Monday, August 22, 2016

Traditional Liturgy Reflects the Dignity and Beauty of the Virgin Mary

On this octave day of the Assumption, we may meditate with profit on a remarkable medieval poem to Our Lady, "Ave rosa sine spinis," which (in typically clever and pious fashion) takes the words of the angelic salutation and weaves the remaining words around them:
1  AVE rosa sine spinis,
Te quam Pater in divinis
Majestate sublimavit,
Et ab omni vae servavit.

2  MARIA stella dicta maris,
Tu a Nato illustraris
Luce clara deitatis,
Qua praefulges cunctis datis.

3  GRATIA PLENA te perfecit
Spiritus Sanctus dum te fecit
Vas divinae bonitatis
Et totius pietatis.

4  DOMINUS TECUM: miro pacto
Verbo in te carne facto
Opere trini conditoris:
o quam dulce vas amoris.

Hoc testatur omnis tribus;
Coeli dicunt te beatam
Et super omnes exaltatam.

Quo nos semper dona frui
Per praegustum hic aeternum
Et post mortem in aeternum:

7  Hunc, Virgo, salutis sensum,
Tuae laudis gratum pensum,
Conde tuo sinu pia,
Clemens sume, O Maria. Amen.
As I studied this text, I was struck by the way in which everything it says about the Blessed Virgin Mary applies analogously to the traditional liturgies (Eastern and Western) of the Church.

1. HAIL, Rose without thorns, thou whom the Father by His majesty in heaven hast elevated and preserved from all woe.

The organically developed liturgies of the Church deserve our veneration; they are splendid roses, beautiful in their symmetry, lushness, color, and fragrance of holiness, without the thorns of rationalism, utilitarianism, anthropocentrism, and other baneful ideologies.

2. MARY, known as the Star of the Sea, thou art illuminated by thy Son with the bright light of divinity, by which thou shinest bright with all thy gifts.

Over the rising and falling waves of tempestuous centuries, the liturgy has been like a fixed star, immutable in its apostolic essence but growing, expanding, in its expression of that sacred core, so that the light of Christ may shine forth ever more clearly and illuminate the world. This shining is undisturbed by the caliginous machinations of committees.

3. FULL OF GRACE: the Holy Spirit perfected thee when He made thee into a vessel of divine goodness and of all mercy.

The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of genuine liturgy and its gradual development from age to age. By His gentle brooding the Church's worship of God is perfected as a vessel of divine goodness and of all mercy, precluding the acceptance of radical rupture. How privileged we are to drink from this pellucid font!

4. THE LORD IS WITH THEE: the Word became flesh in thee in a wondrous way by the action of the Creator who is Three in One: O, how sweet is the vessel of love!

Through the liturgy, the Word becomes flesh in our midst, and O, how sweet is the pure vessel of this Eucharistic love! As with Mary, the traditional liturgy echoes and magnifies the Word of the Lord, without human compromise, without omitting the hard sayings, without deflecting adoration from the Real Presence and the mystery of the sovereign Sacrifice.

5. BLESSED ART THOU AMONGST WOMEN: all peoples bear witness to this. The heavens call thee blessed and high above all others.

How blessed among women is the Virgin in whom the Lord has done great things -- the marvel of His Incarnation! Blessed, too, among prayers, high above all others, is the solemn, objective, and rational worship of the Church's traditional liturgy, which exalts those who partake of it by lifting them above the private limits, idiosyncracies, and opinions of their age or place. All missionized peoples once bore witness to this universal blessing. May God grant it to be so in a future age.

6. AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB: grant that we may enjoy Him always, as a foretaste here, and after death, eternally.

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest, Victim, Altar, Thou givest Thyself to us in Holy Communion as the price of our redemption, the food of our pilgrimage, the earnest and foretaste of our eternal bliss! Canst Thou do anything more for us that Thou hast not already done? Thou art far more generous with us than we could ever deserve. We owe it to Thee to be faithful stewards of Thy manifold gifts, beginning and ending with the sacred liturgy, lest we be found unworthy servants who squandered Thy treasury.

7. O merciful virgin Mary, lay up in the holy refuge of thy Heart and mercifully receive this disposition to salvation and the pleasing duty of thy praise. Amen.

For us, the liturgy is a holy refuge, the heart of our Catholic life, where we raise up to God the sacrifice of praise and fulfill our vows to the Lord. By the Virgin's prayers may He graciously accept our oblation, which we offer in union with all the saints of the Catholic Church across the ages.

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At least two composers set this poem to music: Ludwig Senfl (1486-1542), who set verses 1-6, and the much better known Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), whose set all seven verses in a magnificent meditation that lasts some eleven minutes:

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