Liturgy of Lent: March 2008 Archives

The Virgin of the Passion

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Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Did you know that tomorrow, Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent (Passiontide), is the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary? The 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum restored this most fitting commemoration to the Roman liturgy.

To this end, a new Collect was composed:

O God, who during this time graciously grant to your Church devoutly to imitate blessed Mary in contemplation of the Passion of Christ, grant us, we pray, through the intercession of the same Virgin, to cling each day more firmly to your Only-Begotten Son,and to come at length to the fullness of his grace. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

The Roman Missal of 2002 also added to the chants of the Good Friday adoration of the Cross, the well-known sequence, Stabat Mater, thus marking in another way the presence of the sorrowful Mother close to that of her suffering Son.

These two commemorations of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin, the first on the Friday Within the Fifth Week of Lent, and the second, a week later, on Good Friday, invite us to stand by the Cross of Jesus with Mary his Mother, whose soul a sword of sorrow has pierced.

In our General Intercessions at Holy Mass, mindful of the "widowed Church" of Mosul in Iraq, we will pray:

That the Holy Catholic Church in Iraq,
suffering and crucified with her Lord and Bridegroom,
may take comfort in the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
and find in her all-powerful intercession a source of perpetual help,
let us entreat the Lord. R. Look upon us, and have mercy.

The Image

The most famous image of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also known as the Virgin of the Passion. Be sure to visit Father Scott Bailey's Mother of Perpetual Help website. Look for three characteristics in the icon of the Virgin of the Passion:

1) The depiction of the instruments of Our Lord's Passion, the Lance and the Sponge, the Cross and the Nails, carried by the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

2) The movement of the Child Jesus who gazes towards the instruments of His Passion, and seeks comfort in the arms of His Most Holy Mother. The sole of one of His feet is exposed, His sandal having fallen loose as He hastened to His Mother. The sandal hangs by its laces from His foot.

3) The Mother of God gazes out of the icon into what lies beyond it. She contemplates not only the sufferings of her Infant Son, but also the sufferings of the members of His Mystical Body. The compassion in her eyes is directed to all who, according to the word of her Crucified Son, became her children on Calvary. "Woman, behold thy son" (Jn 19:26).

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My doctoral dissertation — it seems so long ago — focused on the Proper Chants of the Paschal Triduum in the Graduale Romanum. The chants of the Church are, in effect, nothing less than sung theology. Among the chants of the Triduum is the Pange Lingua of Venantius Fortunatus (different from the Pange Lingua composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas); it is sung at the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, but also sung at the Divine Office beginning with the Fifth Sunday of Lent. I thought I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi, something of what I learned in singing, praying, and pondering this monument of Catholic hymnody.

The Pange Lingua of Passiontide

The hymn Pange lingua gloriosi, like the Holy Week Vespers hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt, is the work of Saint Venantius Fortunatus (530-600). Friend and secretary of the Queen Saint Radegonde (518-587), Fortunatus composed the hymns at her request to celebrate the arrival of a relic of the True Cross at the monastery she had founded at Poitiers. A gift of Emperor Justin II, the relic was solemnly received by Saint Radegonde on November 19, 569.

In the Divine Office

In the Divine Office of the 5th Week of Lent and Holy Week (Passiontide), the Pange lingua is divided into equal sections, the first being sung at Matins (The Office of Readings) and the second at Lauds.

On Good Friday

At the Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, the hymn is sung with the refrain Crux fidelis, which appears for the first time in the seventh century. In the Romano-Germanic Pontifical of the Tenth Century Crux fidelis and Pange lingua are the last chants sung during the adoratio Crucis. In the reformed liturgy they occupy the same place. Like Gloria laus on Palm Sunday and Ubi caritas est vera on Maundy Thursday, Pange lingua has a refrain between each strophe.

Struggle and Triumph

1. Sing, my tongue,
the Savior's glory;
tell His triumph far and wide;
tell aloud the famous story
of His body crucified;
how upon the cross a victim,
vanquishing in death, He died.

In the first strophe Venantius Fortunatus introduces his theme: a combat to the death, a great struggle in which Christ will triumph over death by death. In like manner, the sequence Victimae paschali laudes will trumpet on Easter Day:

Fulget Crucis Mysterium

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Our Lady Saint Mary, Saint John the Beloved Disciple,
and the Wounded Side of Christ


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With First Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent we enter into the last phase of preparation for the Pasch of the Lord: Passiontide. The Church places on our lips the great hymn of Christ’s Cross and Passion, and so we sing: fulget Crucis mysterium, “the mystery of the Cross shines out.” The second to the last verse of this age-old hymn is a confession of hope, hope in the power of the Cross:

O Cross, all hail! Sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passiontide:
New grace in loving hearts implant
And pardon to the guilty grant!

The station today is at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The solemnity of this Fifth Sunday of Lent required that the faithful of Rome assemble at the tomb of Saint Peter. The purple veils that, during these last two weeks before Pascha, will hide our sacred images, recall the great veil that in ancient times was stretched across the whole sanctuary, obliging the faithful to go by faith and longing into the inner sanctuary, the invisible one, where Christ is Victim, Altar and Priest.

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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