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The musical items in a medieval reburial service

a medieval reburial service

The medieval reburial document calls for six antiphons and seven psalms. Antiphons are short, elaborate musical items that come before and after a psalm. The antiphons in the medieval order of reburial are paired with psalms that have a similar theme. So, for example, the antiphon, Omnis Spiritus (‘Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord’) draws on verse six of the popular praise psalm, Psalm 150, with which it is paired. Similarly, the antiphon, Aperite (‘Open me the gates of righteousness that I may go into them, and give thanks unto the Lord’) is linked with Psalm 118, Confitemini (‘O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever…’), as both invite thanks.

The musical items that feature in the reburial rite are not unique – they are similar to those items found in the medieval ‘last rites’. When these items are used in a reburial ceremony, they complement the themes of repentance; resurrection, and praise found in the prayers. The musical items also articulate key moments within the service. For example, the antiphon De terra (‘From the earth you formed me, and in flesh you clothed me. O Lord, my redeemer, raise me up at the last day’) appears just before the coffin is lowered into the ground. Towards the end of the ceremony, as the mood changes to celebrate the resurrection, Psalms 148-150 are sung, psalms that invite the whole community to ‘praise the Lord’.

As the reburial service was a long, two day affair and we have been given a 50-minute time allocation, some of the musical items have had to be removed for King Richard’s reinterment ceremony. The musical items stipulated in the medieval order of reburial will guide the music performed in the ceremony on Thursday: the medieval chant will not always be heard but there will be a chance to hear some of the original items of music alongside more modern settings.

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