Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday 2024

Truly it is worthy and just, right and profitable to praise, to bless and proclaim Thee, o Lord, at every time, but especially on this day, since Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed. Through whom the sons of light rise unto eternal life, the doors of the heavenly courts are opened to the faithful, and by the law of blessed exchange, human things are changed for divine. For the death of us all is destroyed by the death of Christ, and in His Resurrection, the life of all has risen. And we recognize Him as God in the taking on of mortality, and in the glory of divinity confess him as God and man; Who by dying destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life, Jesus Christ, our Lord. And therefore, with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominations, and with all the army of the heavenly host, we sing the hymn to the glory, saying without end: Holy… (An ancient preface for the Mass of Easter.)

The Resurrection of Christ, 1490/5, by Domenico Ghirlandaio and workshop.
Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, Te quidem, Domine, omni tempore, sed in hoc praecipue die laudare, benedicere et praedicare, quod Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus: per quem in aeternam vitam filii lucis oriuntur, fidelibus regni caelestis atria reserantur, et beati lege commercii, divinis humana mutantur. Quia nostrorum omnium mors cruce Christi perempta est, et in Resurrectione ejus omnium vita resurrexit. Quem in susceptione mortalitatis Deum majestatis agnoscimus, et in divinitatis gloria Deum et hominem confitemur. Qui mortem nostram moriendo destruxit, et vitam resurgendo restituit, Jesus Christus, Dominus noster. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus, hymnum gloriae tuae canimus sine fine dicentes: Sanctus…

TO all our readers, to your families and friends, we wish you an Easter filled with every joy and blessing in the Risen Lord – He is truly risen!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Masses of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday

The very first Scriptural reading of Holy Week, Exodus 15, 27 – 16, 7, the epistle which forms part of the blessing of the palms, lays out the program for the week to come, and unites all of the main ceremonies of the Triduum with Palm Sunday.

“In those days, the children of Israel came into Elim, where there were twelve fountains of water, and seventy palm trees: and they encamped by the waters. cap. 16 And they set forward from Elim, and all the multitude of the children of Israel came into the desert … after they came out of the land of Egypt, and … murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, (saying) ‘… Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you; let the people go forth, and gather what is sufficient for every day, … But the sixth day let them prepare to bring in, and let it be double that which they were wont to gather every day.’ And Moses and Aaron said to the children of Israel, ‘In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.’ ” (Vespere scietis quod Dominus eduxerit vos de terra Aegypti, et mane videbitis gloriam Domini.)
The Gathering of the Manna, from a Flemish book of Hours, end of the 15th century. (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 28345; CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The reading begins with a mention of palms, in reference to the rite of Palm Sunday. The fickleness of the Israelites, who have just crossed the Red Sea in the previous chapter, and now murmur against God’s prophet and priest, the very ones who led them out of Egypt, represents the fickleness of those who were in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s triumphal entry, crying out “Hosanna,” and five days later, gathered before Pilate and cried out, “Crucify him!” The gathering of twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath refers to the consecration of two Hosts on Maundy Thursday, one of the Mass, and one which is reserved for the Mass of the Presanctified on the following day. [1]
The words of Moses and Aaron towards the end of the reading, “Vespere scietis – In the evening you shall know”, refer to the Gospel of the Easter vigil, Matthew 28, 1-7, which begins with the words “Vespere autem Sabbati – on the eve of the Sabbath.” The words “et mane videbitis gloriam Domini – and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord” look forward to the second verse of the Gospel of Easter morning, Mark 16, 1-7, “Et valde mane una sabbatorum – And very early in the morning, the first day of the week.”
A stained-glass window of the Prophet Hosea with three other prophets, holding banderoles with two verses from his book: “On the third day he will raise us” (6, 3), and “O death, where is thy sting?”, St Paul’s citation in 1 Corinthians 15, 55 of the Septuagint translation. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by GO69, CC BY-SA 4.0)
This theme, of the evening and the morning, also appears at two other crucial moments in the readings of Holy Week, both also the first Scriptural readings within their respective ceremonies. The first prophecy of the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, Hosea 6, 1-6, also refers to the Resurrection of Christ in the morning: “In their tribulation, in the morning they shall rise to me… He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. We shall know, and we shall follow, that we may know the Lord, as the daybreak is his going forth prepared.” Likewise, the first prophecy of the Easter vigil, Genesis 1, 1 – 2, 2, contains six repetitions of the formula, “and there was evening, and there was morning.” It is also reflected in the Passion narratives, all four of which are divided into an evening and a morning. [2]
The vigil Mass of Holy Saturday is not a first Mass of Easter, an anticipation of the Resurrection, and was never celebrated as such in the Roman Rite. It is rather a vigil in the true sense of the word, “a keeping watch.” At that point in the celebration of the liturgy, we know, as Hosea says we shall, that Christ has risen, but we do not yet see Him in His glory. This is symbolized by the incomplete character of the Mass, which has no introit, Creed, offertory, or Agnus Dei, while the communio is not a Mass antiphon in the proper sense, but a very short form of Vespers.
The Magnificat antiphon of Vespers at the end of the Easter vigil, also sung with the Nunc dimittis at Compline, as it is here: Aña Véspere autem sábbati * quae lucescit in prima sábbati, venit María Magdaléne, et áltera María, vidére sepulcrum, allelúja. (And in the evening of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary came to see the sepulcher, alleluia.)
In the Gospels of both Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the Risen Lord is mentioned, but does not appear in person. However, with the restoration of the Introit after two days on which it was not sung, on the third day, He speaks directly and in person: “I have risen, and am still with thee.” It is at this Mass, on the morning of Easter, that the fullness of solemnity is restored to the liturgy, and the glory of the Lord is indeed seen. As the prophecy of Hosea continues, “And we will follow, that we may know the Lord: like the daybreak is his going forth”, that is, His going forth from the tomb.
Liturgical scholars have long been wont to describe the unique character of the Easter vigil Mass in reference to something called Baumstarck’s Law, named for the scholar who identified it, the German Anton Baumstarck (1872-1948). This supposed law can be summed up very simply by saying, “The more solemn days change last”, meaning that when a new feature of the liturgy is instituted, people don’t add it to the more important days, or hesitate to do so, because they remember that “we’ve always done it THIS way”, and don’t want to change it. Therefore, the absence of the features named above from the Mass of the Easter vigil is effectively dismissed as a mere archaism, undoubtedly ancient, but per se meaningless. (This is also often applied to the Tenebrae offices, in reference to the absence of the invitatory, hymns, doxology etc.)
It is revealing, and typical of both Germans and the era in which Baumstarck lived, that the phenomenon which he identified is called a “law,” a term which places it in the category of forces like those described by the “laws” of physics: implacable, unavoidable, and above all, impersonal. But changes to the liturgy result from decisions, not forces, and decisions are made by people, not by forces. And this in turn is why Baumstarck’s Law (which has plenty of perfectly legitimate applications) would better be called Baumstarck’s Principle – an explanation of some aspects of liturgical change, but decidedly not of all.
Thus we find the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster, e.g., writing as follows of the Easter vigil Mass in The Sacramentary (vol. 2, p. 308): “Holy Saturday still preserves, almost unaltered, the primitive type of the morning Mass which, during the first three centuries, closed the vigil of preparation for the Sunday.” Likewise Josef Jungmann in Missarum Solemnia (p. 394): “The absence of the Communion song on Holy Saturday recalls the time before the introduction of the chant.” [3]
But to treat this (and many analogous customs) as nothing more than an archaism is fundamentally absurd. Even granting for the sake of argument that the introit, offertory and communio were added later to the Mass, as we know the Creed and Agnus Dei were, nonetheless, someone made a deliberate and conscious decision to NOT add them to two specific days of the year: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. [4] As the prophet says, “He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up.” [5]
The Resurrection, 1463, by Piero della Francesca. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
[1] For the Church Fathers, the manna was understood as a clear prefiguration of the Eucharist. St Cyprian, Epistle to Magnus (PL 3, 1150A): “We see the mystery of this equality (among all believers) celebrated in Exodus, when the manna flowed down from heaven, and as a prefiguration of the things to come, showed the nourishment of the bread of heaven and the food of Christ when He would come.”
– St Ambrose, De Sacramentis (PL 16, 444B), immediately after explaining the words of Consecration: “It was indeed a great and venerable thing, that the manna rained down upon the Jews from heaven: but understand this. What is greater, the manna from heaven, or the body of Christ? The body of Christ, to be sure, who is the maker of heaven. And then, he that ate the manna, died: who shall eat this Body, it shall be unto him the forgiveness of sins, and he shall not die forever.”

– Ambrosiaster, Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul (PL XVII, 234A-B): “ ‘And they all did eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.’ (1 Cor. 10, 3-4) He calls the manna and water (Exod. 16, 15; 17, 6) ‘spiritual’... having in themselves a figure of the future mystery, which we now receive in commemoration of Christ the Lord.”
[2] Many liturgical traditions follow this division by reading the Passion narratives partly on Holy Thursday and partly on Good Friday, beginning the Gospels of the latter at the point where the Evangelist mentions the morning: Matthew 27, 1; Mark 15, 1; Luke 22, 66, and John 18, 28.
[3] With all due respect, especially to the memory of the Bl. Schuster, the liturgical scholars of their era failed to see that their reasoning on this and so many other points was purely circular. “The Easter vigil preserves an archaic form of the Mass… and how do we know that this is an archaic form of the Mass? Because it is preserved at the Easter vigil...”
[4] Not at all surprisingly, analogous customs are also found in other rites. The Ambrosian Easter vigil Mass has no antiphons at all, apart from a brief psalmellus (the equivalent of the gradual) between the first reading and the epistle, and the Alleluia between the epistle and gospel. The Creed and Gloria are both omitted, and the Ambrosian Mass has neither the Kyrie nor the Agnus Dei, so the only part of the Ordinary which is said is the Sanctus. In the Byzantine Rite, the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday is also not treated as a first liturgy of Easter; the Gospel is the whole of Matthew 28, which does include the visible appearance of the Risen Christ to the woman at the tomb, and to the disciples on the mountain of Galilee, but the tropar which characterizes the liturgy of Easter and the whole Paschal season is not yet sung. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs giving life.”
[5] As I mentioned earlier this week, the Roman Mass of Holy Thursday also did not originally have an Introit, but this was in function of the total absence of a foremass, and hence, of a lack of anywhere to put it.

Roman Sacrament Altars 2024

One of the contributors to our station churches series this year, Fr Joseph Koczera, SJ, has kindly shared with his photographs of a few of the altars of repose in Roman churches; not a large number, because he spent most of the evening of Holy Thursday at the church of the Pontifical Russian College, for the Matins of the Twelve Gospels, one of the longest and most beautiful ceremonies in the Byzantine Rite.

Here we see the church of the Russicum, as it usually called, on one of the first days of Holy Week.
An icon of the Man of Sorrows is set up in the middle of the church, of the type known as the Bridegroom, from the opening words of the troparion of Matins: Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Take care, therefore, oh my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out of the kingdom; but rouse thyself, crying, Holy, Holy, Holy are Thou O God. Through the Mother of God, have mercy on us!
On the evening of Holy Thursday, this large cross is set in the middle of the church, and a Gospel book placed in front of it. At the Matins of Good Friday, which is very often anticipated to this evening, Twelve Gospel accounts of the Passion are added to the usual order of the service.

Although churches of the Byzantine Rite do not make an altar of the repose, the church remains open until midnight, as do the Roman Rite churches.

Santa Maria Maggiore is right down the street.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified

The term “Mass of the Presanctified” is not actually used anywhere in the Missal itself for the ceremony of Good Friday, but is commonly found in Holy Week books printed for the convenience of the clergy during the busiest week of the year. Although it is in that sense perhaps purely informal, it nevertheless gives an accurate sense of what the rite actually does and means. To the largest degree possible, this rite imitates the rite of the Mass, to signify that what it commemorates, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, was anticipated at the Last Supper, and is intimately and essentially connected with it.

The celebrant wears black vestments as for a Requiem. The deacon and subdeacon, however, wear black folded chasubles, the traditional vestments of penitential seasons, which are not used at a Requiem; indeed, black folded chasubles are only used at this service. (Where they are not available, the deacon and subdeacon serve in albs and maniples, the deacon with a stole.) On these days, the Church wishes us to experience the Paschal mystery, not as a mere commemoration, but as something through which we ourselves live, accompanying the Savior. Good Friday is a day of deepest mourning, one that excludes the use of the vestments of joy, the dalmatic and tunicle, which at a Requiem speak of the hope of the Resurrection. On Good Friday, this hope is not in any way anticipated; we ourselves feel the desolation which Christ’s disciples experienced, the better to come to the joy of the Resurrection on Easter.

Papal Good Friday in the Sistine Chapel; the deacon and subdeacon in folded chasubles sitting on the altar steps. (Reproduced from Shawn Tribe’s article of 2009 “Use, History and Development of the ‘Planeta Plicata’ or Folded Chasuble.”)
The Mass of the Catechumens has an extra reading, sung by a reader in surplice. It is followed by a tract, and then a prayer, which is introduced by “Oremus” sung by the priest, “Flectamus genua” by the deacon, and “Levate” by the subdeacon. These are done as they normally would be at a solemn Ember-day Mass. The subdeacon sings the second reading with the same ceremonies as at a solemn Mass, followed by a second tract. The Passion of St John is sung with the same ceremonies as those of Matthew, Mark and Luke on the previous days of Holy Week. The last part is sung like the Gospel at a Requiem, by the deacon of the Mass, without candles or incense; as at solemn Mass in penitential seasons, he replaces his folded chasuble with the broad stole.

The solemn prayers are said at the Missal on the Epistle side. After each invocation, “Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate” are said as above by the major ministers, followed by the collects. The adoration of the Cross has no analog in the Mass, and was originally a separate ceremony; at this point, the priest and subdeacon remove their chasubles, putting them on again once they have kissed the Cross.

For the final part of the ceremony, the Blessed Sacrament is brought back from the Altar of Repose to the church’s principal altar, with a solemn procession done in reverse order from the procession of the day before. This ritual of the double procession emphasizes in the clearest way possible the connection between the Lord’s Supper and His Sacrifice upon the Cross.

At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the celebrant consecrates two large Hosts, one for the Mass itself, the other for the rite of the following day. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Holy Thursday ritual is the special way in which this second Host is prepared, before the celebrant’s communion. It is placed in a chalice, not in a pyx or ciborium, and then covered with a soft pall, a paten turned upside down, and a thin white chalice veil, which is then tied with a ribbon around the node of the chalice. The Host thus enclosed in the chalice is left on the corporal, until the end of the Mass, when it is brought to the Altar of Repose.

