Thursday, March 17, 2022

Dives and Lazarus in the Liturgy of Lent

Before the early eighth century, the church of Rome kept the Thursdays of Lent (with the obvious exception of Holy Thursday) and the Saturdays after Ash Wednesday and Passion Sunday as “aliturgical” days. (The term aliturgical refers, of course, only to the Eucharistic liturgy, not to the Divine Office.) This is attested in the oldest liturgical books of the Roman Rite, and in the collection of papal biographies called the Liber Pontificalis, which tells us that Pope St Gregory II (715-31) instituted the Masses of these days. This is why even in the Missal of St Pius V, the Thursdays of Lent borrow their chant parts (the introits, graduals, offertories and communions) from other Masses; the respect for the tradition codified by St Gregory the Great was such that it was deemed better not to add new pieces to the established repertoire. (The two formerly aliturgical Saturdays simply repeat the Gregorian propers from the previous day, indicating that their Masses were added by a different Pope.)
Illustration of Dives and Lazarus in the Codex Aureus Epternacensis, a Gospel book created ca. 1030-50 at the Abbey of Echternach, one of the oldest and most important Benedictine abbeys in Europe. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The Gospel for today, Luke 16, 19-31, the story of Dives and Lazarus, was originally assigned in the Roman Rite to the beginning of the period after Pentecost: the Friday of the fourth week in the Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite, ca. 650 A.D., or the Second Sunday, in that of Murbach, about 100 years later. This may in part explain why the Gradual which precedes it is taken from the same period; in the Mass of St Pius V, it is sung on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
Graduale Ps. 78 Propitius esto, Domine, peccatis nostris, nequando dicant gentes: Ubi est Deus eorum? V. Adjuva nos, Deus, salutaris noster, et propter honorem nominis tui, Domine, libera nos.
Gradual Be merciful, o Lord, to our sins, lest ever the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ V. Help us, o God, our salvation, and for the sake of the honor of Thy name, o Lord, deliver us.
The Introit and Offertory, however, are both taken from the Twelfth Sunday, on which the Gospel is that of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10, 23-37. This choice is certainly motivated by the fact that in the one Gospel, the rich man is punished for not taking care of his neighbor, and in the other, the Good Samaritan is shown to be a true neighbor for doing so. These chants therefore link two foundational texts for the uniquely Christian understanding of charity and duty towards one’s fellow man. In this context, the request to “be merciful to our sins” in the Gradual may be seen specifically in regard to our failure to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, etc., those whom Christ calls “the least of (His) brethren” in, Matthew 25, 31-46, the Gospel of the first Monday of Lent, which was originally the Roman Lent’s first lesson on this subject.
The Thursday Masses instituted by Pope St Gregory are replete with interesting allusions to the other Masses within the series, and to the Masses from which their chants are taken. Here we may note that in the Gospel of Dives and Lazarus, the latter wishes to be sated from the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, “but no one gave (them) to him”, and “the dogs came and licked his sores”. In the Gospel of the previous Thursday (Matt. 15, 21-28), Christ uses similar images when speaking to the Canaanite woman, to whom He says, “It is not good to take the bread of the children, and cast it to the dogs,” to which she replies, “Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”
As the Church Fathers teach, and as was clarified in the Pelagian controversies, especially by Ss Jerome and Augustine, a Christian can only fulfill his duty with the help of the Lord, and this is a theme that permeates this Mass. The opening words of the Introit are the same which the Roman Rite, with its characteristic simplicity, places at the beginning of each Hour of the Divine Office, so called from the Latin word “officium”, which has “duty” as one of its many meanings.
Introitus, Ps. 69 Deus in adjutorium meum intende: Dómine, ad adjuvandum me festína: confundantur et revereantur inimíci mei, qui quaerunt ánimam meam. Ps. Avertantur retrorsum et erubescant: qui cógitant mihi mala. Gloria Patri. Deus in adjutorium...
Introit O God, come to my assistance; o Lord, make haste to help me; let my enemies be confounded and ashamed that seek my soul. Ps. Let them be turned back and be ashamed, who devise evils for me. Glory to the Father... God, come to my assistance...
On the same theme, the verse of the Gradual says, “Help us, o God, our salvation...”
In the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, the majority of the Masses have two collects at the beginning, a rather mysterious feature that admits of no easy explanation. [note] The Collect of today’s Mass was originally the second collect of the preceding day, and continues the theme of the Introit, that we achieve whatever we achieve in our spiritual lives, be it in the service of our neighbor, or in the Lenten discipline by which we subdue our bodies to the service of God, only by the help of His grace.
“Grant us, we beseech Thee, o Lord, the help of Thy grace, that, being properly intent upon fasting and prayer, we may be delivered from the enemies of mind and of body.”
Likewise, the Epistle from the book of Jeremiah, 17, 5-10, contrasts those who put their trust in the Lord with those who do not.
“Thus saith the Lord: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man… Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence.”
The same Epistle contrasts the dryness of the cursed man, who is “like a tamarisk (a kind of small shrub) in the desert, … he shall dwell in dryness in the desert,” with the blessed man who is “like a tree that is planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots towards moisture: and it shall not fear when the heat cometh.” This alludes to the end of the Gospel of Dives and Lazarus, in which the former pleads with Abraham to “send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame.”
Since the Gospel ends with Christ saying to the rich man, “if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if a man rise from the dead,” a clear allusion to Himself, the Offertory chant immediately after it presents Moses praying for the people. On Wednesday of the previous week, the first reading describes Moses’ forty days on Mt Sinai, and on Saturday and Sunday, he appears in the Gospel as a witness to the Lord’s Transfiguration. Here, as William Durandus explains, “it is shown that the prayer of a just man is efficacious, for Moses was like a sheep, because he was the meekest of men (Num. 12, 3), and is the model of fasting; and obtains propitiation for that wrath by which the Lord was wroth with the Jews about the molten calf.” It likewise refers to Abraham, who also appears in the Gospel.
Offertorium Precátus est Móyses in conspectu Dómini, Dei sui, et dixit; Quare, Dómine, irascéris in pópulo tuo? Parce irae ánimae tuae: memento Abraham, Isaac et Jacob, quibus jurasti dare terram fluentem lac et mel. Et placátus factus est Dóminus de malignitáte, quam dixit fácere pópulo suo.
Offertory Moses prayed in the sight of the Lord, his God, and said, Why, o Lord, shalt thou be wroth with Thy people? Spare the wrath of Thy soul: remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom Thou swore Thou wouldst give a land flowing with milk and honey. And the Lord became appeased of the evil which He said He would do to His people.
The Communion is that of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, from the Eucharistic discourse of John 6: “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him, saith the Lord.” (verse 57) It seems likely that this was chosen to encourage observance of what was originally a liturgical novelty, the celebration, and therefore also the reception, of the Eucharist on a Thursday in Lent.
Note: It would be tempting to see this extra prayer as the equivalent of the prayer in the Ambrosian Rite that closes the Mass of the catechumens called the “super sindonem – over the shroud”, which is said after the corporal has been spread on the altar by the deacon. The problem with this theory is twofold: it is never labelled as such in any Roman book, while it is always called the “oratio super sindonem” in Ambrosian books, and many of the Gelasian Masses don’t have it, while other have three collects.

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