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.

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