Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Orations of Low Sunday

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, ca. 1602
Lost in Translation #47

Nobody likes it when a good party is over, even when the party stretches out for a remarkable eight days. But all good things (this side of the grave) must come to an end, and so the orations for the Sunday after Easter, which concludes a glorious octave, beg for a way for the joys of the Resurrection to continue even though the main celebration has come to a close.

The Secret for Low Sunday is:
Súscipe múnera, Dómine, quáesumus, exsultántis Ecclésiæ: et cui causam tanti gáudii præstitísti, perpétuæ fructum concéde lætítiæ. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Receive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the offerings of Thy exultant Church, and grant to her, to whom Thou hast given cause for such great joy, the fruit of perpetual gladness. Through our Lord.
Similarly, the Postcommunion Prayer is:
Quáesumus, Dómine Deus noster: ut sacrosáncta mystéria, quæ pro reparatiónis nostræ munímine contulísti; et præsens nobis remédium esse fácias, et futúrum. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
We beseech Thee, O Lord our God, to make the sacrosanct mysteries, which Thou hast bestowed as a fortification of our reparation, a remedy for us both now and in the future. Through our Lord.
"Sacrosanct" is the perfect word for the mysteries (i.e. sacraments) that God has bestowed upon us, for they are both "sacred"--set apart for divine use--and "holy" (sanctus)--infused with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of our reparation is, I suspect, Baptism, which repairs our relationship with God and which the neophytes received last week during the Easter Vigil. But the sacrament that fortifies our repaired life is the Eucharist, which we have just received at this point in the Mass.
It is the Collect that I find particularly fetching:
Præsta, quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut, qui paschália festa perégimus; hæc, te largiénte, móribus et vita teneámus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who have finished the Paschal feasts may, by Thy bounty, hold onto them in our practices and in our life. Through our Lord.
"Ago" is the Latin verb for doing or making, and "per-ago" (which I have translated as "have finished") is the verb for thoroughly doing, for carrying an action through to its end. We will, of course, continue to celebrate the Easter season all the way up to Pentecost, but on this Octave Sunday we complete the celebration of Easter Day.
The petition of the Collect subtly traces a movement from outer to inner. The external observance of ritual and ceremony (the "Paschal feasts") condition our other "practices" or habits outside the liturgy. These habits, in turn, become so internalized that they reconstitute our very "life," changing our character and our destiny. In some respects, the Collect reflects the moral anthropology of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics but with one key difference: the movement from outer observance to inner transformation cannot succeed without God's bounty. Te largiente literally means "with You giving lavishly." God not only has to give, but He has to give lavishly, to make the joys of Easter stick to our being and change them forever. So please, God: give lavishly.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Tenebrae 2021 Photopost (Part 1)

One of the many enouraging signs of the slow-but-steady growth of interest in the recovery of our Catholic liturgical tradition is the increasing number of churches that do Tenebrae services during the Sacred Triduum. In 2015, the year I took over as managing editor of NLM, and in the three years after that, we had only one photopost for Tenebrae; in 2019, we got up to two, and after last year's interruption, we will have two again this year. There is always room for more, so feel free to send in photos of any part of the Triduum or Easter to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org, remembering to include the name and location of the church.

Notre Dame de Lourdes – Libreville, Gabon (ICRSP)
Nossa Senhora do Pilar – São João Del Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The Easter Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes

Christ Appearing as a Gardener to Mary Magdalene, by Rembrandt (1638)
Lost in Translation #46

Today we take a detour from the Roman orations to bid a sweet farewell to one of the few surviving sequences in the 1962 and 1970 Roman Missals. Victimae Paschali Laudes has been recited or sung every day in Mass since Easter Sunday, but after tomorrow, we will have to wait another year to hear it in the liturgy.

This glorious composition of the eleventh century has been attributed to Notker Balbulus, King Robert II of France, and Adam of St Victor, but its most likely author is Wipo of Burgundy, a chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. The sequence appeared in various medieval Missals, where it was assigned to different days within the Octave of Easter. The 1570 Roman Missal requires its use from Easter Sunday through Easter Saturday.
I include a literal translation alongside the text, followed by my commentary.
Víctimae Pascháli laudes
ímmolent Christiáni.
Agnus redémit oves:
Christus ínnocens Patri
reconciliávit peccatóres.
Let Christians sacrifice praise
To the Paschal Victim.
The Lamb has redeemed the sheep!
Christ, who is innocent,
   has reconciled sinners
To the Father.
The first two stanzas abound in paradox, which is fitting for a season that celebrates Christ destroying our death by dying, and restoring our life by rising. (See the Preface for Easter). The first sentence is even stronger in the Latin: immolare also means to slay or to shed blood ritually. The verb connotes the Hebrew Passover’s bloody sacrifice of a lamb, and ties into the depiction of Christ as the Paschal (i.e., Passover) Victim and Lamb, which is the dominant theme of the Easter Sunday Mass; the statement “Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus – Christ our Pasch is sacrificed” appears in the Epistle, Alleluia, Preface, and Communion Verse. As the verse for the Alleluia, it creates a fitting transition to the Sequence: while the Alleluia proclaims that Christ our Pasch is sacrificed, the Sequence “answers” that Christians should [therefore] offer sacrifice to the Paschal Victim.
Mors et vita duello
conflixére mirando:
Dux vitae mórtuus
regnat vivus.
Death and Life clashed
In a spectacular battle:
The Commander of life, having died,
Reigns alive.
The second stanza summarizes a fortnight of violent imagery in the liturgy. Ever since Passion Sunday, the traditional Roman Rite has included readings and other propers recounting or alluding to the increasing hatred against Jesus Christ and the rising conflict between Him and His enemies. Yes, the Passion of the Christ is like that of a lamb who opened not his mouth as he was led to the slaughter, but Our Lord’s pacifism is also paradoxically portrayed as a fight freely waged on our behalf. St Luke (22, 43) calls the beginning of this fight in the Garden of Gethsemane an “agony” (ἀγωνία), which in ancient Greek referred to a contest in the Games. And like many of the Greeks’ violent sports, this contest in which Jesus was engaged drew blood long before the first soldier came to strike him (Luke 22, 44). It is thanks to Luke’s usage that “agony” eventually came to have the predominant meaning of “intense mental suffering” that it has today.
I translate duellum as “battle”, even though it can also mean “duel”, because the verse after it describes Jesus as a dux, which commonly refers to a military commander or head general. And I suspect that the author chose the militaristic dux rather than rex (king) because even though Jesus “reigns”, and is therefore a king, not all kings fight their own battles as ours does.
Dic nobis María,
quid vidisti in via?
Tell us, Mary,
What did you see on the way?
The third stanza has the narrator, or rather the chorus of narrators, turn to Saint Mary Magdalene and ask her a question. Although her response is sung by the same choir (as opposed to a single female vocalist), I must confess that the exchange reminds me of the campy dialogic songs of the big band era, in which the female singer and the band members hold a musical conversation (think Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket, A Tasket” or Jo Stafford’s “Whatcha Know Joe?”).

The similarity is trivial and incidental, but it does recall how this humble sequence played a key role in rehabilitating the fine arts. The early Church had closed the theaters of Greece and Rome because they had grown too lewd, but the medieval Church brought them back through her liturgy. In the tenth century, a primitive liturgical drama emerged when tropes from the Introit of the Easter Sunday Mass began to be enacted by the clergy. The first medieval play consisted of only four lines comprising the conversation between the holy women and the angels at the tomb and was held after the Office of Matins in the sanctuary. Soon after other parts of the Easter liturgy, including Victimae Paschali Laudes, began to inspire similar theatrical productions. From there the idea expanded to Passion plays, miracle plays, and mystery plays.
“Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
et gloriam vidi resurgentis:
Angélicos testes,
sudarium, et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea:
praecédet suos in Galilaeam.”
“I saw the tomb of Christ
And the glory of His rising,
Angelic witnesses,
The head napkin, and the linen cloths.
Christ my Hope is risen!
He will go before His own into Galilee.”
Mary Magdalene’s response is a combination of details from both Mark’s and John’s accounts of the Resurrection. In Saint Mark’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene enters Christ’s empty tomb “very early in the morning”, and sees an Angel who instructs her and the other women to tell the disciples that Jesus will go before them into Galilee. Mary and the other women, however, are afraid and say nothing to anyone. Later in the morning, after Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (is this when she sees “the glory of His rising”?), she gains the courage to tell the Apostles what she heard from the angel.
In John’s Gospel, Mary does not initially see the glory of the Rising One (another translation of gloria resurgentis); instead she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Nor does she enter into the tomb but waits outside while Peter and John go in; it is they who see Christ’s burial linens (John 20, 11). She also sees two angelic witnesses outside the tomb, not one within.
Scimus Christum surrexisse
a mórtuis vere:
Tu nobis, victor Rex, miserére.
Amen. Allelúja.
We know that Christ is truly risen
From the dead:
Do Thou, O Christ the Victor,
   have mercy on us.
Amen. Alleluia.
The sequence ends nicely with an affirmation of Christ’s resurrection, which we know to be true based in large part on the testimony of St Mary Magdalene. (The use of the Latin scire is quite strong, since the verb can refer to the highest grade of human knowing.) The reference to Christ as Victor brings us full circle to the beginning, where He was described as a Victim. As Saint Augustine notes, Jesus Christ was “both Victor and Victim, and Victor because Victim,” and He was “both Priest and Sacrifice, and Priest because Sacrifice.” (Confessions, 10, 43, 69)
One stanza of the sequence, however, you won’t hear sung in Mass is the following:

Credendum est magis soli
Maríae veráci
quam Judaeórum turbae falláci.
Truthful Mary should be believed
All by herself rather than
The deceitful crowd of Jews.
This line was part of the original composition, and appeared after “Praecédet suos in Galilaeam,” but was removed in St Pius V’s 1570 edition of the Roman Missal. I am curious to know why, and I invite your own speculations in the combox below. The obvious answer is that it is pejorative towards the Jewish people, and yet the 1570 Missal retains another element that Jews find offensive, the Good Friday prayer that deems them “faithless”, with a Latin word that sounds like “perfidious.” I am not sure that sensitivity to other religions was high on the priority list at the time.
The stanza can also be criticized for inaccuracy. In Matthew’s Gospel, the chief priests bribe the Roman guards stationed at the tomb of Jesus to say that His disciples stole His body in the night, and the Jews believed them (Matt 28, 11-15). With the exception of the chief priests, then, the Jews are not deceitful but deceived.
The stanza can also give the impression that the Jews tried to silence or discredit Mary Magdalene’s testimony (like the two lecherous elders in Daniel 13, the story of Susanna), but there is no evidence for this in Scripture. While it is true that women were forbidden in Jewish society from testifying in court, the strongest attacks on the Magdalene’s credibility came from pagan philosophers like Celsus, who denounced her as an “hysterical woman.” (As quoted by Origen in his Contra Celsum 2, 59-60. Celsus puts these words in the mouth of a Jew, but this is a literary conceit.)
Perhaps the real reason for the deletion of this stanza is that it strikes a sour note which detracts from the joy of the sequence and of the occasion for which it is meant. Singling out death and rejoicing over its defeat leaves a good taste in one’s mouth, but mulling over a mob of liars who might still be out there badmouthing our dear sincere Saint does not. Resentment (not to mention fuel for scapegoating) does not belong in a celebration of the risen Savior who forgave His murderers. Whatever the reason, it is good that this stanza was left on the cutting room floor.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Holy Thursday 2021 Photopost (Part 2)

We continue with photographs of your Holy Thursday liturgies, today featuring some crotali, the stripping of the altars, and the Mandatum, plus one late Palm Sunday submission. We are very glad to receive more photos of any part of the Triduum, including Tenebrae, and Easter; send them to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org, remembering to include the name and location of the church. Thanks as always to everyone who sent these in.
St Mary’s Oratory – Wausau, Wisconsin (ICRSP)
Tradition will always be for the young.

The Ambrosian Gospels of Easter Week - Part 2: the Gospels “for the Baptized”

We continue with our series of Nicola de’ Grandi’s notes on the Ambrosian liturgy of Easter week, translated by myself.

As noted in the previous article in this series, the Ambrosian Rite has a particularly interesting feature in its celebration of Easter week which is unique to itself, and very ancient. Each day within the octave, there are two Masses, one “of the solemnity”, and the other “for the baptized,” a final series of lessons for the newly-baptized former catechumens. The former were originally celebrated in the larger of the two cathedrals which served the see of St Ambrose in antiquity and the Middle Age, also known as “the summer church”, and dedicated to St Thecla. The latter were celebrated in the smaller “winter church” dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where the neophytes would come together with the archbishop each day for a special post-baptismal Mass. Since the consolidation of the two churches into one, starting in the later 14th century, the custom has been to celebrate the Mass “for the baptized” in a side-chapel; this was also traditional in all of the city’s collegiate churches.
Partial ruins of the basilica of St Thecla were discovered under the Piazza del Duomo when construction began on a subway station in the early 1960s.
The celebration of two Masses at least on the Easter vigil, which is now done only in the Ambrosian Rite, is attested by the pilgrim Egeria in her diary of her visit to Jerusalem at the end of the 4th century. “The Easter vigil is done in the same way as we do it (i.e. in her native Spain)… and when the Eucharistic offering has been completed, the people are dismissed. And after the dismissal at the vigil in the greater church (i.e., the Holy Sepulcher), at once they go to the Anastasis, and there again, the Gospel account of the Resurrection is read, the prayer is said, and again the bishop makes the Eucharistic offering.” (Itinerarium Egeriæ XIII, 1-2) This seems, therefore, to be another case in which Milan owes its Paschal liturgical customs to Jerusalem.
A similar practice was also formerly observed in other churches of the Milanese ecclesiastical province, many of which also had two churches in their cathedral complex; among them (according to Mons. Klaus Gamber) Aquileia, which was, however, detached from the province of Milan already in the 5th century.
The church of Santa Maria de Dom in Brescia, built in the first half of the 12th century to replace an older “winter church” on the same site which was destroyed by a major fire in 1095. Further details are given in an article based on Nicola’s photos published last July.
In regard to the oldest liturgical sources of the Ambrosian Rite: a codex kept in the Capitular Library of the basilica of St John the Baptist in Busto Arsizio contains a very ancient order of readings, one which certainly predates the major reform which the Ambrosian lectionary underwent in the Carolingian period. This codex has two different lists of Gospels, a “capitulary”, which is older, and gives only the incipits, and a later “evangeliary”, which gives the full texts. Both lists attest the two Gospels only for the Easter vigil, exactly following the use of Jerusalem. The presence of two Masses for each day of the octave, on the other hand, is characteristic of the post-Carolingian sources, in particular, of the so-called Gospel book of the Cardinal Deacons.
As described in the first article in this series, the Gospels for the Masses “of the solemnity” of Easter are all attested in the same period, or at least within the Easter season, in other Western Rites, albeit on different days. The Gospels of the Masses for the baptized, on the other hand, are completely unique to the Ambrosian tradition, and form a mystagogical catechesis, centered principally on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, which were both administered at the Easter vigil, and but also more broadly on the Christian life and beliefs that inform it.
A page of an Ambrosian Missal printed at Milan in 1548. The Gospel of Easter Sunday Mass “for the Baptized” is towards the upper part of the left column.
The Gospel of the Mass for the baptized on Easter itself, John 7, 37-39a, is one of the shortest, but nevertheless, one of the most important for the entire liturgical year.
“On great day of the festivity, the Lord Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him.”
The Ambrosian is the only Western rite that reads this Gospel during the octave of Easter; elsewhere, it was read in Lent, either in connection with the Passion, as in the Roman Rite (on Passion Monday, verses 32-39), or as the continuation of an earlier reading of John 7, as in the Mozarabic Rite and some Gallican lectionaries. In the context of the Milanese celebration of Easter, it appears as a description of the effects of the Sacraments newly received by the neophytes, first among them, of course, baptism. This was, of course, followed immediately by their first reception of the Holy Eucharist, much as the Eastern churches still to this very day administer Communion immediately after baptism.
St Ambrose himself attests to this custom when he describes the actions of the neophytes as they have come out of the baptismal font: “Cleansed and enriched by these signs, the people comes forth to the altar of Christ, saying ‘And I will go in to the altar of God, to God who giveth joy to my youth.’ ” (De Mysteriis 8,43), Likewise, the fourth book of the De Sacramentis concludes as follows: “Finally, hear David once again, saying ‘Thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s. (Ps. 102, 5). You have begun to be a good eagle, one who seeks heaven and disdains the things of earth. Good eagles are around the altar, ‘for where there is the body, there also are the eagles. (Matt. 24, 28). The form of the body is the altar, and the body of Christ is on the altar; you are eagles, renewed by the washing away of your sin.”
A further proof of the connection between the two Sacraments in the context of Easter is found in an ancient Ambrosian chant which is now used as the Transitorium (like the Roman Communio) on Easter Thursday and Pentecost, but is found in some antiphonaries on Easter itself.
“Hymnum canite Agni mundi, lavacro fontis renati, satiati corpore Christi. Hallelujah, hallelujah. – Sing ye the hymn, o pure lambs, renewed by the washing of the font, sated by the Body of Christ, alleluia, alleluia”.
This text is also used in the Rite of Benevento as the Communio of the Easter vigil.
This tradition likewise explains why the during the Easter octave, the catechetical Gospel readings focus on both baptism and the Eucharist.
Easter Monday: Matthew 5, 1-12, the Beatitudes. This same Gospel is read on the first Monday of Lent, followed by the rest of the Sermon on the Mount on the ferias of the first four weeks of that season. The post-baptismal mystagogical catechesis thus parallels the pre-baptismal catechesis.
Easter Tuesday: John 5, 1-15, the healing of the paralytic at the sheep pool.
Easter Wednesday: Matthew 5, 44-48, Christ’s command to love our enemies and do well to those that hate us.
Easter Thursday: John 6, 51-58, Jesus describes Himself as the living Bread, necessary for eternal life.
Easter Friday: John 6, 35-40, Jesus describes Himself as the living Bread come down from heaven.
Low Saturday: John 13, 4-15, the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. (The Evangeliary of Busto Arsizio gives John 6, 1-14, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.)
The following articles of this series will offer some more detailed explanations of the liturgical use of these passages.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Holy Thursday 2021 Photopost (Part 1)

