Monday, May 31, 2021

Why We Should Revive the Octave of Corpus Christi in the Usus Antiquior

On the Thursday nine weeks after Holy Thursday falls the feast of Corpus Christi — specifically, the Body of Christ, not the Novus Ordo’s substitute commemoration “the Body and Blood of Christ,” which is in any case usually transferred to Sunday (and is not by any means the same as an “external solemnity”) on account of the hierarchy’s nearly-unanimous surrender to the imperious dictatorship of work. (The traditional calendar, thanks to Pius IX, appropriately includes a feast for the Most Precious Blood of Jesus on July 1st, a theme to which John XXIII dedicated an encyclical in 1960.) Like the Ascension, Corpus Christi falls properly on a Thursday: always has, always will, wherever tradition is valued as befits Catholics.

Corpus Christi was originally instituted as an octave. Whoever believes that Our Lord is really, truly, substantially present in the Most Holy Sacrament would not be able to celebrate this “incomprehensible mystery of love” for just one day and then move on, like a person checking off a task on his to-do list and moving on to the next. No, there must be the full, rounded, lavish praise of eight days: time stands still and we bask in the glory of the Incarnate God in our midst until the end of time and the end of signs.

So obvious is this ecclesial instinct that when Our Lord Himself appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to ask for the institution of a feast in honor of His Sacred Heart, He specified that it was to take place on “the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi” (see here for further details). That is why it occurs the Friday of the week following the feast. It has retained this spot in the 1962 and 1969 calendars, a position that would seem rather random in the absence of the octave; it’s like the “ghost pain” where a severed limb used to be, which Descartes used as evidence of the untrustworthiness of the senses. My view is that if the octave’s good with Jesus, it’s good with me.

Although the abolition of this octave was one of many egregious preconciliar liturgical deformations that happened under Pius XII, mid-way between the gutting of the Psalter (1911) and the gutting of the entire Roman rite (1969 and environs), today we may rejoice that, thanks to discreet indications from the quondam Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the octave of Corpus Christi may be observed today, in this happy period of the restoration of the Tridentine rite. The 2020 Ordo for the Usus Antiquior, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indicates that the Octave of Corpus Christi may be observed in some fashion. (Incidentally, it also says that the Preface of the Nativity may be used.) It doesn’t explain how it is it to be observed, but probably assumes that anyone who is competent to read these rubrics in Latin can figure out from an old missal what to do. Here is a photo of the page from the 2021 Ordo:

Technically what this is saying is that where it has been a traditional practice to hold special devotions, with the faithful, on the days formerly within the Octave of Corpus Christi, these devotions may be continued. Where a procession takes place on these days, two Masses of the Most Holy Eucharist are permitted as Votive Masses of the II cl. (Missale Romanum, 1962 edition, rubric after the Mass of Corpus Christi): “Septem sequentibus diebus, ubi fit processio, permittuntur duae Missae de SS. Eucharistia: (61), ad modum Missae votivae II classis.” Yet in the current context where so much pre-55 restoration has already taken place, we can intuit the appropriateness of adopting tout court the octave that originally existed and which Our Savior Himself took into account in His Providence.

As I’ve mentioned on other occasions, Anglophone traditionalists are sometimes too legalistic when it comes to asking and waiting for explicit “permissions” from “the Vatican” to do X, Y, or Z. The way things are done in Rome is very Italian: hints are dropped, nudges are given, a quiet wave of the hand. Often, the lack of a prohibition or an outcry in view of obviously known cases can be construed as “soft” approval to continue. This is very important for restoring the fullness of the Roman Rite of the Mass (especially its calendar), which suffered intensifying depradations of bad taste and bad theology from the 1940s onward, beginning with the “Si Diligis” Mass for Supreme Pontiffs. And when you think about it, this way of proceeding makes sense. It would be a form of suicide for anyone at the Vatican to issue express permission to go back on what has been pushed forward by a succession of popes and curial decrees; but by allowing restoration to spread unchecked, good things happen and no one is hurt.

On June 11, 2020, Fr. Zuhlsdorf wrote:
In 1986 the English edition of Joseph Ratzinger’s Feast of Faith was published by Ignatius Press. At the time, it was a bombshell of enormous importance. It is still extremely helpful in understanding the state of the Church in the world and is foundational in Ratzinger’s faith. In that volume the future Benedict XVI reflected on the feast of Corpus Christi, which held profound significance for him from his youth onward. His Holiness juxtaposed the sad decline of Eucharistic devotions after the Second Vatican Council with what the Council of Trent taught. Although the anti-triumphalism of some post-Conciliar liturgists had repressed Eucharistic exposition, adoration and processions,
(and now Fr. Z proceeds to quote Ratzinger):

the Council of Trent had been far less inhibited. It said that the purpose of Corpus Christi was to arouse gratitude in the hearts of men and to remind them of their common Lord. (cf. Decr. desc. Euch., c. 5; DS 1644). Here in a nutshell, we have in fact three purposes: Corpus Christi is to counter man’s forgetfulness, to elicit his thankfulness, and it has something to do with fellowship, with that unifying power which is at work where people are looking for the one Lord. A great deal could be said about this; for with our computers, meetings and appointments we have become appallingly thoughtless and forgetful (pp. 128-9).
          Let us consider Trent again for a moment. There we find the unqualified statement that Corpus Christi celebrates Christ’s triumph, his victory over death. Just as, according to our Bavarian custom, Christ was honored in the terms of a great state visit, Trent harks back to the practice of the ancient Romans who honored their victorious generals by holding triumphal processions on their return. The purpose of Christ’s campaign was to eliminate death, that death which devours time and makes us cultivate the lie in order to forget or “kill” time. … Far from detracting from the primacy of reception which is expressed in the gifts of bread and wine, it actually reveals fully and for the first time what “receiving” really means, namely, giving the Lord the reception due to the Victor. To receive him means to worship him; to receive him means precisely, Quantum potes tantum aude — dare to do as much as you can. (p. 130)

Lastly, St. John Henry Newman, in his Sermon Notes for the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi (May 25, 1856, not intended for publication), expressed the following eminently Catholic sentiments, which we would do well to adopt and internalize once again as our own:

There is no feast, no season in the whole year which is so intimately connected with our religious life, or shows more wonderfully what Christianity is, as that which we are now celebrating [viz., Corpus Christi]…. The world is in wickedness. Satan is god of the world; unbelief rules. Now this opposition to us has a tendency to weigh us down, to dispirit us, to dull our apprehensions.… Now observe, How almighty love and wisdom has met this. He has met this by living among us with a continual presence. He is not past, He is present now. And though He is not seen, He is here. The same God who walked the water, who did miracles, etc., is in the Tabernacle. We come before Him, we speak to Him just as He was spoken to 1800 years ago, etc. Nay, further, He [does] not [merely] present Himself before us as the object of worship, but God actually gives Himself to us to be received into our breasts. Wonderful communion. This [is] how He counteracts time and the world. It [the Blessed Sacrament] is not past, it is not away. It is this that makes devotion in lives. It is the life of our religion. We are brought into the unseen world.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday 2021

Vidi Dóminum sedentem super solium excelsum et elevátum, et plena erat omnis terra majestáte ejus: * Et ea, quae sub ipso erant, replébant templum. V. Séraphim stabant super illud: sex alæ uni, et sex alæ álteri. R. Et ea, quæ sub ipso erant, replébant templum. (The first responsory at Matins of Trinity Sunday.)

