22 December 2013, 4th Sunday of Advent (Year A)

22 December 2013, 4th Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Introit: Rorate, begin on C (as do)

Kyrie with tropes: Mass IX (Cum jubilo), PBC, p. 55. Schola sing tropes; all respond with Kyrie. (Texts below.)

N.B. The tropes replace the Confiteor, as in Option 3 in the Ordo Missae. Misereatur follows, then the Collect.

Offertory: Ave Maria, begin on D (as fa) by schola; then O come O come Emmanuel, V2H p. 226, vv. 5-9, by all.

Communion: Ecce virgo concipiet, begin on D (as re)

Recessional: Alma Redemptoris Mater, PBC p. 119 (simple tone), begin on C (as do)

Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Mass XVII, PBC, p. 71. Credo I, PBC, p. 75.

The short Introit antiphon has two phrases;

  1. Rotate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum:
  2. aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.

Hebrew poetry is built on vivid images and similar and opposite thoughts places in parallel. Often the liturgical texts are a 'cut and paste' adaptation that doesn't let us see all of the poetic context for a given verse. The text here, however, gives us a fulsome example. The two halves of the verse (phrases 1 & 2 above) are in parallel, and the first and second half of each phrase are as well. So we have a classic set of parallels within a parallel.

            Some commentators surmise that the word caeli, or the word desuper, which in late Latin was accented on the second syllable, precipitated the high pitch of the first half of the first phrase, just as terra influenced the low pitch of the second phrase. In any event, the wide range of emotions in waiting for the Messiah are expressed by the large intervals: Rorate has an ascending fifth, with a slight hold on the a. Although we wouldn't normally observe the vertical episema, the manuscripts support this one and it gives balance to the urgency of the plea in Rorate and caeli. Between desuper and et we have a descending fifth, and between nubes and pluant occurs an ascending interval of a fourth. They are also felt in the rapidly soaring melody and the powerful accents over caeli and (nu)-bes pluant ju-(stum). The melody echoes the undulating effect of rain falling to earth from the sky in response to our urgent plea.

            In the second phrase, we hear the motif of terra repeated over (germi)-net. Treat the f on the first syllable of the first word as an upbeat, and contrast the groups of two notes in the first part with the three-note groups in the second part of this phrase. Up to germinet we have three groups of three notes and afterwards two more over Salvatorem—a representation of energetic sprouting and blossoming. The group a b c g over aperiatur corresponds to d e a d over Salvatorem.

            For the Israelites the concept of cloud had a history of deep meaning: in the column of cloud God led His people through the desert; veiled by clouds He manifested Himself to them on Sinai; in a cloud the glory of the Most High descended upon the Temple of Solomon. Clouds are the symbol and the containers of life-giving rain, as well as of the grace of redemption which comes down to us from the heights of heaven, and of all the benefits and glories of the new kingdom of the Messiah. When these clouds open, new life will bud forth (germinet) in Nazareth, a life of unusual beauty, rich in blossoms and fruits

The Offertory is always at or at least near the top of the list of 'most beautiful' or 'most beloved' pieces in the Gregorian Mass repertory. This well-known text has four phrases:

  1. Ave Maria,
  2. gratia plena,
  3. Dominus tecum:
  4. benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

The melody tries valiantly to capture the awe-some nature of the most momentous event in human history, one completely beyond human undertanding or appreciation. So it sinks into the deep with gratia, tecum, fructus; rises slowly with Ave, gratia, ventris; and again soars over Maria. Over Ave the passage f a f g f e is soon followed by the similar f a f g a g. After the upbeat over the first note of Maria, the grouping of the neums here given suggests a division into two-note groups: a cc cc | cagf | gaca | fgg. The two bistrophas, naturally, are to be sung with a very light swing. Plena is made prominent by its pressus, the first in this piece. We do not find the passage Dominus tecum in the early manuscripts; its melody is found in the Offertory-verses Posuisti and Angelus over the words gloria and stetit respectively. With some variations, this tyle of singing the verses was adapted to the text of the Offertory Beata es, which is sung on September 8 and on some other feasts. Here the melody occurs over the word virgo.

            The second member is a repetition of the first. The brilliant phrase benedicta is characterized by its high pitch and by repeated and impressive accents: c d e e-c d d c-c d a a g-g c c b; then by the fourths d-a, g-c, a-d. These accents are still active in the last phrase: f g a a g, g a f f e , and g a a gg.

The Communion antiphon has two phrases.

  1. Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium
  2. et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel

This Communion has many echos of that of the first Sunday of Advent: the same mode, the same range, the same divisions, an arsis-movement in the first phrase resting on the dominant, then a thesis-movement in the second phrase. Both over benignitatem and pariet we find the use of a five-step scale with no semitones (pentatony). But with this Communion Ecce virgo, we have a descending fourth over virgo, g-d, and a fourth higher over pa-(riet), d-a; then an ascending fourth over et vo-(cabitur), g-c-c. In pariet filium, the melody echoes the high pitched cry of a woman in the pangs of childbirth, then goes on to settle quietly as we contemplate the awesome & wonderful reality of who this child is: emmanu-El. God is with us.