Time to begin moving the mountain of photopost submissions for the Sacred Triduum! There will be at least one more of Holy Thursday, before we move on to the others, so we are still glad to receive more; send them to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org, and remember to include the name and location of the church. We thank everyone for their contributions, and wish all our readers a most joyful Easter week. Evangelize through beauty!
Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini – Rome, Italy (FSSP)
Our Lady of Lourdes – Libreville, Gabon (ICRSP)
St Cuthbert’s Parish – Blackpool, England
College of the Holy Cross – Notre Dame, Indiana
St Mary’s – Conshohocken, Pennsylvania (FSSP)
Photos by Allison Girone

TLM Conference and Priestly Ordination in Guadalajara, Mexico, June 10-13

NLM is pleased to announce on behalf of the FSSP in Mexico the following Summorum Pontificum Congress, to be held from June 10-13, and including a priestly ordination at the hands of Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

Summorum Pontificum Congress is an event for Catholics who want to learn more about the richness of their liturgical, artistic, theological, and spiritual traditions. This year the keynote address will be given by His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke, member of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, who will also celebrate a traditional priestly ordination – the first in Mexico in many years. There will be three pontifical Masses and the sacrament of Confirmation, outstanding conferences, and much more. The Summorum Pontificum Congress will bring together faithful Catholics from all over Mexico and abroad to participate in this historic event. Translation services will be available in English and Spanish.”

For more details and for registration, visit the bilingual website.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

In Praise of Irregularity

No, this article is not a plea for bending and breaking the Church’s matrimonial rules. In fact, it has almost nothing to do with the subject of marriage — except perhaps in a sense to which I will return at the end.

The irregularity to which I refer is none other than the many beautiful differences that characterize the various seasons of the liturgical year in the usus antiquior. The traditional rubrics, texts, and chants of Lent and Easter bring the contrasting characters of their seasons strongly to the fore: in Lent we suppress the Alleluia while in Paschaltide we sing it repeatedly; the Gloria disappears and then returns with exultation; the Gloria Patri drops away in Passiontide and enters the liturgy anew with Easter. There are many such elements and structures of differentiation, and while the Ordinary Form retains some of them, many, even most, were abandoned.

The traditional Latin Mass and Divine Office display a plethora of differences between seasons as well as on certain special days of the year, be it Ember Days, Rogation Days, All Souls, Candlemas, or what have you. These irregularities or deliberate departures from the “standard” approach magnify the psychological power of the rites and augment their spiritual impact. They also help worshipers enter more deeply into particular mysteries, seasons, or feasts by, on the one hand, startling them out of rote habit, and, on the other hand, building up over the years subliminal associations that reinforce the particular graces besought by the Church at that time.

Three of my favorite distinctive marks take place in Masses around and after Easter. First, there is the use of the Gradual Haec dies during the entire Octave, albeit with changing verses for each day.[1] The constant refrain in the Mass (and in the Office, too) of “THIS is the day that the Lord has made” strongly reinforces the idea of the Octave as one gigantic celebration, and therefore paves the way to experiencing it thus. Moreover, the liturgy preserves the important formulation: “exultemus et laetemur in ea,” let us rejoice and be glad in it, that is, in this wonderful Day of the Lord, the Dayspring from on high, the New Song, the Risen Christ Himself. The postconciliar translation “Let us rejoice and be glad,” period, sounds like a generic exhortation to be happy. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” points us to the object of our rejoicing, the cause of our gladness, which is none other than the Easter mystery itself, in the Person of the ever-living Christ. While the Haec diesis an option for every day of Easter Week in the Ordinary Form (simply consult the Graduale Romanum of 1974), it is almost never met with in the wild. When the responsorial psalm of year-round familiarity is chosen, an opportunity is lost — from a textual and structural point of view — for emphasizing the differentness, uniqueness, and unity of the Octave by means of the interlectional psalm.

A second distinctive mark in the usus antiquior is the addition of “alleluia” to almost everything: the versicles of Mass and Office (e.g., “V. Ostende nobis…alleluia / R. Et salutare tuum…alleluia”) and all the antiphons at Mass, not to mention the word’s prominence in the Vidi aquam, the Regina caeli, and other Paschal chants and hymns. The sequence Victimae Paschali, which is required to be used every day of the octave, ends with an intense “Amen, alleluia.” Holy Mother Church, the immaculate bride, cannot contain her joy at the resurrection of her Lord, and sings this word of jubilation whenever and wherever she can. Again, it makes a difference that these numerous Alleluias are required to be said or sung in the usus antiquior, whereas they are rarely exercised options in the Ordinary Form. The usus antiquiorpours forth a joyous flood of alleluias — indeed, like water flowing from the temple — enacting with potent literalness the well-known line from St. Augustine, “we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”
This brings me to a third distinctive mark of the ancient Roman liturgy in Easter season, and my personal favorite: the use of a double Alleluia before the Gospel during the weeks of Paschaltide. When the priest or subdeacon finishes chanting the Epistle, the Schola begins to sing — not a Gradual as throughout the year, nor a Tract as in Lent, but a special Alleluia with a verse of its own, followed by another Alleluia and verse, both drawing more heavily than usual upon New Testament texts (e.g., Mt 28:7 and Jn 20:26 on Low Sunday, Lk 24:35 on Good Shepherd Sunday, Lk 24:46 on the Third Sunday after Easter, etc.). The chanted alleluias for the Sundays after Pentecost are already lavish in their contemplative splendor; add another of the same character, and you are starting to swim in the shallows of the Eighth Day. There is a kind of suspension of time and place in these great Paschal alleluias, as if one would wish to linger forever in the more-than-mortal joy of the Resurrection, in the sober inebriation of the Spirit, remembering and resting in the victory of our King, before resuming the fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Traditionally, the Gradual, Tract, and Alleluia are all fairly lengthy interlectional chants, written in a melismatic style for the sake of meditating on the Word of God, allowing it to soak in, and preparing the ground for the Gospel as by the application of a long, slow dripline. Although the twin chanted Alleluias are an option in the Ordinary Form (see once more the Graduale Romanum of 1974), they are rarely used, for two simple reasons. First, in the reformed liturgy, the Responsorial Psalm was introduced as an opportunity for verbal participation and the Alleluia changed into a short and easily-repeatable acclamation that rouses people to stand for the Gospel. In this way the historic character and liturgical function of the interlectional chants were fundamentally altered, and with them, the requisite aesthetic forms. If the expectation is that people will speak or sing the psalm and the alleluia (and stand up for the latter), it is obvious that two melismatic Alleluias back to back will not serve the purpose. Of course, this is not to say that Alleluia acclamations cannot be done beautifully—my own choir, when assisting at the Ordinary Form, sings either a Bach setting or a Mozart setting at this juncture, either of which comes across nobly—but we must recognize that we are dealing with a different thing from what the Alleluia had been for most of the history of the liturgy.[2]

The double Alleluia from the Fourth Sunday after Easter (EF)

In the traditional Latin Mass, such beautiful Paschal “touches” or “flourishes” are built into the liturgy itself, and no choice is given about whether to exercise them or not. It offers us a privileged spiritual freedom of experiencing more sharply, more actively, the mysteries of the Lord by demanding of us that we modify certain musical habits, adjust our singing and praying according to the seasons, and in all things submit ourselves to a certain cosmic and sacramental rhythm that is far greater than ourselves and our generation.

The foregoing examples (and there are more as we range across the liturgical year and its celebrations — particular during Holy Week) show how, in the name of a certain drive towards simplification and ease of access, some of the inner riches, one might even say the well-regulated irregularities, of the sacred liturgy were lost. As Catherine Pickstock has pointed out, it is ironic that on the cusp of postmodernity and its (at least purported) appreciation for otherness, difference, and pluralism, institutional choices valorized sameness, uniformity, standardization. This is certainly one legacy that the recovery of the usus antiquior can help the Church to move decisively beyond, as we seek to reconnect with the history and anthropology of Catholic worship. Thus, learning about the origin and meaning of special Paschal elements in the usus antiquior will awaken clergy and musicians to the desirability of exercising them in the Ordinary Form as the permissible and choiceworthy options they are, in this way not only rebuilding fallen bridges between old and new, but, more importantly, offering Catholics today a more intense and memorable experience of the bright victory of Easter.

I said at the start that this post had little to do with marriage, but there is one parallel worth pointing out. In a healthy marriage, the spouses make an effort to do things that are out of the ordinary for one another. On special occasions like anniversaries or birthdays, flowers or chocolates may enter the home, or the couple may go out on a date. Married people do this sort of thing because they know that a uniform monotonous routine, which takes too much for granted, is a recipe for mental and emotional stagnation. They know, in other words, that sometimes the best rule is to have a certain irregularity. Christ’s beautiful Bride, the Church, has known and lived the same secret: her liturgical traditions are the evidence. It will be wise for us to know and live this secret, too.

NOTES

[1] The Roman liturgy is fairly austere and reserved in its Easter celebrations as compared with the Eastern rites or even the other medieval Western rites (as Gregory DiPippo discussed in connection with Vespers of the Easter octave two years ago), and yet it still has its own treasures that must not be allowed to vanish owing to the pressure of “market forces.” An example would be the distinctive sections of the Roman Canon for Easter week, which, of course, are printed in the OF altar missal, but will be heard only by those fortunate enough to have a priest who chooses the venerable Roman Canon during the Octave.

[2] For discussion of the meaning and importance of interlectional chants, see William Mahrt’s The Musical Shape of the Liturgy.

The Transfiguration - A Prequel to the Resurrection

What began as a series of Lenten reflections ends with the Risen Christ. This painting of the Transfiguration was made by the Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255-1319), and was completed in the early 14th century (about 1307). It is on a wooden panel and the medium is egg tempera, in which pigment is put into the egg yolk and then diluted with water.

