Friday, March 08, 2024

Lauds and II Vespers of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican Rite

St. Thomas, flanked by Plato and Aristotle, triumphs over Averroes. Benozzo Gozzoli, 1471
Lost in Translation #97

On Wednesday, we examined the Dominican Rite’s I Vespers for the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas; today, we turn to the Office of Lauds and II Vespers.

The Office of Lauds has an antiphon for each of the five psalms (which in this case are the same in the Dominican and Roman Breviaries). Let us look at each in turn.
1. Adest dies laetitiae, quo Thomas Doctor ínclytus fit civis caeli curiae, bina coróna prǽditus.
Which I translate as:
1. The day of joy has arrived, in which Thomas, the illustrious Doctor, is made a citizen of the Heavenly Court, provided with a twofold crown.
The phrase “day of joy” is taken from Tobias 13, 10: “Bless ye the Lord, all His elect, keep days of joy, and give glory to Him.”
2. Aurum sub terra tégitur, et lucerna sub modio: sed virtus Dei cérnitur miraculórum radio.
Which I translate as:
Gold is hidden under the earth, et oil lamp under the bushel; but the power of God is made plain by a ray of miracles.
An interesting contrast, one that I have not seen before.
3. Alma mater Ecclesia, Christi fundáta sánguine, sceptra conscendit grandia novi Doctóris lúmine.
Which I translate as:
3. Nourishing Mother Church, founded by the Blood of Christ, embarks on her great dominion by the light of a new Doctor.
This is a difficult antiphon to translate. I am happy to see the phrase alma mater used for Holy Mother Church rather than the high school or college from which one graduated. Alma and alumnus, incidentally, both come from the verb alo, to feed. An alma mater, then, is literally a nursing mother and an alumnus is a nursling.
But the rest of the sentence is puzzling. Conscendit means to ascend or to board a ship, and grandia literally means “full grown,” a nod to the botanical imagery used throughout these propers. But it also means “great or grand, lofty or old.” Sceptra, on the other hand, literally designates “scepters,” symbols of royal power, but it can also mean royal rule itself. Taking all these considerations together, the sense seems to be that Holy Mother Church is exercising her grand old dominion in the light of a new Doctor. It is an arresting statement. [1]
4. Pressus vi daemonii cito liberátur: raptu mersus fluvii vitae restaurátur.
Which I translate as:
4. A possessed man is delivered immediately from the power of a demon; a man drowned by the violence of a river is restored to life.
Unlike his Dominican brother St. Vincent Ferrer, who worked so many miracles a day that a bell would be rung each time he did, St Thomas Aquinas was not known during his lifetime as a Wonder Worker. That changed, however, upon his being made a citizen of the Heavenly Court. One of Aquinas’ biographers states that “Few saints have worked so many miracles after death as he.” “The deaf and dumb, the blind, lepers, paralytic and possessed,” he states, “all obtained a cure by virtue of his intercession with God.” [2] That explains the possessed man, but I could not find any reference to St. Thomas saving a drowning victim.
5. Tumor gulæ péllitur, leprósus mundátur, cæco lumen rédditur, claudo gressus datur.
Which I translate as:
5. A tumor in the throat is cured, a leper is made clean, sight is restored to a blind man, a crippled man is given [the gift of] walking.
I could not find any reference to St. Thomas curing a throat cancer victim. The description of the blind man’s miraculous cure is literally, “light is returned to a blind man.”
The chapter, which is the same as that of I Vespers, is followed by this hymn:
Lauda mater Ecclésia
Thomæ felícem éxitum,
Qui pervénit ad gáudia
Per verbi vitæ méritum.

Fossa Nova tunc súscipit
Thecam thesáuri grátiæ,
Cum Christus Thomam éfficit
Herédem regni glóriæ.

Manens doctrínæ véritas,
Et fúneris intégritas,
Mira fragrans suávitas,
Ægris colláta sánitas.

Monstrat hunc dignum láudibus
Terræ, ponto, et súperis:
Nos juvet suis précibus,
Deo comméndet méritis.

Laus Patri sit ac Génito,
Simúlque sancto Flámini,
Qui sancti Thomæ mérito
Nos cæli jungat ágmini. Amen.
Which I translate as:
Praise, O mother Church,
The happy departure of Thomas,
Who came to [eternal] joys
By the merit of the word of life.

