Each year, on this, its most solemn day, i used to travel to Gloucester Cathedral for the morning Liturgy. Their approach, while lacking a true sense of the abject, was fittingly sombre, particularly at the service’s central point, the Veneration of the Cross. The moment is crushing enough, filing to the high altar to face the Cross and all it signifies, but the Cathedral then crowns it by performing John Sanders‘ setting of The Reproaches. The Cross before me; Sanders’ music behind me; on all sides the unavoidable, unanswerable, questions posed by the refrain:
O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!
The words continue, describing at length the good things God has done, and humanity’s response, putting Christ to death. Sanders sets all this narrative as a simple chant; saving his rich and excruciating (in the best sense) harmonies for the refrain and also the Trisagion, the one portion of the text where we respond:
Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us.
The sole recording i know of is on a very nice CD – a mixture of Psalms and 20th Century anthems – by the Choir of St John’s, Elora, under Noel Edison. Sanders’ is not the only setting of The Reproaches that i’ve encountered (Victoria’s setting is performed each year at our Abbey), but, for me, the bitter starkness of his setting encapsulates the essence of Good Friday.