Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Mass of St David, King and Prophet

In the Roman Martyrology, the second entry after that of St Thomas of Canterbury reads as follows: “At Jerusalem, (the birth into heaven) of St David, King and Prophet.” David is not among the handful of Old Testament Saints to whom there is any historical devotion in the West, but his feast is extremely ancient in the East. In one of the oldest liturgical books of the Rite of Jerusalem, he is commemorated in a joint feast with St James, the Holy City’s first bishop, and assigned to December 25th; this indicates that this observance is even older than the adoption of Christmas as a separate feast in the East, which happened towards the end of the fourth century. It was soon moved, however, first to the 26th, then to the 28th; in the modern Byzantine Rite, it is kept on the Sunday after Christmas, whatever its date may be, and St Joseph has been added to it. (See Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem, by Dr Daniel Galadza, table 4.5; Oxford, 2017)

In the Roman Rite supplement for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued in 1935, his feast is kept as a double major, and has its own proper Mass. English translations of the texts, and some recordings of its chant parts, most of which come from other Masses, are given below. The Mass is celebrated with commemorations of St Thomas of Canterbury and the octave of Christmas.

The Introit is that of the Fourth Sunday after Easter, with the extra Allelujas of the Easter season removed. This was obviously selected to celebrate David’s role as the author of the Psalms; Psalm 97, from which it is taken, also figures prominently in the Roman Divine Office of Christmas. “Sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord hath done wondrous things; before the sight of the nations He hath revealed His justice. Ps. His right hand hath wrought for Him salvation, and His arm is holy. Glory be... Sing to the Lord...”

The Collect: God, almighty Father, who by the mouth of David made hymns to be sung in Thy Holy Spirit; grant, we ask, that by his intercession, we may be able to worthily make the sacrifice of praise. Through our Lord...”
The Epistle, 1 Samuel 16, 4-13, recounts David’s election as the new king of Israel in place of Saul, through the anointing administered to him by the prophet Samuel.
The Anointing of David, 1555, by Paolo Veronese. In this typically overcrowded Mannerist composition, there are fourteen people to either side of the central figures of Samuel and David, reminding us of the three groups of fourteen into which St Matthew divides the ancestors of Christ named at the beginning of his Gospel. That this is a deliberate reference is demonstrated by the presence of three women, as there are three women mentioned in the Genealogy, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah, i.e. Bathsheba. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Gradual is taken from the first Mass of a bishop and martyr, even though David himself fits neither of these categories, since he is mentioned in it by name. “I have found David my servant: with my holy oil I have anointed him. For my hand shall help him: and my arm shall strengthen him. V. The enemy shall profit nothing against him: nor shall the son of iniquity hurt him.” Psalm 88 from which both it and the Communio are taken is also sung at Matins of Christmas.
The Alleluja is taken from the book of Judges, 5, 3, which is very rarely cited anywhere in the liturgy, and appears to be unique to this Mass. “Hear, O ye kings, give ear, ye princes: It is I, it is I, that will sing to the Lord, I will sing to the Lord the God of Israel.”
Of the various Gospel passages that mention King David, Matthew 22, 41-44, seems to have been chosen for this Mass because in it Christ, whose Birth is celebrated a few days before, obliquely asserts His own divinity. The Messiah must come from the house of David, yet David himself calls him “the Lord”, which would make no sense if the former were no more than a distant descendent. The liturgy of the Christmas octave is very much concerned to assert that the Child who is born in Bethlehem is not a mere mortal, but God Himself revealed in the Incarnation for our salvation.
“At that time: the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, ‘What think you of Christ? whose son is he?’ They say to him, ‘David’s.’ He saith to them, ‘How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool?’ ”
The Offertory is taken from the First Sunday of Advent. “To thee have I lifted up my soul; in thee, o my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed; neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded.”
The Secret: God, who are moved by humbling and appeased by satisfaction, look with kindness upon the contrite and humbled heart of Saint David, that by his example, we, being filled by the spirit of compunction, may be able worthily to offer Thy sacrifice. Through Our Lord... ”
The Communio is also taken from the first mass of a martyr and bishop, another clearly appropriate choice for this feast. “Once have I sworn by my holiness: His seed (i.e. Christ) shall endure for ever. And his throne as the sun before me: and as the moon perfect for ever, and a faithful witness in heaven.”
The Post-Communion: “Lord God, whose only-begotten deigned to be the son of David, , grant we ask, that we by the participation on the his mystery, we may be joined by adoption to the sons of the King of kings by adoption. Through the same...” This also obviously reflects the Christmas season.

The Byzantine Divine Office has an enormous number of proper texts for each feast, and for many days of the temporal cycle. (In the liturgical seasons which are equivalent to the Roman times after Epiphany and Pentecost, most of the proper of the season is repeated on an eight-week rotation.) Two of these texts, which are called the Troparion and the Kontakion, are then repeated as the specific liturgical day requires at the Divine Liturgy, which has far fewer variable parts than the Roman Mass does. Here are the troparion and kontakion of King David, Joseph the Betrothed, and James, the brother of Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem, which unite the Saints in a very clever way for their joint commemoration.
The Troparion  Proclaim, o Joseph, the good and wondrous tidings to David, the father (i.e. ancestor) of God; Thou didst see the Virgin with child, thou didst adore with the Magi, thou gavest glory with the shepherds, divinely warned by the angel. Beseech Christ God that our souls may be saved.
The Kontakion  Today the divine David is filled with rejoicing, and Joseph brings forth praise with James, for having received a crown by their kinship with Christ, they rejoice, and in hymns exalt Him that is ineffably born on earth, and cry out: O Merciful One, save them that praise Thee!
A 17th century Russian icon of King David; image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

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