Friday, May 05, 2023

The Mass for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo (May 5)

The Baptism of St Augustine, by Louis de Boullogne, 1695-1700

Religious communities often have additional feasts on their calendar for the saints or occasions that influence their spirituality the most, and the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA - formerly known as the Hermits of Saint Augustine) is no exception. “The Feast of the Conversion of Our Holy Father Augustine” was celebrated on May 5 by the Augustinians from around the thirteenth century until the twentieth, when it was changed to April 24 to reflect modern scholarship’s assessment of exactly when Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in Milan (it is currently believed that the Easter Vigil of A.D. 387 fell on April 24-25 of that year). [1] I am not certain in exactly what year the Augustinians transferred the feast: the 1926 edition of their Missal and Office has it on May 5, while a 1953 Dutch edition has April 24, where it has remained ever since. [2]

The following is the Mass for the Feast of the Conversion from the 1926 edition. The propers are noteworthy insofar as they are an artful blend of the Common of Doctors, the Feast of St. Augustine on August 28, and orations proper to the occasion of his conversion. And the May 5 dating of the event is noteworthy because it explains the traditional date for the Feast of Saint Monica (May 4) who was so instrumental in her son’s conversion. Finally, the event itself is noteworthy because of Augustine’s extraordinary influence on Christianity. After that of Saint Paul, Augustine’s conversion may be the most important in the history of the Church.

In Conversione Sancti Patris Nostri Augustini
Introit, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 15.5—from the Common of Doctors
In médio Ecclésiæ apéruit os ejus:
et implévit eum Dóminus spíritu
sapiéntiæ et intelléctus:
stolam glóriæ índuit eum.
Ps. 91 Bonum est confitéri
Dómino: et psállere nómini tuo,
Altíssime. Glória Patri. In medio.
In the midst of the Church
the Lord opened his mouth:
and filled him with the spirit
of wisdom and understanding:
He clothed him with a robe of glory.
Ps. 91 It is good to give praise
to the Lord, and to sing to Thy
name, O Most High. Glory be.
In the midst.

Deus, qui nos beáti Patris nostri
Augustíni Conversiónis mirábilis
ánnua commemoratióne lætíficas:
ipsíus méritis et intercessiónibus
concede: ut, a peccátis omnibus solúti,
júgiter tibi famulémur, et ad vitam
perveniámus ætérnam. Per.
O God, who gladden us
with the yearly commemoration
of the astonishing conversion
of our blessed father Augustine:
through his merits and intercession,
grant that, released from all sins,
we may be ever in Your service
and attain life eternal. Through.

Epistle: Sirach 50, 1-14 (repeated from the principal feast on August 28)
Behold a high priest, who in his life propped up the house, and in his days fortified the temple. By him also the height of the temple was founded, the double building and the high walls of the temple. In his days the wells of water flowed out, and they were filled as the sea above measure. He took care of his nation, and delivered it from destruction. He prevailed to enlarge the city, and obtained glory in his conversation with the people: and enlarged the entrance of the house and the court. He shone in his days as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full. And as the sun when it shineth, so did he shine in the temple of God. And as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds, and as the flower of roses in the days of the spring, and as the lilies that are on the brink of the water, and as the sweet smelling frankincense in the time of summer. As a bright fire, and frankincense burning in the fire. As a massy vessel of gold, adorned with every precious stone. As an olive tree budding forth, and a cypress tree rearing itself on high, when he put on the robe of glory, and was clothed with the perfection of power. When he went up to the holy altar, he honoured the vesture of holiness. And when he took the portions out of the hands of the priests, he himself stood by the altar. And about him was the ring of his brethren: and as the cedar planted in mount Libanus, and as branches of palm trees, they stood round about him, and all the sons of Aaron in their glory.
Alleluja (repeated from the principal feast on August 28)
Allelúja, Allelúja.
℣. Augustíne, lux doctórum,
firmaméntum Ecclésiæ,
málleus hæreticórum,
summum vas sciéntiæ,
pro tuis fíliis
roga Deum, quǽsumus.
Allelúja, Allelúja.
℣. O Augustíne, light of teachers,
mainstay of the Church,
hammer of heretics,
highest vessel of knowledge,
pray to God for us, your sons
we beseech thee.

