Thursday, December 02, 2021

A White Advent: Daily Rorate Masses in Hungary

We are grateful to a Hungarian Norbertine for sharing with us this account of his country’s liturgical customs of Advent.

What is the liturgical colour of Advent? White, obviously – or so the answer would have been if you were asking Hungarians, even up to the very last years of the pre-conciliar period. The history of exclusively Marian Advents goes back centuries, and they are resurfacing in our days once more.
In addition to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated with an octave universally as of 1693, and in many places before that, and the very popular feast of Our Lady’s Expectation on December 18th, one would have easily noted the highly Marian theme of the winter Ember Wednesday, sometimes called feria ad angelum. The Epistle is Isaiah’s prophecy about the Virgin giving birth (Isa. 7, 10-15), the Gospel is that of the Annunciation (Luke 1, 26-38), and the Introit is about the Incarnation.
The votive Mass of the Virgin in Advent was created out of this Ember Day Mass by changing the orations (especially the Secret, which referred to fasting and penance), the Offertory, which did not fit the theme, and adding an Alleluia, which the penitential feria did not have. The latter two were taken from the words of the Angelic Salutation, orations mentioning Mary were supplied; the Postcommunion was later popularized as the Collect of the Angelus and of the Alma Redemptoris Mater. The beautiful Introit was kept, though its verse replaces the original Caeli enarrant – from Psalm 18, another Psalm with possible Marian readings – with the more messianic Psalm 84, prefiguring not just the Saviour but the way of His coming and dwelling with us – “Truth is sprung out of the earth […] and our earth shall yield her fruit.”
There has been some exchange between this Mass, which became very popular, and older, more classical ones such as that of the Annunciation – although the Roman tradition is to sing the Vultum tuum on Lady Day, originally a Common Introit for Virgins. But in Premonstratensian Missals up to the 1960’s, as well as in mediaeval Hungary and a number of places under Frankish influence, Rorate cœli is provided for March 25.
The Ember Wednesday of December was already celebrated with greater than usual solemnity; once this mass was transformed into a Marian votive Mass for Advent, its popularity and esteem only increased. In the Middle Ages and beyond, it was called either the ‘Angelic Mass’ because of its Gospel, or more commonly called the ‘golden mass’ (missa aurea). This term is likely due not to its liturgical colour or, as some say, to the words of the Introit being written in gold, but to the fact that layfolk and clergy alike thought it to be an especially efficacious and graced occasion with many promises. It was often accompanied by liturgical plays or other additions – in Mülln, near Salzburg, it is recorded that in 1748 they used light effects and released a dove during the Gospel when the Holy Spirit was mentioned.
In Hungary, this Mass already had a proper Preface in the Sacramentary of Boldva or Pray Manuscript (“qui per Beatam Mariam Virginem partum ecclesiae tuae tribuisti celebrare mirabile mysterium”), copied between 1192-95. Several hand-written missals provide votive Rorate propers, and the tradition of offering not just a novena of Marian masses before Christmas as in Italy, but a whole month of them, only changed with the Missal of Paul VI.
This observance, though ancient, confirmed by custom and lay and clerical piety alike, was often opposed by the Holy See for several reasons – it disregarded the calendar, which contains a number of duplex offices for the month of December that must be celebrated; it changes the character of the season; and it allows a votive mass what even Advent Sundays are denied, a Gloria; and, furthermore, is absurdly celebrated with a Creed, an anomaly in the case of votive masses.
Polish dioceses received concessions for such Masses, without the Gloria and the Creed, in 1744, 1752 and 1906. The archbishop of Prague gained the privilege for the whole of Bohemia in 1900; Austria-Hungary applied for and was given permissions for different places gradually in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. Germany, notably Bavaria, also observed the custom.
What makes the concessions given to Hungary different is that the Sacred Congregation of Rites permitted the use of the Rorate Mass every single day apart from Sundays, the Immaculate Conception and the Christmas vigil, with the Gloria, the Creed, and a single oration – without seasonal collects or commemorating occurrences. This gave rise to the unusual phenomenon of a votive Mass trumping high-ranking feasts, including those of two apostles. They asked for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception to be sung throughout its octave, but this too seems to have been disregarded, according to contemporary accounts.
These Masses were always celebrated at dawn, which, apart from invoking “the people that walked in darkness, and dwelt in the region of the shadow of death,” also made it possible for working people to hear daily Mass. Archbishop József Lonovics of Eger and Csanád notes in his 1857 book on the liturgy: “Upon hearing the tolling church bells in the still of the night, the people flock towards the house of the Lord, happy that, while others lie in the embrace of sleep, they can serve the Lord without disruption in their daily responsibilities, and can start their work having heard Mass and having sanctified it.” Folk customs arose out of this, such as bands of boys going around villages, knocking on windows to wake people up for Mass, and receiving payment for this service on Christmas Eve. Especially among agricultural peoples, like much of Eastern Europe even in the twentieth century, the end of the harvest around St Martin’s day brought respite from work, and the possibility of attending daily Mass for the first time after months of rising before dawn to work in the fields.
The tradition continues, albeit partially, to this day in Hungary, with most churches offering Masses at 6 AM, although these are usually taken from the daily Mass assigned on the calendar, or perhaps a Marian mass in violet according to the new rubrics. Wherever the traditional liturgy is celebrated, the additional solemnity is also observed, and every day, with the pomp of a great feast, Advent is dedicated to Her that gave birth to the Light, symbolised by the light that appears by the time Mass is over; it has dawned, and we head out for the day.
Further reading:
– Polycarpus Radó, (1961) Enchiridion Liturgicum: Complectens Theologiae Sacramentalis et Dogmata et Leges juxta Novum Codicem Rubricarum, Herder, Rome. Volume II, pp. 1109-10.
– James W. McKinnon, (2000) The Advent Project: The Later Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California, 182-5.

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