Advent Liturgy: December 2010 Archives

Crastina erit vobis salus

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Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas

One of the most beautiful Offices of the entire liturgical year is, I think, that of Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas. A veritable Pre-Feast! Set amongst antiphons that are poignantly expressive of hope and gladsome anticipation, the festive psalms are sung: 66, 92, 99, 62, the Benedicite, and then, of course, the Laudate Psalms, 148-149-150.

Praying With the Church

In his Christmas address to the Roman Curia this past Monday, 20 December, Pope Benedict XVI gave the Church a glimpse of how he prays, thus revealing his benedictine heart. The Holy Father's personal prayer is nourished by the antiphons, collects, and other texts of the Divine Office. He seems to ponder them, turning them over in his heart. Then, spontaneously, these same texts surface in his preaching and in his writing, inviting all who hear him or read him to enter, with him, into The Prayer of the Church.

Today's Antiphons

Consider the antiphons we sang at Lauds this morning:

1. O Judah and Jerusalem, * fear not; tomorrow ye shall go out, and the Lord will be with you, alleluia. (Chronicles 20:17)

2. This day ye shall know * that the Lord cometh: and in the morning, then ye shall see His glory. (Exodus 16: 6-7)

3. On the morrow * the sins of the earth shall be washed away, and the Saviour of the world will be our King.

4. The Lord cometh! * --Go ye out to meet Him, and say, How great is His dominion, and of His kingdom there shall be no end: He is the Mighty God, the Ruler, the Prince of Peace, alleluia, alleluia.

5. On the morrow * ye shall be saved, saith the Lord God of hosts.

Recollection

All, or any one of these antiphons, or even a phrase taken from them, is enough to hold the heart recollected in the presence of God through the remaining hours of what, for most of us, will be a very busy day of preparation. The Church herself teaches us to return to the antiphons of the morning Office by repeating them at Prime, at Tierce, at Sext, and at None. This is the very pedagogy of the Church, exercised in the Sacred Liturgy.

Praying the Rosary with Antiphons

For folks (even Benedictine Oblates) who do not have the time to pray the entire Divine Office, or even one or another of the Hours in full, it is always possible to integrate the antiphons of a given feast or mystery into the humble prayer of Our Lady's Rosary. Given that there are five antiphons in this morning's Office, one might read one antiphon before each decade of the Rosary. In this way, the mystery of the Incarnation (recalled in the Joyful Mysteries) becomes the meditation of each decade, while the Rosary itself is more closely bound to The Prayer of the Church. Thus does "Our Lady's Psalter," the Rosary, become a way of entering more fully into the contemplation offered us by the Church in her liturgy.

LIsten to Saint Paul

The Capitulum (short reading) is the incipit of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, born a descendant of royal David, is the fulfillment of all that was spoken by the Prophets.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised afore by His Prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:1)

The Responsory

The Short Responsory departs from the yearning Fourth Mode melody that we have sung all during Advent and, in anticipation of the joy of the Nativity, returns to the confident and glad-hearted Sixth Mode:

R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.
V. And in the morning, ye shall see His glory.
R. That the Lord cometh.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.

The Benedictus Antiphon

The Saviour of the world shall rise like the sun
and come down into the womb of the Virgin
as the showers upon the grass, alleluia.

The Benedictus Antiphon, with its expressive Eighth Mode melody, is exquisite. It joins two images of the mystery of the Incarnation. The first image is the dawning sun, the dayspring; Mary is the dawn, Christ the perfect day. The second is that of a gentle rain falling soft upon the grass. Mary is the virgin earth made fruitful by the Holy Ghost; Christ is the seed sown in her, a seed that, in the Most Holy Eucharist, becomes, for all, the finest wheat, the Bread of Life.

The Collect

Finally, today's Collect asks that we, who welcome the Infant Christ in His lowliness and poverty, may be found worthy of greeting Him without dread on the day of His return in glory. In this prayer there is no vapid sentimentality. It is rigorously theological, embracing, in a few carefully crafted phrases, the immense circle of the Economy of Salvation.

O God Whose mercy doth year by year cause us to rejoice,
looking forward to our deliverance,
grant that as we now make ready with gladness
to receive Thine only-begotten Son as our Saviour,
so we may see Him without dread
at HIs second and terrible coming as our Judge,
even our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.


O Radix Iesse

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O Radix Iesse is one of my favourite O Antiphons because it brings together the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Cross, the Holy Face, and the promise of Christ Himself that, indeed, He is coming soon. It wasn’t easy to choose an image for this reflection. In the end, I decided on Murillo’s Infant Jesus Sleeping on the Cross.

O Root of Jesse (Ac 13:22-23), standing as a sign to the peoples (Is 11:10), before whom kings shall shut their mouths (Is 52:15), and whom the nations shall seek (1 K 10:24; 2 Chr 9:23): Come and deliver us and do not delay (Hab 2:3; Rev 22:20)!

O Root of Jesse

The image of the Root of Jesse comes from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah where he says, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of His root” (Is 11:1). It is the passage that enumerates the gifts of the Holy Spirit; from the Vulgate, the Catholic tradition counts seven gifts. “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). This means that when we cry out, “Come,” to the Root of Jesse who is Christ, we are, in the same prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit who, in His sevenfold gift, comes to us with the Son.

The Tree of the Cross

Isaiah goes on to say in the tenth verse of the same chapter: “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of Him.” The Root of Jesse is given, not only to Israel, but as a signal to the nations, a standard around which all peoples will rally. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus says of himself, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Root of Jesse is already the profile of the Cross: a figure of the glorious standard of the King, the Vexilla Regis of which we sing in the Vespers hymn of September 14th. Today’s O Antiphon opens onto the Paschal Mystery: the Root of Jesse announces that the advent of the Son is ordered to the mission of redemption that He will accomplish on the Tree of the Cross.

Like a Root Out of Dry Ground

The mystery of the Cross is brought into focus more clearly in the next line: “before whom kings shall shut their mouths.” The text is taken from Isaiah 52 and leads directly into the Song of the Suffering Servant. “So He shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him” (Is 52:10). This silence of the kings of the earth expresses numbed astonishment. They are dumbstruck by the humble Root of Jesse gloriously exalted, all the more because, “He grew up before the Lord like a young plant a like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:2-3).

The Verbum Crucis

The silence of the kings of the earth is their amazement before the triumph of the Cross. The verbum Crucis, the “word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18) shuts the mouth of every earthly king. The psalm given us for the Introit of the Christmas Mass During the Night will describe the machinations of earthly powers against the Christ of God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed” (Ps 2:2). But already, in today’s O Antiphon, we see them judged from the Cross; they have no judgments to give, no verdicts, and no decrees, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).

All the Earth Desires to See His Face

The next line of the antiphon -- “and whom the nations shall seek” -- is not quite as easy to grasp. Its meaning is in the verb used in the Latin text: “quem gentes deprecabuntur.” The verb deprecari means to implore, to seek favour, to entreat, or to seek, as in Psalm 44:13, “The richest of the people shall seek your favour.” The underlying sense of deprecabuntur is found in two very revealing related passages. “And all the earth desired to see Solomon’s face, to hear his wisdom, which God had given in his heart” (1 K 10:24). The same text occurs in 2 Chronicles 9:23. You recognize it, I think, as the very text used for the first antiphon of the First Vespers of Christmas: “The King of Peace is magnified and all the earth desires to see His face.”

Christ the King

What is described in today’s Great O is this: the kings of the earth, dumbstruck by the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, are forsaken by the nations who, instead of following them in their worldly wisdom and power, now seek Christ, the Root of Jesse, the King who rules from the Tree of the Cross with the wisdom that the world dismisses as folly and with the power that the world judges weak.

The Waiting of All the Ages

The last part of the antiphon is the plea itself that begins with the great cry, “Veni -- O come” with its dramatic do-fa interval leaving the second syllable suspended for what seems like a long moment on the mi. In that suspended mi, we are meant to hear the waiting of all the ages! “O Come, and deliver us, and do not delay.”

Coming Soon

The inspiration for the last phrase comes from the book of Habakuk. The Lord himself assures His prophet that the vision promised him will come to pass. “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (Hab 2:3). The antiphon also sends us to the hope held out by the second to the last line of the whole Bible. There, Jesus himself, “the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16) says, “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20). In that word of His lies all our hope.

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The Antiphons of the Final Days of Advent

Today at Lauds the Church begins a series of proper antiphons for each day until Christmas. These antiphons are relatively short and easy to memorize. Most of them are composed in the hauntingly beautiful transposed Fourth Mode (in the new books II*) with the optional ending on si, that is so expressive of our yearning for completion in Christ. The antiphons are repeated throughout the day at the Little Hours, and again at Vespers. This morning, for example, we sang:

Constantes estote, * videbitis auxilium Domini super vos.
Be ye steadfast, and ye shall see the the help of the Lord upon you.

Ad te, Domine, * levavi animam meam: veni, et eripe me, Domine, ad te confugi.
To thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: come, and rescue me, O Lord, for to thee have I fled for refuge.

Veni, Domine, * et non tardare: relaxa facinora plebi tuae Israel.
Come, O Lord, and tarry not: relieve thy people Israel of the burden of their sins.

Deus a Libano veniet, * et splendor ejus sicut lumen erit.
God shall come from Lebanon, and his splendour shall be as the light.

Ego autem * ad Dominum adspiciam, et expectabo Deum Salvatorem meum.
As for me, I shall look to the Lord, and wait for God my Salvation.

Antiphons Pondered in the Heart

It is not enough merely to sing or recite these antiphons at the Hours. The Church gives them to us so that, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19) we might so make these words our own as to find in them the perfect expression of our soul's every longing.

Primary and Indispensable

The Sacred Liturgy is -- and this is often overlooked or forgotten -- the primary and indispensable school of the prayer of the heart. The febrile pursuit of trendy methods of meditation and esoteric approaches to prayer comes from having lived apart from The Prayer of the Church. I have noticed, for example, that in religious communities where the Divine Office is neglected, minimized, or even performed regularly, but in a perfunctory manner, souls tend to gravitate to things like "Centering Prayer" or lose themselves in private devotions that are, at best, marginal to The Prayer of the Church.

Prayer Ceaseless and Incandescent

The prayer of the heart -- ceaseless and incandescent -- flourishes wherever and whenever the Sacred Liturgy -- and, in particular, the Divine Office -- is cherished and celebrated with dignity, reverence, and devotion.


The Missa Aurea

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During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est -- the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation -- on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother of God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then, too, there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

In some monasteries, the Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

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Gaudete Sunday

The Four Introits of Advent

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee” (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). On Ember Wednesday, and again next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. “Send down dew from above you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, him, the Just One” (Is 45:8).

The Gift of Joy

Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy. Give proof to all of your courtesy. The Lord is near. Nothing must make you anxious; in every need, make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well” (Phil 4:4-6).

What the Latin gives as, “gaudete,” and the English as “rejoice,” is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, “chaírete.” It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. “Chaire, kecharitoménè!” “Joy to you, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. “Chaírete” was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. “Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy” (Phil 4:4). Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative -- a command to be joyful -- as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. “What I wish for you, what I send you, what I give you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy.”

S. Ioannis Didaci Cuahtlatoatzin

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Yes, that would be the much loved Saint Juan Diego of Guadalupe as he is designated in the new Solesmes Antiphonale Monasticum for December 9th. Here is the official Collect for his feast with my English translation:

Deus, qui per beatum Ioannem Didacum,
sanctissimae Virginis Mariae dilectionem
erga populum tuum ostendisti:
eius nobis intercessione concede,
ut, Matris nostrae monitis Guadalupae datis obsequentes,
voluntatem tuam iugiter adimplere valeamus.

O God, Who, through Saint Juan Diego,
didst show forth the special love of the Most Holy Virgin Mary
toward Thy people,
at his intercession, grant us
so to obey the admonitions given by our Mother of Guadalupe,
that we may ever be able to fulfil Thy will.

The painting of Saint Juan Diego is by Mexican artist Martha Orozco.

Saint Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas Between East and West

The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”

Saint Nicholas at the Altar

To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life -- including the countless miracles attributed to him -- flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Saints in Advent

Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom-King.

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Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry -- Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.

Saint Nicholas the Glorious Patron and Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas has always had enormous appeal. He is recognized as the patron saint of more causes than of any other saint, of classes of people, cities, churches, and whole nations. He is the patron saint of thieves -- not because he helps them to steal -- but because he helps them to repent and change; of pawnbrokers and bankers because he knew how to use gold in the service of compassion and charity; of pharmacists, fisherman, lawsuits lost unjustly and the lawyers who lost them, prisoners, orphans, prostitutes, unmarried men, scholars, haberdashers, and bishops. He is best known as the patron saint of children, especially children who are threatened by the circumstances of a troubled family life, or by abuse.

Saint Nicholas and Priests

I like to think of Saint Nicholas also as a patron and friend of priests. More than ever before it is crucial that priests place themselves under the protection of the saints and live in their friendship. Saint Nicholas has much to teach priests: passionate devotion to Christ true God and true Man; compassion for the poor; and the courage to defend children from all dangers of body and soul. Pray to Saint Nicholas today for all priests, but especially for those who have grown fainthearted and weary, and for those attacked by the noonday devil.

Saint Nicholas and the Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Saint Nicholas is present to us today. He will accompany me to the altar, taking his place there among the other saints and angels invisibly present in every Holy Mass. More than anything else, I would ask Saint Nicholas to open the eyes of our souls to the Eucharistic advent of Christ. If we are prepared for Christ’s coming in the Holy Mysteries, we will be prepared for His final coming in glory. One who lives from one Holy Mass to the next need not fear the Day of the Lord. Glorious Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the advent of Christ.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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