Thursday, April 07, 2022

The Anti-Iconoclast Mass of Passion Thursday

Today’s Divine Office contains an unusual feature: the antiphons of the Benedictus and Magnificat are not taken from the Gospel of the Mass (Luke 7, 36-50), as they are on nearly every other day of Lent. Instead, the former is taken from the Passion of St Matthew (26, 18), “The master saith, ‘My time is near at hand, with thee I keep the Pasch with my disciples.’ ”, and the latter from the Passion of St Luke (22, 15), “With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer.”

A page of the winter volume of the Codex Hartker, written at the monastery of St Gallen in Switzerland at the end of the 10th century, with the antiphons ‘Magister dicit’ and ‘Desiderio desideravi’ assigned to Passion Thursday at the bottom. (Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 390, p. 169 – Antiphonarium officii,; CC BY-NC 4.0)
The only two other days on which this happens are the Saturdays after Ash Wednesday and Passion Sunday, both of which were originally aliturgical days in the Roman Rite, on which no Mass was celebrated. This was also originally the custom on the Thursdays of Lent, which was changed by Pope St Gregory II (715-31), for reasons I have explained elsewhere. This is why in the Missal of St Pius V, the Masses of these Thursdays have no proper chant parts, borrowing their 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, on the other hand, simply repeat the Gregorian propers from the previous day, indicating that their Masses were added by a different Pope.
The Mass of Passion Thursday, however, does have its own proper gradual, while the introit, offertory and communion all come from the same Mass, that of the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. This anomaly, coupled with the anomalous choice of antiphons noted above, suggests that the Mass of Passion Thursday was also added by a different Pope than Gregory II.
A further proof of this may be the choice of station for this day, at the church of St Apollinaris, close to the modern Piazza Navona. The first mention of this church is in the Liber Pontificalis’ account of the reign of Pope St Hadrian I (772-95), and several authorities believe that he was the one who built it, although the Liber Pontificalis does not say so explicitly; nor is there any indication that there was ever any other station for this day. If this is in fact the case, obviously, it cannot have been Gregory II who instituted the station.
The high altar and choir of the church of St Apollinaris in Rome; the church was completely rebuilt by the architect Fernando Fuga at the behest of Pope Benedict XIV, who consecrated it on April 21, 1748. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Pufui PcPifpef (no, I did not make that up), CC BY-SA 4.0.
Some of the same authorities (most important among them Mariano Armellini [1]) also claim that Pope Hadrian either built the church for a community of Eastern monks who had fled to Italy to escape the persecution of the iconoclast emperors of Byzantium, or installed such a community in the church shortly after building it. If this is also the case, it might well explain why the propers for the Mass were taken from the 20th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Introit is a broad but unmistakable citation from the long deuterocanonical section of Daniel 3 known as the Prayer of Azariah, which he delivers as the leader of the three Israelite boys thrown into the furnace by the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship his statue.
“Omnia, quae fecisti nobis, Dómine, in vero judicio fecisti: quia peccávimus tibi, et mandátis tuis non oboedívimus: sed da gloriam nómini tuo, et fac nobiscum secundum multitúdinem misericordiae tuae.
All that Thou hast done to us, o Lord, thou hast done in true judgment; because we have sinned against Thee, and have not obeyed Thy commandments: but give glory to Thy name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercy.”
This episode takes place during the exile of the Jews in Babylon, which is mentioned also in the Offertory, Ps 136, 1.
“Super flúmina Babylónis illic sédimus et flévimus, dum recordarémur tui, Sion.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept when we remembered thee, o Zion.”
A very nice polyphonic setting by Palestrina.
The choice of these texts may well reflect the exile of the iconodule Eastern monks who served in the church, as also the Epistle, which continues from the same Prayer of Azariah (vss. 34-45).