It shows Christ on the mountain top, viewed by three apostles, as an anticipation of his future heavenly glory after the Resurrection. The gold lines on His garment indicate that not just He, but all of Creation, which adorns the body, will be redeemed. It speaks to us of our heavenly destination in this earthly pilgrimage.

The Transfiguration actually took place sometime before Easter, during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, and is celebrated in the Christian calendar on August 6th. This particular event is remembered now as an anticipation of the heavenly glory of Christ. As Christians in communion with the Church, we participate in the divine nature, and through our joy and example of virtue, shine with the Light of Christ, drawing people to ourselves and then on to God. The two figures with Christ on the mountain are Moses, who represents the Law, and Elijah, who represents the prophets; Christ is the fulfillment and consummation of each in a way beyond imagination.

As two short hymns of the Byzantine Rite for the feast of the Transfiguration say:
You were transfigured on the Mountain, O Christ God, showing Your Disciples as much of Your glory as they could hold. Let Your eternal light shine also upon us sinners, through the prayers of the Mother of God, O Giver of Light, glory to You.

On the mountain You were transfigured O Christ our God, and your Disciples saw as much of Your glory as they could hold, so that when they should see You crucified, they would know that You suffer willingly, and would proclaim to the world that You are verily the Splendor of the Father.

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Ambrosian Gospels of Easter Week - Part 1: the Gospels “of the Solemnity of Easter”

This week, we will present a series on the Ambrosian liturgy of Easter week; the articles are based on notes written by our long-time Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi, translated and expanded in a few places by myself.

In the Ambrosian Rite as in the Roman, the Octave of Easter is often called “in albis – in white”, from the color of the garments worn by the neophytes who had been baptized during the Easter vigil. This custom is attested already in the time of St Ambrose, who writes in the De Mysteriis (7, 34), “After these things you received the white garments”, and in the De Sacramentis (5, 3, 14), “The Church rejoices at the redemption of many, and is glad that the family (of those dressed in) white stands with Her in spiritual exultation.”
The Biasca Missal
However, it is a uniquely Ambrosian custom to call the octave day of Easter “Dominica in albis depositis – the Sunday on which the white (garments) are laid aside.” Already in the Biasca Missal, dated from the end of the 9th century to the middle of the 10th, this title is also applied to the Saturday within the octave, since the ceremony at which the newly-baptized laid their white garments aside took place at Vespers of that day. Low Sunday is thus effectively outside the octave, which begins with the Easter vigil and concludes on the following Saturday. To this very day, the Ambrosian Rite preserves this custom in its use of liturgical colors; white is worn during the Easter octave, but green in the season after Easter, starting at First Vespers of Low Sunday.
An Ambrosian Mass of Eastertide celebrated in green vestments at the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione; notice how the chasuble is help up very high during the incensations.
A similar custom seems to have obtained in the Roman Rite, since the Gospel for the “clausum Paschae – the closure of Easter”, as it is called in some liturgical books, John 20, 19-31, was originally read on Low Saturday, then later moved to Low Sunday. This change may well have taken place during the pontificate of St Gregory the Great, whose homilies preserve traces of the reading of this Gospel on Saturday.
Another uniquely Ambrosian characteristic is the presence of a very ancient series of two Masses for each day within the octave, one “of the solemnity”, and the other “for the baptized.” The former are, of course, the Masses of the feast of Easter itself; the latter form a final series of lessons for the newly-baptized former catechumens.
A reconstruction of the cathedral complex of Milan, with the summer church of St Thecla on the left, and the winter church of the Virgin Mary at the right. The octagonal structure in front of St Thecla is the baptistery of St John “ad fontes”; the smaller structural beneath it is another baptistery, which was dedicated to St Stephen. At the lower right is a partial reconstruction of the interior of the baptistery of St John.
The Duomo of Milan as it stands today is the result of a project which began in 1386, to replace the two cathedrals which had hitherto served the see of St Ambrose. The “winter church”, as it is still named in Ambrosian liturgical books, was the smaller of the two, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and used from the Third Sunday of October, the feast of its Dedication, until Holy Saturday; it stood where the modern cathedral stands, but was nowhere near as large. The larger “summer church” stood on the opposite end of the modern Piazza del Duomo, and was dedicated to St Thecla, for which reason her name is included in the Canon of the Ambrosian Mass. During each day of the Easter octave, the Mass “of the solemnity” was originally celebrated in the summer church, and the Mass “for the baptized” in the winter church. After the latter was demolished in 1543, the Masses for the baptized were celebrated at one of the new duomo’s side-chapels.
The ruins of the baptistery of St John, which are now under the parvis of the modern duomo.
The ruins of the baptistery of St Stephen, under the sacristy on the north side of the duomo.
The Ambrosian Rite traditionally has three readings (including the Gospel) on all Sundays and feasts, but only two on ferial days, the putative model for the same arrangement in the post-Conciliar Roman lectionary. However, there are also exceptional ferial days which have three readings like a Sunday. These are the Saturdays of Lent, which are dedicated to the rites of preparation for the baptism of the catechumens, and those of both sets of Masses for the Easter octave, those “of the solemnity” as the continuation of the feast, and those “for the baptized”, which complete the catechumenal lessons of the Lenten season.
In all western liturgical traditions, the Gospels of the ferias “in albis”, including those of the Ambrosian Masses “of the solemnity”, are taken from the final chapters of the four Gospels, those which narrate the Lord’s appearances after the Resurrection. Here we note some of the affinities between the Ambrosian order of these readings and those of other western rites.
On Easter Sunday: John 20, 11-18, the meeting of Mary Magdalene with the Angels and with Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener, the “Noli me tangere” episode. This choice of Gospel reading, like those of the Triduum, comes from the ancient liturgy of Jerusalem, as attested in Armenian lectionaries derived from that rite, although the various codices do not agree on where the reading begins. In the Roman Rite, this passage is read on Easter Thursday; in the Gallican, on Easter Friday. In the Mozarabic rite, it is part of the Gospel on Easter itself, John 20, 1-18.
“Noli me tangere”, ca. 1498-1500 by the Milanese painter Bartolomeo Suardi, better known as Bramantino, one of his earliest surviving works; fresco detached from walls of the church of Santa Maria del Giardino in Milan, which was demolished in 1865, and now in the museum of the Sforza Castle. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Easter Monday: Luke 24, 1-12, the women at the tomb encounter the angel, and proclaim the Resurrection to the Apostles. At Aquileia, this was read on Easter Wednesday; in the Gallican Rite, on Easter itself.
Easter Tuesday: Matthew 28, 8-15, the women encounter the Risen Lord while departing from the tomb; He commissions them to proclaim the Resurrection to the Apostles; the bribing of the guards. 
The Ambrosian Rite is the only Western rite which reads this passage during the octave of Easter.
In the Roman Rite, these last two were originally part of a very ancient series of Gospels assigned to the ferial days of the Easter season, the former on Wednesday after Good Shepherd Sunday, and the latter on Friday after Low Sunday. In the tradition that became the Missal of St Pius V, the ferial Gospels were not included outside of the Lenten season and the Ember days, and these passages do not occur. They remained in many other medieval Uses until the era of the Tridentine reform.
Easter Wednesday: Luke 24, 13-35, the Supper at Emmaus. In the Roman Rite, this is the Gospel of Easter Monday; at Aquileia and in the Mozarabic Rite, of Easter Tuesday.
Easter Thursday: Matthew 28, 16-20, the appearance of the Lord to the Apostles on the mountain in Galilee, and the Great Commission. In the Roman Rite, this is read on Easter Friday, at Aquileia, on Easter Sunday.
Easter Friday: Mark 16, 1-7, the two Marys and Salome meet the angel, who proclaims the Resurrection to them. In the Roman Rite, this is the Gospel of Easter Sunday, in the Gallican Rite, it is read in a longer form (15, 47 – 16, 11) on Easter Monday.
Easter Saturday: John 21, 1-14, the appearance of the Lord at the Lake of Tiberias, and the miraculous drought of fish. The Ambrosian Rite shares this custom with the ancient Gallican liturgy; in the Roman Rite, it is read on Easter Wednesday, in the Mozarabic on Friday.
In the Roman Rite, the Gospel on Easter Saturday was originally that which is now read on Low Sunday, John 20, 19-31, the incredulity of St Thomas. When this passage was moved forward a day, it was replaced by John 20, 1-9, in which Mary Magdalene announces the Resurrection to Ss Peter and John, who then run to the tomb. In some ancient Ambrosian codices, this latter appears as an alternative Gospel for this day; at Aquileia, it was read on Easter Monday, in the Gallican Rite on Thursday, and in the Mozarabic, as part of the Gospel of Easter Sunday.
On Low Sunday: the Ambrosian Rite shares the long-standing custom of the Roman, Aquileian, Gallican, Mozarabic and Byzantine Rites, by which the story of the incredulity of St Thomas is read.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Easter Sunday 2021

The Resurection of Christ, by Piero della Francesca (ca. 1450-63)
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”. It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains! It took a body and came upon God! It took earth and encountered Ηeaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen! O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead man remains in a tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen. (From a Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom, read at Matins of Easter in the Byzantine Rite.)

TO all our readers, to your families and friends, we wish you an Easter filled with every joy and blessing in the Risen Lord - He is truly risen!

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