Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Early origins of liturgical practices

I am amazed to read how early we have written records of things such as daily celebration of the Eucharist and multiple Masses in a day.

From St. Augustine, on daily Mass:
I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the Sacrament of the Lord's Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. (Sermon 227)

Thus [Christ] is both the Priest who offers and the Sacrifice offered. And He designed that there should be a daily sign of this in the sacrifice of the Church, which, being His body, learns to offer herself through Him. (City of God X, 20)

There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. (Epistle LIV, 2)

Some one may say, “The Eucharist ought not to be taken every day.” You ask, “On what grounds?” He answers, “Because, in order that a man may approach worthily to so great a sacrament, he ought to choose those days upon which he lives in more special purity and self-restraint; for ‘whosoever eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.’” ... If, however, his sins are not so great as to bring him justly under sentence of excommunication, he ought not to withdraw himself from the daily use of the Lord’s body for the healing of his soul.” (Epistle LIV, 4)

For the wolf will come — not man, but the devil, who has very often perverted to apostasy believers to whom the daily ministry of the Lord’s body was wanting... (Epistle CCXXVIII, 6)

The sacrament of this thing, namely, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the Lord’s table in some places daily, in some places at certain intervals of days, and from the Lord’s table it is taken, by some to life, by some to destruction: but the thing itself, of which it is the sacrament, is for every man to life, for no man to destruction, whosoever shall have been a partaker thereof. (Tractates on the Gospels of John XXVI, 15)

From Pope St. Gregory the Great, on multiple Masses in a day:
Because [by the Lord's bounty] I am going to celebrate the eucharist three times today, I can comment only briefly on the Gospel lesson. But [our Redeemer's] birthday compels me to say something, however short. (Homily 7, in Forty Gospel Homilies)

(H/T to Fr. Daren Zehnle)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Latin? In my Mass?!

I recently asked a Benedictine priest (who has a rather conservative liturgical ideal) what he thought about the virtual absence of Latin from the typical parish liturgical experience today.  I am referring to Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) article 54:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

It seems that the only parts of this article that get real attention are the first and third sections, which deal with the inclusion of the vernacular in the Mass... potentially (and actually, as experience has shown) throughout the entire Mass.  But what about the second section?  “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

The saying or singing in Latin of certain parts of the Order of Mass is not the experience of most Catholics nowadays.  In fact, the ability for the faithful to do so is virtually non-existent.  And yet, our weekly experience of the reformed liturgy includes 1) an expanded Lectionary, 2) the regularity of homilies, 3) the Prayer of the Faithful, 4) the use of the vernacular, 5) the partaking in the sacrifice offered at that Mass (rather than Hosts consecrated at a previous Mass and retrieved from the tabernacle), 6) Communion under both kinds, 7) and a new rite of concelebration.

Those seven reforms I just mentioned are part of the typical parish experience (priest shortage notwithstanding), and they are the products of articles 51-58 of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

So why have the other reforms been so successfully implemented (and then some!) and generally well-received, but that pesky little sentence in article 54 about Latin can’t seem to get its foot in the door?  Why do Catholics who otherwise support the reforms they experience from articles 51-58 become indignant whenever mention is made of the mere possibility of making Latin responses at Mass?  (Such a reaction can be found in the comment-boxes at the National Catholic Reporter web site, for example:  here, here, and here.)

What’s the problem with that sentence about Latin in article 54? People — at least SOME people — were making the responses in Latin before 1963. Why did it become impossible and undesirable?  Is it obsolete? Opposed to "full, conscious, and active participation"? A monastic ideal not appropriate for normal parish life? A compromise sentence which was never meant to be taken seriously?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Advent Hymns: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

The second Advent hymn we'll look at is the popular favorite, "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" ("O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"). I will provide the Latin verses, a traditional translation with which you are probably familar, and then my own translation of the Latin, along with some commentary. I present the verses in no particular order.

At the bottom of this post is some information on the O Antiphons, the prayers which are the ancestors of the verses of this hymn.

