Monday, March 25, 2024

The Mass of Holy Monday

At the Mass of Holy Monday, three of the four chant propers, the introit, gradual and communion, are taken from the same Psalm, the thirty-fourth. (The tract, Domine, non secundum, is not proper to this Mass, since it is sung on most of the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent, and for the last time on this day.) Like most of the texts from the Psalms which speak in the person of a man suffering or in distress (“Judge them that harm me, o God,” etc.), this Psalm was taken by the Church Fathers as a representation of Our Lord in the midst of His Passion. For example, a treatise known as the Breviarium in Psalmos, traditionally but incorrectly attributed to St Jerome, says that the opening words are “the voice of Christ in His Passion, and of the Church in tribulation”, and explains verse 13, “I was clothed with haircloth, I humbled my soul with fasting” as follows: “For the Lord put on the roughness (asperitatem) of the Passion. … He celebrated a fast unto the evening, when in the evening of the world, He was offered for its salvation.” (PL 26, 923D; 926D) Cassiodorus (ca. 485 – 585) begins his commentary on the same Psalm by saying, “Through this whole hymn, the words are those of Christ the Lord, spoken from the dispensation by which He suffered.” (In Psalt. Expos.; PL 70, 241B)

Introitus, Ps. 34 Júdica, Dómine, nocentes me, expugna impugnantes me: apprehende arma et scutum, et exsurge in adjutorium meum, Dómine, virtus salútis meae. ℣. Effunde frámeam, et conclúde adversus eos, qui persequuntur me: dic ánimae meae: Salus tua ego sum. Júdica, Dómine...
Introit Judge thou, O Lord, them that harm: overthrow them that fight against me. Take hold of arms and shield, and rise up to help me, o Lord, my salvation. ℣. Bring out the sword, and shut up the way against them that persecute me: say to my soul: I am thy salvation. Judge thou...
In his Enarrationes in Psalmos, St Augustine discusses this psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s Passion in a particularly beautiful way, in reference to the sufferings of the Church. “Here we understand the voice of Christ; the voice, of course, of both the head and body of Christ. When you hear of Christ, do not separate the groom from the bride, but understand that great mystery, ‘and the two shall be in one flesh.’ (Gen. 2, 24) … the Lord suffered by His will, we by necessity; He in His compassion, we in our condition. Therefore, His voluntary passion is our necessary consolation… however much the enemy raged, he was able to come only so far as the death of the body; and yet, was not able to destroy it in the case of the Lord, because He rose on the third day. That which came to pass in Him on the third day, the same shall happen to our body at the end of the age. The hope of our resurrection is put off: is it therefore taken away? Let us therefore recognize herein the words of Christ…”
The Man of Sorrows, with the instruments of the Passion, ca. 1345-50; part of an altar in the cathedral of Cologne, Germany.
Following this same understanding, the Ambrosian Rite gives this Psalm a particularly prominent place in the liturgy of Holy Week. It provides the text of both the psalmellus and cantus (the equivalents of the gradual and tract) at the Mass of Palm Sunday, plus the psalmelli of the special synaxis of readings after Terce of both Holy Thursday and Saturday, and is sung four times in the Divine Office. In the Byzantine Rite, at the special form of the day Hours of Good Friday known as the Royal Hours, it is said at Terce.
A page of an Ambrosian Missal of 1594, showing the end of the prophetic reading (Isaiah 53, 1-2), the psalmellus, the epistle (2 Thess. 2, 14 – 3, 5), the cantus and the Gospel (John 11, 55 – 12, 11).
The Epistle is the third of four passages of the prophet Isaiah known as the songs of the Suffering Servant (42, 1-4; 49, 1-6; 50, 4-11; and 52, 13 – 53 12), but does not include its first or last verse. This choice is made especially because of verse 6, which prophesies some of the injuries done to the Lord during the Passion: “I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spat upon me.”
The fourth song (starting with the first verse of chapter 53) is read at the Mass of Holy Wednesday. Here too we note a parallel with the Byzantine Rite, which places the song from chapter 50 at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy Thursday, and the latter at Vespers of Good Friday, the principal commemoration of Our Lord’s Crucifixion and Death. (Both passages are also read at the Royal Hours of Good Friday.)
