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.

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