Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Ancient Prefaces of Advent: Part 1 - The Leonine Sacramentary

One of the peculiarities of the Roman Missal of St Pius V is that it has no proper preface for Advent; on Sundays, the Preface of the Holy Trinity is said as on the Sundays per annum, a custom which was only definitively established in 1759; on the ferias, the common preface is said. Six years ago, I did a series on the Advent prefaces of the Ambrosian Rite, the Neo-Gallican Parisian Use (a preface which is now said in many places with the Roman Missal), and the post-Conciliar Rite. I now have the resources to add to this series some of the prefaces found in the most ancient sources of the Roman Rite. For reference, here are the links to the previous series.

Ambrosian Prefaces for Advent - Part 1
Ambrosian Prefaces for Advent - Part 2
Ambrosian Prefaces for Advent - Part 3
The Neo-Gallican Preface for Advent
The New Rite Prefaces for Advent

Folio 127v of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD, with the preface “VD: Quoniam salubri” within the Mass of Ember Saturday. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048. In the matter of digitization, Italian libraries are miles behind their counterparts in France, Germany and the UK, and there does not appear to be a single picture of the Leonine Sacramentary available anywhere on the internet.)
The Leonine Sacramentary
As I have noted before, the so-called Leonine Sacramentary is not actually a sacramentary at all, which is to say, a book which contains the priest’s parts of the Mass, the Canon, and the variable prayers and prefaces of individual Masses. (All sacramentaries also include other materials such as blessings and catechumenal rites, which vary according to the context in which they were made to be used.) Before the creation of such books, the prayers and prefaces were written down in booklets called “libelli Missarum”, which might well vary from one church to another even within the same city. The manuscript in question is a privately made and highly irregular collection of these libelli, generally dated on internal evidence to the mid-6th century. The collection was certainly made in Rome itself, since it contains numerous specific references to the city. Its traditional name “Leonine”, in reference to Pope St Leo I, is no more than a fancy of its discoverer, Fr Giuseppe Bianchini (1704-64), a canon of Verona who later joined the Roman Oratory, and in his time, was a well-respected scholar of Christian antiquity.
One of the many things that demonstrates the collection’s wildly irregular nature is the placement of five Masses for the December Ember days after those of Christmas, St John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents. These Masses contain none of the language typical of Advent prayers found in all other sources of the Roman Rite, such as the use of the verbs “venire - to come” and “excitare - to stir up.” We may therefore safely assume that they actually predate the institution of Advent as a liturgical season. (Fr Hunwicke posted a very interesting article about this earlier today.) Two of the prefaces do, however, contain references to the upcoming feast of Christmas, one explicit, and the other oblique. These texts are taken from the critical edition of the manuscript published by Dom Leo Mohlberg OSB in 1966.
The preface of the third Mass in this series reads as follows.
Uere dignum: quoniam salubri meditante ieiunio necessaria curatione tractamus, ut per obseruantiae conpetentis obsequium de perceptis grati muneribus, de percipiendis efficimur gratiores; ut non solum terrena fertilitate laetemur, sed natiuitate(m) panis aeterni purificatis suscipiamus mentibus honoranda(m): per.

Truly it is worthy... since by means of salutary fasting, we take the necessary care that, through the service of its proper observance, being grateful for the gifts received, we may be made more grateful for those which will be received, so that we may rejoice not only in the fruitfulness of the earth, but also undertake to honor the birth of the Eternal Bread with purified minds. Through...
This text may perhaps have inspired part of the Christmas sermon of St Gregory the Great read in the Roman Breviary, in which he notes that Christ “was rightly born in Bethlehem, which means ‘the house of bread.’ ”
The preface of the first Mass reads as follows; my translation is modified from that of Fr Hunwicke.
Uere dignum: quia per ea quae conspiciuntur instruimur, quibus modis ad inuisibilia tendere debeamus. Denique commonemur anni docente successu, de praeteritis in futura et ad nouitatem uitae de uetustate transire; ut terrenis sustentationibus expediti, caelestis doni capiamus desiderabilius ubertatem, et per eum ciuum (cibum), qui beneficiis praerogatur alternis, perueniamus ad uictum sine fine mansurum: per. ...
Truly it is worthy... since by those things which are seen, we are instructed as to the means by which we ought to move ahead to unseen things. At last, we are advised, taught by the advance of the year, to pass from the things past to those of the future, and to newness of life from that which is old; so that, set free from earthly supports, we may seize with greater desire the fruitfulness of the heavenly gift, and through that food which is asked for first, by its alternating benefits we may come to that food which will last for ever.
Although this contains no explicit reference to Christmas, the language of passing over from that which is old to that which is new (“de praeteritis in futura et ad nouitatem uitae de uetustate transire”) is commonly found in the Christmas prayers of the Roman Rite, including some those of the Leonine Sacramentary itself.
The subsequent fortune of these prefaces is interesting; the former appears in later sacramentaries on the Ember Saturday of Advent, but the latter was moved to Septuagesima. “Passing from the old to the new” would there have been read in light of the Office readings on that Sunday from the beginning of Genesis, recounting the fall of Adam, and with him, of the old creation, which would be renewed in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
Although it contains no reference to Christmas or Advent, the preface of the fifth Ember Day Mass of December is also noteworthy. It is very unfortunate that the creators of the post-Conciliar rite deemed the historical corpus of prefaces so unbearable and defective; this would have made a worthy restoration to the Roman Rite, perhaps for the feast of Christ the King in its redesigned form as the Septuagesima of Christmas.
Uere dignum: qui non solum ineffabilis in excelsis, sed etiam inmensus probaris in minimis. Nam cum filius tuus dominus noster Iesus Christus mundum diceret uniuersum in suum nomen esse cessurum, quis non ueluti putaret absurdum? quis, cum fieri uideat, neget esse diuinum? Cernensque promissa conpleri, merito secutura non dubitet, quae pariter praedicata sunt esse uentura. Sicut autem beatiores illi qui nondum apparentia crediderunt, ita nos et inexcusabiliores, si nec experta fateamur; et nihilominus gratiores exsistimus, si quae manifestata non sunt, confidimus adfutura: per.
Truly it is worthy... who are shown to be not only ineffable on high, but also without measure among the least. For when Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, said that all the world would yield unto His name, who would not think that was absurd? Who, on seeing this come to pass, would deny that He is divine? and seeing the promises fulfilled, he would rightly have no doubt that those things would follow whose coming to pass was likewise foretold. And just as they are more blessed who have believed in the things that do not yet appear, so also we are without excuse, if we do not confess those thing which we have experienced; and nonetheless, we are more pleasing (to God), if we trust that those things shall come which have not (yet) been made manifest.
All power on heaven and earth is given to this child. (Simone Martini, ca. 1326) 

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