The Most Holy Trinity; from an illuminated Gospel book for major feasts produced in the neighborhood of Konstanz, Germany, ca. 1475, now in the library of the Abbey of San Gallen in Switzerland. (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 368;; CC BY-NC 4.0.)
R. I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the whole earth was full of His glory; * And His train filled the temple. V. Above it stood the Seraphim each one had six wings. R. And His train filled the temple.

A polyphonic setting for choir and orchestra by the Spanish composer Antonio Juanas (1755 ca. - after 1819), who worked as master of the cathedral of Alcalà de Henares and Mexico City.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Tradition is for the Young - Photos by Allison Girone

It has been a busy month for Allison Girone, one of our favorite photographers, who has graciously shared with us her work from some recent events at a couple of different churches: two first Communion ceremonies, a Confirmation, a priest’s first Mass, and a May crowning. I never tire of saying that we should all take encouragement from seeing how many young people are not just participating in the Sacraments and ceremonies of the Church, but also working to make sure that they continue to be celebrated in the traditional rites. Feliciter!

First Communions at the Church of St Patrick in Wilmington, Delaware

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Mass of the Ember Friday of Pentecost

Like the Mass of the Ember Wednesday of Pentecost, that of the Ember Friday does not have a clear overarching theme, although there are many literary connections between its various parts. The Introit is taken from Psalm 70. “Repleátur os meum laude tua, allelúja, ut possim cantáre, allelúja; gaudébunt labia mea, dum cantávero tibi, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. In te, Dómine, sperávi, non confundar in aeternum: in justitia tua líbera me et éripe me. Gloria Patri. Repleátur... – Let my mouth be filled with Your praise, alleluia, that I may sing, alleluia; my lips rejoice as I sing to Thee, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm In Thee, o Lord, have I hoped, let me never be put to confusion; in Thy justice, deliver me and rescue me. Glory be. Let my mouth be filled…” The first part of this was perhaps intended to remind us that at Pentecost, the mouths of the Apostles were filled in such a way that they were able to speak in various tongues of the wondrous of God. (Act. 2, 11, the last verse of the Epistle of Pentecost.)
The Epistle, Joel 2, 23-24 and 26-27, begins with the words, “O children of Sion, rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God, because he hath given you a teacher of justice” “Rejoice” looks back to the Introit, while “a teacher of justice” looks forward to the Gospel, in which Christ appears as the teacher of justice foretold by the prophet. “At that time, it came to pass on a certain day, as Jesus sat teaching.” Among those who sat with Him to hear Him were “Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” The words “qui fecit mirabilia vobiscum… – who did wonders with you” also join the Epistle to the Gospel, which ends with the words “we have seen wonders today.”
The Prophet Joel, depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1508-12. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Some ancient lectionaries attest to a different Epistle for this day, Acts 2, 22-28, the continuation of the first reading of Ember Wednesday, verses 14-21 of the same chapter, which recount St Peter’s preaching on the first Pentecost; this custom remained in use in some places until the era of the Tridentine reform. This reading is also very cleverly chosen in reference to the Gospel; St Peter says that God did wonders through Jesus “in your midst”, while the Gospel says that the friends of the paralytic let him down through the roof “into their midst.” Durandus notes (De Div. Off. 6.120.1) that the Apostle’s words about the Lord’s passion and death were chosen because the reading is assigned to a Friday: “Jesus of Nazareth… you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain, Whom God hath raised up… For David saith concerning him, ‘… my tongue hath rejoiced… moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.’ ” Part of this citation of Psalm 15, “My flesh also shall rest in hope”, is sung as the third antiphon of Tenebrae of Holy Saturday, which would normally have been sung on the evening of Good Friday.
The first Alleluja verse is taken from the book of Wisdom, 12, 1. “O quam bonus et suávis est, Dómine, Spíritus tuus in nobis! – O how good and sweet is Thy Spirit, o Lord, within us!” This reading of this verse differs from the Greek, which says simply “For Thy spirit is incorrupt in all things”, and from several manuscripts of the Vulgate which read “For Thy spirit is good in all things.” The chant itself is a relatively new composition, not attested in any of the early graduals catalogued by the musicologist Dom René-Jean Hesbert, a monk of Solesmes Abbey, in his “Antiphonale Missarum Sextuplex.”
The paralytic lowered through the roof, in a fresco of the 8th or 9th century preserved in the basilica of St Sabbas on the Aventine Hill in Rome. On the left side is shown the calling of Ss James and John.
For the Church Fathers, the healing of the paralytic read in today’s Gospel, Luke 5, 17-26 (with Synoptic parallels Matthew 9, 1-8 and Mark 2, 1-12), is particularly important as a symbol of the forgiveness of sins granted to us by Christ, which is one of the articles of the Creed. This is justified, of course, because when asked to heal the paralytic, Jesus first says to him, “O man, your sins are forgiven”, and only heals the man physically when challenged, as if His first statement were a blasphemous usurpation of God’s authority. As St Ambrose says in the Breviary lesson for today, “although we must accept the truth of the story, and believe that the body of this paralytic was truly healed, nevertheless, recognize also the healing of the interior man, whose sins are forgiven him.” (Expos. in Evang, Lucae 5, 5) This is important enough a point to merit the repetition of the story in St Matthew’s version later on in the year, on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Indirectly, this episode also shows the divinity of Christ, since He does not deny what the Pharisees assert, that only God has authority to forgive sins. The confession of the Christ’s divinity, and the refutation of heresies that deny it, seems to be an important theme of the Pentecost octave, as noted earlier this week in regard to the Mass of Tuesday.
The Offertory is repeated from the Mass of the Third Sunday after Easter, perhaps continuing the theme of praising God from the other parts of the Mass. “Lauda, ánima mea, Dóminum: laudábo Dóminum in vita mea, psallam Deo meo, quamdiu ero, allelúja. – Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord in my life, I will sing to my God as long as I shall live, alleluia.”
The Secret is noteworthy as the only prayer of Pentecost week that refers directly to the historical event of the feast itself. (It is also a very fine rhetorical composition, whose word order defies direct translation into English.) “Sacrificia, Dómine, tuis obláta conspéctibus, ignis ille divínus absúmat, qui discipulórum Christi, Filii tui, per Spíritum Sanctum corda succendit. – May that divine fire consume the sacrifices offered in Thy sight, o Lord, even that which through the Holy Spirit enkindled the hearts of the disciples of Christ, Thy Son.”
The same catalog by Dom Hesbert mentioned above shows that the Communio of today’s Mass was originally “Spiritus ubi vult spirat”, which is now sung on Ember Saturday, and that of today was originally sung tomorrow. Until the Tridentine reform, the original order seems to have been preserved everywhere except for Rome itself. There is no obvious reason for them to change places, and that which is now sung today, which begins “I will not leave you orphans”, seems like a much better choice for the last day of Pentecost. “Non vos relinquam órphanos, veniam ad vos íterum, allelúja, et gaudébit cor vestrum, allelúja. – I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you again, alleluia, and your heart with rejoice, alleluia.”
A very nice polyphonic setting by William Byrd, who would have known this as a text for the Ember Saturday.

The Confessional Collect of Trinity Sunday

Jean Bourdichon, The Holy Trinity, miniature from the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, Queen consort of France (1477-1514)
Lost in Translation #56

The Collect for the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is:

Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui dedisti fámulis tuis in confessióne veae fídei, aeternae Trinitátis gloriam agnóscere, et in potentia majestátis adoráre unitátem: quáesumus, ut, ejusdem fídei firmitáte, ab ómnibus semper muniámur adversis. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty and eternal God, who didst grant to Thy servants, in the confession of the true Faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of Majesty to adore Its Unity: we beseech Thee, that by steadfastness in the same Faith, we may ever be defended from all who are opposed to us. Through our Lord.
In theme and wording, the Collect echoes the Preface of the Most Holy Trinity, which is used on this feast and throughout the Time after Pentecost: confession of the true, Trinity and unity glory of the Persons, adoration and Majesty. Reading the two prayers back-to-back is a profitable exercise.
The statement of fact (“O God, who....”) declares that God has given His servants two gifts: a confession of the true Faith, which enables them to acknowledge the glory of the Trinity; and the power of His Majesty, which enables them to adore the unity of the Trinity. Once rich and polyvalent, the current concept of confession is a mere shadow of its former self. Whereas now confession refers only to a self-disclosure of sin, in the Bible and in the early and medieval Church it referred to three things: praise of God, accusation of self, and profession of faith. A “confessor” is the term for a saint who has not been martyred, but the early martyrs were also called confessors because of their brave confession of faith: to this day, the space below the altar in some early basilicas that contains the relics of a martyr is called a confessio.
A panoramic view of the confessio of St Mary Major in Rome, which in this case, houses the relics of Our Lord’s crib, rather than of a martyr, and of the high altar above it. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Till Niermann, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Confession of the true Faith is powerful. In the Postcommunion Prayer of this feast, we dare to list it with Holy Eucharist as something that can grant wellness to both body and soul. [1] Here in the Collect, confession of the Faith is identified as something that gives us the ability to be cognizant of the glory of the Trinity. Agnoscere means “acknowledge,” and as Catholics we acknowledge the Trinity’s glory often--for example, every time we say the minor doxology “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” But agnoscere can also mean to know or recognize, [2] and I suspect that these meanings are at play as well. Does not our Christian Faith enable us to recognize God’s glory, to see the ways in which “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”? (Gerard Manley Hopkins) It is a privilege to have this power of recognition, and it is a privilege to know the great mystery that there are three Persons in one God.
It is also a privilege to be able to love God’s unity, for this power comes not from our own native willpower but from His supervening Majesty. In the Roman orations, “glory” is something that belongs primarily to God, while “majesty” (majestas) belongs exclusively to Him. The martyrs, for instance, have glory, but only God has majesty, for it is virtually synonymous with His essence. [3] His Majesty does, however, empower us to love His unity. To my mind at least, there is a subtle compare-and-contrast between in confessione veræ fidei and in potentia majestatis. Both are powerful, but confessing the true faith is an example of cooperative grace, in which both man and God have agency, while the love that comes from God’s power is an example of operative grace, which God works in us without us--like the infused virtue of charity.
The petition, on the other hand, asks for protection from adverse things or persons. I have translated adversa or adversi as “all who are opposed to us” because the word ad-versus literally refers to someone who is turned to face you (in this case, aggressively) and is thus both opposite of you and opposed to you. The three hand Missals I consulted--St. Andrew Daily, St. Joseph, and Baronius Press-- translate the word as “adversities,” but I think they are missing the point. First, there is a Latin word for adversity and it is adversitas, not adversi. The Roman Collects sometimes pray for deliverance from adversitas, but here I believe that the author has in mind the people that war against our confession of the true Faith, like those who persecute Christians: there is, in other words, an implicit juxtaposition of the three Persons who are confessed in the true Faith and the persons who are opposed to that confession. Firmness in the Faith is difficult precisely because the Faith has enemies both visible and invisible.
But we do not pray for the destruction of these enemies. Others have turned against us, but we do not turn against them. Instead we pray that firmness in the Faith may provide a defense against their assaults. The image is mildly militaristic: muniamur literally means to “be fortified with a wall.” We are asking that our steadfastness in the Faith will act as a wall to keep us safe, perhaps to buy us enough time to convert our (mortal) enemies into making the same confession.
The 2002 Roman Missal, incidentally, has an altered version of this prayer for its Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity:
Deus Pater, qui, Verbum veritátis et Spíritum sanctificatiónis mittens in mundum, admirábile mysterium tuum homínibus declarasti, da nobis, in confessióne verae fídei, aeternae gloriam Trinitátis agnóscere, et Unitátem adoráre in potentia maiestátis. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
God the Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification revealed a wonderful mystery to men: grant to us that in the confession of the true Faith we may acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of Majesty we may adore Its Unity. Through our Lord.
The petition for steadfastness in the Faith and protection from our adversaries has been omitted, and the original statement of fact about God has been turned into a petition. Whereas the original Collect presupposes that the faithful have been acknowledging the Trinity’s glory and loving Its unity, the new Collect asks for them now.
But the real puzzle is the 2011 official English translation:
God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty. Through our Lord.
There are, in my opinion, four peculiarities in the English translation.
  1. It reverses what we acknowledge. Before we acknowledged the glory of the Trinity; now we acknowledge the “Trinity of glory.” The latter is theologically ambivalent, and it weakens the allusion to our doxological practices. One wonders why this change was made.
  2. It destroys the pairing of [the power of] confession and the power of divine Majesty.
  3. It changes the power of Majesty from the cause of adoration to an attribute of divine unity. Our love of God is no longer seen as something that can only exist when it is sustained by divine power.
  4. Finally--and this returns us to our main theme--it translates confessio as “profession.” As we noted earlier, one of the meanings of confession is a profession of faith, and so the translators have by no means erred. But the decision, in my opinion, is nonetheless somewhat unfortunate. The only way we will be able to retrieve or maintain our rich Christian vocabulary is by using it. When we avoid terminology because it is no longer readily intelligible or because an easier word comes to mind, we collaborate in the emaciation of our own theological patrimony. Better to confess the true Faith in our own hallowed words, whether that confession is in season or out.
[1] Profíciat nobis ad salútem córporis et ánimae, Dómine, Deus noster, hujus sacramenti susceptio: et sempiternae sanctae Trinitátis ejusdemque indivíduae Unitátis confessio. Per Dóminum. Which I translate as: “O Lord, our God, may our reception of this sacrament and our confession of the eternal and holy Trinity and Its undivided Unity bring about health of body and of soul. Through our Lord.”
[2] See the Vulgate translation of Matt. 12, 33: ex fructu arbor agnoscitur.
[3] See Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 40.
[4] The theological virtue of faith is also infused in us without us, but I wonder if the confessing of the Faith is a more cooperative act.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A Solemn Mass on the Ascension

On the feast of the Ascension, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Texarkana, Texas, held a Solemn High Mass in the traditional rite, accompanied by Joseph Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (Mass in troubled times) for orchestra and voice, led by conductor and composer Marc-André Bougie. The Mass was celebrated by Fr Michael Adams, who was also commemorating the anniversary of his priestly ordination, and offered in thanksgiving for his time as pastor, a position from which he has just recently retired. H.E. Joseph Strickland, bishop of Tyler, Texas, attended the Mass in choir and preached. Our thanks to the parish for sharing these photos with us.

The Eighth Week: The Wisdom of the Traditional Pentecost Octave - Guest Article by a Benedictine Monk

We are very grateful to a Benedictine monk for sharing with us these wise observations on the importance of celebrating the octave of Pentecost.

