My people, what have I done to you?

“Christ on the Cross” (detail) by Velazquez


The Reproaches

The Good Friday Reproaches, or Improperia, are among the most unsettling prayers of the Church’s liturgical tradition. They are fitting for the most unsettling day of the year: that day we dare to call “Good,” the day our churches stand stark and empty, the day when the comforting words of the Holy Mass are not uttered, the day that commemorates the afternoon we killed Our Lord.

The Reproaches are a series of antiphons and responses that remind us of the atrocity of our sin. God is love, and He has repeatedly offered us nothing but love and mercy. God gave Adam and Eve everything they could need. They lived in perfect unity and happiness. After the Fall, God still continued to care for his sinful children, even though we were unworthy and undeserving.  Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, he saved his people – from flood, from slavery, from enemies – and repeatedly the people rejected His goodness and fell into sin.

This Good Friday, perhaps we need to sit with these prayers, these reproaches, and remember that Our Lord died for our sins. He gives us his very life and we respond by rejecting it. As uncomfortable as they may be to dwell on, we need to meditate on these reproaches and remember that he asks these questions not just to our ancestors, not just at some ancient time, but to us, today. Yet he does not ask these questions with the booming accusatory voice of a judge, but with the quiet cry of a lover.

We don’t like to be uncomfortable, and we don’t like to face our sins. But we must claim our sins if we are going to claim his mercy. We must hear the broken cry of His Pierced Heart if we’re going to hear the tender cry of a Lover welcoming us home. We must sit in the pain of Good Friday if we’re going to accept the joy of Easter.


Victoria: Improperia (The Reproaches)

Improperia

“Popule meus, quid feci tibi?”

My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

For forty years I led you safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine, but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

For your sake I scourged your captors and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you from slavery to freedom and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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