Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Passiontide in Other Western Rites

Two years ago, I wrote an article about the Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent, the last day before Passiontide begins, in which I noted that the custom of joining the last two weeks of Lent as a liturgical period distinct from the rest of the season is unique to the Roman Rite, and that “the specific … character of this period is older than its formal nomenclature.” Even though Passion Sunday is called “the Fifth Sunday of Lent” in the very oldest Roman liturgical books, there is a nevertheless a significant shift in the tenor of the liturgy that begins on that day, and it was this shift in tenor that led to the change of name before the end of the 9th century. Where the Scriptural lessons at Mass during the first four weeks focus very much on Lenten penance and preparation for baptism at the Easter vigil, those of the last two weeks are centered much more on the Lord’s Passion. The very first reading of Passiontide, Hebrews 9, 11-15, speaks of the blood of Christ that “cleanse(s our) conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The Gradual that follows it is one of many texts that speak in the person of the Lord in the midst of His sufferings, “Deliver me, o Lord, from my enemies.”
In the Divine Office, the hymns of the Passion, Vexilla Regis at Vespers and Pange lingua in two parts, one at Matins and one at Lauds, are said until the Triduum, in which no hymns are used. In the first part of Lent, the Scriptural readings of Matins continue from the Pentateuch, which had begun on Septuagesima, and the responsories of that period are taken from the same books. On Passion Sunday, they switch to the prophet Jeremiah, whose tribulations are taken as a prefiguration of the Lord’s. The responsories of Passiontide, however, are mostly taken from the Psalms, and also speak in the person of the suffering Lord.
There is one very notable exception to this, the very first responsory in the series, which is based on Leviticus 23, 5-6.
R. Isti sunt dies, quos observáre debétis tempóribus suis: * Quartadécima die ad vésperum Pascha Dómini est: et in quintadécima solemnitátem celebrábitis altíssimo Dómino. V. Locútus est Dóminus ad Móysen, dicens: Lóquere filiis Israël, et dices ad eos. Quartadécima die…
R. These are the days which ye must observe in their seasons: * on the fourteenth day at evening is the Passover of the Lord, and on the fifteenth day ye shall celebrate a solemnity unto the Lord Most High. V. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them. On the fourteenth day…
Normally, the responsories of Sunday are repeated in order during the week, but this one is, for obvious reasons related to the text, said only on Passion Sunday itself.
As I have noted elsewhere, the Mass of the Easter vigil is NOT a first Mass of the solemnity of Easter, but rather a keeping watch for the Resurrection, which is marked by its incomplete character; it has no Introit, no Offertory, no Agnus Dei, the Creed is not said, and the Peace is not given. This is the rite of the “fourteenth day at evening”, the proper time for the Easter vigil, the beginning, but not the fulfillment, of “the Passover of the Lord.” It is on the fifteenth day, Easter Sunday, that the Resurrection is celebrated with the fullness of “a solemnity.”
This same division between Lent and Passiontide is also found in the Ambrosian Rite, and although it is in some respects less pronounced, it is nevertheless very real. The Ambrosian Rite never adopted the term “Passiontide”, and continued to call this past Sunday “the Fifth Sunday of Lent.” In the Divine Office, the Lenten hymns Audi, benigne Conditor and Ex more docti mystico are sung at Lauds and Vespers respectively during the week. (The hymn of Matins is invariable.)
However, the very long Offertory chant on Sunday, which is also used in a shorter form on the following four days, contains the same text from Leviticus 23 as the Roman responsory cited above.
Offertorium Haec dicit Dóminus: Erit vobis sábbatum venerábile, et vocábitur sanctum; et offerétis ad vésperum holocaustómata vestra: quia in die illa propitiábitur vobis Salvátor vester.
V. I Locútus est Móyses filiis Israel, dicens: Quartodécimo die ad vésperum Pascha Dómini est, et in quintodécimo sollemnitátem celebrábitis altíssimo Deo: quia in die illa propitiábitur vobis Salvator vester.
V. II In die octávo ventúro súmite vobis ramos palmárum, et secundum legem, quam praecépi vobis, sollemnitátem celebrábitis altíssimo Deo: quia in die illa propitiábitur vobis Salvator vester.
Offertory Thus saith the Lord, “The Sabbath shall be venerable unto you, and will be called holy, and ye shall offer in the evening your holocausts: for on that day your Savior shall be merciful to you.”
V. I Moses spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “On the fourteenth day at evening is the Passover of the Lord, and on the fifteenth day ye shall celebrate a solemnity unto God Most High. For on that day your Savior shall be merciful to you.
V. II “On the eighth day to come, take ye up branches of palms, and according to the law which I have commanded you, ye shall celebrate a solemnity unto God Most High. For on that day your Savior shall be merciful to you.”
The words “the Sabbath shall be venerable unto you” refer to a very ancient custom which has been preserved in the Ambrosian Rite to this very day. As my colleague Nicola de’ Grandi has explained, the Saturdays of Lent are all dedicated to the rites by which the catechumens are prepared to receive Baptism at the Easter vigil. The last of these, the day before Palm Sunday, is called “in traditione symboli – at the handing-over of the Creed”, when the catechumens were taught the Creed which they would have to recite at the Easter vigil. The words of the second verse refer of course to Palm Sunday, and are omitted during the week.
At the ferial Masses of the first four weeks of Lent, the Ambrosian Rite reads the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of St Matthew, as instruction to the catechumens. On the ferias after the fifth Sunday, however, the focus of the Gospel readings shifts just as it does in the Roman Rite, and looks forward to the Passion.
Monday, Marc. 8, 27-33: “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the ancients and by the high priests, and the scribes, and be killed: and after three days rise again.”
Tuesday, John 6, 64-72: “Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a devil? Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about to betray him.”
Wednesday, Luc. 18, 31-34: “all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man. For he shall be delivered to the gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon: And … they will put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again.”
Thursday, John 7, 43-53: “There arose a dissension among the people because of Jesus. And some of them would have apprehended him: but no man laid hands on him.” (The Fridays of Lent are aliturgical in the Ambrosian Rite, and therefore have no Gospels.)
These readings belong to the very oldest layer of the Ambrosian tradition, before the extensive Romanization of the rite which took place in the Carolingian era. We may therefore fairly say that the Ambrosian “Passiontide” is just as ancient as the Roman one, despite the lack of a formal terminology marking it as such.
The same custom is also found in the Mozarabic Rite; on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Sacrificium (the equivalent of the Roman Offertory), is in part very similar to the Roman responsory cited above, and in part to the Ambrosian Offertory.
Sacrificium Isti sunt dies, quos debétis custodíre tempóribus suis: * Quartadécima die ad vésperum Pascha Dómini est: et in quintadécima solemnitátem celebrábitis altíssimo Deo vestro. V. Locútus est Móyses filiis Israel, dicens: In die octávo ventúro súmite vobis ramos palmárum, et exsultáte in conspectu Dómini, et secundum legem, quod (sic) vobis praecépi, sollemnitátem celebrábitis altíssimo altíssimo Deo vestro.
Sacrificium These are the days which ye must keep in their seasons: * on the fourteenth day at evening is the Passover of the Lord, and on the fifteenth day ye shall celebrate a solemnity unto your God, the Most High. V. Moses spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “On the eighth day to come, take ye up branches of palms, exult in the sight of the Lord, and according to the law which I have commanded you, ye shall celebrate a solemnity unto unto your God, the Most High.”

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