Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Mass of Pentecost Tuesday

As I noted earlier this week, Psalm 67 is one of the most difficult texts in the Psalter; even though many individual lines of it are easy to understand, the psalm as a whole is extremely disjointed. But it is this very quality of it that makes it an appropriate choice for Matins of Pentecost, at which it represents the confusion felt by those who heard the Apostles speaking in various tongues. Something similar may be said of the Mass of Tuesday within the octave of Pentecost; there is no immediately evident connection between the various parts of the Mass as there is on the feast itself or on the following Monday.
The Introit is one of a handful of texts taken from one of the apocryphal books commonly included in medieval manuscripts of the Vulgate, known in Latin as the Fourth Book of Esdras (cap. 2, 36 & 37). “Accípite jucunditátem gloriae vestrae, allelúja: gratias agentes Deo, allelúja: qui vos ad caelestia regna vocávit, allelúja, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 77 Atténdite, pópule meus, legem meam: inclináte aurem vestram in verba oris mei. Gloria Patri. Accipite. – Receive the delight of your glory, alleluia, giving thanks to God, alleluia, Who hath called you to the heavenly kingdoms, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm 77 Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Glory be. Receive.”
A setting by the Italian composer Giuseppe Tricarico (1623-97)
There has never been a law, divine or human, that every chant in the Mass must be taken from the canonical Scriptures, although the great majority certainly are, and there is no reason to suppose that the derivation of this text from an apocryphal book is significant. In the context of the traditional baptismal character of Pentecost, the words “giving thanks to God who has called you to the heavenly kingdoms” should be read as a reference to the newly baptized who were called into the Church during the vigil on the previous Saturday.
The Epistle, Acts 8, 14-17, tells of Ss Peter and John confirming the Samaritans after they had received the word of God. Like the Epistle of the previous day, in the context of a stational Mass in Rome, a city populated by men from every nation of the Empire, this reminds us of the calling of those nations into the Church, which began with the Apostolic preaching on Pentecost.
Ss Peter and John Confirming the Samaritans, 1557, by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Gospel, John 10, 1-10, is the first part of Christ’s Good Shepherd discourse, and may have been chosen for the words “I am the door”, i.e., the door through which the baptized enter into “the heavenly kingdoms” mentioned in the Introit.
Very tentatively, I offer a theory (and no more than that) as to a possible connection between these two readings. The Samaritans were regarded as heretics by the Jews, as we know inter alia from the exchange between Christ and the Samaritan woman. “Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say that the place where men must adore is at Jerusalem.” (John 4, 20) But both peoples awaited the coming of a redeemer: “I know that the Messiah cometh (who is called Christ). … Jesus saith to her, ‘I am he, who am speaking with thee.’ ” (ibid. 25-26) The conflict between them is resolved by the Good Shepherd, who says that “salvation cometh from the Jews” (vs. 22), but also that He has “other sheep not of this flock.” “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10, 16), and at the hour of His coming, “you (i.e. the Samaritans and the Jews together) shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. … the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4, 21) Therefore, in Acts 8, we see Christ reconciling the heretical Samaritans to God in the one flock, His Church.
Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1508, by the Dutch painter Jan Joest van Kalkar (1455 ca. - 1519); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In his Treatises on the Gospel of John, a part of which is also read in the Divine Office, St Augustine understands the “thieves and robbers” of which Christ speaks in verse 1 to mean all those who would lead men away from Him. But he also speaks of those who are reconciled to the Church as follows: “many are joined to the flock of Christ, and from heretics, become Catholics; they are taken away from the thieves, and given back to the shepherd.” (Tract. 45 in Joannem).
In the earliest surviving sacramentary of the Roman Rite, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, which dates to about 700 A.D., five prayers for the reconciliation of heretics are placed immediately after the octave day of Pentecost: “The blessing upon those who return to Catholic unity from the Arian (faith)”, “another for those who come from various heresies”, “the reconciliation of one rebaptized by the heretics”, and two variants of this last for minors. The first two of these ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit upon them, and pray that they will receive the seven gifts of the Spirit named in Isaiah 11, 2. The third states that “we dare not close the door of reconciliation to him that returns and knocks”, although the Latin word for “door” in this case, “januam”, is different from the word in the Gospel, “ostium.”
The prayer for the “reconciliation of one baptized by heretics” in a pontifical dated 870-80; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-227
Perhaps it is not too much to speculate that this placement is not coincidental, and that this Mass may once have been the occasion for such reconciliations. These prayers are placed after the octave, and not within it, but this could be because they were not always used, and in any case, the arrangement of materials in the ancient sacramentaries does not always strictly follow the order in which they were used. [1] Pentecost Tuesday is the last day before the Church, having gathered into itself all the baptized, prepares itself for the longest stretch of the liturgical year with the Ember day fasts; it might well have been seen as an appropriate day to complete this gathering with the reconciliation of its lost sheep. [2]
This may also explain the language used in the petitions of the Mass prayers: that the “power of the Holy Spirit may purge our hearts” (the Collect); that “the offering of the present service may purify us” (the Secret); and that “the Holy Spirit may restore our minds” (the Post-Communion.)
In this light, the words of the Communion could be understood specifically as a confession of faith in the Trinity against the “thieves and robbers” mentioned in the Gospel, i.e. the heretics. “Spíritus qui a Patre procédit, allelúja, ille me clarificábit, allelúja, allelúja. – The Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father, alleluia, He shall glorify me, alleluia, alleluia.”
The Offertory is repeated from Easter Wednesday. “Portas caeli apéruit Dóminus: et pluit illis manna, ut éderent: panem caeli dedit eis, panem Angelórum manducávit homo, allelúja. – The Lord opened the gates of heaven, and rained manna upon them, that they might eat; He gave them the bread of heaven, men ate the bread of the angels, alleluia. ” As the bridge between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful, this chant unites the “heavenly kingdoms” of the Introit, and the Gospel, in which Christ is both the Good Shepherd and the door by which the sheep enter, with the offering of the Holy Eucharist
Notes: [1] For example, in the Gellone Sacramentary, which postdates the Old Gelasian by about 30 years, the Masses for the Sundays after Epiphany are followed by the feasts of the Saints from February 14 to March 12. The manuscript then goes back to Septuagesima, which can occur as early as January 18th.

[2] The strongest argument against my theory is the fact that the Old Gelasian Sacramentary has no proper Masses for the Monday, Tuesday or Thursday of Pentecost, the last of which was originally an aliturgical day like the Thursdays of Lent. However, Scriptural readings for these days are attested in the Epistle lectionary of Alcuin and the lectionary of Würzburg, both of which predate it in their contents by about 50 years.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: