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Ne irascaris Domine

February 13, 2013

Lenten Array, Lady Chapel, St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Lenten Array, Lady Chapel, St. Ignatius of Antioch.

ON ASH WEDNESDAY, we submit both a prayer for the day and William Byrd’s “Ne irascaris Domine,” one of the composer’s greatest and most powerful anthems.

Published in his 1589 Cantiones Sacrae, this double motet must surely be one of Byrd’s most forceful utterances, inspired by the fate of the Catholic church in England. The emphasis laid on the word ‘desolata’ after the sad echoings of ‘Ierusalem’, and the chordal enunciations of ‘Sion deserta facta est’ invite comparison with the “Lamentations” of Tallis.

The anthem is an undisputed masterwork, and it is a fitting piece with which to contemplate the mortality of ourselves and our world on this first day of Lent.

Ne irascaris Domine satis,
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce respice populus tuus omnes nos.

Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est.

Be not exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity for ever.
Behold, consider, we are all thy people.

Thy holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.

[Isaiah 64:9-10]

Turn thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favourable, O Lord, Be favourable to thy people, Who turn to thee in weeping, fasting, and praying. For thou art a merciful God, Full of compassion, Long-suffering, and of great pity. Thou sparest when we deserve punishment, And in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lord, spare them, And let not thine heritage be brought to confusion. Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is great, And after the multitude of thy mercies look upon us; Through the merits and mediation of thy blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.1

1. A Penitential Office for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer (1928), 62.

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