Today is Holyrood Day - the festival of the exaltation of the True Cross.
How strange are God's ways! He permitted the fire-worshippers of Persia to steal away the Cross at the price of oceans of Christian blood, and to almost conquer the whole Eastern Empire, which had been the ambition of the Persians for many centuries; yet He also gave the groaning Christians the Emperor Heraclius to be their leader in the desperate fight, so that, far from abandoning even Constantinople and fleeing to Africa (as was planned!), after fourteen long years the Persians, defeated, should yield up every trophy ever won by them in their centuries of war against the Romans, and above all should hand back the True Cross; but He also permitted next that, the Roman and Persian Empires being utterly exhausted by such terrible conflict, Arab warriors, stirred up by their new Mahommedan beliefs, should very soon after conquer the whole Middle East and Persia itself, changing once Christian (and Zoroastrian) lands into Moslem states over time. Here is one aspect of the Mystery of the Cross.
But now to mundane aspects of this day: as a personal benefit, I had the chance to have a very prolonged sleep, since I wasn't needed for Mass this morning, but rather for Mass at Kelmscott this afternoon at 2pm. Luxury! I feel much the better.
At Kelmscott, having arrived quite early, I had the chance to finish Matins, make a short Confession, recite Lauds, and then sing with their choir - the reason for my presence and that of several other singers from the Pro. being needed was that their usual director was away, and they were not confident of singing the Propers. Therefore, my task was a very easy one: just to prompt them when necessary, which was hardly at all, and to Rossini the Propers, to verb a noun. Mass was over just before 3pm, and after Prime I headed home.
Our programme was this: Processional Hymn "Nearer my God to Thee"; Asperges; Introit Nos autem gloriari; Kyrie from Mass XVIII; Gloria from Mass VIII; Gradual Christus factus est and Alleluia Dulce lignum; Credo III; Offertory Protege Domine; Offertory Hymns Pange lingua* (first 4 verses) and Ave crux spes unica (1 verse); Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII; Communion Per signum Crucis; Communion Hymn Adoro te devote (all but the last verse); Recessional Hymn "My God, accept my heart this day".
(*It would of course have been preferable to have sung the incomparable Vexilla regis prodeunt at the Offertory, but the Kelmscott choir has not had time to learn it: I at least gave them one verse of it...)
Why "Nearer my God to Thee?" - for the first verse's words, "Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! /E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me...": we cannot come nigh unto God but by the royal road of the Holy Cross; like Heraclius of old, we must cast aside worldly pomp and follow the humble Christ if we should come nigh unto Calvary, that lowly Mount made the only gate of heaven.
Likewise, the recessional was chosen for the relevance of its second verse:
Before the cross of Him Who died,
Behold, I prostrate fall;
Let every sin be crucified,
Let Christ be all in all.
I had no idea, till this very instant when searching online for this hymn, that it was written on the occasion of its author's conversion to the Holy Catholic Faith from the blind false church of Anglicanism: what a great victory for Christ, won by His Passion wrought upon the Cross! He, Matthew Bridges, also penned most of another featured hymn at the Pro., "Crown Him with Many Crowns".
The Offertory Protege is very curious, since it is obviously the text of a Secret, set to music!
Protege, Domine, plebem tuam per signum sanctæ Crucis, ab insidiis inimicorum omnium; ut tibi gratam exhibeamus servitutem, et acceptabile fiat sacrificium nostrum. Alleluia.
But for the Alleluia instead of a Per Dominum..., it is every bit a Secret; whereas the rather strange actual Secret, Jesu Christi Domini, is if anything a "pre-communion prayer". I wonder how this state of affairs came about?
BTW, apparently the Archbishop's sung Mass at Kelmscott last week was a great success; Fr Rowe met him during the week, and relayed to to-day's congregation how greatly His Grace enjoyed celebrating Mass for and was moved by the good people gathered for Divine Worship.