Thursday, August 09, 2018

Liturgical Notes on the Vigil of St Lawrence

In the Roman Rite, the term “vigilia – vigil” traditionally means a penitential day of preparation for a major feast. The Mass of a Saint’s vigil is celebrated after None, as are the Masses of the ferias of Lent or the Ember Days, and in violet vestments; however, the deacon and subdeacon do not wear folded chasubles, as they do in Lent, but the dalmatic and tunicle. The Mass has neither the Gloria nor the Creed, the Alleluja is simply omitted before the Gospel, not replaced with a Tract, and Benedicamus Domino is said at the end in place of Ite, missa est.

Folio 100r of the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type written in 780-800 AD. The Mass of the vigil of St Lawrence begins with the large A in the middle of the page; the preface cited below begins with the decorated VD second from the bottom. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
Before the Tridentine reform, the vigil of a Saint consisted solely of the Mass, and had no presence in either the Roman version of the Divine Office, or in that of most other Uses. A minority custom, which seems to have been predominantly German, gave an Office to the vigils of Saints, which consisted of a homily at Matins, and the use of the collect of the vigil as the principal collect of the day; the rest of the Office was that of the feria. The Breviary of St Pius V adopted this latter custom for the vigils of Saints, a rare example of change in an otherwise extremely conservative reform; but even for the Roman Rite, this was not an absolute novelty. Historically, the vigils of the major feasts of the Lord (Christmas, Epiphany etc.) did include the Office, and the change in 1568 simply extended the scope of a well-established custom.

Writing at the end of the 13th century, the liturgical commentator William Durandus notes as one of the special privileges of St Lawrence that he is the only martyr whose feast has a vigil, a custom which he shares with the Virgin Mary and the Apostles. More anciently this was not the case; the Gelasian Sacramentary also included vigils of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius on June 17th, and of Ss John and Paul on June 25th. However, these had already disappeared from the Gregorian Sacramentary by the mid-9th century, and the fact that St Lawrence’s vigil was retained certainly indicates the universality and importance of devotion to him; it remains even to the present day in the liturgical books of the Extraordinary Form. The same ancient sacramentaries have vigils for the Assumption, the birth of St John the Baptist, Ss Peter and Paul, and St Andrew; they were later given to the other Apostles whose feasts occur outside Eastertide, and to the feast of All Saints.

St Lawrence Distributing Alms to the Poor; fresco by the Blessed Angelico from the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V, 1447-49, now in the Vatican Museums.
The story is well known that during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian in the mid-3rd century, St Lawrence was the deacon in Rome in charge of the Church’s charities. When he was arrested and told to hand the riches of the Church over to the Romans, he distributed all the money to the poor, whom he then brought to the residence of the prefect of Rome, and showing them to him, said, “These are the riches of the Church.” The liturgy refers to this by using Psalm 111, 9, “He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor: his justice remaineth for ever and ever” as both the Introit and Gradual of the vigil of St Lawrence; the same text is cited by St Paul in the Epistle of the feast day, 2 Corinthians 9, 6-10. St Maximus of Turin also cites this verse in a sermon on St Lawrence: “How profound and how heavenly was the counsel of this man of the spirit, that he should take care of the needy; and since the crowd was using up what he had given them, nothing could be found for the persecutor to take; for indeed he followed the saying ‘He hath distributed etc.’ ” (Homilia 74 in natali S. Laurentii; PL LVII 401A)

The Epistle of the vigil, Sirach 51, 1-8 and 12, appears in the Wurzburg lectionary, the very oldest of the Roman Rite, around 650 AD; it was clearly chosen for the reference to St Lawrence’s martyrdom by being roasted alive on a grill. “Thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of thy name, from them that did roar, prepared to devour. Out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions, which compassed me about. From the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and in the midst of the fire I was not burnt. From the depth of the belly of hell, and from an unclean tongue, and from lying words, from an unjust king, and from a slanderous tongue.” The “unjust king” is, of course, the Emperor Valerian, in contrast to whom St Lawrence’s “justice remaineth for ever and ever.”

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, by Titian, 1567, from the Spanish Royal Monastery of the Escorial.
The Gospel, Matthew 16, 24-27, appears in the same lectionary only on the vigil of St Lawrence, but was later extended to the Common of a Single Martyr. (Commons of the Saints had not yet been created as a feature of Roman liturgical books when the Wurzburg lectionary was written.) The first line, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”, may have been chosen in reference to the story of St Lawrence’s martyrdom, as told by St Ambrose.

When Lawrence saw Pope St Sixtus II being led to martyrdom, he addressed him thus: “Whither goest thou without thy son, father? Whither, holy priest, dost thou hasten without thy deacon? Never wast thou want to offer sacrifice without thy minister. What then hath displeased thee in me, father? Hast thou found me ignoble? Make proof surely whether thou didst choose a worthy minister. Dost thou deny a share in thy blood to one to whom thou didst entrust the consecration of the Lord’s blood, and a share in the celebration of the sacraments?... Abraham offered his son, Peter sent Stephen before him…” To this Sixtus replied, “I do not leave or abandon thee, son, but greater contests await thee. We, as elder men, receive the way of an easier combat; a more glorious triumph against the tyrant awaiteth thee as a younger man. Soon shalt thou come after, cease weeping; after three days shalt thou follow me, as levite followeth priest.” (These words from the 39th chapter of St. Ambrose’s De Officiis form the basis of several antiphons and responsories in the office of St Lawrence.)
Ss Benedict, Sixtus II, and the Martyr Proculus by Simone di FIlippo, ca. 1380. (Image from Wikipedia by SilviaZamb, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Offertory is beautifully selected from the book of Job, who, like Lawrence, is honored by the Church as one who showed great patience in suffering. “My prayer is pure, and therefore I ask that a place be given in heaven to my voice; for there is my judge, and He that knoweth me is on high; let my plea arise to the Lord.” (from the end of Job 16) The text is loosely cited from the Old Latin version, not the Vulgate of St Jerome, which indicates that it is a piece of great antiquity. One of Durandus’ predecessors in the field of liturgical commentary, the Benedictine abbot Rupert of Deutz (ca. 1075-1130), wrote a book about the terrible fire which destroyed the town of Deutz, in which he refers frequently to both Job and St Lawrence, and cites this offertory. “Thou, o blessed Martyr, … were the Job of thy times, and now, and until the end of the world, Christ and His Church hear thy cry, the great cry of thy passion, … She (the Church) first heard thy cry, and first joined thee in it, and taught us to cry out with Her in these words, which first were the words of Job… but nevertheless are the words of the Holy Church in her afflictions, and are mostly perfectly suitable to Thee, ‘My prayer is pure etc.’ ” (De incendio oppidi Tuitii sua aetate viso liber aureus, cap. 21; P.L. 170 354B)

The Gelasian Sacramentary also contained a Preface for both the vigil and feast of St Lawrence, of which the former reads as follows, a lovely exposition of the reason for celebrating the feasts of the Saints every year.

Truly it is worth and just, meet and profitable to salvation, that we should give Thee thanks always and everywhere, o Lord, holy Father, almighty and everlasting God, by anticipating the blessed struggles of the glorious martyr Lawrence, whose honorable solemnity in its annual recurrence is everlasting and ever new; for precious death of Thy just ones remaineth in the sight of Thy majesty, and the increase of joy is renewed, when we recall the beginning of their eternal happiness. And therefore with the Angels…

Part of the mosaic in the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. St Lawrence, in the middle; on the left, Pope Innocent II (1130-43), who built the church, presents to Christ; on the right, Pope St Callixtus I (ca. 218-22), who was martyred in the neighborhood of this church, and whose relics are kept in it.
The 1960 reform of the Breviary added to the vigil of St Lawrence a completely anomalous feature, something which had never existed before, and does not exist anywhere else; it is the only vigil that has Vespers. [1] A vigil is a separate liturgical observance from its feast, and traditionally, all feasts began with First Vespers, and so a vigil by definition ended once None and the Mass were celebrated. In 1960, however, all the feasts of St Lawrence’s rank lost their first Vespers. [2] His vigil somehow managed to survive the massacres of 1955 and 1960, but as the only vigil attached to a feast with no First Vespers. In order to cover the gap between the vigil and the feast, which now begins with Matins, the vigil was extended to include Vespers; these consist of the regular Office of the feria, but with the Collect of the vigil. For no discernible reason, the series of versicles known as the ferial preces, which are characteristic of penitential days, are omitted from all the vigils in 1960.

[1] The vigil of the Epiphany, which as part of the Christmas season is not a penitential day, is celebrated in a different manner from the vigils of the Saints. It traditionally had First Vespers, on the evening of January 4th, but ended like the other vigils after None. Many medieval Uses extended this custom to the vigil of Christmas as well, but this was not done in the Roman Use.

[2] By 1981, when the Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours was promulgated, this change was recognized to be a mistake; the modern Ambrosian Office has First Vespers for all feasts, and celebrates Solemnities with Second Vespers.

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