Kyrie IX Tropes*:

  1. Cum jubilo jubilemus Filio Mariæ. Kyrie Eleison
  2. In hac die laudes demus Filio Mariæ. Kyrie Eleison
  3. Cum gaudio concinamus canticum Mariae. Kyrie Eleison
  4. Christe, Deus homo, natus sine semine. Christe Eleison
  5. Christe, nos defende precibus Mariæ Christe Eleison
  6. Christe, natus ex Maria semper virgine. Christe Eleison
  7. Kyrie, preces audi, nos exaudi, Pater optime. Kyrie Eleison
  8. Kyrie, nos tuere interventu Mariae. Kyrie Eleison
  9. Kyrie, peccantes salva semper et rege; Nos custodi, nos guberna, pie protege, Domine, Deus trine, pro Mariæ meritis, eleison. Kyrie Eleison
  1. With great joy let us give joyful praise to the Son of Mary.
  2. On this day let us give praises to the Son of Mary.
  3. With joy let us sing together a song to Mary.
  4. Christ, God and Man, born without seed of man.
  5. Christ, defend us through the prayers of Mary.
  6. Christ, born of Mary ever Virgin.
  7. Most noble Lord, hear (these) prayers, mercifully hear us.
  8. Lord, protect us through the help of Mary.
  9. Lord, always protect and govern the sinners, guard us and rule us, kindly protect us, O Lord, triune God, on behalf of the merits of Mary, have mercy.

*From Anton Stingl, Tropen zum Kyrie im Graduale Romanum, (St. Otillien).

**N.B: If the cultural dimension of liturgy doesn't interest you, stop reading here.**

            One can't go online these days without reading a blog entry—or two or three—lamenting the cultural poverty resulting from the loss of our Latin liturgical heritage. That prompts me to send this brief remark on the cultural dimension of today's formulary, which has long had an important role in Western culture. If you want to know more, Parsch (v. 1) has many pages on this, and of course a Google search will provide more reading material than you would ever want on its history and evolution.

            The oldest manuscripts assign today's entire Mass formulary, with the exception of the Offertory and Alleluia, to Wednesday in the Ember Week of Advent, when it was celebrated as the Missa Aurea, the Golden Mass, and the very serious Introit Memento nostri was formerly sung on the present Sunday. The Missa Aurea was a celebration of the Annunciation, the 'golden' moment of Christ's becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and the current Missal has retained that spirit in the today's propers. It was an emotional celebration in centuries past, laden with many traditions related to gold, reflecting the precious nature of the gift in the angel Gabriel's message. It eventually spilled over from Wednesday into Saturday and then into the Sunday. Msgr. Hellriegel brought the tradition of the Missa Aurea, nearly ubiquitous in Europe and Canada, to Holy Cross in his first year there (1940). He included an element of collecting actual gold from the parish at this Mass. When enough had been accumulated, it was sent to be made into a chalice for a mission parish.

            As a further example of how emotive today's text is, singing the Rorate Caeli verses brings to mind an oft-cited passage from Rumer Godden's famous novel In this house of Brede. (I'm a long time friend of the nuns of Stanbrook and their daughter house of Holy Trinity, so the novel's vivid descriptions of Advent and Christmas at Stanbrook when it was still at their former Pugin designed abbey building in Worcester are of particular interest.) Here is a pertinent passage for today:

Dame Maura came home in the late afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent, when the nuns were in choir. Dame Domitilla was waiting at the enclosure door to greet her and let her in. 'You are just in time for Benediction', she whispered after a welcoming kiss. Dame Maura put down her cloak and bag and the two nuns walked the length of the long cloister where dusk was lying across the garth and the lit church windows shone out red and blue and gold. 'Home,' whispered Dame Maura and squeezed Dame Domitilla's hand. 'Home at last!' They knelt in the antechapel as the choir began the Rorate Coeli. A solo voice rose, and Dame Maura stiffened; it was Cecily's. "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above . . . and let the clouds rain the Just One." The haunting plaintiveness filled the church, beautifully controlled as the choir took up the melody. Dame Maura lifted her face, an older face now, marked by loneliness and suffering--it had not been easy in Canada so far away; but Canada, its pains and turmoils, was forgotten now. The voice singing the verse was pleading, in the words of Isaiah, pleading with God; it was the voice of ancient Israel awaiting the coming Messiah, of a young mother waiting for the Child who was to be the Saviour of the world, the voice of the whole Church crying aloud for the coming of the Lord in glory at the end of time. Then the refrain came again, 'Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above . . .'

Dame Maura was listening, herself forgotten too. In the last verse Cecily's voice rose in the full sweep of an octave--a crescendo of trust and assurance--and with what power, thought Dame Maura, thrilling. 'I will save thee, fear not, for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy redeemer.' It was Cecily's voice unmistakably, but not the voice of the girl, Sister Cecily; she was Dame Cecily now, thirty-four years old, and there was no trace of that undertone of anxiety, the subtle asking for affection, pathos that had wrung Dame Maura's heart; no wanting human approval, no conscious art. It was selfless, pure, and Dame Maura could listen to it coolly, yet filled with an immense joy. She closed her eyes and the song seemed to well up from her own soul in thankfulness. 'I will save thee, fear not. . . .' and 'Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above. . . .'


A Prayer for St. Mary of Victories

Our heavenly Father, / long ago you inspired our German forefathers in the Faith / to raise this beautiful house of prayer and sacrifice / in honor of your Son's most holy Mother, / Our Lady of Victories. Your Providence then brought many Hungarians here / under the co-patronage of the holy King, Saint Stephen. / We humbly place before you today / the spiritual and temporal needs of our historic church / and its present-day community. / Grant us the grace to discern your holy will, / and to fulfill  it zealously as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, / here in the old heart of our city, / for as long as it may please your Divine Majesty.

Saint Mary of Victories, pray for us!
 Saint Stephen of Hungary, pray for us!


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Our Lady of Victories, Pray for Us!  St. Stephen of Hungary, Pray for Us!
 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam