The Blood of the Lamb
Saint John Passion for the Holy Year of Mercy
was first performed in St Thomas More Chapel on Good Friday, 2016.
This starkly beautiful new work was composed by Julian Revie at the Center for Music and Liturgy.
The Blood of the Lamb – St. John Passion for the Holy Year of Mercy
Theological Reflections by Val Tarantino
On that day there will be a fountain gushing forth for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; it will cleanse them from their sin and uncleanness. Zc. 13:1
The Blood of the Lamb, Julian Revie’s St. John’s Passion in honor of the 2016 Year of Mercy, continues and deepens the musical, theological and spiritual work of last year’s Mass of the Divine Shepherd. It is John’s Gospel which originally proclaims Christ as the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29) and the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11-16); where Mass of the Divine Shepherd sets to music the liturgical re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, The Blood of the Lamb is conceived as a musical reflection on the Paschal sacrifice itself. As such, The Blood of the Lamb takes its focus from the Church’s meditation on the blood and water from the side of Christ and its meaning to salvation history.
In the nineteenth chapter of John, our Lord cries out: I thirst. As all was now finished, the Scripture fulfilled, Christ’s I thirst is both a taking cognizance and a direct response. But we must turn back to an earlier passage in John, if we are to understand Christ on his own terms: If anyone thirst, let him come to me; and let him drink who believes in me, as the Scripture says: From within him shall flow streams of living water. (Jn. 7:37-38) Christ, in his Divine Mercy, is himself the principal subject of such holy thirsting, that he may also be the Source, Summit and Wellspring of living grace: From within him shall flow streams of living water. This he said about the Spirit which those were to receive who had believed in him; for as yet the Spirit was not because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Jn. 7:37-38)
In The Blood of the Lamb, the narration up to the death of Jesus consists of non-metered, chant-like melodic lines. Through separate melodies in disjoined key areas, each character claims his own key; the melodic character of Christ is derived from the traditional chant of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, with echoes of the Stabat Mater, while the voice of the evangelist narrator draws on the pattern of intonation employed during the sung Gospel during the Papal Mass in Philadelphia. All but one of the voices sing just one musical note per syllable of text; Christ alone sings melismatically, accompanied by handbells physically set apart from the other handbells used in the piece. The handbells represent unseen spiritual realities: the presence of angels, the effusion of the Spirit.
Tradition suggests that the Blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Our Lord were entirely commingled, the cruorem roseum extolled in an historical hymn for Vespers. This commingling of the blood and water expresses the mutual inherence of the second and third Persons of the Trinity: The blood as sign of the crucified Christ, and the water as outpouring of the Spirit; as St. John Paul II said: If the blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist, the water, in Johannine symbolism, represents not only Baptism but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Christ’s death on the cross, bowing his head, he gave forth the spirit – a moment imaged so tenderly in our stunning chapel crucifix, as the Spirit in the form of a dove takes flight from the very fingertips of the dying Christ.
The thrust of Longinus's spear, at which Blood and water flowed out, is the central moment of this Passion for the Year of Mercy. In Haurietis Aquas, the definitive encyclical on the Heart of Jesus, Pius XII writes that Christ would open to the human race the 'fountain of living water' which would irrigate the parched land and transform it into a fruitful and flourishing garden. The St. John Passion begins and ends in a garden; we see the power of the "living water" from the side of Christ, as Gethsemane, the garden of anguish, is transformed unto the garden of the Resurrection – the restoration, in substance, of paradise.
The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen references the sacramental life of the Church in saying that the fateful blow of the lance strik[es] that Mystical Body as the brightness of the sun striking a prism splits up into the seven rays of the spectrum. The Revie Passion echoes this dynamic in its six sung vocal lines with the seventh voice issuing from the mouths of the handbells. From this moment on, the music becomes metered, polyphonic, expansive; the predominant tones pass from darker to brighter, flats to sharps; the disjunct melodies in separate keys yield to a unified key, to the unified melody of Christ. At the moment of the outpouring, the handbells, an instrument inherently uniquely collaborative, begin to sound together; the separation of voices ends – those who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ, [who] …broke down the dividing wall of enmity … that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two. (Eph. 2:13-14)
Christ’s melody is then proclaimed anew in the polyphonically repeated phrase Blood and water flowed out; this phrase, musically introduced with a stunning duet of the mezzo and alto voices, ultimately encompasses all voices and even the handbells by the time we reach the closing section, at the words: they laid the body of Jesus....
From the moment that the outflow of Blood and water is recounted, the music takes on a constant, driving acceleration; though at first but subtly perceptible, it builds upon itself like the force of gravity, like the evolutionary progress of history. In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, Christ is the directional arrow, as it were, that indicates what being human tends toward, although, as long as history is still on the way, that goal is never fully reached. This ever-increasing, never-culminating drive echoes the paradox in these words, attributed to the person of Christ in the writing of St. Faustina, apostle of Divine Mercy, the first saint of the new millennium and the evangelist of the blood and water image to the mind of the Church of today: I am Love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases.
It is impossible, at this breakthrough point, to miss the vital relationality of the music, just as it would be impossible to execute the score apart from a personal interplay among the musicians. Up to the death of Christ, each autonomous voice had, as it were, sought in vain to relate to the others. From the death of Christ, by means of taking on the voice and melody of Christ, and ratified in the outpouring of blood and water, the singers and handbells together find the dynamism, the freedom, the nexus of relationship to pour themselves out and unify, as it were, into one body, a living and effectual whole.
This unity dimly reflects the ultimate inner dynamism, that of the Trinity, of union among eternal diversity unto consubstantiality, in which all Being belongs to an Other, without prejudice to ineffable perfection of self-possession. In Laudato si’, Pope Francis writes: The divine Persons are subsistent relations, and the world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things… In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity. As the blood and water issue forth from the side of Christ, we the Church are sent forth as his Body, born through water and the Spirit from the side of Christ, who by his death has given life to the world.
The circle closes, however, when we recognize the identity of Christ the Divine Mercy as Christ the Divine Shepherd. St. Bonaventure writes that in the blood flowing out with the water, the price of our salvation [is] poured forth – thereby from the very source (namely the secret of the Heart) imparting abundant power to the sacraments of the Church for conferring the life of grace, and for bestowing on those who already live in Christ a cup of living water springing up into eternal life.
Suddenly, we come to realize the full stature of the Divine Shepherd, the true Lord of the 23rd Psalm: That he who thirsts, though having trod the valley of the shadow of death, holds aloft a cup overflowing. St. John’s account of Christ’s Passion uniquely expresses the identity of the Divine Shepherd as sacrificial lamb; unlike the Synoptics, John places the hour at which the Passover lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple on the afternoon of Good Friday, directly before the eyes of the Lord as He suffered on the Cross. For worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing. (Rev. 5:12)
And they shall look upon him whom they have pierced. St. John quotes the ancient, inspired prophecy of Zechariah. The prophecy continues: On that day there will be a fountain gushing forth for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; it will cleanse them from their sin and uncleanness.
At last, in the garden, we keep vigil with Christ, the God-Hero (Is. 9:6), sleeping in death. The Stations of the Cross led by Pope Francis in 2014 ended with these words: The silence which fills that garden enables us to hear the whisper of a gentle breeze: I am the Living One and I am with you (Ex 3:14)… At last we see our Lord’s face. And we know fully his name: faithfulness and mercy.