On Easter, throughout the octave, and today on the octave day, we sing the Easter sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes (Christians to the Paschal Victim, Offer Thankful Praises). This ancient hymn ascribed to the Wipo of Burgundy (c. 11th century), is sung preceding the Alleluia. In the Tridentine Mass and current Extraordinary Form, the sequence follows the alleluia which is why it received the name sequence (to follow).
What is a sequence exactly? Their origins are difficult to trace, but they seemed to draw life out of the end of the jubilant chants of the Gregorian alleluias. They also served to accompany the sometimes lengthy gospel processions. Sequences are poetic hymns on the Mass of the day, usually providing a commentary or theological explanation on the Gospel or feast. By the 16th century, there were sequences for nearly every Sunday and feast day outside of penitential seasons. Following the revision of the Missal in 1570, they were reduced to four (we will visit the others later).
Here is a summary of today's sequence: the first stanza calls us to praise the Christ, our paschal victim. Stanzas two and three recall Christ's redemptive work on the cross. The fourth and fifth stanzas are a dynamic dialogue between the apostles (who, we the faithful, now symbolize) and Mary Magdalene delivering the news of the resurrection. Stanza six is an act of faith of the Christian community and is addressed to Christ.
The angels have testified and Mary has brought us the message that our risen Lord goes before us into Galilee. On this great Easter day, let us joyfully offer our thankful praises to Christ, our paschal sacrifice, who has saved his sheep!