This custom of enclosing the Body of the Lord in a chalice is a sign of His Passion, which He Himself describes as a “chalice” when He goes to pray in the garden. (Matthew 26, 39-42 and Luke 22, 42.) It also serves to indicate the link between the first Mass, the Lord’s Supper, and the Sacrifice of the Cross, which takes place on the following day; the instruments of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the chalice, pall, paten and veil, are used on both days.

The Sacrament altar at the church of San Marello al Corso in Rome, Holy Thursday, 2015.
On Good Friday, therefore, after the adoration of the Cross, the priest, with all of the major and minor ministers and attending clergy, goes by the shortest way to the Altar of Repose, where he kneels down along with the deacon and subdeacon. The deacon then rises, opens the tabernacle, genuflects, and brings the chalice with the Host inside forward so that it can be clearly seen, without removing it from the tabernacle, and returns to the side of the priest. The three major ministers rise, and the priest imposes incense in two thuribles; with one of these, he incenses the Blessed Sacrament as at Benediction. He then dons the humeral veil, while the deacon goes up to the altar, and brings him the chalice with the Host inside.

All of the acolytes and attending clergy form a procession, and return to the main sanctuary of the church, while the choir sings the hymn Vexilla Regis. Immediately before the priest, who holds the chalice under the humeral veil, two acolytes take turns incensing the Blessed Sacrament.

When they arrive before the main altar, the deacon receives the Sacrament from the priest, takes It up to the altar, and unties the ribbon which holds the veil on the chalice. He then arranges the veil, without removing it from the chalice, in the same way that a chalice is set upon the altar for the celebration of Mass: another clear sign of the connection between the Mass and the death of Christ upon the Cross. The priest incenses the Sacrament once again, and the “Rite of the Presanctified” properly so-called begins.

The major ministers go up to the altar and genuflect. The deacon removes the chalice veil, paten and soft pall, then holds the paten with two hands over the corporal. The priest takes the chalice, and allows the Host to slide from it onto the paten, then puts it down. He receives the paten from the deacon and places the Host upon the corporal. The deacon puts wine in the chalice, and the subdeacon a drop of water, as at Mass. The deacon gives the chalice to the priest, who places it in the middle of the corporal, and covers it with the pall. All of the Offertory prayers and gestures are omitted.

As at the Offertory of Mass, the thurifer comes to the priest, who imposes incense without blessing it, and, accompanied in the usual way by the deacon and subdeacon, incenses the Host and chalice, Cross and altar as at a Solemn Mass, genuflecting whenever he passes before the Sacrament. (Neither he nor anyone else is incensed.) Then he washes his hands, as at a normal Mass, but saying nothing.

Returning to the middle of the altar, with the deacon and subdeacon in line behind him, the priest says the Offertory prayer “In spiritu humilitatis”; he then kisses the altar, turns to the people and says “Orate fratres”. The response “Suscipiat” is not said, and the priest does not complete the usual turn in a circle. As the rubrics of the Missal say, he “omits the rest”, (Secret, Preface, Sanctus and Canon), and passes directly to “Oremus. Praeceptis salutaribus.” and the Lord’s Prayer, sung in the ferial tone. He then sings the embolism “Libera nos” out loud, also in the ferial tone, omitting all of the gestures which normally accompany it.
The deacon and subdeacon kneel on either side of the priest, slightly back from where he stands; as the priest solemnly elevates the Host, they lift his chasuble, and in place of the bell, the “crepitaculum” or noisemaker is sounded. The deacon and subdeacon rise, and the deacon uncovers the chalice. The priest performs the Fraction of the Host, saying nothing and omitting the signs of the Cross. Bowing over the altar, he says the prayer “Perceptio corporis tui”; following the usual rite of Mass, he communicates with the Sacred Host. He then consumes the chalice with the wine and the Particle in it, omitting the usual rites.

All of this follows, step by step, the rite of the Offertory of the Mass, and the prayers of the celebrant’s communion after the Canon. Obviously, all of those elements which refer specifically to the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice are omitted, along with the Canon itself. (The fraction, however, is done after the Embolism, not during, since the latter is sung aloud.) Here we have another clear sign of the sacrificial nature of the death of Christ. The rubrics of the Missal underline this principal that the rite is modeled on the rite of Mass; everything in them is described in reference to the practice of the normal celebration of Mass.

The priest purifies the chalice and his fingers; the subdeacon then restacks the chalice, and the deacon removes the broad stole and vests again in the folded chasuble, again, all as at a solemn Mass. Since it is a longstanding custom of the Church that only the celebrant receives communion on this day, at this point the liturgy is effectively completed and the priest, the major and minor ministers, and the attending clergy return to the sacristy in silence.

This brings us to the second major point of the ceremony, the silence of the congregation, and the relative silence of the ceremony as a whole. The parts that are said aloud consist almost entirely of the words of Scripture and the prayers, sung by the clergy, and the choir’s parts.

This is the only day of the year on which no part of the Ordinary of the Mass is used, these being the parts most easily sung by the people. The first two lessons are sung without title or “Deo gratias” at the end. The prayer is introduced by a formula that does not require the congregation to answer “Et cum spiritu tuo.” “Gloria tibi, Domine”, and “Laus tibi, Christe” are not said at the Passion. At the solemn prayers, the only word not sung by the major ministers is “Amen.”

At the presentation of the Cross, the major ministers sing “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world”, to which the choir answers “Come, let us adore;” this and the Vexilla regis are really the only parts of the ceremony that some portion of the people will likely be able to sing along with. The two tracts and the Improperia are certainly too complex for popular participation, and during the latter, the people are coming forth to kiss the Cross. To sum up, therefore, the only words which the majority of the congregation will certainly be able to sing are “Amen” and “Sed libera nos a malo.”

The first tract of the ceremony is taken from the song of the Prophet Habakkuk (the whole of his third chapter), according to the Old Latin translation of the Septuagint: “O Lord, I heard Thy report, and was afraid: I considered thy works, and was amazed.” These echo the famous prophecy of Isaiah known as that of the Suffering Servant (chapter 53), “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” The tract continues with the words, “thou shalt be known between two living creatures”; the “two living creatures” were first understood by St Augustine as the two thieves crucified alongside the Lord.

The silence of the congregation expresses this fear and amazement, as we behold the Lord and Creator of the world hung on the Cross, as the sun itself withdraws and the earth trembles at His death, and the tract continues “when my soul is troubled, Thou wilt in wrath remember mercy.” The Byzantine liturgy elaborates upon this point continually, as for example at the first hymn at Vespers of Good Friday; “All creation was changed by fear, when it saw Thee, o Christ, hanging upon the Cross; the sun was darkened, and the foundations of the earth were shaken. All things suffered with Him that created all things; o Lord, who did willingly suffer for us, glory to Thee!”

