Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Durandus on the Vigil of the Ascension

The following text is most of section 103 of book six of William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officiorum; a few obscure passages have been omitted. The vigil of the Ascension is one of the relatively few features of the temporal cycle in which there was a lot of variation between different Uses of the Roman Rite in the Middle Ages, and some of the texts which he refers to here differ from those in the Roman Missal. The second explains the baptismal significance of the Introits of the time after Easter, an appropriate subject for the last day of the Easter season properly so-called, and the beginning of the approach to Pentecost, the other major baptismal feast.

Since fasting, of which we have previously spoken (in the preceding section on the Rogation Days), is not sufficient without the works of mercy, therefore on the vigil of the Ascension, which is the third day of the Rogations, the Church exhorts us to the works of mercy, saying in the Introit, which is sung in some churches “The mercy of the Lord etc.” (Repeated from Good Shepherd Sunday in the Use followed by Durandus.) For Gregory (the Great) says “If you want your prayer to fly up to heaven, make two wings for it, namely, fasting and alms.” (This saying is incorrectly attributed.) For with good desires we fly to heaven, whence it is said of the Lord, “Lifting up his hands, he was born unto heaven.” …

The Mass of the Vigil of the Ascension in a 15th century Missal according to the Use of Paris, with the Epistle Acts 4, 32-37, instead of the Roman Epistle, Ephesians 4, 7-13.
But the Epistle which is read in some churches, (Acts 4, 32-37) seems not to fit, but rather, to set things in the wrong order, since it happened after the Lord’s Ascension that “the heart and mind of the multitude of the believers were one.” But this is done for two reasons. The first is so that the Epistle may fit with the Gospel (John 17, 1-11a), in which the Lord says “Father, glorify, that is manifest Thy son”, and afterwards prays, saying “I ask that they may be (one) as we are,” and this unity is shown in the Epistle. The other reason is that when alms are given from a true heart, all things are held to belong to all, as the Apostle says about the manna, that he who gathered more did not abound more, and who gathered less did not have less (2 Corinthians 8, 15, citing Exodus 16, 18): for he who is rich, should not for this reason eat more, but share it with others, and this is said in the Epistle, “And they had all things in common.”

Now for this reason the aforementioned Gospel is read today, because He that prayed when He was about to suffer, became known to men when He ascended (to heaven); or else because at the end it says “I come to Thee.” And in this (Gospel) He prays for those whom the Father gave Him, that they may be one in the Father, since all things are one in faith and charity, that is, united to one another in harmony … St Hilary (of Poitiers) explains these words as follows. “I ask that just as I and Thou are one, that is, not only in will, but also in nature; so also may they be one, that is, in unity of spirit, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (De Trinitate VIII, 9)

But in other churches, the Epistle is (Ephesians 4, 7-13). …

Therefore, because this Mass is about alms and the works of mercy, in some places, in order that they may acquire for themselves the wings mentioned above, people busy themselves with almsgiving, but they defer this to the feast of the Ascension, as if then to fly unto heaven after Christ…

Now some people fittingly refer the Masses of Easter week to those who are reborn in baptism, according to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. And so, the one who is reborn, inspired by the spirit of wisdom, says “I have risen.” (The Introit of Easter Sunday) The Gospel declares through what he is risen, namely, through the Resurrection of the Lord, and the spirit of understanding instructs him as to what he has gained thereby, saying, “He hath brought us into the Land” (The Introit of Easter Monday), that is, the Church; and the spirit of counsel adds, “With the water of wisdom He gave them to drink.” (Tuesday) The spirit of fortitude indicates what else he ought to gain thereby, saying “Come, ye blessed of my Father.” (Wednesday) The spirit of knowledge teaches him that for these benefits granted to him, he must praise God, saying “Together they praised Thy conquering hand, o Lord.” (Thursday) The spirit of piety indicates what the Resurrection has brought to the reborn, saying “The Lord hath led them out in hope” (Friday), and the spirit of fear adds to this, saying, “The Lord has led out his people.” (Saturday)

For all these benefits conferred in baptism, the Angels congratulate men, men confess God, and exhort one another to the praises of Christ; they give thanks, they rejoice, they remember these benefits and the causes thereof, and they confidently aspire to greater things. The other parts of the Masses of Easter are concerned with this … Notice also that in the Introits of this week, Alleluia is said four times in four of them (on Easter Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), and three times in three of them, because praise is given to Holy Trinity from the four parts of the world for the resurrection of Christ, and the redemption of man. In the first Sunday, that is “Quasi modo geniti”, the baptized are urged by their mother (i.e. the Church) to live innocently like infants, and to desire the milk of the Holy Scripture, so that by their mores and life they may hold to the Paschal sacrament which they have received through Christ’s resurrection, overcome the world, triumph with him, and obtain rejoicing in body and soul together. Because of this rejoicing, the Alleluja (before the Gospel) is doubled, because they have escaped from death, and merited to have the hope of life; or as a symbol of action and contemplation; or as a symbol of the joy of the preachers and of those whom they convert.

(The Introit of Good Shepherd Sunday: “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia, and by the word of the Lord the heavens were established, alleluia, alleluia.” Psalm 32)

But on the second Sunday, the baptized, being already instructed, sound forth the mercy of Christ, and preach the Trinity; for in the word “mercy”, they announce the Spirit, in “the word” the Son, and in “God” (i.e. the Lord) the Father. First they mention the Spirit, through whom they are sanctified; then the Son, through whom they are redeemed, then the Father, to whom they are reconciled: and because they sing of the Trinity, they sing Alleluia three times.

(The Introit of the Third Sunday after Easter: “Shout with joy to God, all the earth, alleluia, sing a psalm to his name, alleluia; give glory to his praise, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Psalm 65)

On the third Sunday, the baptized invite the whole world to the praise of God, and sound forth the Trinity, … and since through the two precepts of charity they are strengthened in the faith of the Trinity, therefore, first they sing alleluia twice, then three times.

(The Introit of the Fourth Sunday: “Sing to the Lord a new song, alleluia: because the Lord hath done wonderful things, alleluia. In the sight of the nations He hath revealed his justice, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Psalm 97)

On the fourth Sunday, again the baptized invite the converted nations to the praise of God, and commemorate the Trinity, when in “the Lord” understand the Father, through “wonders” the Son, and in “justice” the Holy Spirit. And because the nations received the faith of the Trinity from the four parts of the world, therefore they sing of the Trinity with a fourth alleluia.

(The Introit of the Fifth Sunday: “Announce the voice of rejoicing, and let it be heard, alleluia: and proclaim even to the ends of the earth, the Lord hath redeemed his people, alleluia, alleluia.” Isaiah 48)

On the fifth Sunday, again the baptized announce their liberator to their nations, because they sing of the Trinity with a threefold Alleluia.

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