Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Special Antiphons for the Baptism of the Lord

In the Tridentine Missal, the Mass of the Octave of the Epiphany is the same as that of the feast itself, except for the Gospel, John 1, 29-34, and the three prayers. In the Office, the lessons of the second and third nocturns are proper to the Octave day, but the rest is repeated as on the days within the Octave, with the same antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus as on the feast day.

In regard to the Office, this represents a significant change from the late medieval Breviary of the Roman Curia, upon which that of St Pius V is based. The former had a complete set of proper antiphons for the day, which date back to the Carolingian period, and focus on the event recounted in the Gospel, the Baptism of the Lord. The vast majority of medieval liturgical Uses sing some of these with the psalms and canticles of Lauds and Vespers, but the Roman Use is atypical in having them also for the psalms of Matins, which are different from the psalms of January 6th.

Their complete removal from the Roman Breviary is something highly unusual, since the Tridentine reform was in most respects extremely conservative, and nowhere more so than in the repertoire of proper musical pieces like antiphons. Although I have never seen this written down anywhere, I suspect that the reason for this was that they are obviously inspired by liturgical texts of the Byzantine Rite, and were therefore regarded as not authentically Roman. They continued to be sung in many other Uses, such as those of the Dominicans, Cistercians and Old Observance Carmelites, none of which, however, have the nine antiphons of Matins.

Russian icon of the Baptism of Christ, 15th century, school of Andrej Rubliev 
Here I give the Latin text of each, along with my own translation, and indications of their position in the liturgy.

First Vespers
At the Magnificat Descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba in ipsum, et vox de caelo facta est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, alleluja. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him with a bodily appearance as of a dove, and a voice came forth from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, alleluia.”

Matins, First Nocturn
Aña 1 Veterem hominem renovans, Salvator venit ad baptismum: ut naturam, quae corrupta erat, per aquam recuperaret, incorruptibili veste circumamictans nos. (Psalm 8) - Renewing the old man, the Savior came to baptism, that through water He might restore the nature that was corrupted, clothing us around with an incorruptible garment.
Aña 2 Te, qui in Spiritu et igne purificas humana contagia, Deum ac Redemptorem omnes glorificamus. (Psalm 18) - We all glorify Thee as God and our Redeemer, who in the Spirit and in fire purify the immorality of man.
Aña 3 Caput draconis Salvator contrivit in Jordanis flumine, et ab ejus potestate omnes eripuit. (pPsalm 23) - The Savior crushed down the head of the dragon in the river Jordan, and delivered all from his power. (These first three psalms are the same in the first nocturn of the Offices of the Virgin Mary, and were probably chosen as a reference to the Incarnation.)

Second Nocturn
Aña 4 Baptista contremuit, et non audet tangere sanctum Dei verticem; sed clamat cum tremore: Sanctifica me, Salvator. (Psalm 28) - The Baptist trembled, and dared not touch God’s holy head; but cried out with dread: Sanctify me, o Savior.
Aña 5 Magnum mysterium declaratur hodie, quia Creator omnium in Jordane expurgat nostra facinora. (Psalm 41) - A great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all things in the Jordan purgeth our crimes.
Aña 6 Aqua comburit peccatum, hodie apparens liberator, et rorat omnem mundum divinitatis ope. (Psalm 45) - The water burneth sin, as our Deliverer appeareth, and falls like dew upon the whole world with the richness of divinity. (The first and third psalms of this nocturn are repeated from Epiphany; the second, the famous Sicut cervus, has been associated with baptismal rites from the most ancient times.)

Third Nocturn
Aña 7 Pater de caelis Filium testificatur; Spiritus Sancti praesentia advenit, unum edocens qui baptizatur Christus. (Psalm 71) - The Father from the heavens beareth witness to the Son; the presence of the Holy Spirit cometh, showing us the one who is baptized, Christ.
Aña 8 Peccati aculeus conteritur hodie, baptizato Domino, et nobis donata est regeneratio. (Psalm 76) - The sting of sin is blunted today, as the Lord is baptized, and regeneration is granted to us.
Aña 9 Baptizatur Christus, et sanctificatur omnis mundus, et tribuit nobis remissionem peccatorum; aqua et Spiritu omnes purificamur. (Psalm 97) - Christ is baptized, and all the world is sanctified, and He granteth to us remission of sins; by water and the Spirit we are all purified. (The first psalm of this nocturn is repeated from both Christmas and Epiphany; the second is chosen for the words “The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee: and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled.” The third has a prominent place in the Office of Christmas because of the words that form its antiphon on that feast “God hath made known, alleluia, His salvation, alleluia.” In the longer Monastic Office, it is sung on both Christmas and Epiphany with this same antiphon.)

The Baptism of Christ by Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, 1305
At the Psalms of Lauds (repeated at the minor Hours and at Vespers)
Aña 1 Baptizat miles Regem, servus Dominum suum, Joannes Salvatorem: aqua Jordanis stupuit, columba protestatur: paterna vox audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus. - The soldier baptizeth the King, the servant his Lord, John the Savior; the water of the Jordan is astounded, the dove beareth witness; the voice of the Father is heard, “This is my beloved Son.”
Aña 2 Caeli aperti sunt super eum, et vox facta est de caelo dicens: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui. - The heavens were opened up above Him, and a voice came forth from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Aña 3 Christo datus est principatus, et honor regni; omnis populus, tribus et linguae servient ei in aeternum. - To Christ is given the rule and honor of the kingdom; every people and tribe and toungue shall serve Him forever.
Aña 4 Fontes aquarum sanctificati sunt, Christo apparente in gloria orbi terrarum: haurite aquas de fontibus Salvatoris: sanctificavit enim nunc omnem creaturam Christus Deus noster. - The fountains of the waters were sanctified, as Christ appeared in glory to the world; draw ye water from the fountains of the Savior, for now Christ our God hath sanctified every creature.
Aña 5 Vox de caelo sonuit, et vox Patris audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui; ipsum audite. - A voice sounded forth from heaven, and the voice of the Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.”

At the Benedictus Præcursor Joannes exsultat, cum in Jordane baptizato Domino, facta est orbis terrarum exsultatio: facta est peccatorum nostrorum remissio. Sanctificans aquas, ipsi omnes clamemus, miserere nobis. - John the Forerunner exsulteth when, as the Lord was baptized in the Jordan, rejoicing was given to the world, and forgiveness of our sins. Let us all cry unto Him, “O Thou that sanctifiest the waters, have mercy on us.”

Second Vespers
At the Magnificat Super ripam Jordanis stabat beatus Joannes, indutus est splendore baptizans Salvatorem. Baptiza me, Joannes, baptiza, et tu, Jordanis, congaudens suscipe me. - On Jordan’s bank the blessed John stood, and was clothed in splendor as he baptized the Savior. Baptize thou Me, o John, baptize; and thou, o Jordan, rejoicing with him receive Me.
Many medieval Missals (for example, that of the Sarum Use) have a special Epistle for the Octave of Epiphany, a cento of verses from the Prophet Isaiah which follows the text of the Septuagint and the Old Latin, rather than that of the Vulgate, except for the part between the two red stars.

Isa. 25, 1 “Domine Deus meus, honorificabo te, laudem tribuam nomini tuo, qui facis mirabiles res. Consilium tuum antiquum verum fiat. 26, 11 Domine, excelsum est brachium tuum, 28, 5 Deus Sabaoth, corona spei quae ornata est gloria. 35, 1 Exultet desertum, et exultent solitudines Jordanis, 2 et populus meus videbit altitudinem Domini et majestatem Dei, 10 et erit congregatus et redemptus per Deum. Et veniet in Sion cum gaudio et laetitia sempiterna: super caput ejus laus et exultatio. 41, 18 Et aperiam in montibus flumina, in mediis campis fontes dirumpam, et terram sitientem sine aqua infundam. 52, 13 Ecce puer meus * exaltabitur, et elevabitur et sublimis erit valde. 12, 3 Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus Salvatoris, et dicetis in illa die: 4 Confitemini Domino, et invocate nomen ejus, notas facite in populis * virtutes ejus; 5 cantate Domino, quia mirabilia fecit, annuntiate haec in universa terra: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
The reading from Isaiah for the octave of Epiphany in the 1502 Missal of the Use of Prague. The Gospel, Matthew 3, 13-17, is also different, a common medieval variant.
O Lord, my God, I will honor Thee, I will give praise to Thy name, who dost wonderous deeds. Let Thy ancient council come true. O Lord, high is Thy arm (i.e. might), o God of hosts, cornw of hope that is adorned with glory. Let the desert exult, and the wildernesses of Jordan, and my people shall see the height of the Lord and the majesty of God, and will be gathered and redeemed by God. And they will come to Sion with joy and everlasting happiness; upon their heads will be praise and exultation. And I will open up the rivers in the mountains, and break open the fountains in the midst of the fields, and pour it upon the thirsting land without water. Behold my servant shall be exalted, and raised up, and shall be exceedingly lofty. Ye shall draw waters in joy from the fountains of the Savior, and say on that day, ‘Praise ye the Lord, and call upon His name, make known among the peoples His might deeds; sing to the Lord, for He hath done wonders, proclaim these things in all the earth’: saith the Lord almighty.”
This may also have been inspired by a ceremony of the Byzantine Rite, the great blessing of the water on Epiphany, at which are read three prophecies from Isaiah, an Epistle and a Gospel; the first and third of the prophecies, Isa. 35, 1-10 and 12, 3-6, partly coincide with this Roman Epistle.
Our friend William Durandus has this to say about these features of the liturgy of the octave of Epiphany. (Rat. Div. Off. VI, 17)
“On the octave of the Epiphany, all the chants and the reading from Isaiah… treat of baptism, whence it is said “Let the wildernesses of the Jordan exult”, because in the Jordan, the Lord conferred a certain regenerative power on the waters by instituting baptism, and because the nations, which previously were formerly, so to speak, far from God in the wilderness of the desert, return to Him. The octave is therefore a compliment to the Epiphany itself… since on the feast we recall that Christ was baptized, and on the octave, the antiphons of that day show us for what purpose He was baptized. …
The first page of the proper antiphons for the octave of the Epiphany in an antiphonary made for the Abbey of St Denys outside Paris, 1140-60. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 17296; folio 50r)
The antiphons are in the seventh tone, because they pertain to baptism, in which the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit is at work, and there are nine of them, since it is though the door of baptism that we shall come to the company of the nine orders of angels. … And the Invitatory is sung on this day (although it is omitted on the feast itself) because men are invited and come to baptism at the preaching of the Apostles.”

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: