At the start of every celebration of the Mass we hear a short passage from scripture called the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon. The word “antiphon” is a combination of two Greek words: anti and phone, as in “gramophone.” “Anti-phone” literally means a sound in return to another sound; a kind-of call and response, and it is why the antiphons we have in the liturgy are supposed to be sung; they are responsorial texts given us by the Church in the Sacred Liturgy, to which we to make a response. That response is heard here at the Sung Mass on Sundays when we respond in a literal way by singing our response. We do something similar even when we say the Responsorial Psalm. But that outward, audible, and physical response to the text—one that often involves repeating the text over and over in order to affirm its meaning—is only part of the story. In fact, the response we are called to make to these antiphons, as with all liturgical texts, is not simply one made with our lips, but with our whole selves, with our lives. We can say that just as we sing our response, joining in our worship in the context of the liturgy, so also all that are is also called to resound with that response as a lived, real expression of what we believe and who we are in Jesus Christ. As the ancient saying goes, the law of prayer is the law belief; in other words, what we do in worship shows forth our faith.
Today the Church begins a new liturgical year with the start of the season of Advent. The First Sunday of Advent is of course not just the Church’s “New Year’s Day” but the opening of our preparations for the celebration of the Nativity, the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according the flesh, when God comes to make His home with us at Christmas. As we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, in this season we also recall that, as we affirm in the words of the Creed, “[Christ] will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Just as we look forward to His first coming in the manger at Bethlehem, so also our minds are also fixed on His second coming at the end of time “to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history” (CCC 680). It is for this reason that the gospel for this first Sunday of the season of Advent presents to us those alarming words of the Lord to His disciples from the Gospel according to Saint Mark: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33).
C. S. Lewis, who is perhaps best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, was also a profound Christian thinker. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia aware of Lewis’ faith transforms those well-loved children’s stories into a rich narrative of the Christian life. Lewis was a practicing Anglican who, amidst the vast range of theological opinions amongst Anglicans, held views of the sacraments and the Church with which Catholics can (on the whole) be quite comfortable.
It is always a very great pleasure for me to come to this parish and to visit a place that has such a wonderful and rich liturgical life. Your Pastor has helped to create for you here a place in which we can truly experience what a mediæval English carol called “heaven and earth in little space.” In the beauty and reverence of the Sacred Liturgy we come into the realm of the natural and peer into the realm of the supernatural. We catch a glimpse of the reality of heaven through the signs and symbols of the liturgical celebration on earth, and so understand more and more what it is to be members of the mystical Body of Christ, joined as we are in our worship to the worship of the saints in the kingdom of heaven. We experience in the “little space” of our church building the worship of heaven here on earth.
Last week we considered the false distinction which is often drawn between law and charity. In Christ, we recalled, that distinction is done away with, so that we can see the greatest charity is that lived in obedience to the law, and the greatest obedience to the law is that which has the love of Christ at its heart. In the well-known story of Mary and Martha, presented to us this morning in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, another false distinction is quashed: that between action and contemplation.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has this evening delivered the opening address of the 2016 Sacra Liturgia conference in London. His Eminence made many important and significant points concerning the celebration of the sacred liturgy, and indeed the particular reforms and liturgical renewal that took place at, and following, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. He also made a number of practical suggestions – what he described as “possible ways of moving towards ‘the right way of celebrating the liturgy inwardly and outwardly,’ which was of course the desire expressed by Cardinal Ratzinger at the beginning of his great work, The Spirit of the Liturgy.”
The anniversary of my own ordination to the priesthood provides an occasion to offer a short post about the propers in Divine Worship: The Missal for one of the Masses for Various Necessities and Occasions designated For the Priest himself. This Mass formulary is given the additional title, in parentheses: “especially on the anniversary of ordination.” The majority of the propers for this Mass come from the Mass In Any Necessity, but the Introit, Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, and Postcommunion are proper to this formulary in Divine Worship. In the catalogue of masses in this section of the missal, this follows those For the Pope or Bishop and For the Election of the Pope.
The days of the Easter Octave retain a special character throughout the Roman Rite. This is true of both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form, and also of Divine Worship: The Missal, which preserves this sacred time in accordance with ancient practice, whilst also making use of certain Anglican translations and practices.
Overview of the Easter Octave
If the Paschal Vigil is “the mother of all vigils,” then the Easter Octave is to be considered the mother of all octaves. Its origins predate even those of the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord, of the Epiphany, and of Pentecost, and of course those of later feasts such as Corpus Christi. Blessed Ildefonso Schuster goes so far as to say that the octave “was characteristic of the Easter festivities.” Dom Prosper Guéranger says, with equal eloquence, “So ample and so profound is the mystery of the glorious Pasch, that an entire week may well be spent in its meditation.” With an overview of its associated practices, we can see how right they are.
The season of Lent and the three Sundays of Septuagesimatide that precede it are marked by a certain liturgical character of restraint. Certainly, in Lent itself we intensify our individual practice of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, but the sacred liturgy itself is also affected by this penitence, in perhaps a more communal and ecclesial way, most markedly by the omission of the Gloria in excelsis on Sundays, and the insertion of a Tract in place of the usual meditative chant before the Gospel. The texts of all of the propers are intrinsically linked to the music to which they have been set, and vice versa. They are a form of cantillation: “a song which arises from the text, a song which is essentially a heightened proclamation of a verbal message.” The promotion of, and principled use of the propers given for every Eucharistic celebration was a central tenet of the twentieth century liturgical movement, together with the restoration of the chant as the musical language of the Church’s song of praise. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, even stated: “Gregorian chant [is] specially suited to the Roman liturgy . . . it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC 116). Thus the propers, by which we mean principally the text, but also the music that serves it, is part of the Church’s law of prayer, the lex orandi, that informs and articulates her law of faith, the lex credendi.
Having already discussed the general origin and development of Ember Days in their context in the season of Advent, this article will consider the second set of Ember Days in the liturgical year, those of the first full week of Lent, as they appear in Divine Worship: The Missal.
History of the Ember Days in Lent
To begin we must look at the specific purpose of the Ember Days in the season of Lent. Dom Prosper Guéranger notes that, in common with those in December, these Ember Days are oriented toward the bestowal of holy orders that traditionally took place on Ember Saturday, just before the Second Sunday of Lent. He comments that they are also “to offer to God the season of spring, and, by fasting and prayer, to draw down His blessing upon it.” The context of the Ember Days within the season of Lent is in fact a later development. Marking the natural season, rather than the liturgical season, the Ember Days began as celebrations of the season of spring in the first week of March, and were only fixed to days in Lent by Pope Saint Gregory VII in the eleventh century. Archdale King notes that the Ember Days in general “appear at the first to have no fixed date, the Pope announced their celebration some time in advance.” More than that, Josef Jungmann states that the idea of holding Ember Days in spring at all was, in fact, a comparatively late addition, introduced only after the development of those in summer, autumn, and winter. He writes: “We say quattuor tempora, but the most ancient sources of the Roman liturgy speak only of three such times … The fourth place, in spring, remained free, because there was already the great season of Quadragesima.” According to Jungmann, the adoption of the fourth set of Ember Days, in spring at first and then later specifically in Lent, may have brought about the transferral of the Mass formulary for the Ember Days in December to Lent, and the composition of new texts for the Ember Days in December with, as he puts it, “an Advent character”—an hypothesis he draws from the history of ordination practices in Rome.