Thursday, September 12, 2019

Vespers Celebrated in the Sarum Rite in Oxford

One of the highlights of the Schola Sainte-Cécile’s pilgrimage to England last month was a celebration of Vespers according to the Use of Sarum, which took place on the evening of August 21st at the chapel of Balliol College in Oxford. The previous day, the Mass of St Bernard of Clairvaux was also celebrated there in the traditional Roman Rite, both ceremonies by the kind permission of the chaplain of Balliol, Canon Bruce Kinsey. (Pictures 1-3, 5-6 and 8 courtesy of the Schola Sainte-Cécile; the rest are mine.)

The chapel of Balliol College
The priest during the Gospel at Mass. The brass lectern in the form of a crowned eagle on a stand was made in Tournai (modern Belgium) between 1470 and 1530; others of the same workshop are preserved at the cathedral of Urbino, at Southwell Minster in England, and at Santissima Annunziata, the Servite church in Florence.
The complete program for the Vespers can be seen at this link on the Schola’s website, with the full text and music in Latin, and a French translation: The Office was that of First Vespers of the Octave day of the Assumption, with the commemoration of Ss Timothy and Symphorian. The Sarum Use presents a number of interesting ritual differences from the Roman. The celebrant spends most of the ceremony in a choir seat at the back of the chapel, rather than in the sanctuary, and only dons his cope for the incensation at the Magnificat; this can in fact also be done in the Roman Rite, and is normative in the Dominican Rite.

At the beginning of the Office, everyone present, clergy, choir and laity, turns to face the altar for Deus in adjutorium. The five psalms are 109, 110, 111, 129 and 131, the psalms of the Christmas octave; these were used on feasts of the Virgin Mary in many medieval rites. They are sung under a single antiphon, a cento of texts from the 4th and 2nd chapters of the Song of Songs.

“Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te; favus distillans labia tua, mel et lac sub lingua tua, odor unguentorum tuorum super omnia aromata; jam enim hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit, flores apparuerunt, vineae florentes odorem dederunt, et vox turturis audita est in terra nostra: Surge, propera, amica mea; veni de Libano, veni, coronaberis. – Thou art all fair, my love, and there is not a spot in thee. Thy lips are as a dropping honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the sweet smell of thy ointments is above all spices; for winter is now past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers have appeared in our land; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell; the voice of the turtledive is heard in our land. Arise, make haste, my love. Come from Lebanon, come; thou shalt be crowned.”

The chapter is then sung recto tono, Sirach 24, 11-12, one of the few texts that coincide with the Roman Rite: “In all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord. Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle.” This is followed by the one of the prolix responsories from Matins, which is led by two cantors who stand in the middle of the choir; for this part of the ceremony only, these two cantors wear copes. (Most medieval Uses have a responsory between the chapter and hymn at First Vespers of major feasts.) According to the surviving Sarum customaries, this is the only part of Vespers at which the members of the chapter and choir may sit.

R. Super salutem et omnem pulchritudinem dilecta es a Domino, et Regina caelorum vocari digna es: * Gaudent chori angelorum, * consortes et concives nostri. V. Valde te nos oportet venerari, quae tam sancta et intacta es Virgo. Gaudent. Gloria Patri. Consortes. (Above health [Wis. 7, 10] and all beauty, thou art beloved by the Lord, and worthy to be called the Queen of heaven; the choirs of angels rejoice, our fellow heirs and citizens. V.  Greatly must we venerate thee, who art so holy, and virgin untouched. – This responsory is sung in many other medieval Uses, including the Dominican Rite, which has many textual affinities with Sarum; the verse is often different.)

There follows the hymn O quam glorifica, which was originally written for the Assumption in the 9th century, and found in most medevial Uses apart from the Roman; it was incorporated into the Liturgy of the Hours for the feast of Our Lady’s Queenship on August 22nd, with none of the usual cack-handed textual changes. There follow the versicle “Exaltata es”, and the antiphon of the Magnificat, which is semidoubled. (My attempt to capture this on video was sadly not successful.)

Aña Ascendit Christus super caelos, et praeparavit suae castissimae Matri immortalitatis locum: et haec est illa praeclara festivitas, omnium Sanctorum festivitatibus incomparabilis, in qua gloriosa et felix, mirantibus caelestis curiae ordinibus, ad aethereum pervenit thalamum: quo pia sui memorum immemor nequaquam exsistat. – Christ ascended above the heavens, and prepared for His most chaste Mother the place of immortality; and this is the splendid festivity, beyond comparison with the feasts of all the Saints, in which She in glory and rejoicing, as the orders of the heavely courts beheld in wonder, came to the heavenly bridal chamber; that She in her benevolence may ever be mindful of those that remember her.

During the hymn, the celebrant goes to the sacristy and puts on a cope; he returns to his place in the choir in time to intone this antiphon. He then goes up to the altar in time for the beginning of the Magnificat; before the imposition of incense, he prostrates and kisses the ground before the altar.

Here we see the choir facing the altar as they sing the Magnificat.
Once the incensation of the altar is complete, the celebrant returns to his place in the choir, and removes his cope; he will say the concluding prayers from his stall. (The choir-master extraordinaire of the Schola Sainte-Cécile, our long time contributor Henri de Villiers, conducts the chant.)
The concluding prayer is one commonly used in the Middle Ages, which explicitly asserts both the death and assumption of the Virgin Mary, neither of which is mentioned at all by the traditional Roman collect. “Veneranda nobis, Dómine, hujus diei festívitas opem cónferat salutárem, in qua sancta Dei Génitrix mortem subiit temporálem, nec tamen mortis néxibus déprimi pótuit, quae Filium tuum Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum de se génuit incarnátum: Qui tecum. – May the venerable festivity of this day confer upon us, o Lord, (Thy) saving aid, on which the holy Mother of God underwent temporal death, and yet could not be held down by the bonds of death, even She that begot of Herself Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnate. Who with Thee...”
In the Sarum Use, again as in many other medieval Uses, if there are any commemorations, “Dominus vobiscum” and “Benedicamus Domino” are said twice at the end, once after the main prayer, and once again after the commemorations, with the second “Benedicamus” in a simpler tone than the first.
Here are some more pictures from Balliol: first the chapel seen from the choir loft, after Vespers.
The staircase that goes to the choir loft continues further up, and someone was kind enough to leave the door to the roof unlocked, offering this nice view of Balliol’s next-door neighbor and long-time rival, Trinity College.

The eagle again; the use of lecterns of this kind was so common that many liturgical books refer to a Gospel lectern as an “aquila” in the rubrics. 

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