Monday, October 02, 2023

St Jerome as Collaborator with Pope St Damasus in the Ordering of the Roman Rite

Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo, Meditation of St. Jerome (c. 1520) (source)

We continue with our series of excerpts from Fr José de Sigüenza’s 1595 Life of St. Jerome, translated by Mariana Monteiro and published in London in 1907. The final three installments are from Book IV, Discourse 2 (pp. 271–91), which bears the description: St. Jerome prescribes the Offices of the Church, the formulary of the Prayers, and the Rite of Holy Mass.

Editor’s note: in this section in particular, it is important to bear in mind that almost everything that Fra José says here is speculation, unsupported by any real evidence, and in some ways contradicted by evidence from well after St Jerome’s time. The so-called Leonine Sacramentary, copied out roughly 130 years after his death, and the Würzburg lectionary of a century after that, clearly show that there was still a considerable amount of organizing left to do in the Roman Rite, and the assumption that the great doctor gave it a form and order similar to that of the later sacramentaries and missals is unjustified.

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THERE is a doubt when and where St. Jerome performed these pious labours, of which we are about to treat. I state this in regard to ordering the Alleluia to be sung in the Church, and the rest which forms the subjects of this discourse.

I think there can be no difficulty in the belief that the glorious Pope St. Damasus had died ere his saintly friend departed from Rome, as we shall proceed farther on to prove. Therefore we must say one of two things, either that he undertook these works before his arrival in Rome when he quitted the wilderness, while staying alternately in Antioch, or in Bethlehem, or in Jerusalem, or in the solitudes of Palestine, at the earnest petition by letters of Damasus; or that during his sojourn in Rome, as we shall suppose, he occupied himself in these pious exercises during what leisure was left to him after his many other occupations had been discharged.

As regards the first theory we have a fact which favours it, in the existence of a letter written by St. Damasus to St. Jerome with the doctor’s reply attached, in which the pontiff desires him to undertake these great works and other affairs, and Jerome’s promise to put into execution what he was entrusted with. These letters are to be found among the works of our holy doctor in the first volume of the Councils now more recently collected together, and are also corroborated by many grave authors as being genuine. [1] Others again there are who will not admit them to be genuine, but strike them out as false and frauds. The style of the letters they maintain is a great argument, since they are far from the style of learned men, and despite that this argument carries much weight, yet it is not sufficient to outweigh the authority of so many clever men and to frustrate the general belief which holds true the tradition that this was their work. That this communication, however, passed between Jerome and Damasus by letter is certain, and it has been confirmed in earlier ages by common consent and handed down by unbroken tradition among lettered men.

Whether these letters be true ones or not, it is certain that St. Jerome, with the authority of Damasus, was most earnest in the adornment and care of the Church, whether when in Syria or when in Rome, or by correspondence and letters in carrying out what he had promised. Much in this respect is due to the piety and zeal of the holy pontiff, who as one vigilant and zealous for all appertaining to the Church, did not lose any opportunity, and who was also one who appreciated the talent of Jerome, perceiving that in him had descended the spirit of a Bezaleel, and thus employed him to adorn and embellish many things necessary in this tabernacle which God had planted and not man. 
Bezalel (or Bezaleel)

Damasus, considering with especial regard all that appertained to the divine worship, found many deficiencies in plan and harmony. The former holy pontiffs, preoccupied as they had been with the persecutions of idolaters, the work of erecting churches, the extirpation of heresies, the eradication of idolatry and other affairs requiring their immediate attention, had not had that peace and quietude in which to treat of other matters, zealous as they had been respecting the order to be followed in the offices of the Church, but had each in their turn done what best seemed to him good, according to the time and opportunity.