The final point to note is the fact that Communion is not distributed to the faithful at this ceremony. The “communion” which is received that day is the kissing of the Cross, for which the faithful come forth to the area of the sanctuary as they did the previous day at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Their participation in the Paschal mystery is vividly represented by following as closely as possible those members of the Church who lived it first, the disciples of Christ, who also received Communion on Holy Thursday. Good Friday is likewise lived as the disciples lived it, as a day of lamentation, without the grace of Communion, but with the grace of staying close by the Cross, like the Virgin and St John. This relatively late practice of the Roman Rite is in harmony with the broader tradition of the historical Christian rites. To this day, the Ambrosian rite maintains the custom of having no ritual involving the Eucharist on Good Friday at all; likewise, the Byzantine Rite has the kissing of the shroud of Christ, but no sort of Eucharistic ritual.

It is of signal importance to note here that the ritual of the Presanctified also represents this by having a fraction rite which is, so to speak, incomplete, because the particle is dropped into unconsecrated wine. (This is a rite with a very complex history, which will be addressed in a future article.) At a normal Mass, the Fraction rite, the reunion of Christ’s Body with the Blood shed for our redemption, represents the Resurrection; on Good Friday, the Resurrection is not made manifest, because the Body is broken, but not reunited with the Blood.

It is also worth noting in this regard that the rubrics of the Missal of St Pius V, and subsequent decrees of the S.R.C. in regard to the ceremony, assume that the same Cross, which comes from the main altar, is kissed by the clergy and all of the faithful. Likewise, the S.R.C. strongly prohibited all attempts at having any kind of Eucharistic adoration or procession on Good Friday, where such customs had arisen as a matter of popular piety.

Stations of the Cross with the Pergolesi Stabat Mater in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Today

The parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will pray St Alphonsus Liguori’s Stations of the Cross today at 1pm, accompanied by a full performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The Saint and the composer were Neapolitan contemporaries, so this pairing provides a wonderful immersion into the spirituality of the Italian Baroque. The church is located at 151 Garfield Avenue.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Roman Mass of Holy Thursday

Compared to other ancient liturgies, the Roman Rite is unusual in treating the Mass of Maundy Thursday as a feast of the Lord, vesting the clergy in white, and saying the Gloria in excelsis and the Creed. It is far more unusual in not reading one of the Synoptic accounts of the Lord’s Supper as the Gospel, but rather John 13, 1-15, the washing of the disciples’ feet. In the Ambrosian Rite, for example, the vestments are red for the whole of Holy Week, including both Holy Thursday and Good Friday, a custom which the church of Milan received from antiquity, when red was a color of mourning; the Gloria and Credo are not said. The Gospel is Matthew 26, 17-75, which goes from the preparations which the Lord orders the disciples to make for the Last Supper until the crowing of the rooster after Peter’s betrayal.

The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, 1308, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255/60 - 1318/19), part of the great altarpiece of the cathedral of Siena known as the Maestà. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In the Byzantine Rite’s Divine Liturgy of Holy Thursday, the psalms and antiphons with which the Eucharistic rite normally begins are replaced by the first part of Vespers, but the hymns which are sung are of a decidedly non-festal tone, heavily focused on the betrayal of Judas.
“Judas the transgressor, o Lord, who dipped his hand with Thee in the dish at the supper, lawlessly stretched out his hands to take the silver pieces; and he that reckoned up the price of the myrrh, did not shudder to sell Thee, that art beyond price; he who stretched out his feet to be washed, deceitfully kissed the Master to betray him to the lawless; cast from the choir of Apostles, and having cast away the thirty silver pieces, he did not see Thy Resurrection on the third day; through which have mercy on us.”
The Gospel is also from St Matthew, chapter 26, 1 – 27, 2; the washing of the disciples’ feet, John 13, 3-17, is inserted after verse 20, and three verses of St Luke, from his account of the Agony in the Garden (22, 43-45) are inserted after verse 29. The Mozarabic Rite also reads a longer and more complex composite Gospel of the same episodes, while the Armenian liturgy reads the Last Supper twice, as part of longer readings from the first chapter of the Passions of Matthew (26, 17-30) and Mark (14, 1-26), as well as the washing of the feet. The Syro-Malabar tradition is similar to the Ambrosian.
In other words, by far the dominant tradition in Christian liturgy is to emphasize the Institution of the Eucharist as a part of the whole Paschal mystery, by placing it in the context of the Passion narrative. The same narrative then continues on Good Friday, as e.g. in the Ambrosian Rite, which reads most of Matthew 27 at a synaxis of readings done after Terce, the principal commemoration of the Passion on that day.
A photo of the Good Friday post Tertiam in the Ambrosian Rite, from 2017. At Matthew 27, 50 “And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost”, all kneel, and two servers (subdeacons in the solemn rite) strip the altar; all the candles and lights are extinguished. A sign is then given with the bells, which are henceforth “bound” until the Easter vigil; the Passion resumes, but the rest of it is said in a lower voice.
However, it would be very superficial to think that by reading only John 13, 1-15, and that in a Mass of a more festal character, the Roman Rite does not do the exact same thing as the others. For after the Gloria in excelsis is sung, the bells are “bound”, as the Italians say, replaced with the dissonant noise of the crepitaculum, and the organ is silenced, signs that the Church’s joy at receiving the gift of the Eucharist is overshadowed by the impending sufferings of Our Lord. The saying of the Creed emphasizes the fact that at the Institution of the Eucharist and priesthood, Christ established the apostolic college that would go forth to preach and teach the Faith to the world, and as time went on, commission others to do likewise. But it is worth remembering that the Creed itself speaks of the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Christ, i.e., the Paschal mystery, but does not say anything about the Mass or the Eucharist.
This also explains why the chants of the foremass of Holy Thursday, the introit, gradual and offertory, also make no mention of the Eucharist, but all speak of the Passion and Resurrection. “in whom is our salvation… and resurrection… wherefore God also did exalt Him… I shall not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.” The collect refers to the betrayal of Judas and the confession of the good thief, and also speaks of the Passion and the Resurrection, but not of the Eucharist.
Offertorium Déxtera Dómini fecit virtutem, déxtera Dómini exaltávit me: non moriar, sed vivam, et narrábo ópera Dómini.
Offertory Ps. 117 The right hand of the Lord hath wrought might: the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me; I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
As I noted earlier this week, the Roman Mass of the Lord’s Supper originally had no foremass, but began with the Secret. By the time this custom was changed, in the later decades of the 8th century, the text of the liturgy was regarded as a closed canon, and thus, all of its elements are taken from elsewhere: the introit from Holy Tuesday, the collect from Good Friday, the epistle and gradual from Tenebrae, the Gospel (reduced to the first 15 verses) also from Holy Tuesday, and the offertory from the Sundays after Epiphany. It is the epistle from St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11, 20-32) that sets the Institution of the Eucharist in the broader context of the Passion which the chant parts and oration speak of.
“(T)he Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke, and said, ‘Take ye, and eat: this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me.’ In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying, ‘This chalice is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me.’ For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come.” (verses 23-26).
The canon of the Mass on Holy Thursday has both a variable Communicantes and Hanc igitur; here again, the Institution of the Eucharist is set in the broader context of the Passion. The former refers to “the most sacred day on which Our Lord Jesus Christ was given over (traditus) for us”, i.e., to His Passion, while the latter refers to it as “the day on which Our Lord handed over (tradidit) to his disciples the mysteries of His Body and Blood to be celebrated.”