1. VENI, veni, Emmanuel captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio, privatus Dei Filio.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Come, Emmanuel, come: unbind captive Israel,
who, deprived of the Son of God, laments in exile.
The context of this hymn is the exile and captivity of Israel, and the promise of a coming Messiah, the Son of God.  This exile need not be confined to their historical captivity among the Assyrians and Babylonians; Israel mourns for lack of Emmanuel up until His coming... and perhaps even now though He has come.

R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall be born for you, Israel!
I think the common translation fails to capture the sense of the Latin:  Emmanuel will not just come to Israel, He will be born for Israel.  Yes, He is for all mankind, but His advent is centered upon God's promises to Israel.  And so Israel, even in her exile, has cause for rejoicing.

2. VENI, veni, Adonai, qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice in maiestate gloriae. R.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Come, Lord, come, Who at the top of Mount Sinai
gave the law to Your people in the majesty of Your glory.
Note that this hymn is about the coming of Emmanuel.  By this verse, the Lord Who gave the Law to Israel at Mt. Sinai is the same Lord Who is Emmanuel, the One Who will be born for Israel.  And if He gave the Old Law in maiestate gloriae, how much more glorious will His own coming be?

3. VENI, O Iesse virgula, ex hostis tuos ungula,
de spectu tuos tartari educ et antro barathri. R.
O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them
That trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave.

Come, O shoot of Jesse: lead Your own out from the grasp of their enemies,
and from the sight of hell and the grave of the dead.
The seven verses of the hymn are built around seven titles for the Lord (found in seven prophecies of His coming, received by Isaiah).  This title, the "Rod (or Shoot) of Jesse" (Iesse virgula in the hymn, Iesse radix ("Root of Jesse") in the O Antiphons, "virga de radice Iesse" in the Vulgate of Isa. 11:1), was heard in this Sunday's First Reading from Isaiah 11.  The verse points to the Lord's power to save His own from their enemies and from the very power of death.

4. VENI, Clavis Davidica, regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum, et claude vias inferum. R.

O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Come, Key of David, open up the heavenly kingdom,
make the heavenly road safe, and close up the path of hell.
The prophecy of the key of the house of David (cf. Isa. 22:19ff) is often seen as a precursor to our Lord's words to St. Peter:  "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:19; cf. "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open," Isa. 22:22, and "The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens", Rev. 3:7)

But the prophecy pertains to Christ as well:  Christ is the key Who opens the gate of Heaven to us.  In doing so, we pray that He both secure the path to Heaven and bar the road to perdition; for He is the way.

5. VENI, veni O Oriens, solare nos adveniens,
noctis depelle nebulas dirasque mortis tenebras. R.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Come, O Daybreak, come: comfort us by Your advent;
dispel the dreadful clouds of night and the shadow of death.
The Lord is called the "Orient":  the East, the Daybreak, the rising Sun.  Jesus describes His second coming "from the east" like the lightning; His Ascension amid clouds of glory took place to the east of Jerusalem, and the angels assured the disciples that His return would be in the same manner.  His coming will be as a light shining on those who have dwelt in darkness. (cf. Isa. 9:2)  This is He whom Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied, saying, "the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." (Luke 1:78-79)

6. VENI, veni, Rex Gentium, veni, Redemptor omnium,
ut salvas tuos famulos peccati sibi conscios. R.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our King of Peace.

Come, King of the Nations, come: Redeemer of all, come:
in order to save Your servants, conscious of their own sin.
I have not found a lyrical version of this verse which translates the Latin; they all appear to draw upon the antiphon, which mentions the "desire of nations", the "cornerstone", and making one of many.  This verse, in the Latin, heralds the coming of the King of all nations (consider the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe) and the Savior of all men.  If I have not translated it incorrectly, the verse draws attention to our sense of sin:  we, who are servants of the Lord, are aware of our having sinned against Him.  Thus we beg Him come and save us:  Hosanna!

7. VENI, O Sapientia, quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae ut doceas et gloriae. R.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

Come, O Wisdom, Who ordains all things here below;
come to show us the way of prudence and glory.
The last verse acknowledges God as that Wisdom Who orders and ordains the affairs of this world.  We wish to have His wisdom, to learn from Him and follow His way, which leads us to His glory.

The O Antiphons, which are part of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) from December 17th through December 23rd, are the ancestors of this hymn.  Here they are in the order they are prayed, one per night:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur; veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardere.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentis in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unem: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator erum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.
The first letters of these titles for the Lord, taken in reverse (Emmanuel, Rex gentium, Oriens, etc.) spell "ERO CRAS" in Latin, which means "Tomorrow, I will be (here)", which is very fitting for December 23rd:  the next night heralds the birth of Christ.

I also recommend reading Dom Prosper Guéranger's commentary on the O Antiphons, a truly amazing resource.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is Advent a penitential season? Should it be?

This post is not an attempt to start a fight, nor to put a current bishop on the spot.  It is rather a meager attempt to start a dialogue about what sort of season Advent is.  We can agree, can we not, that Lent is most assuredly a penitential season.  But is Advent also a penitential season?  Its liturgical colors are the same as those of Lent (violet/purple and rose), for one thing.  But is there fasting and abstinence during Advent?  Is there mortification and penance during Advent?  Is there special attention drawn to our sins during Advent?

It would seem that before Vatican II (although since when, I cannot tell) there was a penitential character about Advent, and that after Vatican II this character has been obscured or even removed completely in some locales.  (Let it be known, though, that at my previous parish, there were two special Reconciliation liturgies — including individual confession — held during the year:  one in Lent and one in Advent.) Yet Advent is a time when we prepare for the Lord's second coming (which brings with it the Final Judgment) at the same time that we recall His first coming (which was to save His people from their sins).

I bring this up because a bishop recently wrote the following in his pastoral letter on Advent:
The word advent comes from the Latin for “coming” or “arrival”. What arrival are we waiting for? The General Norms for the Liturgical Year helps us understand the season a little bit better by explaining:
The season of Advent has a twofold character: It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God’s Son . . . is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 39)
You will notice that this is not a penitential season. It is a season of joyful hope, a time of preparation and waiting. “Thus the Sundays of Advent, while commemorating [Christ’s] birth and anticipating his return, celebrate in word and sacrament his coming now in the midst of this world.” (Normand Bonneau, The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998, 131.) This season is not just about preparing for the birth of Christ at Christmas, but for the Christ who is continually being born in our midst and transforming the Church ever more into his body in the world.
What do you think?  Is Advent a penitential season?  Should it be?

For your edification and education, here is a selection of quotes from magisterial documents from the past century or so about Advent.

In the period of Advent, for instance, the Church arouses in us the consciousness of the sins we have had the misfortune to commit, and urges us, by restraining our desires and practicing voluntary mortification of the body, to recollect ourselves in meditation, and experience a longing desire to return to God who alone can free us by His grace from the stain of sin and from its evil consequences. (1947, Pius XII, Mediator Dei 154)

Accordingly, the playing of the organ, and all other instruments is forbidden for liturgical functions, except Benediction, during the following times: a) Advent, from first Vespers of the first Sunday of Advent until None of the Vigil of Christmas; b) Lent and Passiontide, from Matins of Ash Wednesday until the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo in the Solemn Mass of the Easter Vigil; c) the September Ember days if the ferial Mass and Office are celebrated; d) in all Offices and Masses of the Dead. (1958, Sacred Congregation of Rites, De Musica Sacra 81)

The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead. (1967, Sacred Congregation of Rites, Musicam Sacram 66)

Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation. (1969, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar 39)

This accentuates the penitential dimension, already present in the Advent season and vividly recalled by the person of John the Baptist, who teaches, precisely, that the way of the Lord is prepared by changing of one's mentality and life (cf. Mt 3: 1-3). (1999, John Paul II, Angelus of 28 November)

During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts are exceptions. (2002, GIRM 305)

In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. (2002, GIRM 313)

Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope: 1) waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge; 2) conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 3,2); 3) joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and "we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is" (John 3,2). (2002, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 96)

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality. Popular piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord's birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord's birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it from conception. Popular piety intuitively understands that it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him "who saves his people from their sins" without some effort to overcome sin in one's own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time. (2002, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 105)

If Advent is the season par excellence that invites us to hope in the God-Who-Comes, Lent renews in us the hope in the One who made us pass from death to life. Both are seasons of purification - this is also indicated by the liturgical colour that they have in common... (2008, Benedict XVI, Homily of 6 February)