“In those days: Azariah prayed to the Lord, saying: ‘O Lord, our God, deliver us not up for ever, we beseech thee, for thy name’s sake, and abolish not thy covenant. And take not away thy mercy from us for the sake of Abraham thy beloved, and Isaac thy servant, and Israel thy holy one, to whom thou hast spoken, promising that thou wouldst multiply their seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is on the seashore. For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins. ... And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies. And deliver us according to thy wonderful works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: and let all them be confounded that show evils to thy servants, let them be confounded in all thy might, and let their strength be broken. And let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, and glorious over all the world, o Lord, our God.’ ”
In such a context, the words “we… are diminished more than any nation” may refer to the vast territorial losses suffered by the Byzantine Empire at the hands of the Arabs while it was promoting its previous major official heresy, Monothelitism, when the ancient patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem all fell under Muslim dominion. The words “And now we... seek thy face” would refer to the theology of the iconodules, much of which turned around the question of whether the humanity of Christ could be depicted in art, and “let all them be confounded that show evils to thy servants” to the persecution which they underwent for opposing the then-current official heresy, during which the empire was continually besieged and suffered further, though less dramatic, losses. This heresy was officially condemned during the reign of Pope Hadrian at the Second Council of Nicea in 787, but not fully defeated; it was restored in the reigns of four emperors, beginning in 814, and only repudiated definitively in 847.
A further indication of this may also be found in the Gospel, Luke 7, 36-50, the famous episode in the house of Simon the Pharisee, in which the sinful woman, later traditionally identified as St Mary Magdalene, anoints Christ’s feet. When the Lord reproves Simon for thinking that if He were indeed a prophet, He would not allow the woman to touch Him, He says, “Osculum mihi non dedisti – Thou gavest me no kiss.” [2] The Greek word “proskuneo” and the Latin “adorare” both derive from words meaning “to kiss,” and much of the debate over iconoclasm centered on the contention that it was not right to offer “proskunesis – adoration” to the holy images. Therefore, Simon the Pharisee represents the iconoclasts who did not give the Lord proper adoration.
The Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, 1570, by Paolo Veronese; originally painted for the refectory of the Servite church in Venice, gifted by the Venetian Republic to King Louis XIV of France in 1664, and since then, kept in the Chateau of Versailles. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons; click to enlarge.)
This is confirmed by some early lectionaries that have a different Epistle on this day, Jeremiah 7, 1-7, which in the Missal of St Pius V is read on Thursday of the third week of Lent.
“In those days: The word of the Lord came to me, saying: Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear ye the word of the Lord, all ye men of Juda, that enter in at these gates, to adore the Lord. … Trust not in lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord.’ … If you … shed not innocent blood in this place, … I will dwell with you in this place, in the land, which I gave to your fathers from the beginning and for evermore.”
The very first public episode of iconoclasm in Constantinople was the attempted removal of an image of Christ from above the gate of the imperial palace. The iconoclasts also came to reject the intercession of the Saints and the veneration of their relics; in this context, the “lying” words “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord” would therefore refer to the contention that these ancient practices detracted from the adoration due to God alone, and to the iconoclast habit of decorating their churches with plain crosses as the only acceptable religious symbol, a symbol “of the Lord.” “The temple of the Lord” becomes a “lying word” because the iconoclasts take it to mean “of the Lord, but NOT of the Saints.” “The shedding of innocent blood” would then here mean the many episodes of persecution by the iconoclast emperors, particularly Constantine V (741-75) [3], the emperor when St Hadrian was elected, whose reign rivals those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England for shame and horror.
A mosaic with a bare cross, a motif admitted by the first iconoclasts, in the church of Holy Peace (Hagia Irene) in Constantinople, ca. 750. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Nina Aldin Thune, CC BY-SA 3.0)
[1] Le Chiese di Roma, ed. 1891, p. 345
[2] In the Gospel, the word St Luke uses for “kiss” is “philēma”, which comes from a completely different root, but this distinction may well not have been though relevant to the context.
[3] He is traditionally given the epithet “Copronymus – dung-named” in Greek, in reference to a diaper accident that occurred at his baptism; this was taken by those who honored the sacred images as a presage of his impiety.

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