Thursday, June 04, 2020

The New Prefaces of the EF Mass, Part 3: The Preface of the Martyrs

We continue our examination of the prefaces which have recently been made optional in the Mass of the Extraordinary Form. See the first article for a brief history of the preface as a feature of the Mass, and explanations of the procedure by which the corpus of them was broadened in the post-Conciliar reform.

The third new preface is that of the Martyrs, which in the OF is the first of two generic prefaces that may be chosen ad libitum for that category of Saints. Like those of the Angels and St John the Baptist, it is based on one found in the very first source of the Roman Rite, the so-called Leonine Sacramentary.

The preface in question, “VD: Quoniam martyrorum beatorum”, converted to the singular (“martyris beati”) and assigned to the feast of St Sebastian (here misspelled as “Sabastian”) in the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048.
As noted previously in this series, this document, which is preserved in a single manuscript in the library of the cathedral chapter of Verona, is not actually a sacramentary, the ancient predecessor of the missal, which contains only the priest’s parts of the Mass, namely, the prayers, prefaces and Canon. It is rather a privately made collection of the texts of a large number of “libelli missarum”, small booklets which contained the prayers and prefaces of Masses for specific occasions. The collection was certainly made in Rome itself, since it contains numerous specific references to the city; it is generally dated to the mid-6th century. Its traditional name “Leonine”, in reference to Pope St Leo I, is no more than a fancy of its discoverer, Fr Giuseppe Bianchini (1704-64), a canon of Verona who later joined the Roman Oratory, and in his time, a well-respected scholar of Christian antiquity.

The manuscript is quite damaged, and begins with the sixth of a group of 43 different Masses for several martyrs, which are numbered in the manuscript itself. The preface chosen as the basis of the new preface for the Novus Ordo is that of the 32nd among these. It also appears with a few variations on July 10th in the sixth of seven Masses for the very ancient feast of a group of Roman martyrs known as the Seven Brothers, the sons of the martyr Felicity, whose feast, like that of their mother, has been suppressed on the new calendar. The differences between the two versions are noted in bold.

VD: quorum martyrum beatorum pro confessione tui nominis venerabilis sanguis effusus, sicut tua mirabilia manifestat, qui perficis in infirmitate virtutem, ita nostris et studiis dat profectum, et fragilitatibus prestat auxilium. Per.

VD: quoniam martyrum beatorum pro confessione nominis tui venerabilis sanguis effusus simul et tua mirabilia manifestat, quo perficis in infirmitate uirtutem, et nostris studiis dat profectum, et infirmis aput te prestat auxilium: (July 10)

Truly it is worthy… the venerable blood of whose blessed martyrs, being shed for the confession of Thy name, just as it manifests Thy wonders, who dost perfect virtue in weakness, so also giveth increase to our devotion, and granteth aid to our weaknesses.

Truly it is worthy… since the venerable blood of the blessed martyrs, being shed for the confession of Thy name, doth at once manifest Thy wonders, by which (fact) Thou dost perfect virtue in weakness (infirmitate), and giveth increase to our devotion, and granteth aid to those who are weak before Thee. (July 10)

Note the words “perficis in infirmitate virtutem – who/Thou dost perfect virtue in weakness”, a citation of 2 Corinthians 12, 9; they also appear in a Leonine preface for the feast of St Cecilia. In the Roman Rite, this is the last verse of the epistle of Sexagesima Sunday, in which St Paul defends his work as an Apostle by recalling the sufferings he has undergone to spread the Gospel.

St Paul, ca. 1330, by the Sienese painter Lippo Memmi (1291-1356); now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
After the Leonine sacramentary, this preface also appears in some early Roman sacramentaries; it remains in the Extraordinary form of the Ambrosian Mass to this day on the feast of St Sebastian. In the post-Conciliar reform, it has been modified as follows.

VD. Quóniam beáti mártyris N. pro confessióne nóminis tui, ad imitatiónem Christi, sanguis effúsus tua mirabília maniféstat, quibus pérficis in fragilitáte virtútem, et vires infírmas ad testimónium róboras.

My literal translation: Truly it is worthy… since the blood of the blessed martyr N., being shed for the confession of Thy name unto the imitation of Christ manifesteth Thy wonders, by which Thou dost perfect virtue in weakness (fragilitate), and strengthen weak powers unto witness (i.e. in order that they may bear witness).

Among the subcommittees that worked on various specific aspects of the reform, only one, that which did the hymns of the Divine Office under the direction of Dom Anselmo Lentini OSB, published an account of not just what it did, but why it did it. It is difficult to see, therefore, why any of the changes made to the original version were felt to be necessary, particularly the elimination of the word “venerable”, and the alteration of the Biblical citation in Latin; the latter might be explained by a desire to avoid using “infirmitate” and “infirmas” so close to each other.

Once again, the Biblical and Patristic citations purportedly related to this preface given by Johnson and Ward in their work “The Prefaces of the Roman Missal: A Source Compendium with Concordance and Indices” are vague and of no particular interest. They somehow fail to include the Biblical text which is explicitly cited, either of the occurrences of the words “sanguis effusus” in the Gospels (Matthew 23, 35 and the parallel text in Luke 11, 50), or any of the references to the blood of the Saints in the Apocalypse.

Folio 113r of the Saint-Sever Apocalypse, a mid-11th century manuscript which contains inter alia the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St Beatus of Liébana (ca. 730-800). This page represents the words of Apocalypse 6, 9-11, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?’ And white robes were given to every one of them one; and it was said to them, that they should rest for a little time, till their fellow servants, and their brethren, who are to be slain, even as they, should be filled up.” The golden T in the upper right corner of the picture is the altar (labelled ‘ara aurea - the golden altar’) and the birds beneath it are labelled ‘the souls of the slain.’ In the lower part, the caption reads ‘to these were given white stoles.’ (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 8878)
The new English liturgical translation: For the blood of your blessed Martyr N., poured out like Christ’s to glorify your name, shows forth your marvelous works, by which in our weakness you perfect your power and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness.

In the Novus Ordo, many new doxologies were invented for the new prefaces, but in this case, this will not be used in the EF. Here is the conclusion for the preface in the OF.

Et ídeo, cum caelórum virtútibus, in terris te iúgiter praedicámus, maiestáti tuae sine fine clamantes: Sanctus...

My literal translation: And therefore, with the powers of the heavens, we proclaim Thee unceasingly on earth, crying out to Thy majesty without end: Holy…

The new English liturgical translation: And so, with the powers of heaven, we worship you constantly on earth, and before your majesty without end we acclaim: Holy…

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