The Ambrosian Mass of Holy Thursday

The mandatum ceremony according to the Ambrosian rite
One of the most beautiful features of the traditional Ambrosian Rite is its unique manner of celebrating the Mass of Holy Thursday, which includes a special form of the Canon used only on that day. The Mass takes place ‘inter Vesperas – in the midst of Vespers’, although the Vespers in question are very much simplified, relative to the normal form. In fact, the Divine Office of the entire Milanese Holy Week is unusually austere; among other things, the Magnificat is omitted at Vespers, and the Benedictus at Lauds, as a sign of mourning over the death of the Savior.

The rite begins with the regular lucernarium, a responsory originally to be sung during the lighting of candles and lanterns in the church. This is followed by a hymn, and another responsory called the “responsorium in choro”; in the Duomo itself, this chant is to be sung by the archbishop. A reader then sings the entire book of Jonah, a custom which, as Nicola de’ Grandi has noted before, is attested in the writings of St Ambrose himself; this is followed by a psalmellus, the Ambrosian equivalent of a gradual. The Mass then begins without an introductory chant, (the Ambrosian Rite has no Kyrie), starting from the collect, the same that of the Roman Rite; the epistle which follows is of course St Paul’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 11, 20-34, which is read in the Roman Rite at both Mass and Tenebrae.

There follows a cantus, the Ambrosian equivalent of a tract; its text is taken partly from the reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew which follows, (chapter 26, 17-75), and partly from St. Luke 22, 47-48.
You are come out as it were to a robber with swords to apprehend me. Daily I was with you, teaching in the temple, and you laid not hands on me, and behold you hand me over to be crucified.

V. As He yet spoke, behold a crowd, and he that was called Judas came, and drew near to Jesus to kiss him. And Jesus said to him: Judas, dost thou betray the Son of man with a kiss to be crucified?
All the readings for the principle services of the Triduum are taken from the Gospel of St Matthew; the Passion therefore stops with the cock-crow which reminds St Peter that Christ prophesied his betrayal, and resumes in the morning service after Terce at the beginning of chapter 27. (The other three Passions, of Ss Mark, Luke and John, are read in the second of two nocturns at Matins of Good Friday.)

The Mass continues as normal, with a few modifications similar to those of the traditional Roman Rite. The normal antiphon “after the Gospel” is sung; its text is taken with slight modifications from the Byzantine Rite, which on this same day sings these words in the place of the Cherubic hymn at the Divine Liturgy.
Thou receivest me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Thy wondrous Supper. For I will not reveal this mystery to Thy enemies; I will not I give Thee a kiss as did Judas; but as the thief, confessing to Thee: remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom.
In accordance with the very ancient custom that the Kiss of Peace is not given on Holy Thursday, since it was the sign by which Judas betrayed the Lord, the deacon does not sing “Pacem habete” after laying the corporal on the altar, is as usually done in the Ambrosian Rite.

The prayer “over the Offering” is the same as the Roman Secret; the Mass has a proper preface, as do most Masses in the Ambrosian Rite.
Truly it is worthy and just etc. … Through Christ our Lord. Who though He was God in heaven, descended unto the earth to cancel the sins of men; and He that had come to liberate the human race, was sold in an unlawful purchase by His servant, like a debtor and a guilty man, even the Lord; and He that judgeth the Angels, was set in the judgment of man, that He might deliver from death man, whom He Himself had made. And therefore with the Angels etc.
The Canon of the Mass is the normal Ambrosian Canon, which is in most respects fairly similar to the Roman Canon, but today is said with several very long interpolations. The first of these is in the Communicantes:
Communicating, and celebrating the most sacred day, on which Our Lord, Jesus Christ, was betrayed. Thou, o Lord, didst command us to be partakers of Thy Son, sharers of Thy kingdom, dwellers in Paradise, companions of the Angels; ever provided we keep the sacraments of the heavenly army with pure and undefiled faith. And what may we not hope of Thy mercy, we who received so great a gift, that we might merit to offer Thee such a Victim, namely, the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ? Who for the redemption of the world gave himself up to that holy and venerable Passion; Who instituting the form of the perennial sacrifice of salvation, first offered Himself as the Victim, and first taught that It be offered. But also venerating the memory etc.
The words “keep the sacraments of the heavenly army – caelestis militae sacramenta servemus” refer to a common pre-Christian sense of the Latin word “sacramentum – a military oath of allegiance”.

The first part of the Ambrosian Canon of Holy Thursday, in a missal printed in 1548.

The Hanc igitur is not so much interpolated as completely rewritten.
We therefore beseech thee, o Lord, graciously attend to this offering, which we make to Thee because of the day of the Lord’s Supper, on which Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, instituted the rite of sacrifice in the New Covenant, when He transformed the bread and wine, which Melchisedech the priest had offered as a prefiguration of the mystery that was to come, into the sacrament of His Body and Blood; and so for the course of many years, in health and safety may we merit to offer our gifts to the Thee, o Lord; and may Thou order our days in Thy peace etc.
The Qui pridie is then interpolated as follows:
Who on the day before He suffered for our salvation and that of all men, that is, on this day, reclining in the midst of His disciples and taking bread etc.
The second part of the same canon.
The rest of the Canon is said as normal; however, after the Nobis quoque, there follows a lengthy addition unique to the Ambrosian Rite.
We do these things, we celebrate these thing, o Lord, keeping Thy commandments: and at this inviolable communion, by the very fact that we receive the Body of the Lord, we also announce his death. But it belongeth to Thee, almighty Father, to send now Thy only begotten Son, whom Thou didst send willingly to them that sought Him not. Who though Thou art infinite and unknowable, didst also beget of Thee God infinite and unknowable; so that Thou may now grant His Body unto our salvation, by whose Passion Thou didst grant redemption to the human race. Through the same.
In the Ambrosian Rite, the fraction of the Host is done before the Our Father, accompanied by an antiphon called the Confractory, which on Holy Thursday reads as follows:
This is the Body, which shall be given up for you: this Chalice of the New Covenant is in My Blood, sayeth the Lord. As often as you shall receive these things, do this in memory of Me.
The Lord’s Prayer is then preceded by a special formula of introduction used only on this day, in place of the usual formula common to the Roman and Milanese rites.
It is His commandment, o Lord, which we follow, in Whose presence we now ask Thee. Give to the sacrifice its Author, that the faith of the matter may be fulfilled in the loftiness of the mystery; so that as we carry out the truth of the heavenly sacrifice, so we may draw in the truth of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Through the same Christ Our Lord, saying: Our Father etc.
The Transitory, the Ambrosian communion antiphon, also refers to the Passion Gospel of Matthew 26.
My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me. Now you shall see the crowd that surroundeth me, and take flight, and I will go to be immolated for ye.
The Post-Communion prayer is different from that of the Roman Rite.
Lord, our God, grant in Thy mercy; that we who have received the Body and Blood of Thy only begotten Son may be set apart from the blindness of the faithless disciple, we who confess and worship Christ our Lord as true God and true man. Who liveth etc.
As in the Roman Rite, the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the Altar of Repose in solemn procession at the end of the Mass; afterwards, the end of vespers is sung. This consists of psalm 69, sung together with the two psalms 133 and 116 added to it, sung with a single doxology, according to a common custom of the Ambrosian Rite on feasts. The rite then concludes with four prayers, the Magnificat being omitted as noted above.

Palm Sunday 2024 Photopost (Part 1)

I am glad to say that we have received a pretty good number of contributions to our Palm Sunday photopost series, and it will certainly run to at least three separate posts. There is always room for more, and of course the Triduum starts today, so please send photos of any and all of your Holy Week liturgies, in any of the various rites and forms, to, and remember to include the name and location of the church. We wish all of our reader a most blessed celebration of the mysteries of Our Lord’s Holy Supper and Passion, looking forward to the glorious Resurrection.
St Martin – Martinville, Lousisiana
St Stanislaus – Milwaukee, Wisconsin (ICRSS)
Tradition will always be for the young.
St Anthony – Calgary, Alberta (FSSP)

Photopost Request: The Sacred Triduum and Easter 2024

Our first Palm Sunday photopost will be put up later today. In the meantime, as we traditionally do, we will plan on having a whole series of photoposts of your Holy Week liturgies, with individual posts for Tenebrae, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. As always, we are glad to receive images of the OF, EF, Eastern Rites, the Ordinariate Use, etc., including any part of the liturgy. Please send your photographs to, and remember to include the name and location of the church, along with any other information you think important.

Please read this! – I would ask people to do a few things to make it easier for us to process the photos. The first is to size them down so that the smaller dimension is around 1500 pixels. The second is to send the pictures as zipped files, which are a lot easier to process, (not links, and not as photos attached to an email). The third is to not mix photos of one ceremony with those of another, and to put the name of the ceremony (“Tenebrae”, “Holy Thursday”, “Good Friday”, “Holy Saturday”, and “Easter Sunday”) as the subject of the email. Your help is very much appreciated.

“Beauty is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation.” – Pope Benedict XVI.
From our first Holy Thursday photopost of last year: the altar of repose at the Oratory of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the church of the Institute of Christ the King’s apostolate in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
From the second post: the Mandatum at the Norbertine priory of Our Lady of Sorrows in Peckham, England.

Last year, this series stalled out after Holy Thursday, due, as I mistakenly thought at time, to a lack of submissions. I realized MUCH later that our email filters were putting things sent to the photopost email address into the spam box, and I never saw them. (The Big G routinely makes changes to the way its email works without telling us; its own notifications to the editor that a post has been made also go to spam for months, and then randomly start show up my inbox for months, then stop happening completely, then back to spam, etc.) The problem has been fixed; I check spam regularly, and for months, I haven’t seen anything in it that shouldn’t be there, so we should be good to go.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Mass of Spy Wednesday

As I noted in articles published yesterday and the day before, the Gospel of Holy Monday was originally John 12, 1-36, and that of Holy Tuesday was originally John 13, 1-32. This meant that the Passion of St Luke, which has always been the Gospel of Spy Wednesday, would originally have been the first retelling of the Passion during the Roman Holy Week, after the Mass of Palm Sunday. (As I have also noted on various occasions, this anticipation of the events of the Passion before the liturgical days on which they actually happened is a custom almost unique to the Roman Rite.)

This connection between the Masses of Palm Sunday and Spy Wednesday is highlighted by the introit of the latter, which is taken from the epistle of former, Philippians 2, 5-11.

Introitus In nómine Jesu omne genu flectátur, caelestium, terrestrium et infernórum: quia Dóminus factus est oboediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis: ideo Dóminus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris. Psalmus Dómine, exaudi oratiónem meam: et clamor meus ad te veniat. In nómine Jesu…
Introit (Phil. 2, 10; 8 and 11) In the name of Jesus let every knee bend, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: because the Lord hath become obedient unto death, but the death of the Cross. Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. Psalm 101, 2 O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to thee. In the name of Jesus…
The Psalm with which it is sung, the hundred-and-first, dominates this Mass as Psalm 34 does that of Holy Monday, providing the text of the tract, offertory, and communio. It is also the fifth of the penitential psalms; in his Exposition of the Penitential Psalms, St Gregory the Great makes the connection between it and the epistle of Palm Sunday that surely inspired the creation of this introit. (PL 79, 601 B-C) He begins with psalm’s biblical title.
“ ‘The prayer of the poor man, when he shall be anxious, and pour out his supplication before the Lord.’ Who is this poor man whose prayer is noted in this psalm, if not he of whom the apostle said, ‘who when he was rich became poor for our sakes’? (1 Cor. 8, 9) For He, that He might make us participants in His riches, took on the necessities of our poverty; for ‘He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’ (Phil, 2, 7-8) And just as He became poor for us, so also was He made anxious for us, and at last was handed over to death for us, and for us hung upon the Cross. For He died, as the Apostle, says for our sins (1 Cor. 15, 3) and rose for our justification. (Rom. 4, 25) Now He was able to be anxious from His human nature, from which also He was able to die. Therefore, our (mystical) Head prays in this psalm that through grace we may be led back thither, whence we fell through the fault of our first parent.”
The Risen Christ and the Mystical Winepress, by Marco dal Pino, often called Marco da Siena, 1525-1588 ca. Both of the figures of Christ in this painting show very markedly the influence of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.
The Roman station church for this day is St Mary Major, as also on the Ember Wednesdays. As on those days, and on the Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, there are two readings before the Gospel. The first is Isaiah 63, 1-7, preceded by a part of verse 62, 11.
Thus sayeth the Lord God: Tell the daughter of Sion: Behold thy Savior cometh: behold his reward is with him. 63, 1 Who is this that comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength? I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save. Why then is your apparel red, and your garments like theirs that tread in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel. etc.
The Church Fathers understood this passage as a prophecy of the Passion of Christ, starting in the West with Tertullian. (Adv. Marcionem 4, 40 ad fin.)
The prophetic Spirit contemplates the Lord as if He were already on His way to His passion, clad in His fleshly nature; and as He was to suffer therein, He represents the bleeding condition of His flesh under the metaphor of garments dyed in red, as if reddened in the treading and crushing process of the wine-press, from which the laborers descend reddened with the wine-juice, like men stained in blood.
This idea is repeated in very similar terms by St Cyprian (Ep. ad Caecilium 62), who always referred to Tertullian as “the Master”, despite his lapse into the Montanist heresy; and likewise, by Saints Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechesis 13, 27) and Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 45, 25.)
The necessary premise of the Passion is, of course, the Incarnation, for Christ could not suffer without a human body. Indeed, ancient heretics who denied the Incarnation often did so in rejection of the idea that God can suffer, which they held to be incompatible with the perfect and incorruptible nature of the divine. St Ambrose became bishop of Milan in 374, after the see had been held for by one such heretic, the Arian Auxentius, for twenty years. We therefore find him referring this same prophecy to the whole economy of salvation, culminating in the Ascension of Christ’s body into heaven, in his treatise On the Mysteries (7, 36):
The angels, too, were in doubt when Christ arose; the powers of heaven were in doubt when they saw that flesh was ascending into heaven. Then they said: “Who is this King of glory?” And while some said “Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” In Isaiah, too, we find that the powers of heaven doubted and said: “Who is this that comes up from Edom, the redness of His garments is from Bosor, He who is glorious in white apparel?”
In the next generation, St Eucherius of Lyon (ca. 380-450) is even more explicit: “The garment of the Son of God is sometimes understood to be His flesh, which is assumed by the divinity; of which garment of the flesh Isaiah prophesying says, “Who is this etc.” (Formulas of Spiritual Understanding, chapter 1) Therefore, like the Mass of Ember Wednesday in Lent, this Mass begins with a prophecy of the Incarnation, as the church of Rome visits its principal sanctuary of the Mother of God, in whose sacred womb began the salvation of man.
The icon of the Virgin Mary, known as the “Salus Populi Romani”, in the reredos of the Borghese chapel of the basilica of St Mary Major. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Fallaner, CC BY-SA 4.0)
This is particularly appropriate for the day on which the Church reads the Passion of St Luke, who has a special association with the Virgin Mary. Most of what the New Testament tell us about Her is recorded in his writings, including almost all of the words actually spoken by the Her; this fact lies behind the tradition that he painted a picture of the Virgin, which is figuratively true if not literally. It is his account of the Passion that tells of the meeting between Christ and a group of women on the way to Mount Calvary, (chapter 23, 27-30); although he does not say that Mary was among them, art and piety have long accepted that it was so.
The gradual is taken from Psalm 68, which, as I noted yesterday, figures very prominently in the liturgy of Holy Week, and not just in the Roman Rite.

Graduale Ne avertas faciem tuam a púero tuo, quoniam tríbulor: velóciter exaudi me. V. Salvum me fac, Deus, quoniam intravérunt aquae usque ad ánimam meam: infixus sum in limo profundi, et non est substantia.
Gradual, Ps 68, 18; 2-3 Turn not thy face away from thy servant: for I am in trouble, swiftly hear me. V. Save me, o God, for the waters have come in even unto my soul. I am stuck fast in the mire of the deep, and there is no sure standing.
The Breviarium in Psalmos, (an exegetical treatise traditionally but erroneous ascribed to St Jerome) beautifully explains the application of the first part to the Passion. “(This is) the voice of Christ, who took on the form of a servant, speaking to the Father… ‘swiftly hear me’ that I make take up my spirit again, which I commended into Thy hands.” The Passion of St Luke which is read at this Mass is the only one that records Jesus saying these words of Psalm 30, 6, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit”, right before His death.
The prayer which follows it is the first to explicitly mention the Resurrection on the ferial days of Holy Week, another reminder of the unity of the Paschal mystery. For this reason, the Church also uses it for the suffrage of the Cross in Eastertide.
“O God, who willed that for us, thy Son should suffer the gibbet of the Cross, that Thou might drive far from us the power of the enemy; grant us thy servants, that we may obtain the grace of the resurrection.”
(Attributed to the Spanish painter Alonso Cano, 1601-67. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
The second reading, Isaiah 53, 1-12, is the fourth and last of the passages of his book known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. It is cited as a prophecy of Our Lord several times in the New Testament, and figures very prominently in the Holy Week liturgy of most ancient rites, so fully does it describe and conform to the events of the Passion.
If space permitted, St Jerome’s commentary on this chapter would be worth quoting in full, but here I must limit myself to this part, which is particularly relevant to this Mass, explaining the common theme of the two prophecies.
“He was despised and ignoble (verse 3) when He hung upon the Cross, and having become a curse for us (Gal. 3, 13), bore our sins. … But He was glorious and comely of appearance when at His Passion the earth trembled, and the rocks were broken, and as the sun fled, the elements feared that eternal night had come. Of him the bride says in the Song of Songs (5, 10), ‘My beloved is bright and ruddy’: bright in the fullness and purity of the virtues, ruddy in the passion, of which we shall afterwards read, ‘Who is this that cometh up from Edom, from Bosra with garments ruddy?” (Isa. 63, 1), chosen from among the thousands for the resurrection, that He who was the first-born of all creation might become the first-born of the dead.”

A New Setting of the Stabat Mater by Peter Kwasniewski

Just in time for Holy Week, Peter has posted to his YouTube channel a recording of his setting of the Stabat Mater, which was premiered by the ensemble His Majesty’s Men on Saturday, August 12, 2023 at St John Cantius Church, Chicago. Although the Stabat Mater hymn is not officially a part of the liturgy of Holy Week, it has long been customary to sing it as an offertory or communion motet; at St Peter’s basilica, for example, Palestrina’s version was sung at the principal Mass of Palm Sunday.

A note from Peter:

“In this work, I set ten of the verses (1–3, 5, 9–11, 16–17, and 20) for five-part men’s choir, interspersing them with the Gregorian chant for the remaining ten verses (4, 6–8, 12–15, and 18–19); the latter verses are sometimes sung plainly and sometimes with an ison and contrary organum. The purity and simplicity of the chant lines contrast well with the intricate texture and dense harmonies of the polyphony parts.

“This is, moreover, a very live recording — complete with car brakes, city buses, and honking horns, courtesy of the busy neighborhood of St John Cantius! John Cage, Edgard Varèse, and Henry Cowell would no doubt be pleased.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Mass of Holy Tuesday

In the oldest lectionary of the Roman Rite, ca. 650 AD [1], the Gospel of Holy Tuesday is not the Passion of St Mark, as it is today, but John 13, 1-32: Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet (1-11), His words to them immediately afterwards (12-20), the revelation of Judas as the betrayer (21-30), and Christ’s declaration that “Now the Son of man is glorified, etc.” The Divine Office preserves a relic of this in today’s antiphon for the Benedictus, which is the first verse of this Gospel: “Before the feast day of Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come, having loved His own, He loved them unto the end.”

The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, ca. 1305, by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
This may seem a very counter-intuitive choice, since the Gospel begins with the words “Before the day of Passover,” which began on the evening of Good Friday when Our Lord died; and indeed, the first part of this Gospel, verses 1-15, is now read on Holy Thursday. The key to understanding this is the Roman Rite’s unique arrangement of Holy Week: it is the only rite which reads an account of the Passion on Palm Sunday, anticipating the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. This arrangement celebrates Holy Week as a unit, with all the parts fully and equally related to the same Paschal mystery. Likewise, the Epistle read before the blessing of the palms refers to the Good Friday rite of the Presanctified, and one of the prayers of the blessing refers to Noah’s dove, a story which is told among the prophecies of the Easter vigil.

Therefore, the original Gospels of Holy Monday (John 12, 1-36) and Tuesday (13, 1-32) supplemented the Passion narrative of Palm Sunday with material which is not included in any of the synoptic Gospels. This includes the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, since the most ancient lectionaries do not indicate any use of the Gospel which is now read at the blessing of the palms, Matthew 21, 1-9, or its parallels in Mark and Luke. (The evidence for how Palm Sunday was celebrated in Rome in the early centuries is very scant; we cannot dismiss the possibility that such a reading was part of a blessing of palms, but we have no proof one way or the other.)
The first part of the old Gospel of Holy Tuesday, John 13, 1-32, in a Roman lectionary of the later 8th century known as the Purple Lectionary of Verona. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9451, folio 69r)
This would also explain two other curious features of the Roman Holy Week. One is that the Passion of St Mark was not read at any of the Masses [2], since it differs very little from Matthew’s, whereas St Luke’s, which does include several things not in Matthew or Mark, is read on Spy Wednesday. The other is the custom attested in the same lectionary mentioned above, and in the oldest Roman sacramentary, that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper began with the Secret, and hence, had no Scriptural readings. This could be done, since all that needed to be read of the Last Supper had already been read earlier in the week.
As I have noted several times, when Masses were assigned to the formerly aliturgical Thursdays of Lent, almost all of their chant parts were taken from other Masses, since the liturgical repertoire was regarded as a closed canon. In a similar way, when the Mass of the Lord’s Supper was supplied with a foremass (by the later decades of the 8th century), every element of it was taken from somewhere else in the liturgy: the introit from Holy Tuesday, the collect from Good Friday, the epistle and gradual from Tenebrae, the Gospel (reduced to the first 15 verses) also from Holy Tuesday, and the offertory from the Sundays after Epiphany.
Introitus Nos autem gloriári oportet in Cruce Dómini nostri Jesu Christi: in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra: per quem salváti et liberáti sumus. Ps. 66 Deus misereátur nostri, et benedícat nobis: illúminet vultum suum super nos, et misereátur nostri. Nos autem…
Introit But we must glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through who we are saved and delivered. Ps. 66 May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us, and may he have mercy on us. But we must glory…
In the Tridentine Missal, this introit is cited to Galatians 6, but it is really an ecclesiastical composition, and hardly even a paraphrase of any verse of Scripture. Here again, the unity of the Paschal mystery as celebrated in the Roman Holy Week is expressed by “glorying in the Cross” three days before the day of the Crucifixion, and by speaking of it as the source of our “salvation, life and resurrection” five days before Easter.
The use of the epistle from Jeremiah, chapter 11, 18-20, is beautifully explained by St Jerome in his commentary on the prophet. “The consensus of all the churches is this, that in the person of Jeremiah they understand these things to be said by Christ, because the Father showed him how he ought to speak… and He Himself, like a lamb led to the slaughter, did not open His mouth and did not know, which is to say, did not know sin, according to what is said by the Apostle, ‘Who when he had not known sin, became sin for us.’ (2 Cor. 5, 21)
St Jerome in His Study, by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (1587-1625). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
‘And they said, Let us cast wood into his bread’, which means, the Cross upon the body of the Savior, for He Himself is the one who said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’ (Jo. 6, 41)… but on the other hand, according to the mystery of the body which He assumed, the Son speaks to the Father, and calls upon His judgment… that He might render to the people what they merit. And He says, ‘May I see my vengeance upon them’, that is, upon those who persevere in their crime, and not on those who are turned to penance, of whom He said upon the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23, 34) He reveals to the Father and lays open His cause, because He was crucified, not because He in any way deserved this, but for the crime of the people, saying, ‘Behold the prince of this world comes, and he finds nothing in me.’ ” (Jo. 14, 30; PL 24, 756 B-D)
Regarding “the consensus of all the churches”, the same passage is read as the beginning of a longer lesson (Jeremiah 11, 18-23; 12, 1-5a; 9-11a; 14-15) which the Byzantine Rite reads at Prime of Holy Thursday and None of Good Friday. The Gallican and Armenian Rites both have these verses on Good Friday, while the Ambrosian copied it from the Roman.
The gradual is taken from Psalm 34, which dominates the Mass of Holy Monday.
Graduale, Ps 34, 13 et 1-2 Ego autem, dum mihi molesti essent, induébam me cilicio, et humiliábam in jejunio ánimam meam: et oratio mea in sinu meo convertétur. V. Júdica, Dómine, nocentes me, expugna impugnantes me: apprehende arma et scutum, et exsurge in adjutorium mihi.
Gradual But as for me, when they were troublesome to me, I was clothed with haircloth, and I humbled my soul in fasting; and my prayer shall be turned into my bosom. V. Judge thou, O Lord, them that wrong me: overthrow them that fight against me. Take hold of arms and shield: and rise up to help me.
A treatise known as the Breviarium in Psalmos, traditionally but incorrectly attributed to St Jerome, says that the opening words of this psalm (the verse of this gradual), are “the voice of Christ in His Passion, and of the Church in tribulation.” It then explains verse 13, the beginning of the gradual, as follows: “For the Lord put on the roughness (asperitatem, i.e. the roughness of a hairshirt) of the Passion. … He celebrated a fast unto the evening, when in the evening of the world, He was offered for its salvation. … Christ fasted not carnally but spiritually. … He hungered for the salvation of the human race, He thirsted for the faith of the church. He hungered in the passion when all, and especially the Apostles, denied Him, except the thief, who confessed Him on the cross.” (PL 26, 923D; 926B)
The offertory of Holy Monday is a verse of Psalm 142, which is said at Lauds of Friday, the day of the Passion; while the offertory of today is from Psalm 139, which is said at Friday Vespers. This psalm is also said at Vespers of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, with an antiphon taken from the same verse as this offertory.
Offertorium, Ps. 139, 5 Custódi me, Dómine, de manu peccatóris: et ab homínibus iníquis éripe me. (Keep me, O Lord, from the hand of the sinner: and from unjust men deliver me.)
The communio is from Psalm 68, which figures prominently in the Holy Week liturgy of various rites because of its general tenor, and specifically because of verse 22, “they gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”, a prophecy of one of the events of the Lord’s Passion. (Matt. 27, 34). As St Augustine writes (Enarr.), “Christ speaks here; we are not permitted to doubt this, for here are the express words which are fulfilled in His passion.” It also provides the offertory of Palm Sunday and the gradual of Spy Wednesday, and is sung as the first psalm of the first Tenebrae service. The Ambrosian Rite does not have Tenebrae, but also sings it as the first psalm of Holy Thursday Matins, repeating it on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the Byzantine Rite, it is said at None of the Royal Hours of Good Friday.
A statue of an angel holding the sponge and reed by which the Lord was given vinegar to drink while he was on the Cross; by Antonio Giorgetti (1635-69), working as an assistant of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This is one of ten statues of angels holding instruments of the Passion which Pope Clement IX commissioned from the elderly Bernini in 1669, to decorate the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, the main bridge by which pilgrims crossed the Tiber to get to St Peter’s basilica. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Jean-Pol Grandmont, CC BY-SA 3.0
Communio, Ps. 68, 13-14 Adversum me exercebantur, qui sedébant in porta: et in me psallébant, qui bibébant vinum: ego vero oratiónem meam ad te, Dómine: tempus benepláciti, Deus, in multitúdine misericordiae tuae. (They that sat in the gate were stirred up against me: and they that drank wine sang against me. But as for me, my prayer is to thee, o Lord; the time of thy good pleasure, o God, in the multitude of thy mercy (hear me.))
The Breviarium in Psalmos begins its commentary on Psalm 68 by saying, “This psalm resounds with Christ’s Passion”, and offers this very good explanation of the final words of the communio. “ ‘The time of (Thy) good pleasure, o God.’ The time of good pleasure is the time of the Passion, in which the Father said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ‘The time of good pleasure, in the multitude if Thy mercy.’ For all Thy times are well-pleasing, but especially this time, in which by Thy Passion Thou redeemest the human race…”
[1] The Comes Wurzburgensis is not, properly speaking, a lectionary, but a list of liturgical days, the Scriptural pericopes assigned to them, indicated by the title of the book, and the incipit and explicit, and the Roman station church, where applicable. The Latin words “cŏmĕs – a companion” (the origin of the noble title “count – one who accompanies a king”) was used to designate a lectionary, a book which accompanies the celebration of the Mass.
[2] The Passion of St Mark (14, 1 – 15, 46) was read in some Uses of the Roman Rite as the ninth lesson of Matins on Palm Sunday. This custom is attested in the Liber Politicus (also known as the Ordo Romanus XI) of a canon of St Peter’s basilica named Benedict, ca. 1140, and was still observed at the end of the 17th century in the Use of Lyon, which also maintained the original Gospels of Holy Monday and Tuesday.

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