Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Ember Saturday of Lent at Sarum and St Peter’s

In the Roman Missal, the fifth prophecy is the same on all four of the Saturday Ember Days, Daniel 3, 47-51, with a few of the verses re-ordered. The words that follow in the Biblical text (verses 52-57) are sung as a canticle, according to a very beautiful melody. This canticle is one of the oldest pieces in the repertoire of Gregorian chant; the text follows the so-called Old Latin translation of the Bible which was used before St Jerome’s Vulgate, and contains several more verses than are found in the Vulgate version. In the Roman Use, the canticle is sung on the Ember Saturdays of Advent, Lent and September, but supplanted by a very short Alleluja on the Ember Saturday of Pentecost week.

The Sarum Use arranges both the reading and the canticle that follows differently on each of the four Ember Days. In Advent, it is basically the same as the Roman, with a few small variants. In Lent, on the other hand, the words of the Roman canticle are sung as part of the Lesson; the canticle of Sunday Lauds, the Benedicite (Daniel 3, 57-88) is then sung in a special arrangement, alternating between two cantors who sing the verses, and the choir singing the response.

The Lesson
The Angel of the Lord went down with Azariah and his companions into the furnace, and he drove the flame of the fire out of the furnace, and made the midst of the furnace like the blowing of a wind bringing dew. And the flame mounted up above the furnace nine and forty cubits, and burnt such of the Chaldeans as it found near the furnace, the ministers of the king who kindled the fire. And the fire touched them not at all, nor troubled them, nor did them any harm. Then these three as with one mouth praised, and glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying: (Here Sarum continues to read as part of the Lesson the words which are sung as the Canticle in the Roman Use.) Blessed art thou, O Lord the God of our fathers: and worthy to be praised, and glorified, and exalted above all for ever: and blessed is the name of thy glory, which is holy: and worthy to be praised, and exalted above all in all ages. Blessed art thou in the holy temple of thy glory: and exceedingly to be praised, and exceeding glorious for ever. Blessed art thou on the throne of thy kingdom, and exceedingly to be praised, and exalted above all for ever. (Here 3 verses are added from the old Latin text.) Blessed art thou upon the scepter of thy divinity: and exceedingly to be praised, and exceeding glorious for ever. Blessed art thou, that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and worthy to be praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou, who walkest upon the wings of the winds, and upon the waves of the sea: and worthy to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
Here the canticle begins, alternating between two cantors and the choir.
V. Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven, and praiseworthy and glorious forever. R. Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven, and praiseworthy and glorious forever.
V. All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord. O ye heavens, bless the Lord. O ye angels of the Lord, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye a hymn, and exalt him above all for ever. (This response is repeated by the choir after each verse.)
V. O all ye waters that are above the heavens, bless the Lord. O all ye powers of the Lord, bless the Lord. O ye sun and moon, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O all ye waters that are above the heavens, bless the Lord. O all ye powers of the Lord, bless the Lord. O ye sun and moon, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O ye stars of heaven, bless the Lord. O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord. O all ye spirits of God, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O ye fire and heat, bless the Lord. O ye nights and days, bless the Lord. O ye darkness and light, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O ye cold and heat, bless the Lord. O ye frost and snows, bless the Lord. O ye lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O let the earth bless the Lord. O all ye mountains and hills, bless the Lord. O ye that are born of the earth, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O all ye seas and rivers, bless the Lord. O ye fountains, bless the Lord. O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O all ye fowls of the air, bless the Lord. O ye beasts and cattle, bless the Lord. O ye sons of men, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O let Israel bless the Lord. O ye priests of the Lord, bless the Lord. O servants of the Lord, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
V. O spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord. O ye holy and humble of heart, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye.
V. O Ananiah, Azariah, Misael, bless the Lord. R. Sing ye...
The Cantors repeat the beginning: Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven. and the choir finishes: And praiseworthy and glorious forever.

O ye holy and humble of heart, bless the Lord!
When the Lenten station is held at St Peter’s Basilica, on Ember Saturday and Passion Sunday, the Papal altar is decorated with relics according to a particular arrangement. The relics of martyrs are placed closer to the edge of the mensa, and those of other Saints further in; the four corners are decorated with reliquaries shaped like obelisks, with long bones (tibias and such) in them. On each of the two short sides of the altar is set a rectangular panel containing relics of 35 Popes, between them, all of the Sainted Popes except the most recent.
On the long side facing the apse, a bust reliquary of Pope St Damasus I (366-84, feast on December 11), containing the relics of his skull, is placed in the middle. This is a particularly appropriate choice, since Damasus was a great promoter of devotion to the saints and the cult of the relics, particularly those of the Roman martyrs. Within many catacombs, he rearranged the spaces around the tombs of the martyrs to make it easier for pilgrims to find and visit them, decorating the tombs themselves with elaborately carved inscriptions written by himself in classical poetic meter. For this reason, he is honored as the patron Saint of archeologists.

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