Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Old Testament Saints: King David

Saints of the Old Dispensation rarely grace our Eucharistic sacrifices and Offices. They generally make the odd appearance at Prime in the Roman Office (and presumably somewhere in the daily reading handbook Consilium wrote). Today, almost uniquely, the Roman Office and Mass commemorated the holy Maccabee brothers as martyrs for Christ (cf. St. Gregory Nazianzen). The Byzantine tradition is more generous with the Old Testament saints, although not too much more. Saint Elias constitutes a major feast in the Constantinopolitan tradition; off the top of my head I can recall the prophet Habakkuk receiving a commemoration in my Melkite days. Still, there is no feast of Saint Moses or Saint Aaron to supersede Sunday in the way Ss. Peter & Paul or John the Forerunner do. And yet there are a pair of interesting exceptions.

For one, the Carmelite order, by reason of its origin and its proximity to other oriental rites, carries a feast of Saint Elias. Similarly, the Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land boasted a slew of idiosyncratic feasts and votive Masses of the Passion of Christ and of Old Testament saints. One such feast, which I spent years vainly essaying to find and which Marco related to me from a monk of Silverstream, is that of Saint David the King, Prophet and Confession.

The texts of his Mass, celebrated with the comites Christi on December 29th with a commemoration of Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury, emphasize the auditory relationship between God and David. The Introit is Cantate Domino canticum novum. More interesting is the Collect:
Deus, Pater omnipotens, qui per os David in Spiritu Sancto tuo hymnos cantare fecisti; tribue, quaesumus, ut euis intercessione digne sacrificium laudis perficere valeamus. Per Dominum nostrum.....
The lesson, from 1 Kings (1 Samuel), recounts Samuel finding David tending his father's sheep and anointing him king, receiving the spirit of God which had just left Saul. While this pericope seems an obvious choice for the feast of Saint David the King, it is hardly the only plausible choice. The time of its celebration, within the octave of the Nativity, doubtless made the kingly anointing of a poor, modest shepherd tending his father's flock a more fitting example of typology than the battle with Goliath.

Herein is an interesting example of how additional Scripture and feasts could be extended to the older liturgy without disrupting its internal integrity with the insertion of a disjointed three year lectionary: make the Missae pro aliquibus locis more broadly available, even if only as votive Masses for one particular day a year. Perhaps in fifty years a consensus approach to such Masses would warrant an updated version of the older kalendar. Many of these Holy Land votive Masses or unique feasts have Scriptural pericopes unrelated to the Commons which dominate the baroque French and Italian saints whose feasts squeezed all sense of the ferial from the kalendar and made the late Tridentine Office into the "rite of Iste Confessor."

Additionally, many saints got on the kalendar early because of feasts associated with the translation of their relics. That is certainly true of numerous Apostles. Since that is now rarely the case, the old liturgy could prove its vivacity in testing the faithful's openness to devotion to Old Testament saints. At the very least the typology, especially when exercised with discretion as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did in writing the Mass of King David, may enrich understanding of Christ and the saints under the new and eternal Law.


  1. Interesting and thought-provoking!

    One possibility for celebrating the Old Testament Saints that is already available, albeit not according to a uniform system, in both the Old and New Mass, is the faculty the celebrant has on liturgically free days to celebrate any Saint mentioned in the Martyrology for that day. The Mass proper, however, have to be taken from the Commons, a stricture that is a bit awkward in the case of, say, Isaias; does one use the Common of Confessors, Martyrs, or possibly of Evangelists (insofar as he is referred to as the Fifth Evangelist sometimes)?

  2. Moses the God-seer is commemorated on September 4 in the Byzantine rite, along with the hieromartyr Babylas of Antioch. This would not displace Sunday (which is generally only displaced by great feasts of the Lord), but in a parish that does not omit the saints on Sundays (which the Ruthenians, I know, sadly usually do), St. Moses would have 3 stichera at Great Vespers, his tropar and canon at Matins, and his tropar at Divine Liturgy. A great many of the prophets likewise have simple services in the Menaion; they, too, would have the above if the Typikon were followed fully.

  3. Thank you for this, RT. I am currently writing an article for NLM on the Holy Land missal supplement, covering not only the OT saints but also the feasts of the Palestinian monastic saints as well. I have long been fascinated by this question of commemorating OT saints ever since stumbling across a Missal with a Venetian supplement in a seminary library.

  4. Once upon a time.. in far far away galaxy..... .... ... .. .