Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sarum Special: Christmas Eve

An Englishman named Charles Dickens invented Christmas as we now know it, a season of general goodwill and aimless gift-giving that calls for us to put aside our grievances for 24 hours. It has little to do with the Incarnation of God on earth. No where in Dickens' 60 page novella A Christmas Carol do the words God, Jesus, or Nativity appear, nor is there mention of any traditional hymns. There is, however, plenteous contemning of greed, egocentrism, the primitive welfare state, and parsimony. Five centuries before Ebeneezer Scrooge put aside his daily cares and converted his heart to Bob Cratchit Englishmen put aside their daily cares and converted their hearts to the Lord in anticipation of His Nativity.

If December 24 fell on a Saturday, the Church of Sarum transferred the Ember days to the third week of Advent. If it fell on a Sunday then Mattins of Sunday was sung until the third nocturne, at which point the Office of the day began with the psalms and readings of Christmas Eve; the Sunday Mass would be sung in chapter and the Vigil Mass sung in choir at the main altar of the cathedral.

The Mattins Gospel is the same as in the Roman rite, however Sarum favors the writings of Origen over St. Jerome. In Origen we see the beginning of the Church's theology of the Incarnation and Mary's motherhood using phrases that would be canonized at Ephesus in 431:
"Why was it necessary that Mary the mother of Jesus should be espoused to Joseph : except in order that by him this Holy One would be concealed from the Devil, and that the spiteful one by trickery should contrive no vengeance against the betrothed virgin ? Or for this reason was she betrothed to Joseph : that Joseph would be seen to bear the care of the newborn child and even of Mary herself : whether going into Egypt or returning once more from thence. For that reason she was espoused to Joseph : yet not joined in wedlock. Of his mother one saith, Mother immaculate, mother incorrupt, mother untouched. His mother. Whose is his ? The mother of God, of the Only Begotten, of the Lord, and of the King of all men : of the Creator and Maker of all things. He which in heaven is without a mother : and in earth is without a father. Of himself which in heaven according to divinity is in the nature of the Father : and in earth according to the assuming of a body is in the nature of the mother. O great grace of admiration, O indescribable sweetness, O ineffable and great sacrament. Herself a virgin, herself likewise mother of the Lord, herself the giver of birth, herself his handmaiden and his fashioner, herself which gave birth."
Origen likens Mary's maternity to the miracles of the Old Covenant which preserved the pure from ordinary patterns of corruptions in order to effect a more providential end. In previous times God kept the bush on Sinai to manifest His Law. Now he preserves an unblemished maiden so that He may manifest His Incarnation, remaining both God and Man:
"Who hath ever heard such, who hath seen such greatness ? Who could have thought of this : that a virgin would be a mother, an untouched would beget, and that a virgin hath remained and yet hath given birth ? Just as indeed formerly a bush was seen to be burning and the fire did not touch it, and as three boys were kept shut up in the furnace : and yet the fire did not hurt them, nor was the odour of the fumes upon them : or just as when Daniel was shut up within the lion’s den : while the doors were shut a meal was brought to him by Habakkuk : and thus this holy Virgin hath brought forth the Lord : but she hath remained untouched. A mother hath produced : but hath not lost her virginity. She hath given birth to a child : and as it is said she hath remained a virgin. Thus the Virgin hath brought forth : and hath remained a virgin. A Mother hath been made by the Son : and the seal of chastity hath not perished. Wherefore ? Because it was not only that man which appeared : but the Only Begotten was God who had come in the flesh. Neither unexpectedly was he born in the flesh : but perfect divinity came in the flesh. Whole therefore and undivided, God came in human kind or was brought forth in flesh : and both God and Lord took up the form of a servant. Neither indeed did a part of the Only Begotten come in body : nor did he divide himself such that half was with the Father, and half was within the Virgin : but in truth wholly with the Father, and wholly within the Virgin. Wholly in nature of the Father, and wholly in human flesh. Not relinquishing the heavenly, he came to seek the earthly. Which in heaven are preserved : and which in earth are saved. Everywhere almighty : unbroken, undivided, this is the holy Only Begotten God."
Lauds is of the day, except with proper antiphons which anticipate the following day: "Judah and Jerusalem, be not afraid, tomorrow you shall go forth and the Lord will be with you." Lauds does not observe preces on this day nor is a genuflexion made. A commemoration of All Saints may be made on Sunday, but votive prayers and Offices are vanquished until after the Octave day of St. Stephen.

The Vigil Mass is virtually identical to the Roman Vigil Mass on this day with a few additions. Sarum provided additional readings on certain days and sang sequences more often than the post-Tridentine Roman Mass. On December 24 the acolyte, the liturgical minister who holds the paten during the Canon of the Mass, reads Isaiah 62:1-4, foretelling the universality of conversion to the Lord. The sequence, repeated from the Fourth Advent Sunday, and the Alleluia are sung only if the Vigil falls on Sunday.

Not the "rite" setting, but something close.

At Vespers the senior most cleric, ideally the Bishop of Salisbury, celebrates with the four most senior canons ruling the choir. The same is done at Mattins of Christmas Day. The hymn is Veni, Redemptor Gentium by St. Ambrose. During Veni the two thurifers bring a pair of copes to the celebrant, who assumes one and picks another cleric to wear the other, who in turn with incense the altar during the Magnificat. Two other senior canons begin the Magnificat antiphon, which is the same as in the Roman rite: "When the sun shall have risen from heaven, you shall see the King of kings proceeding from the Father, as a bridegroom from his chamber."

Mattins of Christmas Day begins at such a time to allow it end before midnight, when the first Mass of the feast is sung. The first six lessons and corresponding responsories are sung by canons and choristers wearing surplies in ascending order of seniority, allowing the senior-most members of the choir to sing the sixth response. At the first response, after the lesson from Isaiah 9:1-8, five boys wearing amices over their heads face the choir from the altar carrying candles. Between the iterations of the response ("This day the King of Heaven was pleased to be born of a virgin, that He might restore lost man to the heavenly kingdom....") they sing "Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of goodwill." At the second, fifth, and eighth lessons of Mattins a priest from alternating sides of the choir. The Gospel pericopes, taken from the three Masses of the day, and lessons for the final nocturne, extracted from St. Bede the Venerable and St. Gregory the Great, are read in copes.

Rather than singing the Te Deum immediately, a ninth response is sung while a full Gospel procession arrives at the lecturn in the middle of the choir. The deacon then sings the beginning of St. Matthew's gospel, which recounts Our Lord's genealogy, in a special tone.

Initium sancti evangelii secundum Mattheum
The Te Deum is sung and then the first Mass of Christmas begins, Dominus dixit. The celebrant, who should also have celebrated Mattins, faces the altar after Mass and says "Verbum caro factum est," to which the people reply "Et habitavit in nobis, alleluia." Lauds then commences. After the Benedictus and collect a series of additional antiphons are sung by choristers standing near the choir rulers:
"The Father's Word this day proceeded from a Virgin: He hath come to redeem us, And to the heavenly country hath willed to lead us back: Where the angelic powers with jubilation: Give blessing unto the Lord"
"Shining above the shepherds the angels hath proclaimed Peace, the messenger of peace; Thou O Shepherd of the Church, bestow upon us Thy peace: And Thy children of their debt to their Redeemer teach them, to sing forth in joyful thanks"
A commemoration of antiphons, versicles, and collect is made of the Blessed Virgin to "complete" the Nativity.

After Lauds the second Mass of Christmas is sung. All three Sarum Masses for Christmas are nearly identical with their Roman counterparts, except for the addition of a lesson from Isaiah before the epistle.

Second Vespers was not well attended, speculatively. The good people of Salisbury had settled their brains for a long winter's nap.


  1. Some small parts of this will be taking place in Sussex.
    Happy Christmas!

  2. A wonderful Post, The Rad Trad.

    Many thanks for this Post and all the others during The Liturgical Year.

    Christmas Blessings to you and yours.

    in Domino

  3. Secular Christmas is really not such a bad holiday as far as it goes. I'll take the "general goodwill and aimless gift-giving" of the Happy Holidays over the gluttonous comsumption of candy and the pale, sickly colors of Secular Easter.