Wednesday, June 07, 2023

The Character of Pentecost in Other Rites

Last week, I published a two-part article on the historical character of Pentecost in the Roman Rite, divided into three topics: the feast’s baptismal character, its octave (part 1), and its relationship to the summer Ember Days (part 2). As is so often the case, other rites have developed customs analogous to those of Rome, of which I will here give a brief and certainly not comprehensive account. The parts about the Ambrosian Rite are taken in part from notes by Nicola de’ Grandi.

On the vigil of Pentecost, the Ambrosian Rite has a special ritual, by which a highly simplified form of Mass is celebrated in the middle of a highly simplified form of Vespers. This is done on only two other days, the vigils of Christmas and Epiphany. (The Mass of Holy Thursday is also celebrated within Vespers, but not simplified in the same way.)
Vespers begins with a responsorial chant called a lucernarium (video above), the hymn Jam Christus astra ascenderat, which the Roman Rite sings at Lauds of Pentecost, and another brief responsory. The psalmody, which would normally be sung at this point, is omitted, and four readings from the Old Testament are said. Unlike the prophecies of the Roman vigil of Pentecost, these are not repeated from the Easter vigil, but one of them, the third, is also said on the eve of Epiphany.
- Isaiah 11, 1-9b: the prophet describes the sevenfold nature of the Holy Spirit.
- Genesis 28, 10-22: Jacob’s vision of the Ladder.
- IV Kings 2, 1-12: Elijah and Elisha at the Jordan; the former is taken away in the fiery chariot.
- III Kings 3, 5-14: God gives the gift of wisdom to Solomon.
A medieval fresco of Elijah in the Fiery Chariot, in the cathedral of Anagni, Italy. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The first three of these are followed by a psalmellus, the Ambrosian equivalent of the gradual, and a prayer, the fourth by a cantus, the Ambrosian equivalent of the tract, which is also said after the last of the six prophecies of the Easter vigil. This cantus is only the first verse of Psalm 41, where the Roman tract has three.
As in the Roman Rite, the blessing of the baptismal font is then repeated exactly as on Easter night, followed by the administration of baptism, and the Litany of the Saints. On Easter night, the blessing concludes with the following prayer.
“Celebratis atque perfectis divini Baptismatis sacramentis, Domino caeli et terræ, Deo Patri omnipotenti, indefessas gratias referamus: ipsumque supplices postulemus, uti nos atque omnem familiam suam [gloriosae Resurrectionis Domini nostri Jesu Christi] annuat esse participes. Præstante eodem Domino nostro Jesu Christo Filio suo, secum vivente atque regnante Deo in unitate Spiritus Sancti per omnia secula seculorum.
Having celebrated and completed the sacraments of divine baptism, let us give untiring thanks to the Lord of heaven and earth, God the Father almighty, and humbly ask of Him, that He may allow us and all his family to participate in the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; the same granting this, who liveth and reigneth with him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for all the ages of ages.”
On the vigil of Pentecost, this prayer is said with the words “gratiæ Spiritus Sancti – the grace of the Holy Spirit” in place of “the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The priest then replaces his cope with a chasuble, and the Mass begins. All the variable chants are omitted, except for a brief Alleluia between the Epistle and Gospel, a custom analogous to the incomplete Roman Mass of the Easter vigil, which has no Introit, Offertory, or Communio. The Gloria and Creed are also omitted, and the Ambrosian Mass has no Kyrie or Agnus Dei, so the ordinary is stripped down to just the Sanctus (video below). The Ambrosian Rite prescribes the same Hanc igitur at the vigils of both Easter and Pentecost as the Roman Rite, which refers to those whom God has “vouchsafed to bring to a new birth from water and the Holy Spirit, granting them remission of all their sins.” (In both rites, it is also said for the whole week of the feast.)
The vigil concludes with the celebrant donning the cope again, the singing of the Magnificat with its antiphon, and a concluding prayer.
On the vigil and feast of Easter, and throughout the rest of Easter week, the Ambrosian Rite has two Masses for each day, one “of the solemnity”, and another “for the (newly) baptized.” Pentecost also has this feature, although not on the vigil. On the Easter Sunday, the Gospel of the Mass for the newly baptized is John 7, 37-39a, in obvious reference to baptism.
“On the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the Scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him.”
At the parallel Mass of Pentecost, this Gospel is completed by adding the second part of verse 39, “for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Finally, we should note the Transitorium which is said at both Masses, the equivalent of the Roman Communio.
“Hymnum canite, Agni mundi, lavacro Fontis renati, satiati Corpore Christi. Hallelujah, hallelujah. – Sung the hymn, ye pure lambs, reborn in the washing of the font, fed with the Body of Christ, alleluia.”
In the Mozarabic Rite, references to baptism on the vigil of Pentecost are essentially limited to two of the four Scriptural readings. The New Testament reading is Acts 19, 1-6, two verses shorter than the Roman Epistle, ending with the words, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” The Gospel is John 3, 1-16, Jesus’ colloquy with Nicodemus, a fundamental passage for the Church’s understanding of baptism.
“Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
On Pentecost itself, however, the opening chant of the Mass, the Officium, is as follows (Gal. 3, 27): “Vos qui in Christo baptizati estis, * Christum induistis, alleluia. V. Benedicti vos a Domino, qui fecit caelum et terram. Christum induistis, alleluia. Gloria et honor Patri… Christum induistis, alleluia. – Ye that have been baptized in Christ, * have put on Christ, alleluia. V. Blessed are ye by the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Ye have put on Christ, alleluia. Glory and honor to the Father… Ye have put on Christ, alleluia.”
In the Byzantine Rite, almost these same words are sung in place of the Trisagion at the Divine Liturgy of Pentecost, as well as Easter; the custom was later extended to other major feasts of the Lord such as Christmas and Epiphany. (In this recording of the Divine Liturgy celebrated at the Pontifical Russian College in Rome on Pentecost of 2009, it begins at 14:30.)
The Gospel of the Divine Liturgy begins with the same verse as the Ambrosian Gospel cited above, John 7, 37, but continues to the end of the chapter, and includes verse 8, 12, as I have explained previously.
Pentecost does not have a Forefeast, the Byzantine equivalent of a Roman vigil; the day before it is one of several Saturdays especially dedicated to prayer for the dead. But like most of the greater feasts, Vespers is said in a more solemn form, which includes three readings from the Old Testament; the third of these, Ezekiel 36, 24-38, seems also to have been chosen in view of the feast’s ancient baptismal character.
“For I will take you from among the gentiles, and will gather you together out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
This same passage supplies the Introit and first reading of the Roman Mass of Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, a day which was originally dedicated to the scrutiny of the catechumens preparing for baptism at Easter. That Introit was later assigned to private Masses of the vigil of Pentecost.
Like the Roman Rite, the Byzantine and Ambrosian Rites both celebrate Pentecost with an “octave” which terminates on Saturday. The Ambrosians share the Roman custom of keeping the feast of the Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost, but in the Byzantine Rite, Pentecost itself is the feast of the Holy Trinity, and Monday is a special Synaxis of the Holy Spirit. The Sunday after Pentecost is therefore the Byzantine feast of All Saints, celebrating the lives of the Saints as the fulfillment of the mission of the Holy Spirit.
Ember days are a uniquely Roman custom, and so, even though they are noted as fast days in the Ambrosian liturgical books, they have no special texts of their own.
In the Byzantine Rite, Vespers belongs to the day following it; there is no such thing as Second Vespers, even for a Sunday or a major feast like Pentecost. Therefore, the very first service of the period after the 50-days of Easter, Vespers on the evening of Pentecost Sunday, is liturgically part of Monday. Since it is a long-standing custom of the Rite never to kneel in Eastertide, a custom which goes back to a decree of the First Council of Nicea, this Vespers also includes the ritual known as the “gonyklisia – the bending of the knee.”
This consists of the recitation of several prayers interpolated between the regular Litanies (some of them extraordinarily long, even by Byzantine standards), which the priest ordinarily says while kneeling down before the iconostasis, facing the people. Here is an excerpt of the first prayer: the full texts can be read in Greek here, in Church Slavonic here, and in English here.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych and leader of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, reciting the kneeling prayers in the cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv. (Image from the website of the UGCC Seminary of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Kniazhychi.)
“…do Thou now hearken unto us who beseech Thee, and remember us, the lowly and condemned, and restore us from the captivity of our souls, having Thine own compassion as an intercessor for us. Accept us who fall down before Thee and cry: We have sinned. Upon Thee were we cast from the womb; even from our mother’s womb, Thou art our God. But since our days have wasted away in vanity, we have been stripped of Thine aid, and have been deprived of all defense. Yet taking courage in Thy compassions, we cry: Remember not the sins and ignorances of our youth, and cleanse us of our secret sins. Cast us not away in the time of our old age; when our strength hath waned, forsake us not; before we return to the earth, grant that we return unto Thee, and attend Thou unto us in Thy kindness and grace. Measure our iniquities by Thy compassions. Set the abyss of Thy compassions against the multitude of our transgressions. Look down from Thy holy height, O Lord, upon Thy people who stand here present and await from Thee Thine abundant mercy. Visit us in Thy goodness. Deliver us from the oppression of the devil. Preserve our life with Thy holy and sacred laws. Entrust Thy people unto a faithful Guardian Angel; gather us all into Thy Kingdom, grant forgiveness to them that hope in Thee; forgive them and us our sins. Purify us through the operation of Thy Holy Spirit, and destroy the enemy’s devices which are against us.”
As I noted previously, the purpose of the summer Ember days, as stated by the first witness to their existence, Pope St Leo the Great, is to prepare the Church for the longest stretch of the ecclesiastical year, the time after Pentecost. Although the Byzantine kneeling Vespers has much more of a penitential tone, it serves essentially the same purpose.

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