Beyond such things as had been agreed upon in the sacrifice of the altar since the time of the apostles, in all the essentials of the Sacrament, in the matter, in the form, in many parts, and the principal ones, of the sacred canon, the few details taught by St. Peter, St. James the Less, and other apostles were followed, forasmuch as they had seen them done by our Lord, or they themselves had used, or the pontiffs who had immediately succeeded the apostles had learned from them, as may be seen in the Liturgies which were printed by the diligence of Pamelius—in all else details were left to option. There was no harmony or order of epistles, gospels, or of introits; in a word, each one was free to use what he chose.

The same was the case in the recital of the divine office. The Psalms were indeed recited, but without having a set formulary of lessons, the distribution of prayer and praises for Matins, and the rest of the holy hours being left to the individual choice. No regular form had been established, and the Church, which in all things is one, in this matter had not had the time nor the peace to establish and agree upon the plan to be followed, pursuing the doctrine left to the faithful by the apostles in general, exhorting one another to a holy life, with hymns and psalms, singing in their hearts spiritual canticles which later on were to be uttered by the mouth.

In order to establish and arrange the method and plan of the divine liturgy, Pope Damasus besought Jerome to set in order the office of the Masses, and draw up the formulary of the prayers to be used. For the different masses he was to assign the gospels and the epistles which were to be said or sung throughout the year, taking into account the feasts of our redemption, of the divine Saviour, and other mysteries of holy faith, then the order to be followed on the feasts of the apostles and martyrs, and lastly the arrangements of the Psalter and the order of reciting the canonical hours. In the aforesaid letter of Pope Damasus to our doctor he expresses himself in this wise:
I ask of your charity that, according to what you learned of your Rector Alexander, our bishop, you will send us the manner of chant used in the Greek Church when singing the holy Psalms, because, so great is our simplicity, that it is only when Sunday recurs that an epistle of the apostles is read, and a chapter from the gospels; and we have neither experience nor the manner of singing the Psalms, nor is the beauty of the hymns pronounced by our mouth.
St Jerome becoming secretary to St Damasus

The holy doctor did as he was bidden. He arranged the whole of the office of the Church; he disposed the Psalms according to the plan which at the present day is in general use in all churches, which on this point do not vary from the Roman. He divided the Psalter among the ordinary days of the week. He allotted some of the Psalms for the feasts of the apostles, martyrs, and virgins. He assigned some for lauds, others for vespers, and others again for the remaining hours of the day. He furthermore persuaded the holy Pontiff, and obtained his sanction, to add at the end of each psalm that celestial versicle of confession and praise of the most holy Trinity, “Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto,” so that the faith of the holy Nicene Council, confessed and declared by the 318 Fathers, should resound always in the ears, and by the mouths, of the faithful! A favour truly vouchsafed from Heaven, inspired into the heart of this great doctor and father of the Church, and worthy of everlasting praise; for, had nothing else remained to us in the Church of St. Jerome’s labours, we should be under a very great obligation to him for this work alone.

He also apportioned the lessons which were to be said at Matins throughout the year, gathering from the sacred books such passages as were most appropriate to the various times in such a manner, that the whole of the sacred Scriptures should be gone through during the year, and thus knowledge be obtained in the ordinary course of prayer.

Later on he drew up the arrangement, in conformity with the above, [of] the gospels and epistles which were to be sung at Mass, on the various feasts in the course of the sacred cycle, touching upon the mystery of our redemption, setting their particular narratives; he also followed this plan in regard to feasts of certain saints, such as the apostles whose history is recorded in the sacred books, or such parts as appertained to the spirit and doctrines of each. All this was carried out with such method and harmony that it was clearly seen that he was divinely inspired and guided in this heavenly task. The epistles are full of a lofty art: they generally seem to be commentaries of the gospel selected; all is proportioned and to the point, whereby is seen the great knowledge that our holy doctor possessed of all the sacred books, and how well he penetrated divine secrets. In truth, I venture to say that for this work he had great assistance from the Holy Spirit, which directed his pen.

[1] Erasmus in 4 vols.; Marianus in 9 vols.; Laurient. Surium, et Aliis.
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