Pascha nostrum

Easter Week

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

     1 Co 5.7–8; Rm 6.9–11; 1 Co 15.20–22

The use of the anthem(s) Pascha nostrum (‘Christ our Passover’) in the Prayer Book has its roots in later medieval tradition. It was the nearly universal custom* after the Good Friday liturgy for the cross, and later the Blessed Sacrament, to be laid in the ‘Easter sepulchre’, which could be a freestanding tomb-like structure, a recess in a chapel altar (altars from ancient times having doubled as reliquaries), or, commonly in medieval England, a tomb-like niche in the north wall of the chancel. The Sacrament and cross were kept there – the Office and/or devotions being said before the sepulchre, with lights and watchers, rich hangings, and all the other ceremony and honor usually given to the burial of a person of prominence – until the first Mass of Easter.

Before that Mass (as before most others in late medieval use, and with particular splendor in the Sarum Use) a liturgical procession was made, in this case to that sepulchre, whence the Sacrament and cross would be returned to their usual place of honor. This procession was accompanied by the singing of a responsory or antiphon consisting of Rm 6.9–10 with a verse (‘Now let the Jews declare how the soldiers who guarded the sepulchre lost the king when the stone was placed, wherefore they kept not the rock of righteousness; let them either produce him buried, or adore him rising, saying with us, Alleluia’), followed by

v The Lord is risen from the grave.
r Who hung for us upon the tree.

and the Collect (originally appointed for Wednesday in Easter Week)

O God, who didst will thy Son to suffer death upon the Cross for us, that thou mightest cast out of us the power of the enemy, grant to us thy servants that we may ever live rejoicing in His Resurrection, through...

In the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), Rm 6.9–11 with Alleluias, with 1Co 15.20–22 and a similar collect (in bcp1979 once again the first Collect for Easter Day) –

O God, who for our redempcion dyddest geve thyne only begotten sonne to the death of the Crosse: and by his glorious resurreccion haste delyvered us from the power of our enemye: Graunte us so to dy daylye from synne, that we maye everymore lyve with hym in the joy of hys resurreccion; through the same Christe our Lorde.

– were appointed to be ‘solemnly sung or said’ before Mattins (Morning Prayer) on Easter Day. In subsequent Prayer Books, these ‘Easter anthems’ (from 1662 preceded by 1Co 5.7–8) were appointed to replace the Invitatory Psalm (Venite, Psalm 95) at Morning Prayer on Easter Day; the 1928 American Prayer Book permitted such use throughout Easter Week, and bcp1979 requires this use during Easter Week and permits it until the Day of Pentecost, as well as suggesting these anthems (called, and grouped with, ‘Canticles’) for use at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Eucharist [bcp 294] and at the departure from the church at the Burial of the Dead [bcp 484, 500].

In the Hymnal 1982 Pascha nostrum is set in several ways: to Anglican chant, to Psalm-Tone VII (with the corresponding Alleluia from the Daily Office repertory as its antiphon), and perhaps most beautifully to the Introit form of Psalm-Tone I (it had also been set successfully to Tone III in The Book of Canticles, Volume II of the Church Hymnal Series leading up to the Hymnal 1982).

Pascha nostrum also has life as an anthem at the Breaking of the Bread at the Eucharist. bcp1549 had appointed the following to be sung as a response to the giving of the Peace (which, following medieval custom, was given at this point in the rite, as may still be done in bcp1979 [407]), as a replacement of the quotation from Jn 1.9 (‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’) traditionally used at the showing of the consecrated Host to the people :

Christ our Pascall lambe is offred up for us, once for al, when he bare our sinnes on hys body upon the crosse, for he is the very lambe of God, that taketh away the sines of the worlde: wherfore let us kepe a joyfull and holy feast with the Lorde.

This disappeared in bcp1552; in the Episcopal Church, the following is printed (as one option) for a Fraction anthem in bcp1979:

[Alleluia.] Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast. [Alleluia.]

1Co 5.7–8 is also the Communion antiphon for the Mass of Easter Day in the Roman Rite, and the first phrase of it the Verse to the Alleluia of the same Mass (vv 5 and 7–8 constitute the Epistle for that Mass, and vv 6b–8 the Epistle for the bcp1979 Mass of Easter Evening). Portions and related passages also appear in the Responsories at Roman Matins during Easter Week.

The idea of Christ as the Christian Passover Lamb (in some cases coupled with the image of the Lamb as host of the Messianic banquet from the Revelation to St John) also appears in the following hymns:

173 O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid
174 Ad cenam Agni providi
183 Victimae paschali laudes, and the derived
184 Christ ist erstanden
202 Ad regias Agni dapes
210 Anastaseôs hêmera
307 Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor
495 Hail, thou once despisèd Jesus

*  The practice was defended in the first doctrinal statement of the English Church after the break with Rome, the Ten Articles of 1536; and even after the destruction of shrines, pilgrimage sites, and so forth had begun, the light (candle) before the Easter Sepulchre was one of the few still permitted (1538), until the use of the Sepulchre was finally one of the last such ceremonies banned, in 1548. The Orthodox Churches observe a somewhat similar custom, bearing and venerating a bier profusely decorated with flowers and covered with a pall bearing the image of the dead Christ, the epitáphios (Greek), plashchanitsa (Slavonic), or naash (Arabic). The more recent Western custom of watching with the reserved Sacrament at an altar of repose from the end of the Maundy Thursday liturgy is a revival or transposition of, or conflation with, the vigil at the Sepulchre.