Sunday, June 02, 2024

Other Readings for the Octave of Corpus Christi

The Roman Rite has various ways of arranging the Masses during an octave. That of Easter, for example, has a completely proper Mass for every day, that of Pentecost for every day but Thursday, which was originally an “aliturgical” day; when its Mass was instituted later, it was given proper readings, but everything else is repeated from Sunday. The feast of Ss Peter and Paul is continued with one Mass for the days within the octave, and another for the octave day itself, plus the special Commemoration of St Paul on June 30th. Some others, however, especially the relatively late ones like Ascension and All Saints, simply repeat the Mass of the day throughout the octave.

Folio 87r of the 9th century Lectionary of Alcuin, showing the Epistle then in use for the Octave of Ss Peter and Paul, Galatians 2, 6-10.
Corpus Christi, originally instituted in the mid-13th century, and slow to be received in many places, falls into the latter category, although the Mass of the Sunday within the octave, which is much older than the octave itself, is different. Octaves are for the contemplation of mysteries that are too great for a single day, and it is certainly true that “repetita juvant”, a proverb which the Roman Rite, with its habitual conservatism, historically took very much to heart.

In the mid-17th century, most of the churches of France began revising their liturgical books on their own initiative, and without reference to the authority of the Holy See, as part of the liturgical movement which we now often call “neo-Gallican.” Paris was, of course, one of the leaders of this trend, and the first See of importance to change the order of the Breviary Psalter, which would later become the model for the reformed Psalter of St Pius X.

When the first neo-Gallican Parisian Missal came out in 1685, the Mass of Corpus Christi remained unchanged. However, the Mass for the Sunday within the Octave was extensively revised to make it fit in more with the theme of the feast. (The neo-Gallican revisers were very fond of easily grasped themes.) The 1602 Paris Missal has the same Epistle as the Roman Rite, 1 John 3, 13-18; the 1685 Missal changes it to 1 Corinthians, 10, 16-21, principally because of the opening words, “The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread.” This is clearly very suitable for Corpus Christi, and in fact provides the text for a responsory of the feast which was composed by St Thomas, and found in almost every liturgical Use apart from the Roman. The Gospel, Luke 14, 16-24, beginning with the words “A certain man made a great supper, and invited many,” is left unchanged for obvious reasons.

If one Archbishop of Paris could arrogate to his office the right to re-edit the liturgical books used in his See without reference to the Roman authorities, there was no particular reason why subsequent Archbishops should not avail themselves of the same right. Consequently, the liturgical books of Paris went through multiple revisions between 1680 and their definitive abolition in 1873. The most momentous of these were the editions of Abp Charles de Vintimille, the Breviary of 1736, and the Missal of 1738.

The frontispiece of the 1685 Parisian Missal; conspicuously absent are the words “ad formam sacrosancti concilii Tridentini emendatum – emended according to the form (laid down by) the sacred council of Trent.”
This newer revised Parisian Use is in many respects inspired by tradition, but did not shy away from innovations, which vary in quality; in regard to the Mass lectionary, it retained the traditional two-reading structure, while expanding the corpus of readings considerably. For the octave of Corpus Christi, a separate pair of readings is provided for each day; the Sunday readings of the 1685 Missal are retained as part of the series.

Friday: Genesis 14, 17-20 – Matthew 26, 26-29
Saturday: Exodus 12, 1-11 – Luke 22, 7-20
Sunday: 1 Corinthians 10, 12-21 – Luke 14, 16-24
Monday: Exodus 16, 13-18 – John 6, 27-35
Tuesday: Wisdom 16, 20-28 – John 6, 41-44
Wednesday: 2 Corinthians 6, 14 - 7, 1 – John 6, 51-55
Thursday: Hebrews 7, 18-28 – John 6, 58-70

The first two of the added Gospel readings are taken from Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist; a parallel passage from St Mark (14, 17-25) is added to the readings assigned for the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament. The four Gospels from John 6 (Monday to Thursday) give a broader selection from the long passage known as the Eucharistic Discourse, ending with St John’s account of St Peter’s confession. “Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”

Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, by Perugino, 1482; Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. The background on the left represents Christ speaking to the people at Capharnaum in John 6; on the right, the figures that seem like they are dancing are actually trying to stone Him, in response to some of the sayings like “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” In the foreground, St Peter is rewarded for his confession of Christ.
The passage from Genesis 14 tells of the bread and wine given to Abraham by Melchisedech, the king of Salem, after the defeat of the five kings. These have been taken from the most ancient times as a symbol of the elements of the Eucharist, as described by St Cyprian in the Matins readings of Tuesday within the octave. “In Genesis, therefore, in order that the blessing might in due order be pronounced upon Abraham through the priest Melchisedech, there was first offered the image of the sacrifice, consisting of bread and wine. And the Lord, completing this and perfecting it, offered bread and a cup of wine mingled with water; and He that is the fullness fulfilled the truth of that which was prefigured.” This is also, of course, why Melchisedech is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.

Of the two readings from Exodus, the first is repeated from Good Friday, describing the preparation of the Paschal Lamb; the second is the instruction given to the children of Israel about collecting the manna in the desert. These were certainly inspired by the citation of the same passages in the first two Matins responsories of St Thomas’ Office for Corpus Christi.

The second half of the book of Wisdom (from verse 10, 16 to the end) is a long meditation on the events of the Exodus; the passage given above for Tuesday also refers to the manna with which God fed the children of Israel in the desert, and to which Christ and His interlocutors refer in John 6. The words of verse 20, “Thou gavest them bread from heaven ... having in it all that is delicious”, are the versicle of Vespers of the feast, and also sung at Benediction.

The Wednesday Epistle from St Paul is included here as an admonition on the proper disposition for reception of the Sacrament: “You are the temple of the living God... Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God.” That of the Octave day speaks of the worship of the New Covenant as “a setting aside of the former commandment.” This passage is perhaps also chosen for Corpus Christi as a deliberate rebuke or challenge to the Calvinists (by far the most prominent group of Protestants in France), who often cited the words of verse 27, “Who needeth not daily (as the other priests) to offer sacrifices first for his own sins, and then for the people’s, for this He did once, in offering Himself”, against the Catholic doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

The neo-Gallican revisions made a number of very bold changes to the Missal; it was a common preoccupation of the revisers that original liturgical compositions should be replaced with Scriptural quotes, but St Thomas’ Mass for Corpus Christi was already mostly Scriptural anyway, and was therefore left alone in 1685. (Their great enemy of the movement, Dom Prosper Guéranger, speaks of these changes, with classic French délicatesse, as “Honteuses et criminelles mutilations, témérités coupables – shameful and criminal mutilations, rash acts deserving of condemnation.”)

St. Thomas Aquinas in Glory among the Doctors of the Church, by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631
One change was then made to it in the Missal of 1738, by replacing the original Communio, “As often as you shall eat this Bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until He comes. Therefore whoever eats this Bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Alleluia.” Anticipating one of the more inexcusable changes made by the Novus Ordo lectionary, this is replaced by an exact quote of Wisdom 16, 20, “Thou didst feed thy people with the food of angels, and gavest them bread from heaven prepared without labour; having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste.”

The Missal of 1738 has a few other interesting things to note in regard to Corpus Christi. The first is that during the Sequence Lauda Sion, the verse “Ecce panis Angelorum” is sung three times on the feast day itself, and on the octave, but only once on the days within the octave. The celebrant and the major ministers kneel when it is sung, while the members of the choir “face the altar until the end of the Sequence.”

Abp de Ventimille also added to the Parisian Missal new prefaces for Advent, Holy Thursday (also said at votive Masses of the Sacrament), Corpus Christi, All Saints (also said on the feasts of Patron Saints), Saints Denys and Companions, and for Masses of the Dead. When the neo-Gallican Uses were gradually suppressed over the course of the 19th century, some of their features were retained by being incorporated into the French supplements “for certain places” in the Roman liturgical books, these prefaces among them. The 2020 decree Quo magis gives universal permission to use those of All Saints and Patron Saints, the Dedication of a Church, and Corpus Christi; the text of the last is as follows:
“VD: per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Qui, remótis carnalium victimárum inánibus umbris, Corpus et Sánguinem suum nobis in sacrificium commendávit: ut in omni loco offerátur nómini tuo, quae tibi sola complácuit, oblatio munda. In hoc ígitur inscrutábilis sapientiae, et immensae caritátis mysterio, idipsum quod semel in Cruce perfécit, non cessat mirabíliter operári, ipse ófferens, ipse et oblatio. Et nos, unam secum hostiam effectos, ad sacrum invítat convivium, in quo ipse cibus noster súmitur, recólitur memoria Passiónis eius, mens implétur grátia, et futúrae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Et ídeo... –

The high altar of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome. In the magnificent painting over the high altar, The Crucifixion by Guido Reni (1575-1642), the body of Christ is pale and white against a much darker background, a reminder of the Elevation of the Host during the Mass. The effect can be seen even when one is standing outside the church in the piazza. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Rabax63, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Truly it is worthy... through Christ our Lord. Who, the vain shadows of carnal sacrifices being removed, entrusted to us His Body and Blood as a sacrifice; that in every place there may be offered to Thy name that pure sacrifice that alone hath pleased Thee. Therefore, in this mystery of unsearchable wisdom and boundless charity, that very thing which He completed once in the Cross ceaseth not wondrously to have effect, He himself being the one who offers and the offering. And He inviteth us, who are made one victim with Him, to the sacred banquet, in which He himself is received as our food, the memory of His passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us. And therefore with the angels and archangels ...”

When the Parisian Missal of 1738 was issued, the feast of the Sacred Heart had not yet been formally approved by Rome, or accepted outside a few religious orders; however, this Missal did fulfill one aspect of the requests made by the Lord to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in His appearances to her. Among the collection of votive Masses is a special Mass “for the reparation of injuries done to Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament”, placed between the votive Mass of the Sacrament and that of the Passion. A rubric after the Octave of Corpus Christi prescribes this Mass be said on the following day, which is now kept everywhere as the feast of the Sacred Heart. The proper texts of this Mass can be read in Latin and English here.

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