At that time, Fossa Nova receives
The treasure chest of grace,
When Christ makes Thomas
An heir of the kingdom’s glory.

Keeping the truth of doctrine,
And the integrity of his remains,
A wondrous sweet fragrance,
Health conferred upon the sick.

He reveals himself worthy of praise
Upon the land, the sea, and above;
May he help us with his prayers,
May he commend us to God with his merits.
An English version of the hymn
We discuss the unusual concluding stanza here. As for the rest:
The second stanza describes the death of St. Thomas at Fossa Nova, where he passed away at a Cistercian monastery on his way to the Council of Lyons.
The third stanza alludes to the fact that St. Thomas’ body was found incorrupt even years after his death and that it emitted the odor of sanctity. Alas, every one wanted a piece of St. Thomas: his right hand was severed and given to his sister the Countess Theodora of San Severino, “who enclosed it in a magnificent reliquary, which she placed in the chapel of her castle.” [3] All that remains of that relic is a small fragment of bone, kept in a reliquary in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Campania, Italy. The Cistercians loved being the keepers of St. Thomas’ remains and were afraid of his being canonized a Saint, for it would mean that they would have to hand over the relics to the Dominicans. Fretful of his impending canonization, they severed Thomas’ head from his body and “reduced the body into a small compass, in order the better to hide it if necessary.” [4] Given St. Thomas’ famous girth, that was no small feat.
As for what happened to St. Thomas’ head, last year, to honor the 700th anniversary of his canonization, his skull was transferred to the Dominican Convent of Toulouse, France, and placed in a new reliquary. [5]
Following the hymn is a versicle and the antiphon for the Benedictus.
℣. Justus germinábit sicut lílium.
. Et florébit in ætérnum ante Dóminum.
Aña Viror carnis flore mundítiæ, vigor vitæ fructu justítiæ, splendor verbi dono sciéntiæ, te decórant stantem in ácie, te corónant in statu glóriæ.
Which I translate as:
℣. The just man shall spring up like the lily.
℟. And flower for all eternity before the Lord.
Aña The verdure flowering with the cleanness of the flesh, the vigor of life in the fruit of justice, the splendor of the word through the gift of knowledge--they adorn you as they stand in array, they crown you in the status of glory.
The standard versicle for a Confessor is taken from Psalm 91, 13: “The just [man] shall flourish like the palm tree, / He shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.” The versicle used here keeps the botanical motif but emphasizes Thomas’ innocence with the symbol of a lily. The first verse is mostly likely inspired by Hosea 14, 6: “Israel shall spring (germinabit) as the lily,” and both verses tie into Isaiah 27, 6: “Israel shall blossom (florebit) and bud (germinabit).”
The botanical motif continues with the Benedictus antiphon, which pictures some of Thomas’ virtues as the qualities of a healthy plant. The symbolism switches in the second half, however, to military and regal images. To stand in array (acies) is what an army does when it forms a long single line and faces the enemy. Curiously, both Latin words for a lined-up army appear in the Office: acies here, and in the hymn, agmen.
Diego Velázquez, The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1623
II Vespers
II Vespers is the same as I Vespers with respect to its propers, except for the Magnificat antiphon:
Militantis Doctor Ecclesiæ, virgináli florens munditia, triumphantis optáta curiae, sancte Thoma, largíre gaudia.
Which I translate as:
O Doctor of the Church Militant, flowering with virginal cleanness, O Saint Thomas, bestow the wished-for joys of the Court Triumphant.
The antiphon continues three motifs present in the propers for St. Thomas: military imagery (here, it is the Church militans, from the verb “to serve in the army”); a floral, botanical imagery; and St. Thomas being admitted into the Heavenly Court. The word that I translate as “court” is curia, and it was probably chosen as an allusion to the mistaken belief that Thomas was a Master of the Sacred Palace in the Roman Curia (the current title of this position is Theologian of the Pontifical Household). Aquinas was, however, a Lector of the Sacred Palace, and perhaps the composer knew that.
[1] My thanks to Dr. David White for help with this translation.
[2] Pius Cavanaugh, OP, The Life of the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas (P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1881), 166.
[3] Ibid., 168.
[4] Ibid., 170.
[5] Francesa Pollio Fenton, “Skull of St. Thomas Aquinas unveiled for 700th anniversary of his canonization,” January 28, 2023.

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