In his commentary on the prophet Isaiah (PL 24, 478D-479D), St Jerome notes that the Jews of his time (understandably, from their point of view) tried to refer this prophecy to Isaiah himself, and “by every reasoning, turn the prophecies away from Christ.” To this he responds that “These things also are to be referred to the person of the Lord… and He who kept silent in His passion now speaketh in all the world through the Apostles and their followers. … This discipline and learning opened His ears (verse 5), that He might bring to us the knowledge of the Father; and He did not contradict (or ‘resist’) Him (i.e. the Father), but became obedient even unto death, the death of the Cross.” And likewise, he explains the words of verse 8, “who will contend with me?”, to mean, “If anyone thinks that I am rightly condemned to the Cross, and have committed some sin, let him resist me.”
The Mocking of Christ, ca. 1617, by the Dutch painter Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In the oldest lectionaries of the Roman Rite, the Gospel of Holy Monday is John 12, 1-36. This includes the anointing of the Lord’s feet by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (verses 1-3); Judas’ complaint about the expense of the ointment, St John’s “inside explanation” thereof, and the Lord’s response (4-8); the plotting of the priests to kill Lazarus (9-11); the events of Palm Sunday (12-19); Philip and Andrew bringing some gentiles to Christ (20-23); and Jesus’ speech (23-36), which is interrupted by the voice of the Father (28-30).
This passage was clearly chosen because of its opening words, “Six days before the Pasch” (i.e. Passover), since Holy Monday is six days before Easter, and “Pascha”, the Greek form of the Hebrew “Pesach – Passover”, is the Latin word for Easter. This places St John’s account of Palm Sunday on the day after it. It would be foolish to think that the first compilers of the Roman lectionary, men of extremely fine literary sensibilities, did not understand this. Their purpose seems to have been rather to reset the stage, as it were, for the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection in the rites of the sacred Triduum and Easter.
The Anointing of Christ’s Feet at Bethany, depicted in the Vaux Passional ca. 1503-4. Mary and Martha are shown serving at the table; the Lord has stuck one of His feet out from under it, looking forward to the anointing. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Later, however, the Gospel was split into two parts, with the second one (verses 10 to 36) assigned to the formerly aliturgical Passion Saturday, forming a kind of vigil of Palm Sunday. The Apostles’ introduction of the gentiles to Christ is thereby now read one week before the baptismal ceremonies of Holy Saturday, at which the successors of the Apostles fulfill the great Commission, to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28, 19) This leaves today with the washing of the Lord’s feet as its focus.
The offertory is taken from Psalm 142, the last of the Penitential Psalms, and the second of Lauds on Friday, the day of the Passion. Of it, St Hilary of Poitiers writes, “David now prophecies by his own sufferings those of the Lord, not complaining about Absalom, but about those who urged him on (literally “ignirent – kindled him”) to the crime of impiety. For according to the Apostle (Eph. 6, 16), the darts of the devil are fiery, which stuck themselves in the heart of Judas, that the Lord might be betrayed.” (Tract. super Psalmos; PL 9, 838B)
Offertorium, Ps 142 Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine: ad te confúgi, doce me fácere voluntátem tuam: quia Deus meus es tu. (Deliver me from my enemies, o Lord, to thee have I fled: teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God.)

In the Gospel, “Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?’ ”, and as St John explains, “he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein.”
St Augustine (Enarr. ibid.) agrees with Hilary that this Psalm is about the Passion, and comments on it in general: “Therefore the Lord shall preach about His own Passion in this Psalm.” Then, commenting on the specific verses used in the offertory, he writes: “ ‘Deliver me from my enemies, o Lord, for I have fled to Thee.’ (This means) not Judas, but he who filled Judas. … For Judas accepted the morsel, and Satan entered into him, so that this David (i.e. Christ) might suffer persecution from his own son. How many Judases does Satan fill, who unworthily receive the morsel unto their own judgment? For ‘he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself. (1 Cor. 11, 27).” It seems likely, therefore, that this offertory was deliberately created as a reference to the interpretation of Ss Hilary and Augustine.

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