Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

If you are looking for some spiritual edification beyond Mass, look no further. Here are the Mattins lessons for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the Introit, my favorite in the Roman rite, for the third Mass of the day. As they say in the East, "Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

From Isaiah:

1 At the first time the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephtali was lightly touched: and at the last the way of the sea beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiles was heavily loaded.
2 The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and hast not increased the joy. They shall rejoice before thee, as they that rejoice in the harvest, as conquerors rejoice after taking a prey, when they divide the spoils.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor thou hast overcome, as in the day of Median.
5 For every violent taking of spoils, with tumult, and garment mingled with blood, shall be burnt, and be fuel for the fire.
6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.
1 Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her: for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven: she hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.
3 The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.
6 The voice of one, saying: Cry. And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.
7 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen, because the spirit of the Lord hath blown upon it. Indeed the people is grass:
8 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen: but the word of our Lord endureth for ever.
1 Arise, arise, put on thy strength, O Sion, put on the garments of thy glory, O Jerusalem, the city of the Holy One: for henceforth the uncircumcised, and unclean shall no more pass through thee.
2 Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit up, O Jerusalem: loose the bonds from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion.
3 For thus saith the Lord: You were sold gratis, and you shall be redeemed without money.
4 For thus saith the Lord God: My people went down into Egypt at the beginning to sojourn there: and the Assyrian hath oppressed them without any cause at all.
5 And now what have I here, saith the Lord: for my people is taken away gratis. They that rule over them treat them unjustly, saith the Lord, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day long.
6 Therefore my people shall know my name in that day: for I myself that spoke, behold I am here.

From St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome:

Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad to-day, for today is Life's Birthday; the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

When our Lord entered the field of battle against the devil, He did so with a great and wonderful fairness. Being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight with our cruel enemy in our weak flesh. He brought against him the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin. His birth however was not a birth like other births for no other is born pure, nay, not the little child whose life endureth but a day on the earth. To His birth alone the throes of human passion had not contributed, in His alone no consequence of sin had had -part. For His Mother was chosen a Virgin of the kingly lineage of David, and when she was to grow heavy with the sacred Child, her soul had already conceived Him before her body. She knew the counsel of God announced to her by the Angel, lest the unwonted events should alarm her. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Ghost, and that her modesty was absolutely safe.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Ghost: Who, for His great love wherewith He loved us, hath had mercy on us and, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, that in Him we might be a new creature, and a new workmanship. Let us then put off the old man with his deeds (Col. iii. 9); and, having obtained a share in the Sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Learn, O Christian, how great thou art, who hast been made partaker of the Divine nature, and fall not again by corrupt conversation into the beggarly elements above which thou art lifted. Remember Whose Body it is Whereof thou art made a member, and Who is its Head. Remember that it is He That hath delivered thee from the power of darkness and hath translated thee into God's light, and God's kingdom.

From St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome:

By God's mercy we are to say three Masses to-day, so that there is not much time left for preaching; but at the same time the occasion of the Lord's Birth-day itself obliges me to speak a few words. I will first ask why, when the Lord was to be born, the world was enrolled? Was it not to herald the appearing of Him by Whom the elect are enrolled in the book of life? Whereas the Prophet saith of the reprobate Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous. Then, the Lord is born in Bethlehem. Now the name Bethlehem signifieth the House of Bread, and thus it is the birth-place of Him Who hath said, I am the Living Bread, Which came down from heaven. We see then that this name of Bethlehem was prophetically given to the place where Christ was born,.because it was there that He was to appear in the flesh by Whom the souls of the faithful are fed unto life eternal. He was born, not in His Mother's house, but away from home. And this is a mystery, showing that this our mortality into which He was born was not the home of Him Who is begotten of the Father before the worlds.

From St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan:

Behold the beginning of the Church. Christ is born, and the shepherds watch; shepherds, to gather together the scattered sheep of the Gentiles, and to lead them into the fold of Christ, that they might no longer be a prey to the ravages of spiritual wolves in the night of this world's darkness. And that shepherd is wide awake, whom the Good Shepherd stirreth up. The flock then is the people, the night is the world, and the shepherds are the Priests. And perhaps he is a shepherd to whom it is said, Be watchful and strengthen, for God hath ordained as the shepherds of His flock not Bishops only, but also Angels.

From St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Lest thou shouldest think all things mean, as thou art accustomed to think of things human, hear and digest this The Word was God. Now perhaps there will come forward some Arian unbeliever, and say that the Word of God was a creature. How can the Word of God be a creature, when it was by the Word that all creatures were made? If He be a creature, then there must have been some other Word, not a creature, by which He was made. And what Word is that? If thou sayest that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, I tell thee that God had no other, but One Only-begotten Son. But if thou say not that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, thou art forced to confess that. He by Whom all things were made was not Himself made at all. Believe the Gospel.

A Very Merry and Blessed Feast of the Nativity to All!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve: Born According to the Flesh

Nativity with Ss. Francis & Lawrence
by Caravaggio
In the year 5199th from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in the year 2959th from the flood, in the year 2015th from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510th from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses, in the year 1032nd from the anointing of David as King, in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the 194th Olympiad, in the 752nd from the foundation of the city of Rome, in the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, in the 6th age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Himself Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, being pleased to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and when nine months were passed after His conception, (all kneel down) was born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Judea made Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et salvator earum; veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expectation and Saviour of the nations! come and save us, O Lord our God! 
O Emmanuel! King of Peace! thou enterest to-day the city of thy predilection, the city in which thou hast placed thy Temple, - Jerusalem. A few years hence, and the same city will give thee thy Cross and thy Sepulchre: nay, the day will come, on which thou wilt set up thy Judgment-seat within sight of her walls. But, to-day, thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on thy road to Bethlehem. Thy Blessed Mother and Joseph, her Spouse, would not lose the opportunity of visiting the Temple, there to offer to the Lord their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last House more than of the first [Agg. ii. 10.] ; for this second Temple has now standing within it an Ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this Ark, which is Mary, there is contained the God, whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver himself is in this blessed Ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living Ark descends the steps of the Temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore thee, O Emmanuel! in this thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of thee, for thou wouldst give to thy people the certainty of thy being the Messias, by showing them, that all the marks, whereby he was to be known, are to be found in thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for thy Birth; come, then, and save us; come, that thou mayest not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us. 
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Transitional Mass (1967)

Very occasionally one can find snippets of the transitional liturgical years between the old liturgy and the novelty rite of Paul VI. As this blog has pointed out, the 1962 Missal is a definitive part of that metamorphosis, especially pertaining to the rites of Holy Week, the kalendar, and the structure of the Divine Office.

For the man in the pew, the changes seemed to have something to do with Vatican II. "The Council" met and mandated reforms and suddenly things that had been stable aspects of the Mass to laymen began to evolve by force: the orientation of the priest inverted, the vestments turned into polyester, the music followed the hippie-Protestant trends of the day, and Mrs. Johnson was required to read aloud or serve as the "narrator" of the Mass.

Above is a Mass from 1967 celebrated in then-Soviet Czechoslovakia, in a parish church in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. By 1967 the old Mass had been substantially altered both in law and spirit. Aside from the aforementioned changes, the entire Mass was de facto vernacular, the Last Gospel and Iudica me were gone, the silly play-acting offertory procession had been added, Communion lines of people putting their paws out had infiltrated most of the West, and the Mass seemed directionless.

By contrast, this Mass is positively traditional in many regards, some less obvious than others. First, the approach to the Mass does not seem to have changed as much here as it had in most of the world by this point. The celebrant retains the use of quality vestments rather than adopting the fashions of the day. The poor congregation looks on with the serious, loving, fearful faces that their parents probably wore to Mass 50 years earlier. They sing familiar hymns in vernacular throughout the Mass, as was also the case in Poland before "The Council". The peasants, living under the yoke of Soviet Union and before that under Tito, take their solace in the mystery of the Mass unfolding before them and do not take it for granted. At 7:55 a younger man with an afro seems unsure as to whether or not he ought still be in this church.

Then there is the elderly celebrant. I do not know if Czechoslovakia, like other Slavic territories, had pre-1964 traditions of celebrating the Mass with vernacular, but the priest is unphased and adopts no conversational tone or colloquial nonsense. He retains the Canon of the Mass in Latin using the old gestures. His ars celebrandi, otherwise known as due reverence, is both very unlike that of either progressive clergymen or traditionalists today. Both unrefined and deliberate, he says the Mass properly and without fuss, having done so many thousands of times before. Indeed, he moves like a person and not a robot. Interestingly, he gives the blessing after the Ite, missae est and with the Missal on the Gospel side.

This short documentary was part of a larger collection called A Day of Joy, illustrating cultural celebrations according to old and new values. The old world way of having and hearing Mass seems to betray something long missing, but hopefully returning, which is the heart, a love of the Mass when at the Mass, an appreciation of God's holy presence and a sense of duty to be there. Although perhaps a bit of romanticizing, this short reminds me of Joyce's description of the Church as "here comes everyone", which is really what the Church must be.

O Rex Gentium

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum; veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.O King of nations, and their desired One, and the corner-stone that makest both one; come and save man whom thou formedst out of slime. 
O King of Nations! thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with thee on the way. She adores thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render thee those services which are due to thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures? How will she dare to raise thee up in her arms, and press thee to her heart, and feed thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections, - the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a Creature for her God? But thou supportest her, O thou the Desired of Nations! for thou, too, longest for that happy Birth, which is to give the earth its Saviour, and to men that Corner-Stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be thou blessed for all these wonders of thy power and goodness! Come speedily, we beseech thee, come and save us, for we are dear to thee, as creatures that have been formed by thy divine hands. Yea, come, for thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take it thou again into thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love thine own work.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeterne, et sol justitiae; veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of Justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Jesus, divine Sun! thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night: blessed for ever be thy infinite goodness! But thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing thyself in all thy brightness. Thou hidest thy rays, until the time decreed by thy heavenly Father comes, in which all thy beauty will break upon the world. Thou art traversing Judea; thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the Edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that thou, O divine Orient! art so near him. They see thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is not yet born. And yet this Child is thyself, O Sun of Justice! Oh! increase our Faith, but increase, too, our Love. If these men loved thee, O Redeemer of mankind, thou wouldst give them the grace to feel thy presence; their eyes, indeed, would not yet see thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of thy creatures, we wish to keep near thee during the rest of this thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of Her that carries thee in her womb; we will not leave thee, until we arrive together with thee at Bethlehem, that House of Bread, where, at last, our eyes will see thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Friday, December 20, 2019

O Clavis David

O Clavis David et Sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit; veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel!  who openest, and no man shutteth: who shuttest, and  no man openeth; come and  lead the captive from prison,  sitting in darkness and in the  shadow of death. 
O Jesus, Son of David! heir to his throne and his power! thou art now passing over, in thy way to Bethlehem, the land that once was the kingdom of thy ancestor, but now is tributary to the Gentiles. Scarce an inch of this ground which has not witnessed the miracles of the justice and the mercy of Jehovah, thy Father, to the people of that old Covenant, which is so soon to end. Before long, when thou hast come from beneath the virginal cloud which now hides thee, thou wilt pass along this same road doing good [Acts, x. 36.], healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity [St Matth. iv. 23.], and yet having not where to lay thy head? [St. Luke, ix. 58.] Now, at least, thy Mother's womb affords thee the sweetest rest, and thou receivest from her the profoundest adoration and the tenderest love. But, dear Jesus, it is thine own blessed will that thou leave this loved abode. Thou hast, O Eternal Light, to shine in the midst of this world's darkness, this prison where the captive, whom thou art come to deliver, sits in the shadow of death. Open his prison-gates by thy all-powerful key. And who is this captive, but the human race, the slave of error and vice? Who is this Captive, but the heart of man, which is thrall to the very passions it blushes to obey? Oh! come and set at liberty the world thou hast enriched by thy grace, and the creatures whom thou hast made to be thine own Brethren.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

O Radix Iesse

O radix Jesse * qui stas in signum populórum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabúntur: veni ad liberándum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, * which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their   mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; come to deliver us, make no tarrying! 

"At length, O Son of Jesse! thou art approaching the city of thy ancestors. The Ark of the Lord has risen, and journeys, with the God that is in her, to the place of her rest. "How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince," [Cant. vii. 1.] now that thou art bringing to the cities of Juda their salvation! The Angels escort thee, thy faithful Joseph lavishes his love upon thee, heaven delights in thee, and our earth thrills with joy to bear thus upon itself its Creator and its Queen. Go forward, O Mother of God and Mother of Men! Speed thee, thou propitiatory that holdest within thee the divine Manna which gives us life! Our hearts are with thee, and count thy steps. Like thy royal ancestor David, "we will enter not into the dwelling of our house, nor go up into the bed whereon we lie, nor give sleep to our eyes, nor rest to our temples, until we have found a place in our hearts for the Lord whom thou bearest, a tabernacle for this God of Jacob." [Ps. cxxxi. 3-5.] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hid in this Ark of purity; thou wilt soon appear before thy people as the standard round which all that would conquer must rally. Then, their enemies, the Kings of the world, will be silenced, and the nations will offer thee their prayers. Hasten thy coming, dear Jesus! come and conquer all our enemies, and deliver us."
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

O Adonai

O Adonaï, et dux domus Israël, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.O Adonaï, and leader of the house of Israel! who appearedst to Moses in the fire  of the flaming bush, and gavest him the law on Sinai;  come and redeem us by thy  outstretched arm. 

O Sovereign Lord! O Adonaï! come and redeem us, not by thy power, but by thy humility. Heretofore, thou didst show thyself to Moses thy servant in the midst of a mysterious flame; thou didst give thy law to thy people amidst thunder and lightning; now, on the contrary, thou comest not to terrify, but to save us. Thy chaste Mother having heard the Emperor's edict, which obliges her and Joseph her Spouse to repair to Bethlehem, she prepares everything needed for thy divine Birth. She prepares for thee, O Sun of Justice! the humble swathing-bands, wherewith to cover thy nakedness, and protect thee, the Creator of the world, from the cold of that mid-night hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou willest to deliver us from the slavery of our pride, and show man that thy divine arm is never stronger than when he thinks it powerless and still. Everything is prepared, then, dear Jesus! thy swathing-bands are ready for thy infant limbs! Come to Bethlehem, and redeem us from the hands of our enemies. 

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things with strength and sweetness! come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Uncreated Wisdom! that art so soon to make thyself visible to thy creatures, truly thoudisposest all things. It is by thy permission, that the Emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast Empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem, for the Prophet has said of him: "His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem I art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come." [Mich. v. 2; St Matth. ii. 6.]. O divine Wisdom! how strong art thou, in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden! and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will! and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the House of Bread. In this, thou teachest us that thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, Living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to thee and be enlightened [Ps. xxxiii. 6.] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Choral Mattins & Lauds

Does anyone know of any rubrics for Roman (not Sarum, neo-Gallican, or Dominican) choral Mattins and Lauds? A inquired as to the rubrics specifically for Lauds, which is often celebrated in the same manner of Vespers when done [wrongly] as a standalone service. Is this correct?

In the French family tree of rites the hebdomadarius continues in choir dress until the Benedictus and assumes a cope. The cantors wear copes according to the color of the day to sing the responses at Mattins and the antiphons at Lauds. Is the same true of the Roman rite?

The Roman liturgical books contain very little description of the public observance of the Office, more often just the text and music. Is anyone aware either of a liturgical commentator or a rubric concerning Mattins & Lauds in the Roman rite after Trent?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A New Face on Marian Feasts

Minor and major Marian feasts proliferated after the issuance of the Tridentine Missal under Saint Pius V. The Dominican friar who became Roman Pontiff was himself a part of that expansion, publishing Quo primum tempore and his edition of the Missale Romanum in 1570 and then adding the Feast of Our Lady of Victory the very next year to commemorate the Blessed Virgin's intercession on behalf of the Christian navy at Lepanto.

Pius V's Missal and Breviary follow a very sleek, elegant version of the Roman kalendar. Did he go a step too far in stripping out medieval feasts like those of Ss. Joachim and Anne? Perhaps, but his kalendar does maintain an elegant balance of the temporal, the ferial, the Dominical, the penitential, and the festive. There is never too much or too little of anything. His kalendar retained the two major Marian feasts of the day (Annunciation and Assumption) as well as a handful of Christologically important, albeit less popular feasts (Visitation, Conception, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin). Additionally, there were two feasts commemorating Marian miracles, first Our Lady of the Snows and a year later Our Lady of Victory (the Rosary).

Consider that after these feasts, seven days plus an additional seven for the octave of the Nativity of the Virgin, took up a fraction of the entire year and yet each of them possessed a Double feast, substantial enough to supersede the Sundays per annum on which they fell, all except Annunciation and the Conception of Our Lady, since in traditional rubrics no day may supersede an Advent or Lenten Sunday.

What followed after Pius V was a long flourishing of new Marian titles, feasts, and devotions. Among them:

  • Our Lady of Lourdes
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel
  • Our Lady of Ransom
  • Immaculate Heart of Mary
  • Our Lady of Sorrows (September)
  • Our Lady of Sorrows (Passiontide)
  • Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen
  • Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Almost all of these new feasts followed the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary in both the Mass and Office, albeit with some exceptions in the orations and concessions granted to religious orders. What is strange is not the character of the new feasts, but the new face given to the older ones.

Commentary has been made on this blog of Pius XII's mutilation of some parts of the Office and of the entire Mass for the Assumption of Our Lady. Papa Pacelli discarded the entire Gaudeamus omnes Mass, replete with one of the most beautiful collects in the Roman Missal, in favor of something he had a commission create after he confirmed the teaching of the Assumption by solemn proclamation. Yes, it has a predictable Gospel and an insipid Introit melody, but there is more to Pius XII's Assumption feast, but to look at it we must first look back a century earlier.

In 1854 Pius IX, following consultation with all bishops of the Church (one of the last pontiffs so to do), taught "that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."

The Mass of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, called the Immaculate Conception before the Dominican Pope Saint Pius V, was restored to its pre-Tridentine title. The Mass itself, formerly the exact same formulary as that of the the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin only with "conception" swapped for "birthday" in the collect, was revised into the current Gaudens gaudebo Mass. The Office underwent a more modest change, retaining the psalms and hymns from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but with a notable change to the lessons. 

Traditionally, Marian feasts read from the Wisdom literature at Mattins, either Sirach, the Canticle of Canticles, or the Book of Wisdom. The revision introduced a then-novelty by reading Genesis and a Papal Bull.

The first nocturne of the Immaculate Conception reads Genesis chapter 3, recounting the Fall of Man and God's foreboding to the Serpent "I shall put enmity between you and the Woman, and her seed and yours. She shall crush your head and you shall lurk under her heel." Indeed, given the versicle at first Vespers and Lauds (v. Immaculata Conceptio est hodie Sanctae Mariae Virginis r. Quae serpentis caput virgineo pede contrivit), one might be inclined to believe Genesis was chosen simply to arrive at that last verse. 

While there is nothing inherently wrong with reading Genesis on a Marian feast and drawing to the faithful's attention the typology of between Eve and Our Lady, it is a marked departure from the Wisdom literature wherein the Blessed Virgin is said to be considered part of God's plan from the beginning and one who rests in His dwelling place. The luscious Mattins for the Assumption begin with sensual undertones ("thy breasts are sweeter than wine"), comparing the Virgin's intimacy with God to that of a man and woman in the act. In this Genesis reading, without the broader context provided by the older liturgical texts, Our Lady almost seems a standalone figure, a tool of God much like a prophet or soldier crushing evil on her own accord rather than due to her maternal bond to the Godhead.

The second nocturne of the Immaculate Conception introduces another peculiarity at the time, namely the reading of papal documents as liturgical texts. The sermons of Ss. Leo and Gregory the Great figure prominently in the Mattins lessons throughout the year, but they are mainly in the liturgy for their exegesis on the Gospels of the day and the memorable sanctity of the men themselves rather than because they were popes of Rome. Pius IX's declaration of the dogma in the Vatican basilica forms the sixth lesson in the Mattins of the feast. It reads much like the hagiographies of the sanctoral feasts, recounting the events in a praiseworthy and straightforward manner. 

Pius IX also turned the Immaculate Conception into an octave. Whereas Genesis was read at Mattins of the feast day itself, the occurring Scripture is read instead throughout the octave. However, the second nocturne is occupied with excerpts of Ineffabilis Deus. Readers with more resources are open to correct me, but this appears to be the first time papal documents were read as liturgical, prayerful texts simply because they came from the Roman Pontiff. The texts allude to the consultation of the bishops, the preface of the Mass of the day, the Roman Church's unique devotion to Our Lady, the the Pontiffs' efforts to guard the Virgin's reputation from the assaults of heretics. It is stuff worth reading, but only a Marian feast would one not prefer to read about Mary?

In a case of strange bed fellows—Pius IX a liberal turned arch-reactionary and Pius XII an outward conservative with a liberal demeanor—Papa Pacelli repeated many of his predecessor's steps in re-crafting the Office of a feast, in this case that of the Assumption. The first nocturne of the older feast, again, read the exotic words from Wisdom literature and spoke of Our Lady's intimacy with God. The second nocturne, from Saint Athanasius in the Tridentine books and Saint John Damascene in post-Tridentine editions, recounts the handing down of the tradition of the Assumption and what exactly transpired with the Apostles, the singing of the angels, and the finding of Our Lady's belt. 

"They cut me off!"
Pius XII once again removed the Wisdom texts and substituted Genesis, although unlike Pius IX he only used the snippet with the familiar "I will put enmity between you and the Woman" rather than the entire thing. Awkwardly, the text then switches the passage about the General Resurrection from Corinthians read at Requiem Masses.

Two of the three texts from Saint John of Damascus remain in the second nocturne, but the third lesson is excised in favor of a description of the events surrounding Pius XII's dogmatic definition of an already clear teaching. Pius XII eliminated the octave of the Assumption, along with that of the Immaculate Conception and most others in the Roman kalendar, four years later, meaning the rich texts of Saint John describing the tradition of the Assumption and the actual events themselves, read later in the octave, never appear. Whereas in 1949 a priest would in fact read about the entire event of the Assumption, a priest in 1959 could go the entire liturgical year and never encounter a description of the Assumption, just Pius XII's word that it happened. In liturgically solemnizing the doctrine he eliminated the liturgical evidence for it, contrary to Pius IX who at least expanded the liturgical tradition around the Immaculate Conception.

Pius IX's changes to the Office are noticeable, but hardly jarring. They did set a precedent followed a century later by another Pius. In both cases texts from Genesis are adapted to the feast giving the Blessed Virgin a character unique from the texts previously read on those days and still read on other Marian days. The result is an aesthetic not necessarily at odds with a traditional of Mary, but distinct from the received liturgical outlook.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Resurrection: An Overlooked Advent Doctrine

We lament the rejection of many Church doctrines. The Canadian bishops de facto denied a traceable nineteen century long position on procreation in 1968. South American bishops recently ignored all received understanding of the diaconate and a study this year underlined that most American Catholics do not knowingly accept the teaching of Transubstantiation. Denials abound in our secular age.

What, however, of a doctrine that is not so much denied as much as it is forgotten and overlooked? That of the General Resurrection.

The last Sunday after Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent, the end and beginning of the liturgical year, jointly consider this teaching. The former reads the Gospel of the Abomination of Desolation, the trials that will arise when the End is nigh. Last Sunday compliments that text with Luke 21, telling of the suddenness and fully visible return of Christ which no one shall miss.

Why, then, do we speak so often now of "going to heaven" as the end goal? Is not the real goal to "save one's soul"?

I have always liked Saint Thomas's definition of the soul as the "form" of the human being rather than as a phantom third aspect of the person, in addition to body and mind, hiding in the pituitary gland as some Baroque figures believed. The soul is the potential behind every act and is yet tied to the body which shall rise again and be judged on the Last Day.

We are sheepish about the idea of the General Resurrection if only because of the joint fear of Evangelical Protestants who always think the end if nigh and secularists who could tolerate us privately to think God exists, but refuse to let us adumbrate our nonsense over the rest of society. It has been conditioned out of us.

The earliest Christians believed the End was near, but then the Roman world converted. During the Reformation, both sides entertained apocalyptic ideas—the orthodox because of the collapse of Christianity and heretics because they viewed the Church as having defected from near the start. American fundamentalists have predicted doom since the '70s while those who read too much about Pope Francis start to plot their own End Times timeline. It all seems too much to handle, but do any of these, aside from Saint Paul's letters to the Christian communities in his care, really consider the General Resurrection?

The General Resurrection became a popular trope of art in the 12th-15th centuries, often in altar pieces and reredros hangings more than stand alone paintings. Why, in an age of the Latin Church triumphant and generally safe from outsiders, did the Last Judgement and the General Resurrection figure so prominently? Perhaps for that very reason. Christian life was simply life, a tangible, fleshly, real fact much like Christ's return in the flesh and our own rising up in the flesh. It was not a furtive struggle, as it was for those avoiding Diocletian, nor a private idea, as it is for us today. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the hymn Dies irae originated during that time as the sequence for Advent long before it migrated to the Reqiuem Mass.