When the post-Vatican II Consilium for the reform of the Roman liturgy addressed the question of the temporal cycle, that is to say, the annual celebration of the mysteries of salvation from the Incarnation to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, their overarching principle (as in all other realms, according to the prescription of Sacrosanctum Concilium) seems to have been “simplification”. This process of simplification would of necessity impose a number of suppressions and shortenings. If the very heart of the liturgical year, Holy Week and Easter, remained fairly intact with regard to the actual calendar, the preparatory and concluding periods of celebration counted two significant casualties, namely, Septuagesima and the octave of Pentecost. Whereas the traditional calendar prepares for Lent by means of the two and a half weeks of Septuagesima, and closes the paschal period with an octave for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the reformers seem to have thought they were obliged to apply to the letter St Augustine’s words, “We celebrate forty days of labour before Easter; with joy however, having received our reward, fifty days after Easter” (Tract 17 on St John; this text is read in the Breviary on Ember Friday in Lent).
The Descent of the Holy Spirit, from a decorated antiphonary by Lorenzo Monaco
Why the octave of Pentecost? Numerological reasons
There can be no doubt that the numbers forty and fifty are highly symbolic, having deep roots in the Biblical tradition. The Church has always referred to the holy Forty Day Fast and to the Fifty Day Jubilee after Easter. At the same time, for well over a millennium, the forty day fast has been forty-six days (to account for the six Sundays which are included in Lent but are not days of fasting), and has been preceded by a period to prepare us for it, namely Septuagesima, which serves as a sort of warm-up, so that when Ash Wednesday arrives, we are ready for the spiritual combat. The late Canon André Rose, who was a member of Bugnini’s Consilium, complained to this author that the suppression of Septuagesima left us with no option but to “parachute people into Lent” (his expression). His boss, Mgr Martimort apparently insisted that forty days of preparation for Easter is enough. “Forty days and no more!” And from that day forward, an unofficial new liturgical office was created, that of the Lenten paratrooper…
Something similar happened at the other end of the paschal celebration, with the suppression of the octave of Pentecost. Fifty days are given to the celebration of the “magna Dominica” (an expression of St Athanasius referring to the fifty day celebration of Easter). The fifty day jubilee goes all the way back to Mount Sinai, for it was on the fiftieth day after the first Passover and the going out from Egypt that the Law was given to Moses on the mountain. The promulgation of the Old Law has always been seen as a prefiguration of the New. Consequently, on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit is poured forth, the crowning achievement of the paschal mystery, by promulgating the New Law of the Gospel for all nations. The ancient hymn for Pentecost Lauds expressed this admirably with the stanza: “Patrata sunt haec mystice / Paschae peracto tempore / Sacro dierum numero / Quo lege fit remissio — These things were done in type today / When Eastertide had worn away, / The number told which once set free / The captive at the jubilee.”
Mt Sinai, by El Greco, 1570-72
Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day of Easter, but it is also, most significantly, the eighth Sunday of Easter, which means that it opens the eighth week of the paschal celebration. Just as the Resurrection of Our Lord takes place on the eighth day, that is to say, after the sabbath rest, for it is another day which inaugurates a new era, so here, the celebration of Eastertide fittingly closes with an eighth week, symbolizing that the foundation of the Christian Church has taken humanity into a new and definitive era, the prelude to eternity. For if the eighth day symbolizes the new creation, the eighth week is as it were a heavenly week, one in which the faithful soul can delight in advance with the presence of the Holy Spirit, eternal bond between Father and Son. Thus, the sacral nature of the fifty day Easter celebration was never lost in the Church, but its prolongation into an eighth week has given it a still deeper dimension.
Practical Reasons
There is also a practical consideration which may have contributed to the extension of Pentecost over a whole week. Just as the number of days in Lent was lengthened to forty-six (which is why Lent starts on a Wednesday) so as to provide for forty days of fasting in addition to the Sundays which are not days of fasting, so the fifty celebration of Easter has been lengthened due to the fact that there are six days during Eastertide when it is customary to fast, namely the Rogation days and the Ember Days after Pentecost. If we subtract those six days from the eight full weeks of Eastertide, we find ourselves with exactly fifty day of jubilee celebration.
Conversely, from a practical perspective, just as, due to the suppression of Septuagesima, the abrupt start of Lent on Ash Wednesday without transition from “ordinary time” feels strange, so does it feel odd, after the jubilant celebration of Pentecost Sunday, to find oneself all of a sudden, and without transition, in “ordinary time”, as if nothing had happened the day before. Like so many other aspects about the reformed liturgy, it sounds logical, it looks neat on paper, concocted as it was in the office of the liturgical bureaucracy. So we have a nice and tidy paschal tide, just as we have a nice and tidy Lent. Forty days of Lent, fifty days of Easter. That’s it.
An important shift in theology
The suppression of the octave, however, would create a number of other problems. So it is when a complex work of art is deemed too ornate, and one tries to simplify it. Can you imagine trying to “simplify” Chartres Cathedral or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Of necessity, disaster will ensue. In this particular case, the major problem is that in the West, contrary to the Eastern liturgies, the theology of the Holy Spirit which developed in the corpus of liturgical texts is largely concentrated precisely within the octave of Pentecost. To amputate the octave meant to amputate the liturgy of its most considerable pneumatological texts.
The rose window of the north transept of Chartres Cathedral, an object that bears repeated study. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by PtrQs, CC BY-SA 4.0. Click to see in close resolution.)
The solution decided upon was to replace the octave after Pentecost with a novena of preparation before Pentecost. This novena, which runs from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost (or, sadly, in many places now from Ascension Sunday to Pentecost, thus making it a “seven day novena”…), is officially said to be a time of preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Consequently some of the prayers of the old octave find place there (albeit somewhat mutilated, as we point out below). The change at first sight seemed smooth, and was hailed as an excellent initiative. Now we sing the Veni Creator Spiritus before Pentecost. This seems to make sense. We pray for the Spirit to come before He is actually here, instead of doing so when He is already with us.
This approach neglects, however, one very important point. The change profoundly affects the very concept of what is being celebrated. By celebrating the novena of preparation liturgically—note that the novena always existed in the personal devotion of individuals and religious communities who often take that period as a time of retreat—we now have just a commemoration of the salvific event, as opposed to an ongoing celebration of a grace that continues now. We commemorate what happened in that first century of our era: Jesus came, offered for us His life, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit among us. It is a historical commemoration. But when we reach Pentecost Sunday, the event having been commemorated, there is nothing else to do. The Holy Spirit has been given to the Church. We live with Him. He is our life. We return to the ordinary.
What are we to make of this? In a way it is true. The Holy Spirit has indeed been given to the Church, and God’s gifts are irrevocable. But let’s stop for a moment and consider what might be the underlying theological significance of the older form of the liturgy. The days between Ascension and Pentecost, otherwise known as Ascensiontide (or the octave of the Ascension, as it became known in the post-Tridentine period), are spent contemplating the triumph of the glorified humanity of the Saviour, while at the same time turning our gaze towards the gift of the Paraclete. The Magnificat antiphon O Rex Gloriae, chanted at second Vespers of the Ascension, unites both these aspects, and is sung daily during this period. But when the Spirit is given on Pentecost, we feel the need to spend an entire week thanking Him, rejoicing in His presence, basking in His light, but also begging Him to come in ever renewed ways, and to stay with us forever. Even though it may not appear at first sight, the annual octave of the Holy Spirit ingrains into our minds and hearts the fact that, although the Spirit has been given, we must continually pray that He enlighten us, that He stay with us, that He defend us from all harm and lead us to a blessed eternity.
A motet setting of O Rex gloriae by the Italian composter Luca Marenzio.
The Church is indeed always in dire peril until the Lord returns in glory. She has been entrusted with the mystery of salvation, but she knows only too well that among her children there are those who stray from her bosom, get involved in false doctrines, and lose their souls. The Novus Ordo’s abrupt end to Eastertide on the very evening of Pentecost Sunday seems to indicate that, now that we have the Spirit, there is nothing to worry about. But we know this is not true.
The old liturgy on the other hand, as in so many other realms, is a school of humility. We have the Holy Spirit; if we lose Him, it will be no fault of His. This is exactly what the octave of Pentecost helped us to not forget: we can lose Him through our fault if we cease to pray and to ask for His guidance. This can happen to all the members of the Church, including its shepherds. Is it excessive to say that the Church at Vatican II seemed to revel in the auto-celebration of its own glory? That she entered the post-conciliar era with what was probably exaggerated self-confidence, very much as if she relied too heavily on the Gift of the Spirit which she had already received and could not lose? The Church indeed has the Spirit and cannot lose Him, but individual members of the Church, including its pastors, can. There have too many examples of this to even dream of denying it.
