Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Feast of St Nicholas 2015

A 16th-century Russian Icon of St Nicholas, from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg
Many of the proper Offices commonly used in the Middle Ages make an addition to the last responsory of Matins called a Prose (“Prosa” in Latin, sometimes also “Prosula”), an interpolation which often begins and ends with the same words as the repeating part of the responsory. It is similar to the Sequence of the Mass, and in fact, “Prosa” or “Prosula” was often used in medieval Missals instead of “Sequentia.” Some of them were inordinately long; I have heard one for the Office of Christmas which extends the responsory to about 15 minutes. They were suppressed in the Tridentine reform, with a single exception, “Inviolata,” which is found in many editions of the Liber Usualis and other chant collections; this was kept by the Dominicans on the Purification, and by the Premonstratensians in their Little Office of the Virgin. In the commonly used medieval Office of St Nicholas, the ninth responsory includes a fairly short prose, as heard in the following recording. Below is a longer version, in which part of the responsory is repeated several times, extending it to over 13 minutes.

R. Ex ejus tumba marmorea sacrum resudat oleum; quo liniti, sanantur caeci, * surdis auditus redditur, et debilis quisque sospes regreditur.
V. Catervatim ruunt populi, cernere cupientes quae per eum fiunt mirabilia. Surdis auditus redditur, et debilis quisque sospes regreditur.
Sospitati reddit aegros olei perfusio.
Nicolaus naufragantum affuit praesidio.
Revelavit a defunctis defunctum in bivio.
Baptizatur auri viso Judaeus indicio.
O quam probat sanctum Dei farris augmentatio!
Vas in mare mersum, patri redditur cum filio.
Ergo laudes Nicolao concinat haec concio.
Nam qui corde poscit illum, expulsato vitio,
Sospes regreditur.
Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Et debilis quisque sospes regreditur.

R. From his marble tomb comes forth a sacred oil; and when they are anointed with it, the blind are healed, * hearing is given back to the deaf, and every lame man walks away healthy.
V. In crowds the people rush, wishing to see the wonders that take place through him. Hearing is given back to the deaf, and every lame man walks away healthy.
The pouring of the oil brings the sick back to health.
Nicholas was present as to help to sailors risking shipwreck.
At a crossroad, he raised a dead man from the dead.
A Jew is baptized when he sees the miracle of the gold.
Oh how the multiplication of grain proves God’s Saint.
A vessel sunk into the sea is given back to a father with his son.
Therefore, let this assembly sing praises to Nicholas,
For he that seeks him in his heart, vice being driven away,
walks away healthy.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
And every lame man walks away healthy.

The reference to the baptism of a Jew “when he sees the miracle of the gold” is one of the less known posthumous miracles of St Nicholas. The story is told in the Golden Legend of Bl Jacopo de Vorgine that a man who had borrowed a sum of money from a Jew tried to cheat him by claiming falsely that he had already repaid it. Going to court, he filled his hollowed out walking-staff with small pieces of gold, to a value greater than what he owed, and then handed the staff to the Jew to hold for him, while he solemnly (and in a certain sense, truthfully) swore his oath that he had given him what he owed and more. While returning from court, however, the cheat was run over by a chariot at a crossroads and killed, and his staff broken, revealing the fraud. When it was suggested to the Jew that he reclaim his money, he refused “unless the dead man should return to life by the merits of the blessed Nicholas,” which did indeed happen, leading to his conversion and baptism.

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