with an expansion on Micah 6:3: “O my people, [O my church,] what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!” Then, each reproach continues with a new biblical claim, not unlike that of Micah 6:4; “I brought you up from the land of Egypt…” Finally, each reproach concludes “…but you have prepared a cross for your savior.” The assembly responds to each reproach with a petition for mercy; in the ELW text the response is the Trisagion (the “thrice holy”) of the eastern church: “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.”

The biblical claims are a tour de force of scriptural allusions, from both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament:

  • I led you out of slavery into freedom;
  • I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud and fire;
  • I made you branches of the vine and never left your side;
  • I gave you the kingdom and crowned you with eternal life;
  • I washed your feet as a sign of my love;
  • I raised you from death and prepared for you a tree of life;

The next to last reproach of the ELW text merits the most attention.

O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you?

Answer me.

I grafted you into my people Israel,

but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt,

and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,

have mercy on us.

This additional reproach in the classically anti-semitic text calls the church to repentance of all earlier versions. Further, when sung in the Good Friday liturgy in which the John Passion could be heard as an indictment of the Jewish nation, this reproach aids the liturgy considerably. This reproach, along with the newly reworked Bidding Prayer in the ELW Good Friday rite will help us considerably.

Various musical settings of the Solemn Reproaches exist that allow for the reproach to be sung by a cantor and the response by the assembly. Several settings, including one that I composed, are included in the “Music Sourcebook for Lent and the Three Days” from Augsburg Fortress:

Music Sourcebook for Lent and Three Days

Music Sourcebook for Lent and the Three Days

One last word: these Reproaches find themselves in a rite that is widely unknown among ELCA congregations. Having spent the last three years doing workshops across the church on Lent and the Three Days, we found that overwhelming numbers of churches do lots of different things on Good Friday — tenebre, three hours with the “seven last words,” cantatas, even requiems (very, very bad idea) — and not this Good Friday rite. I cannot recommend the Good Friday rite as it is in ELW to you and your congregations enough. Do it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s