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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