. . . and to dust you shall return. These words from tonight’s Ash Wednesday service remind us of our mortality. The paraments are black and the mood of the whole service is somber — the only time I played the organ was on the Hallock psalm antiphon (Psalm 103) and two hymns. No prelude, postlude or even communion music — everything was in silence. The liturgical music (Sursum Corda, Lord’s Prayer and Agnus Dei) was all done a cappella.
Yet it is this yearly penitential and solemn service that is one of my favorites of the year. Ash Wednesday has particular meaning for our family for it was on Ash Wednesday in 1981 that we received news that Carl’s mother had died after a long battle with cancer. Our first-born child joined her in heaven a few months later, dying just two hours after birth.
The choir sang the music of Henry Purcell, including, at the tract, Hear my Prayer (one of my all-time favorites). It begins with a simple 2-note motive in the altos, sung beautifully, by the way, by our first alto section, and gradually adds more and more voices in an incredibly complex texture. You can hear the Clare College sing this beautiful anthem by clicking here.
Other anthems were Purcell’s Remember not, O Lord our offenses (sung at the Offertory) and Thou knowest, Lord (sung at the Communion). The exit procession was Peter Hallock’s Miserere mei, Deus (Psalm 51) with the choir singing the last few verses from the courtyard.
The service ended in silence, leaving us to ponder the meaning of ashes and all of our impending deaths.