Saint Augustine Disputing with the Heretics, 1470-86
The Gospel, Matthew 19, 21-26, chosen especially for the occasion, ends with a verse that resonates strongly with Augustine’s transition from despairing addict to an emancipated apostle of hope. In order to situate the hearer better, the opening has been changed from “Ait illi Jesus” to “Dixit Jesus adolescenti.”
At that time, Jesus said to the young man: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered very much, saying: “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus beholding, said to them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Offertory, Psalm 91, 13 - from the Common of Doctors
Justus ut palma florébit:
sicut cedrus, quæ in Líbano
est, multiplicábitur, allelúja.
The just man shall flourish like
the palm tree; he shall grow up
like the cedar of Lebanon, alleluia.

The Secret contains a delightful but untranslatable pivot between the two meanings of 'pietas/pius'--namely, mercy when predicated of God, and pious when predicated of man. It also makes the astonishing petition to have this votive Mass connect Augustine, a canonized saint, to a blessed reward. I have never seen a petition like this before in the Roman liturgical tradition.
Sancti Augustíni Confessóris tui
atque Pontíficis, quǽsumus, Dómine,
ánnua Conversiónis solémnitas
pietáti tuæ nos reddat accéptos:
ut, per hæc piæ placatiónis offícia,
et illum beáta retribútio comitétur,
et nobis grátiæ tuæ dona concíliet.
May the yearly solemnity of
the conversion of Saint Augustine,
Your Confessor and Bishop,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
render us dear to Your mercy:
so that, through these offices
of pious placation, a blessed
reward may accompany him
and bring the gifts of Your grace
to us. Through.

Communion, Luke 12, 42 - from the Common of Doctors
Fidélis servus et prudens,
quem constítuit dóminus
super famíliam suam
ut det illis in témpore
trítici mensúram, allelúja.
A faithful and wise steward,
whom the Lord set over His family:
to give them their measure
of wheat in due season, alleluia.

Providence is an appropriate theme for a feast celebrated Augustine’s conversion, since it features prominently in his autobiography The Confessions.
Deus, qui ineffábili providéntia
beátum Patrem Augustínum
ab errórum ténebris ad lucem
Evangélicæ veritátis adduxísti:
da nobis, quǽsumus: ut qui ejus
hódie Conversiónem cólimus,
eódem precánte, dona tuæ grátiæ
sentiámus. Per Dóminum.
O God, who by Your ineffable
providence led blessed father
Augustine from the darkness
of error to the light of the truth
of the Gospel, grant us, we beseech:
that we who on this day honor
his conversion may by his prayers
experience the gifts
of Your grace. Through.

[1] Although it is more fashionable today to speak of a catechumen’s “reception” into the Catholic Church, Augustine refers to his baptism as a conversio. (Conf. 9.3.6) This religious conversion—that is, his formal initiation into the true religion—was the consummation of two other conversions—an intellectual conversion a year or two earlier that enabled him to understand immaterial reality and the nature of evil (Conf. 7.10.16ff); and a moral conversion, which occurred a few days before August 23, 386 (see Conf. 9.2.2) while reading Romans 13:13, (Conf. 8.12.29) that enabled him to live chastely after years of enslavement to the pleasures of the flesh. For more on these three kinds of conversion, see Michael P. Foley, “A General Introduction to the Cassiciacum Dialogues,” in Augustine, Against the Academics (Yale University Press: 2017), pp. xxiii-xli.
[2] Proprium Missarum et Officiorum Ordinis Ermitarum Sancti Augustini (Paris: Desclée et Socii, 1926) and Proprium Missarum Ordinis Eremitarum Sancti Augustini; Augustijns Missaal (Gent: Paters Augustinjnen, 1953).

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