It seems to this author that the post-conciliar period of the Church has been marked by a growing absence of the light of the Holy Spirit and at the same time a growing audacity in pretending that the Church cannot fail. Would not the reduced devotion to the Holy Spirit explain some of the overly bold, if not gravely imprudent, gestures of some recent Popes — though of this God alone is judge — especially in the realm of inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism, as well as in her often excessive efforts to be on good terms with the political powers of the day, to the extent of not having the courage to stand up and defend her rights (as we saw so clearly of late with the closing of churches by mandate of the State, and even the removal of holy water fonts and the banning of Communion on the tongue, due to unverified reports that these practices present a danger of contagion)?
In all this, many of the pastors of the Church seem to have forgotten what their predecessors were very wary of, namely their own frailty. It was because the ancients were fully conscious of this that they wisely avoided going down certain paths that were fraught with grave dangers for the faith, or intervening in matters for which She has no charism of truth, or being overly talkative about the faith, thus multiplying the risk of error in official documents. Many indeed are those who have pointed to what seems to be the vice of loquaciousness on behalf of the Church since Vatican II — it is hard to keep up with all the documents being published! But since, according to Vatican I, the charism of infallibility is limited to a few very rare occurrences, is it too much to speak of the sin of presumption when the Church is constantly intervening in public debates especially on questions for which She has no particular mandate or competence (such as ecology, climate, vaccinations, etc…), and at the same time leaves aside her true role of teaching the nations and preaching Catholic doctrine with clarity for the salvation of souls?
St Charles Borromeo in Prayer before the Holy Trinity; altarpiece of the church of St Charles a the  Four Fountains in Rome, by Orazio Borgianni, 1611. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Some gems of the octave
In addition to the importance of the octave itself for the reasons just developed, the eight day celebration of Pentecost also contains a number of gems which the revised liturgy simply lost. Numerous commentators have pointed out the great richness of the Pentecost octave.
The first reason for which the reformers found fault with the Pentecost octave was that it was a sort of double of the Easter octave, complete with its own lengthy vigil Mass. Indeed, following the Edict of Milan, there were so many adults wanting to be baptized that it was not possible to receive them all at Easter, and so did Pentecost become the second great celebration of Baptism (whence the name Whitsunday which refers to the white garments of the neophytes coming out of the baptismal font). It would be erroneous, however, to see in the Pentecost Octave a slavish repetition of Easter. Even though a small number of the chants are resumed from the Easter octave, the great majority are proper to this octave which gives us a summary of the whole of the Christian life. The texts of the various Masses are replete with treasures which manifest the multi-faceted Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned earlier, some of the texts of the octave underwent significant mutilations when they were moved to the new novena of preparation . Two examples will suffice. The first is the oration for Ember Friday after Pentecost, in which we pray:
“Da, quaesumus, Ecclesiae tuae, misericors Deus: ut Sancto Spiritu congregata, hostili nullatenus incursione turbetur. (Grant unto Thy Church, we beseech Thee, O merciful God, that being gathered within the fold of the Holy Spirit, she may not be troubled by attack from the foe.)”
In the New Missal this has become:
“Ecclesiae tuae, misericors Deus, concede propitius, ut, Sancto Spiritu congregata, toto sit corde tibi devota, et pura voluntate concordet. (Merciful God, grand we pray to Your Church that united by the Holy Spirit, she may be devoted to You with her whole heart, and united with a pure will.)”
No longer do we acknowledge that, being gathered together by the Holy Spirit, we are still in need of protection from enemies, both invisible and invisible. As elsewhere in the new Missal, all reference to difficulties, obstacles or enemies has vanished. We ask only to be devout and one in unity, which are wonderful things, but there seems to be a latent Pelagianism, with an implicit denial of the effects of original sin, which ultimately risks taking us off our guard. By causing us to forget the real perils we find ourselves in often, we are put at a disadvantage to accomplish those very things which the new oration asks for.
The same logic is applied to the oration for Pentecost Tuesday:
“Adsit nobis, quaesumus, Domine, virtus Spiritus Sancti: quae et corda nostra clementer expurget et ab omnibus tueatur adversis. (Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the power of the Holy Ghost may abide in us; may it mercifully cleanse our hearts, and defend us from all danger.)”
This has now become:
“Adveniat nobis quaesumus Domine, virtus Spiritus Sancti, qua voluntatem tuam fideli mente retinere, et pia conversatione depromere valeamus. (May the power of the Holy Spirit come to us, O Lord, by which may we be able to retain Your will with a faithful mind, and bring it forth by a holy life.)”
Apparently, our hearts no long need to be cleansed, nor do we need defense from danger. All enemies have vanished, and this does not help us conquer them, for indeed they are still there.
Penance and fasting
Another significant part of the Pentecost octave are the three Ember Days, which are traditionally days of penance. The reformers seem to have regarded as incompatible the fusing of a joyful celebration with the practice of penance. But something similar happens with the Rogation Days before Ascension and the Ember Days of September, in which several texts remind us to be joyful and celebrate, while others remind us to fast and do penance. How can this be? Let’s say first of all that the Embertides and the Rogation Days, historically speaking, have no connection with the liturgical season in which they are celebrated. They follow the solar cycle and are destined to sanctify the seasons of the year and ask for particular graces, especially to ward off diseases, wars, natural disasters, and all sorts of calamities.
There is, however, a profound sense in which the occurrence of such days in times of rejoicing is most fitting. On one hand we must at all times while still in this valley of tears unite ourselves with the passion of Our Lord and accept to share in His sufferings. But we must also keep in mind that the victory has already been won by the Resurrection. We can and should rejoice in our penance, and we can deny ourselves on our days of mirth. This very concept is captured by St Benedict, who tells his monks, in the midst of their Lenten fast, to look forward to the holy Pascha “with the joy of the Holy Spirit… with joy and spiritual longing” (Rule ch. 49).
Here we see that the richness of the various elements of the ancient liturgical practices are a much more real and down to earth teaching on the reality of our lives. It is precisely such celebrations which form us to live as good Christians. The old liturgy, like the faith itself, is truly an incarnate liturgy which integrates a long experience of man and his real needs, whereas the new liturgy is somewhat disincarnate, as it seems not to take seriously the peril in which man finds himself in a fallen world. Understood from this perspective, we can say that such days as these which do unite joy and penance are perhaps the most significant ones of the liturgical year, since they are the very type of our Christian life, in which we are both configured with Christ crucified, and have the absolute certitude that, if we persevere, we are marching towards the eternal joy and glory of the resurrection. Then one comes to understand how it is possible to put on a joyful face when fasting, as Our Blessed Lord told us we must do in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 6, 17-18). Incidentally, St Thomas says something that will surprise many, namely that fasting on Sundays is quite appropriate, due to the fact that the Lord’s day is a day of spiritual joy, and these are favored by tempering natural ones. The canonical discipline of the Church has clearly stipulated that one should not fast on Sundays, the reason being that it is good to relax the body somewhat and give it a share in the joy of the Resurrection, but the principle enunciated by St Thomas remains, and shows how spiritual joys and bodily penance can go hand in hand.
A final point to be aware of is that the ancient octave of Pentecost is a privileged octave of the first class. This means that no other celebrations have precedence, and even other first class feasts must be transferred after the octave. By contrast, the Novus Ordo novena of preparation has no particular rank other than the other days of Eastertide. What this means in practice is that if there are feasts or even memorials (that is to say, in older terminology, second or third class feasts), these take precedence, and no mention is made of the novena. Because of this rubric, the liturgical novena of preparation is almost never celebrated for the full nine days, and some years it can be interrupted for several days in a row. The great solemnity of the Holy Ghost is thus further downplayed.
Like so many other aspects of the ancient liturgy, it takes time and experience to unpack all the mysteries contained in the Pentecost Octave. In the same way, one cannot just walk through a medieval cathedral and expect to have seen and understood all it has to offer; one must stop to read or hear the explanations; one must spend time there; one must pray there. So it is with the old liturgy. It took centuries to develop the masterpiece. Cutting it up into pieces and pasting some of them back together while integrating hybrid elements taken from elsewhere was a very bad idea which has not benefited the Church.
For those of us privileged to celebrate the full octave of Pentecost, let us pray fervently to the Holy Spirit, that He may continue to act mightily within the Church, and in particular over the hierarchy. As noted above in the oration for Ember Friday after Pentecost, the Spirit is the one who protects the Church from the attacks of the foe. Foes there today, and many, both within and without. May He protect us and give to our shepherds the courage to use both ends of their crosier, the curved top end to pull the sheep and keep them in, the pointed bottom end to ward off the wolves who seek to devour.
Hostem repellas longius,
Pacemque dones protinus.
Ductore sic te praevio,
Vitemus omne noxium. Amen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Mass of the Ember Wednesday of Pentecost

