Tuesday, November 09, 2021

A Troped Epistle for the Dedication of a Church

In the Middle Ages, it was a very common custom to embellish the original texts of the liturgy with additions known as tropes. The most popular of these were the ones added to the Kyrie; the Mass Ordinaries in the Liber Usualis are still to this day named after them, as for example Kyrie fons bonitatis. When the tropes were used, the choir would sing the first Kyrie as follows: “Kyrie, fons bonitatis, Pater ingenite, a quo bona cuncta procedunt, eleison.” (Lord, fount of goodness, Father unbegotten, from whom all good things proceed, have mercy.) There was a troped Gloria which was written specifically for feasts and votive Masses of the Virgin Mary, which is found in a very large number of medieval Missals, and many others for the rest of the Ordinary.

A page of the Missal according to the Use of Cologne printed in 1494, with the troped Gloria for Masses of the Virgin in the left column, introduced by the rubric “Another (version of the) angelic hymn, of Our Lady on Saturdays and her feasts.”
One also occasionally finds tropes added to the Scriptural readings of the Mass; the Sarum Missal, for example, has a reading from Isaiah at the Midnight Mass of Christmas before the Epistle, which is actually more trope than scripture. In honor of today’s feast, the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, here is a particularly splendid example, the epistle for the Dedication of a Church, Apocalypse 21, 2-5. This comes from a very important late-medieval chant manuscript known as Codex Engelberg 314, which was copied out by several hands at the Abbey of Engelberg in Canton Obwalden, Switzerland. Below is the text in Latin and English, with the tropes in italics. Note that the tropes are sung by one voice, and the Biblical text by another, but they sing the conclusion together. (The German pronunciation of Latin is used, so that C sounds like TS.)

Ad decus ecclesiae recitatur hodie lectio libri Apocalypsis Johannis Apostoli, cui revelata sunt secreta caelestia. In diebus illis: talis divinitus ostensa est visio: Vidi civitatem sanctam Jerusalem novam, quae constituitur in caelis, honos ex lapidibus, descendentem de caelo nuptiali thalamo a Deo, paratam sicut sponsam ornatam viro suo super solem splendidum. Et audivi vocem magnam nuntiantem nova gaudia de throno dicentem: Veni, ostendam tibi, ecce tabernaculum Dei cum hominibus, et ad eum venient omnes gentes et dicent: Gloria tibi, Domine, et habitabit cum eis, nunc et in aevum. Et ipsi populus eius erunt, omnes Dei gratia, quos a morte redemit perpetua, et ipse Deus cum eis erit eorum Deus, qui moderatur cuncta creata: et absterget Deus omnem lacrimam ab oculis eorum, quorum non sol, luna, sed Christus vera est lucerna: et mors ultra non erit, sed caeli praemia perpetua, neque luctus, neque clamor, ubi cum beatis gloriantur, nova canunt Deo carmina, neque dolor erit ultra, gaudia permanent sempiterna, quia prima abierunt, justi florebunt. Et dixit, qui sedebat in throno in supernae majestatis arce: Ecce nova facio omnia.
Sancti Spiritus gratia,
Divina Providentia,
Per sacra mysteria
Renovatur ecclesia.

For the glory of the Church is recited today a reading from the book of the Revelation of the Apostle John, to whom heavenly secrets were revealed. [1] In those days, a vision of this sort was divinely shown: I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which is built in the heavens, honor from the stones, [2] coming down out of heaven, the bridal chamber, by God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, more splendid than the sun. And I heard a great voice, proclaiming new joys, saying from the throne: Come, I will show thee: [3] Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and all the nations will come to it, and say, “Glory to Thee, o Lord.” [4] And he will dwell with them now and forever. And they shall be his people, all by God’s grace, those whom He hath redeemed from everlasting death; and God himself with them shall be their God, who ruleth over all created things. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, whose true light is not the sun or moon, but Christ [5]: and death shall be no more, but the rewards of heaven, everlasting, nor mourning, nor crying, where they glory with the blessed, and sing new songs to God, nor sorrow shall be any more, everlasting joys abide, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne in the height of supreme majesty, said: Behold, I make all things new.
By divine Providence,
And the Holy Spirit’s grace
Through the holy mysteries
The Church is renewed.

The right wing of the St John Altarpiece, by Hans Memling, 1474-79.
[1] A quote from the antiphon at the Benedictus in the Office of St John the Evangelist. “Iste est Joannes, qui supra pectus Domini in coena recubuit; beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta caelestia. - This is John, who rested upon the breast of the Lord at the supper; blessed is the Apostle, to who heavenly secrets were revealed.”

[2] A citation of the Vesper hymn for the Dedication of a Church, Urbs Jerusalem Beata.

[3] Apocalypse 21, 19

[4] A citation of the second responsory in the Office of a Dedication. “Fundáta est domus Dómini supra vérticem móntium, et exaltáta est super omnes colles: Et venient ad eam omnes gentes, et dicent: Gloria tibi, Dómine. - The house of the Lord is founded upon the height of the mountains, and exalted above all the hills, and all the nations will come to it, and say, ‘Glory to Thee, o Lord.’ ”

[5] Apocalypse 21, 23

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: