Thursday, January 07, 2021

Durandus on the Epiphany (Part 2)

We continue with the second part of the section of William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officium that discusses the Epiphany, Book 6, chapter 16 (7 med. - 17). Click here to see the first part.

In some churches, “Lord, thou shalt open my lips”, “God, come to my assistance”, “Glory be” and the hymn are not said on this day at the nocturns, to indicate the readiness of the nations, which came as soon as the star appeared. Therefore, we come abruptly to the nocturns, as if the Church were saying by this, “they to whom it was not told of him, Have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.” (Isa. 52, 15) One can also say that on this feast especially, mention is made of the conversion of the gentiles, whom the three Magi preceded from the beginning. Therefore, because the conversion of the gentiles was still imperfect, since it took place in very few people, namely, in the three Magi, as a sign of this the Church omits those songs which seem to belong to those who are already converted and perfected, like the Glory be, the hymn and such. For this reason, “Lord, thou shalt open my lips” and “God, come to my assistance” are not said beforehand, because, according to the Apostle, “By the heart does one believe unto justice”, but first, “but by the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10, 10), that is, after (one has converted).
The invitatory of Christmas and the Epiphany are the same musically, but with a slight change of wording on the latter feast, “apparuit” instead of “natus est”; this also underlines the connection between the two feasts, which Durandus discusses earlier in his treatment of the Epiphany.
The invitatory is also not said for four (other) reasons. First, to show that the Church in its first-fruits came to the Lord from the nations, not invited, or called by any herald, but only led by the star, according to the words “No one has hired us.” (Matt. 20, 7, in the parable of the workmen in the vineyard; in the original context, the verb “conduxit” means “hired”, but here, Durandus is playing off its derivation from “ducere – to lead.” The Church Fathers traditionally saw the workmen hired at the eleventh hour as a symbol of the gentiles coming into the Church in the last age of the world.) And thus might shame be inculcated in those who are late to believe, though that have many preachers, for the Magi came to adore Christ though they were not called.
Secondly, (it is omitted) so that we who are daily invited and urged on to worship and pray to God may be seen to detest the deceitful invitation of Herod when he said to the Magi, “Go and inquire diligently about the Child etc.” (Matt. 2, 8)
The meeting of Herod and the Magi; mosaic on the triumphal arch of the basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, ca. 435 AD. The Magi are shown wearing what would have appeared to 5th-century Romans as the typically outlandish dress of Eastern peoples, including the conical Phrygian cap, and pants, which the Romans disliked. At the time this was made, a halo designated importance, not goodness or holiness, and is therefore given to Herod as a king. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by MM, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The third reason is that the thing itself invites us, namely, the star, by which is signified faith, which leads us to God, and enlightens us in the night of this age.
The fourth (reason is) that the psalm Venite, which says the same thing (as the star), is said in the nocturns, and so the same text would be repeated. For although the invitatory is not said on this day, nevertheless the invitatory Psalm “Come let us exult unto the Lord” is said in the third nocturn with the seventh antiphon, to show that in the third age, namely, that of grace, the Church has been sufficiently called from the gentiles. And no one can excuse himself (Luke 14, 16-24, the parable of the great feast), because “their sound has gone out into all the world”, (Ps. 18, 5, traditionally understood as a reference to the preaching of the Apostles to every part of the world), and because in the third age, that of grace, the same grace is given (to all) in fullness. (The “third age” refers to St Augustine’s four-fold reckoning of time as “before the Law” from the creation to Moses, “under the Law” from Moses to Christ, “under grace” from the Christ to the end of the world, and finally “in peace.”) Also, (the Psalm) is said with the seventh antiphon to indicate that by baptism is given the sevenfold Spirit. During the week (i.e., the octave), the Invitatory is said in the person of the Magi, who announce to others who had not seen. Three readings are read from Isaiah, who speaks the most clearly about Christ’s birth, with which this feast is concern along with His appearance.
Notice also that the antiphons in the first nocturn refer to priests, in the second to the kings, and in the third we reach the angels. (Our friend Durandus might well have explained himself at greater length here. He means that two of the antiphons of the first nocturn of Epiphany Matins are imperatives, as if the priests were inviting us to prayer, e.g. “Sing ye unto God”; those of the second nocturn, e.g., “Let all the earth worship thee” from Psalm 65, refer to the three kings as representatives of all the nations that come to worship Christ, and those of the third refer twice to the Angels.)
The Baptism of Christ, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1655
The following section refers to a custom found in almost every medieval use of the Office apart from that of the Papal court, the ancestor of the Breviary of St Pius V, by which the Gospel of Our Lord’s Genealogy according to St Matthew, 1, 1-16, is sung after the ninth responsory of Christmas Matins, and that of St Luke, 3, 21 – 4, 1, after the ninth responsory of Epiphany Matins.
After the third nocturn is sung the Gospel of Luke, “And it came to pass”, which deals fully with the Saviour’s baptism, and describes His genealogy, because, as has been said before, this feast is (also) that of His birth.
Now it should be noted that Matthew in the Gospel “The book of the generation” counts that generation by beginning with Abraham, and descending to “Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus etc.”, showing by this that “His going forth was from the height of heaven” (Ps. 18, 7), and how the Lord came down to us. Likewise Isaiah (11, 3), when counting the gifts of the Holy Spirit, puts fear last, saying, “and the spirit of fear of the Lord filled him.” But Luke in the Gospel “And it came to pass” counts it by ascending, because he puts it after the baptism. Nor does he stop with Abraham, but at Adam he proceeds to God by steps thus” “who was of Heli”, showing by this that the way to God begins with baptism, but is made, as it were, by certain steps of the virtues, which are signified by the fathers arranged in steps. And it touches on sons according to the Law, not according to nature, thus: “who was of Mathat, who was of David”, understand, “the adoptive son.” Therefore one generation is described by descending, the other by ascending, since one is of the flesh, and the other of the spirit. In one (Matthew’s) is used the word “begat”, where the begetting according to the flesh, and succession in time are spoken of; in the other is used “who was of”, to denote the adoption of spiritual generation may be noted, and it is described by ascending, to denote a spiritual ascent.
The first ends with the Virgin’s childbearing; the second begins for us with baptism. Therefore there are three Gospels of this solemnity: one is of the baptism, namely, “It came to pass”; the second is of the Magi, namely, “When Jesus was born,” which is said at the Mass (Matt. 2, 1-12), …; the third is the Gospel of the Wedding (at Cana), which is said on the Sunday after the feast of St Hilary. … After the Gospel, the Church says with rejoicing, “We praise Thee, God” (the Te Deum.)
A very beautiful recording of the Gospel of the Genealogy of Christ according to Luke.
In the night Office, very little is said about the Lord’s Baptism, but this is supplied on the octave day, which treats of the appearance made at the Baptism, and especially in the antiphons of Lauds (i.e. the series of proper antiphons for the octave of the Epiphany, which are not included in the Breviary of St Pius V), which show the effect of Baptism in us, namely, that we are baptized so that we may be washed from sins in this laver. For they all have the same notes, and are of the seventh tone; the same, to show the unity of the Church, and of the seventh tone, to show that in baptism is given the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, or else because through baptism we come to the seventh age (of man), that of those who rest. For if someone should die immediately after worthily receiving baptism, he at once receives the first stole, which is given in the seventh age … But the antiphon at the Magnificat is in the eighth tone, because at the end of the world the second stole will be given to us, that is, the glory of the body, which we hope we will receive in the eighth age.
For there are two evenings of the world. The first is the sixth age, according to which the Lord was born in the evening of the world, as it “As the evening of the world inclined” (from the Vesper hymn of Advent Conditor alme siderum); the second is the end of the world, in which we will at last be given the grace of the flesh, of which it is said “At the evening shall weeping abide” (Ps. 29). For until then there will be the weeping of our misery, but then there will be the end …
The Mass… likewise pertains to the first, principle and most important miracle, namely, to the first-fruits of the gentiles, to the gifts of the Magi, and to Christ’s birth, whence the Introit, which is taken from Isaiah, although not as a direct quotation. (In modern Missals, the Introit of the Epiphany is cited to Malachi 3, 1 and 1 Chronicle 29, 12, but it is not an exact quotation of any passage of the Bible.) … For the Church, chosen from the nations, rejoicing for the beginning of its calling, offers to God a pleasing public act of praise for its salvation, … as if it were saying, “Behold, it is revealed that He who is Lord by nature has come as a ruler in effect, that is, He has come to us, and taken on the flesh.” Or, so that we may refer it specifically to the present day, “He has come to us”, that is, He who lay hidden in the flesh, by many signs hath appeared as God: by the star, by the gifts of the Magi, by the Father’s voice, and by the Holy Spirit in (the form of a) dove. For this reason, it uses the adverb of demonstrating “Behold”, showing the appearance of the Son of God as it were to the eye by these things aforementioned.
Now the Introit of today’s Mass denotes the joy of the nations as they rejoice at the coming of the Saviour; and in the Collect, the nations are exhorted to contemplate His appearance (or ‘beauty’), which they know by faith. All the rest is about the day’s miracle, that is, of the nations led by the star.
We must not pass over the fact that in Italy, at this day’s Mass, the next Easter is announced to the people. So after the Offertory, a priest or someone else says in a loud voice, “I announce to your charity a great joy, which shall be to all people (an echo of the Gospel of Christmas), that Septuagesima will be on such a day, and Easter on such.

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