The question of the historical relationship between the octave of Pentecost and the Ember days is a very complicated one, which I do not intend to address in full here. Suffice it to say that the sermons of Pope St Leo I (440-61), who believed the Ember days to be of apostolic institution, make it very clear that they were originally part of the octave. For example, in the first chapter of his second sermon “on the fast of Pentecost”, he says, “It is most evidently clear that among God’s other gifts, the grace of fasting, which follows upon today’s festivity without interruption, was then (i.e. at Pentecost) also granted (to us).” (PL 54, 419A) This is fully in harmony with what we find in the very earliest surviving liturgical books of the Roman Rite. For example, in the oldest Roman Sacramentary, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, the Masses of the Ember days are placed between the feast and octave day of Pentecost.
It is true that in the Carolingian period, starting about 780 AD, the two observances were separated; many liturgical books (but not all) place the Ember days after the octave of Pentecost, and attest to a completely separate set of Masses and readings for them. One very odd point, however, which admits of no ready explanation, is that none of the surviving chant books attest to any Gregorian propers for the Ember day Masses thus observed. In any event, it appears certain that in the reign of Pope St Gregory VII (1073-85), whose feast day was yesterday, the Ember days were definitively reincorporated into the octave. This commentary will therefore discuss the Mass as it stands in the Missal of St Pius V, without reference to prior historical variants.
The Mass of Ember Wednesday of Pentecost, celebrated earlier today at the church of St Eugène in Paris, home of our dear friends of the Schola Sainte Cécile.
The Introit is taken from Psalm 67, which is sung at Matins of the whole octave, and also provides the Offertory of the feast itself.
Introitus Deus, dum egrederéris coram pópulo tuo, iter faciens eis, hábitans in illis, allelúja: terra mota est, caeli distillavérunt, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimíci ejus: et fugiant, qui odérunt eum, a facie ejus. Gloria Patri. Deus, dum egrederéris…
Introit O God, when Thou went forth before Thy people, making a way for them, dwelling among them, alleluia, the earth was shaken, the heavens rained down, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. Let God arise, and let His enemies are scattered, and those that hate Him flee before His face. Glory be. O God, when Thou went forth.
This chant looks forward to the Epistle, Acts 2, 14-21, in which St Peter in his sermon on the first Pentecost cites the prophet Joel, “And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath.” In its original context, these verses of the Psalm speak of God’s manifestation as He led the Israelites from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. The rest of the line after “the heavens rained down” is “at the presence of the God of Sinai, at the presence of the God of Israel.” Although these words are not sung here as part of the liturgy, the Introit would remind the attentive listener of the second reading of the vigil of Pentecost, repeated from Easter night, which is the Crossing of the Red Sea at the end of Exodus 14.
The station on this day is at the basilica of St Mary Major, as on every Ember Wednesday, but also on Christmas night; the words “when thou went forth” may also be intended to remind us of the birth of Christ, who came forth from the Virgin. “Dwelling among them” would then be a reminiscence of the Gospel of Christmas day, which says that “the Word dwelt among us”; “the heavens rained down” is vaguely similar to the second responsory of Christmas Matins, which says that “heavens have become flowing like honey.”
The Preaching of St Peter at Pentecost, by Masolino da Panicale, 1426-27, in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
Most of the first Epistle (verses 17-21) is St Peter’s quotation of the second chapter of Joel, verses 28-32a, following a different recension from the Hebrew text and the Vulgate of St Jerome which depends on it. The original passage is read as the first prophecy of Ember Saturday, and the verses preceding it (23-24 and 26-27) on Ember Friday.
The Psalm verse said with first Alleluja was often used by the Church Fathers as a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. “Verbo Dómini caeli firmáti sunt, et spíritu oris ejus omnis virtus eórum. – By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth.” (Ps. 32, 6) For example, St Ambrose says, “Since the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Father and the Son, he is not separated from the Father, he is not separated from the Son. For how can he be separated from the Father, who is ‘the Spirit of his mouth’? And this indeed is both a proof of his eternity, and expresses the unity of the divinity.” (De Spiritu Sancto libri tres ad Gratianum Aug., 11, 120; PL 16, 733A)
As I noted yesterday, certain aspects of the Mass of Pentecost Tuesday suggest that it may have been a day associated with the reconciliation of heretics. Today, therefore, the Church unites this verse of the Psalm to an account of the first Pentecost, to proclaim that the orthodox teaching on the Trinity is the very same doctrine held and taught by the Apostles, which began to be diffused through the world on Pentecost. This is also suggested by the preface which we now use on the feast of the Holy Trinity, but which first appears in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary two centuries before that feast was instituted as the preface of the octave of Pentecost.
In the Gospel of the vigil of Pentecost (John 14, 15-21), Christ says that He “shall give you another Paraclete,” which, as St Augustine explains in the Breviary homily, shows that He is also a paraclete, a Greek word which means inter alia “advocate”, “intercessor” and “consoler.” As the Introit refers to God “dwelling among them”, perhaps specifically in reference to the Incarnation, the second prayer asks that “the Holy Spirit may come and make us a temple of His glory by dwelling worthily (therein).” This effectively equates the Son and the Spirit just as the verse of the preceding Alleluja does, and establishes the Holy Spirit’s role as “another Paraclete.” The word “temple” also looks forward to the “porch of Solomon”, a part of the Temple of Jerusalem, mentioned in the next reading as the place where the Apostles and the faithful gathered, but doomed to be destroyed, as Our Lord Himself predicted. This shows that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, each individual follower of Christ becomes the true temple of God.
The Holy Trinity, by a follower of the Flemish painter Artus Wolffort (1581-1641); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The second reading, Acts 5, 12-16, begins with the statement that “by the hands of the Apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.” The Church Fathers often understood the first words of Psalm 18, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God”, to symbolically mean the Apostles’ proclamation of the faith. The Breviarum in Psalmos attributed to St Jerome states that “ ‘The heavens’ are the Apostles, ‘glory’ is (God’s) work, and ‘proclaim’ means ‘announce’, because they preach the glory of God.” (PL 26, 872C) This is also stated by St Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. 18) and St Gregory the Great (Hom. 30 in Evang.) among others. Since the Apostles work wonders, and “the heavens” symbolically means the Apostles, they are thus represented as the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel quoted by St Peter, “I will show wonders in the heaven above.”
The Gospel, John 6, 44-52 is part of the Eucharistic discourse which takes up most of that chapter. The reason for this choice of passage is not clear, but perhaps, since these Ember days are intended to prepare the Church for the longest stretch of the liturgical year, the time after Pentecost, it was intended as a reminder that on our pilgrimage through this time, we are always sustained by the Bread of Life, “the living bread that cometh down from heaven.” If the Introit is indeed to be read as a reference to the Incarnation as I posit above, then perhaps this Gospel would also be a reference to the today’s station at Mary Major. The chapel attached to the ancient basilica which housed the relics reputed to be those of the crib of Christ was known as “Sancta Maria in Bethlehem”, and as St Gregory the Great points out in his Christmas homily in the Roman Breviary, “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The words “Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and died” look back to the Introit, in which God made the people’s way though the desert to Mount Sinai.
The Offertory chant is sung at the three of the four Ember Wednesdays, those of Lent, Pentecost (with an ‘alleluia’ added for Eastertide), and September. “Meditábor in mandátis tuis, quae dilexi valde, et levábo manus meas ad mandáta tua, quae diléxi, allelúja. – I will meditate upon Thy commands, which I have loved exceedingly, and I will lift up my hands to Thy commands, which I have loved, alleluia.” (Ps. 118, 47-48) The tense of the first verb is changed from the reading of the Vulgate and Septuagint, “meditabar” in the imperfect (“I was meditating”), to the future, for no clear reason. (This is more consonant with the tense, but not the meaning of the verb in Hebrew, “eshta‘asha‘ – I will delight”, but it is unlikely that the composer of the chant knew that.)
A beautiful polyphonic setting by Palestrina.
The Communio, like that of Monday and the first Alleluia of Tuesday, is taken from the Gospel of the feast, to which it therefore unites the Ember day. “Pacem relinquo vobis, allelúja: pacem meam do vobis, allelúja, allelúja. – Peace I leave to you, alleluia; My peace I give you, alleluia, alleluia.” (John 14, 27)

The Curious Conventions Regarding the Holy Spirit in the Roman Orations

Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, St Peter’s Basilica
Lost in Translation #55

In the Roman Rite, the typical formulation of the Collects, Secrets, Postcommunions, and Prayers over the People is to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is a venerable arrangement, one that is biblically inspired (see Ephesians 2, 18). In the fourth century, St. Basil the Great is already treating it as well-established (though he also used “to the Father with the Son along with the Holy Spirit”). [1] The orations in our oldest liturgical manuals (the so-called Verona and Gelasian Sacramentaries) presuppose this formula, and indeed both sacred liturgy and the Christian life as a whole can be defined as a sacrificial offering to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Beginning in the second millennium, the Latin liturgical tradition came to include several orations addressed to the Son rather than the Father. Twentieth-century liturgical purists found these additions abhorrent (and some still do), and so the 1970 Missal greatly reduced their number. In a recent post and book chapter, Peter Kwasniewski defended the Christocentric orations in the 1962 Missal, describing them in one response to a commenter as “a rare species in an ecosystem.” I love the metaphor of the universal Church's different liturgies as so many ecosystems, and during this Octave of Pentecost and on this feast of St Philip Neri, we have the opportunity to reflect further on the peculiarities of the Roman ecosystem. For both Whitsuntide and St Philip’s Day include another exotic creature: orations that refer to the Holy Spirit.
Orations addressing the Holy Spirit are not rare in the Roman Rite (new or old): they are nonexistent. Although the priest prays to the Holy Spirit at every Mass with the Offertory Rite’s Veni Sanctificator; although he says or sings almost every morning during Terce Nunc Sancte nobis Spiritus; and although the Church on Pentecost and throughout its octave addresses the Holy Spirit in the Mass sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus and in the Office hymn Veni Creator Spiritus--nevertheless, there is not a single Roman Collect, Secret, or Postcommunion Prayer that uses the vocative for the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
The closest that the Roman liturgy comes to an orational address of the Paraclete is what we see on the Vigil of Pentecost, the feast itself, and throughout its Octave--namely, prayers directed to the Father that mention the Holy Spirit and end with “in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.” Even then, not every oration within these nine special days mentions the Holy Spirit.
As for the rest of the year, the temporal cycle includes a Collect (pro aliquibus locis) for Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles (Saturday after Ascension) and a Postcommunion for the Friday after Ash Wednesday that follow the formula of addressing the Father and mentioning the Spirit, while the sanctoral cycle has similar orations for St Philip Neri (May 26, Secret), St John Mary Vianney (August 8, Secret), St Joan Frances de Chantal (August 21, Postcommunion), and St Josaphat (November 14, Collect). Not surprisingly, the Saint most commonly linked to the Holy Spirit is the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Collects for the Immaculate Heart (August 22) and Presentation (November 21) have references to Her as His dwelling place. Even the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit and the Votive Mass for seeking the grace of the Holy Spirit never pray to the Holy Spirit, although all their orations likewise mention Him.
Perhaps all this sounds unfair to the Holy Spirit, but before we start an equity-in-prayer movement, it is meet to consider two points:
  1. The Church’s prayers to the Holy Spirit elsewhere counterbalance any apparent slight to the equal dignity or divinity or personhood of the Holy Spirit in the orations. Indeed, the Trinitarian ending of the orations, which makes all prayer in the Holy Spirit, affirms the Spirit’s importance. When the Church references the Trinity in prayer, it is usually with a “coordinating” or a “mediatorial” pattern. Coordinating patterns, such as “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” lay stress on the equality of Persons, while mediatorial patterns, such as we see in the conclusions to the orations, make “clear the order of the divine persons in the economy of salvation.” [2] This economic order, however, is not a denial of ontological equality.
  2. The orations’ manner of speaking about the Holy Spirit rather than to Him reinforces, to my mind at least, a certain ineluctable aura surrounding Him. The Collects of Advent ingeniously omit the Holy Name of Jesus (even though they talk about and sometimes even address the Son of God) as a way of dramatizing the concept of waiting for the yet unnamed Messiah. Similarly, refraining from addressing the Holy Spirit dramatizes a certain je-ne-sais-quoi of Pneumatology; the last Person in the Holy Trinity to be revealed is in some respects the Person about Whom we know the least. For St Gregory of Nazianzus, the Old Testament clearly proclaims the Father and less clearly proclaims the Son, while the New Testament clearly proclaims the Son but only gives “a glimpse of the Spirit’s Godhead.” [3] Historically, the Spirit was revealed gradually and only after the mysteries of Father and Son came into better focus. One way to think about the Roman orations’ conventions regarding the Holy Spirit is as an instantiation of Gregory’s advice that we should follow God’s pattern of neither revealing His doctrine suddenly nor of concealing it to the last. [4]
None of this is to say that the composers of these prayers had these points in mind. They may have simply acted within the parameters of a liturgical-literary style and nothing more until, in the second millennium, the rules were relaxed enough to allow a few prayers to the Son. The result is a heritage of prayers with most addressed to the Father, some to the Son, and none to the Spirit. As Dr Kwasniewski points out, there are providential reasons to be grateful for the orations to the Son (for example, as an antidote to Arianism), and there may well be providential reasons to be grateful for an absence of orations to the Spirit, even on His feast day or during His octave. For perhaps that is precisely how the Holy Spirit, under Whose guidance the liturgical treasures of the Church were formed, wants it. Perhaps the One who enlightens our hearts wishes to stay out of this particular limelight.


