Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Dawn Mass of St John the Baptist

St Augustine notes that John the Baptist is the only Saint whose birth the Church celebrates, apart from that of the Savior Himself, since the feast of the Virgin Mary’s Birth had not yet been instituted in his time. This custom is observed in fulfillment of the Angel Gabriel’s words to John’s father Zachariah, which are read in the Gospel of the vigil, that “Many shall rejoice in his birth.” (Luke 1, 14) In the Carolingian period, the custom emerged by which the Roman Rite celebrated two Masses on June 24th, one to be celebrated early in the morning, after Prime, and another after Terce, as attested in the oldest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. These correspond to the dawn and day Masses of Christmas; the greater solemnity of the birth of Christ, of whom John himself said “I must wane that He may wax”, is proclaimed by the fact that it is celebrated with three Masses.

This custom of the two Masses gradually died out, and was observed only in a few places at the time of the Tridentine liturgical reform; the Mass which survived, and is included in the Missal of St Pius V, is the second one, and the older of the two. Here is the full text of the dawn Mass; medieval commentators such as William Durandus noted that the day Mass was the more solemn, since it has more proper texts, while most of the Gregorian chants for the dawn Mass are also used on the feasts of other Saints.

Folio 174v of a 13th century Missal according to the Use of Paris, with the morning Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, beginning in the upper part of the left column, and the day Mass beginning at the lower right. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 1112)
The introit is one used in Roman Missal for the feasts of simple Confessors, but the same words from Psalm 91 are also used in the Office of a Martyr.
Introitus Ps. 91 Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur: plantátus in domo Dómini, in atriis domus Dei nostri. ℣. Bonum est confitéri Dómino: et psállere nómini tuo, Altíssime. Glória Patri. Justus ut palma...
Introit The just man shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus, planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. ℣. It is good to give praise to the Lord, and to sing to Thy name, O most High. Glory be. The just man...
The three proper prayers of the Mass are all found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, and the Missals of those Uses which retained the dawn Mass until the post-Tridentine reform.
Collecta Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut qui beati Joannis Baptistae solemnia colimus, ejus apud te intercessione muniamur. Per.
Collect Grant, we ask, almighty God, that we who keep the solemnity of blessed John the Baptist, may be defended by his intercession. Through Our Lord...

The Epistle for this Mass varies from one Use to another; in the Parisian version shown above, it is taken from Isaiah 48 (verses 17-19), the chapter preceding that from which the Epistle of the day Mass is taken.

Thus saith the Lord thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord thy God that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments: thy peace had been as a river, and thy justice as the waves of the sea, and thy seed had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy womb like the gravel thereof: his name should not have perished, nor have been destroyed from before my face.

The Gradual repeats the text of the Introit, with the second verse of the same Psalm.

Graduale Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur: plantátus in domo Dómini, in atriis domus Dei nostri. ℣. Ad annuntiandum mane misericordiam tuam, et veritatem tuam per noctem.
Gradual The just man shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus, planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. V. To show forth thy mercy in the morning, and thy truth in the night.

In some places, the Alleluia repeats the same words from Psalm 91 a third time, but in others, it was taken from the Savior’s own testimony to the greatness of John, from Matthew 11, 11.

Alleluja, alleluja. Inter natos mulierum, non surrexit major Joanne Baptista. Alleluja. (Among those born of woman, there hath arisen no greater than John the Baptist.)
The Preaching of John the Baptist, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, in the Tornabuoni Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, the Dominican parish in Florence, 1485-1490.
On the vigil, the Gospel, Luke 1, 5-17, tells of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to Zachariah in the temple, and his prophecy of the conception and birth of John. In the Missal of St Pius V, the story of Zachariah’s doubting of the Angel’s words, and being struck dumb, and the words of Elizabeth about her conception are not read; this was the Gospel of the dawn Mass, verses 18-25.

At that time: Zachary said to the angel: Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. And the angel answering, said to him: I am Gabriel, who stand before God: and am sent to speak to thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. And behold, thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time. And the people were waiting for Zachary; and they wondered that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them: and they understood that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he made signs to them, and remained dumb. And it came to pass, after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months, saying: Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he hath had regard to take away my reproach among men.

The Annunciation to Zachariah, by Giovanni di Paolo (ca. 1455-60; public domain image from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.)
The Offertory is taken from the Mass of Confessors.
Offertorium In virtute tua, Domine, laetabitur justus, et super salutare tuum exsultabit vehementer; desiderium animae ejus tribuisti ei.
Offertory In thy strength, O Lord, the just man shall rejoice, and in thy salvation he shall exsult exceedingly; thou hast given him his soul’s desire.

Secreta Munera, Domine, oblata sanctifica; et intercedente beato Joanne Baptista, nos per haec a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda. Per...
Secret O Lord, sanctify the gifts offered; and by the intercession of blessed John the Baptist, through them cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through Our Lord...

The Communion antiphon is one commonly used for the feasts of Confessors.

Communio Posuísti, Dómine, super caput ejus corónam de lápide pretióso.
Communion Thou hast set, o Lord, upon his head a crown of precious stones.

Postcommunio Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut qui caelestia alimenta percepimus, intercedente beato Joanne baptista, per haec contra omnia adversa muniamur. Per...
Postcommunio Grant, we ask, almighty God, that we who have received the food of heaven, by the intercession of blessed John the Baptist, may through it be defended from all adversities. Through our Lord...

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