[1] On the Holy Spirit 1.3.

[2] Gilles Emery, O.P., The Trinity, trans. Matthew Levering (CUA Press, 2011), 7.

[3] Oration 31.26.

[4] Oration 31.27.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Mass of Pentecost Tuesday

As I noted earlier this week, Psalm 67 is one of the most difficult texts in the Psalter; even though many individual lines of it are easy to understand, the psalm as a whole is extremely disjointed. But it is this very quality of it that makes it an appropriate choice for Matins of Pentecost, at which it represents the confusion felt by those who heard the Apostles speaking in various tongues. Something similar may be said of the Mass of Tuesday within the octave of Pentecost; there is no immediately evident connection between the various parts of the Mass as there is on the feast itself or on the following Monday.
The Introit is one of a handful of texts taken from one of the apocryphal books commonly included in medieval manuscripts of the Vulgate, known in Latin as the Fourth Book of Esdras (cap. 2, 36 & 37). “Accípite jucunditátem gloriae vestrae, allelúja: gratias agentes Deo, allelúja: qui vos ad caelestia regna vocávit, allelúja, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 77 Atténdite, pópule meus, legem meam: inclináte aurem vestram in verba oris mei. Gloria Patri. Accipite. – Receive the delight of your glory, alleluia, giving thanks to God, alleluia, Who hath called you to the heavenly kingdoms, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm 77 Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Glory be. Receive.”
A setting by the Italian composer Giuseppe Tricarico (1623-97)
There has never been a law, divine or human, that every chant in the Mass must be taken from the canonical Scriptures, although the great majority certainly are, and there is no reason to suppose that the derivation of this text from an apocryphal book is significant. In the context of the traditional baptismal character of Pentecost, the words “giving thanks to God who has called you to the heavenly kingdoms” should be read as a reference to the newly baptized who were called into the Church during the vigil on the previous Saturday.
The Epistle, Acts 8, 14-17, tells of Ss Peter and John confirming the Samaritans after they had received the word of God. Like the Epistle of the previous day, in the context of a stational Mass in Rome, a city populated by men from every nation of the Empire, this reminds us of the calling of those nations into the Church, which began with the Apostolic preaching on Pentecost.
Ss Peter and John Confirming the Samaritans, 1557, by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Gospel, John 10, 1-10, is the first part of Christ’s Good Shepherd discourse, and may have been chosen for the words “I am the door”, i.e., the door through which the baptized enter into “the heavenly kingdoms” mentioned in the Introit.
Very tentatively, I offer a theory (and no more than that) as to a possible connection between these two readings. The Samaritans were regarded as heretics by the Jews, as we know inter alia from the exchange between Christ and the Samaritan woman. “Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say that the place where men must adore is at Jerusalem.” (John 4, 20) But both peoples awaited the coming of a redeemer: “I know that the Messiah cometh (who is called Christ). … Jesus saith to her, ‘I am he, who am speaking with thee.’ ” (ibid. 25-26) The conflict between them is resolved by the Good Shepherd, who says that “salvation cometh from the Jews” (vs. 22), but also that He has “other sheep not of this flock.” “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10, 16), and at the hour of His coming, “you (i.e. the Samaritans and the Jews together) shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. … the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4, 21) Therefore, in Acts 8, we see Christ reconciling the heretical Samaritans to God in the one flock, His Church.
Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1508, by the Dutch painter Jan Joest van Kalkar (1455 ca. - 1519); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In his Treatises on the Gospel of John, a part of which is also read in the Divine Office, St Augustine understands the “thieves and robbers” of which Christ speaks in verse 1 to mean all those who would lead men away from Him. But he also speaks of those who are reconciled to the Church as follows: “many are joined to the flock of Christ, and from heretics, become Catholics; they are taken away from the thieves, and given back to the shepherd.” (Tract. 45 in Joannem).
In the earliest surviving sacramentary of the Roman Rite, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, which dates to about 700 A.D., five prayers for the reconciliation of heretics are placed immediately after the octave day of Pentecost: “The blessing upon those who return to Catholic unity from the Arian (faith)”, “another for those who come from various heresies”, “the reconciliation of one rebaptized by the heretics”, and two variants of this last for minors. The first two of these ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit upon them, and pray that they will receive the seven gifts of the Spirit named in Isaiah 11, 2. The third states that “we dare not close the door of reconciliation to him that returns and knocks”, although the Latin word for “door” in this case, “januam”, is different from the word in the Gospel, “ostium.”
The prayer for the “reconciliation of one baptized by heretics” in a pontifical dated 870-80; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-227
Perhaps it is not too much to speculate that this placement is not coincidental, and that this Mass may once have been the occasion for such reconciliations. These prayers are placed after the octave, and not within it, but this could be because they were not always used, and in any case, the arrangement of materials in the ancient sacramentaries does not always strictly follow the order in which they were used. [1] Pentecost Tuesday is the last day before the Church, having gathered into itself all the baptized, prepares itself for the longest stretch of the liturgical year with the Ember day fasts; it might well have been seen as an appropriate day to complete this gathering with the reconciliation of its lost sheep. [2]
This may also explain the language used in the petitions of the Mass prayers: that the “power of the Holy Spirit may purge our hearts” (the Collect); that “the offering of the present service may purify us” (the Secret); and that “the Holy Spirit may restore our minds” (the Post-Communion.)
In this light, the words of the Communion could be understood specifically as a confession of faith in the Trinity against the “thieves and robbers” mentioned in the Gospel, i.e. the heretics. “Spíritus qui a Patre procédit, allelúja, ille me clarificábit, allelúja, allelúja. – The Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father, alleluia, He shall glorify me, alleluia, alleluia.”
The Offertory is repeated from Easter Wednesday. “Portas caeli apéruit Dóminus: et pluit illis manna, ut éderent: panem caeli dedit eis, panem Angelórum manducávit homo, allelúja. – The Lord opened the gates of heaven, and rained manna upon them, that they might eat; He gave them the bread of heaven, men ate the bread of the angels, alleluia. ” As the bridge between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful, this chant unites the “heavenly kingdoms” of the Introit, and the Gospel, in which Christ is both the Good Shepherd and the door by which the sheep enter, with the offering of the Holy Eucharist
Notes: [1] For example, in the Gellone Sacramentary, which postdates the Old Gelasian by about 30 years, the Masses for the Sundays after Epiphany are followed by the feasts of the Saints from February 14 to March 12. The manuscript then goes back to Septuagesima, which can occur as early as January 18th.

[2] The strongest argument against my theory is the fact that the Old Gelasian Sacramentary has no proper Masses for the Monday, Tuesday or Thursday of Pentecost, the last of which was originally an aliturgical day like the Thursdays of Lent. However, Scriptural readings for these days are attested in the Epistle lectionary of Alcuin and the lectionary of Würzburg, both of which predate it in their contents by about 50 years.

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