Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sung Mass for All Saints

I was late to Mass, which was embarrassing since I was to help sing it!  

As usual on such occasions, rather than speed (since that's how I copped a fine, ouch) I recite to myself the opening prayers of the Mass down to the Collect exclusive, which was good in that I arrived just as the final notes of the Gloria sounded.  (A pity I missed singing the Introit Gaudeamus.)  Both the ladies and the men, including Justin at the organ (he's back this week for to do further work at St Anne's), were in excellent voice.  I dared join them at the Gradual, and it was great to sing the Gregorian propers for the first time in I don't know how long.

I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Offertory Justorum animæ and the Communion Beati mundo corde: marvellous.  

Justin's organ accompaniment to the Missa de Angelis and Credo III was quite special, as I could tell he was extemporizing and doing a rather good job of it - chant with organ accompaniment can sound quite fine, and I think it pedantic to be absolutely opposed to it; to-day it not only buoyed up our small, amateur choir (three men, a woman, and three girls) but especially encouraged the congregation to sing out with gusto.  The choir also sang O sanctissima at the Offertory, and Panis angelicus at Communion, with the organ sounding forth at these and other points.  As is apposite, we closed with "For all the Saints".

Fr Rowe was wearing a very elaborate vestment, which he commented on at the sermon by pointing out that one could hardly tell it was white for all the other colourful details emblazoned on it; which he said was an indication to us all that heaven is full of saints of every sort, from every walk of life, and that therefore we are all called to sainthood whatever our station, be we plumber, sacristan, hole-digger, mother, father, teacher or whatnot.  Since nothing defiled shall enter heaven, we must make use of the means of grace - the Word of God, the Sacraments, and prayer - or assuredly we shall not otherwise be saints, and if not, never shall we be saved.  We must read Holy Writ, and never cease from study of our most holy Faith; we must profit by the most blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist by making worthy and frequent Communions, and likewise frequent the confessional to be purified by the Sacrament of Penance.  We must likewise pray, and take the advice of the saints to pray for at least so long each day as we spend in eating -an arresting thought; Fr wryly observed that "some are faster eaters than others"!

While unfortunately he tripped over a few phrases while chanting it, Fr Rowe very happily gave us the special Preface for All Saints, which I here append (it appears in my Liber Usualis in this text, the same that was sung, "for certain dioceses", and I know decisions of the Ecclesia Dei commission permit its use), set out in sense-lines for greater effect:

dignum et justum est, 
æquum et salutare, 
nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: 
Domine sancte, 
Pater omnipotens, 
æterne Deus,

qui glorificaris 
in concilio sanctorum, *
et eorum coronando merita, 
coronas dona tua;
qui nobis 
in eorum præbes et conversatione exemplum, 
et communione consortium, 
et intercessione subsidium: 
ut tantam habentes impositam nubem testium, 
per patientiam curramus 
ad propositum nobis certamen,
et cum eis percipiamus 
immarcescibilem gloriæ coronam; §
per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. 

Per quem 
Majestatem tuam 
laudant Angeli, 
adorant Dominationes, 
tremunt Potestates, 
cælorumque Virtutes, 
ac beata Seraphim, 
socia exsultatione concelebrant.  

Cum quibus et nostras voces, 
ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, 
supplici confessione dicentes:


*  Cf. Ps 88:8a.
†  Cf. St Austin, Sermones ad populum, CLXX, 10 (P. L., 38, 392): Tunc Deus coronabit non tam merita tua quam dona sua.
‡  Cf. Heb. xii, 1.
§  Cf. I Peter v, 4.
‖ - ¶  The Preface in the Paris Missal (and strangely enough in Sternbeck's missalette - was there more than one recension of this text approved for use at Mass in various places?) here has divergent text after Per J.C.D. nostrum: ...cujus sanguine ministratur nobis introitus in æternum regnum.  Per quem Majestatem tuam [these four words the same] trementes adorant Angeli, et omnes spirituum cælestium chori... (it then returns to the same text at socia).

I love the magnificent Prefaces of the Church, and in a particular manner this, a product of the Neo-Gallican liturgical movement that Rome has accepted as a worthy offering (it first appears in the Paris Missal of 1738, a facsimile copy of which I have before me - thanks to Shawn Tribe, who sold it to me and posted it over to here from Canada).  Now I have the leisure, I think I'll comment upon it...

It must be known that a Preface has three parts, denominated the protocol, the body, and the eschatocol.  

Now, the protocol is nothing other than the solemn praise and address of Almighty God, confessing that "Truly it is worthy and fitting, right and availing unto salvation, [that] we" (poor mortals) "at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee" our Lord God - the three emphases being on "truly" (for every good reason) "we" (give thanks unto) "Thee" (O God).  In Missals down till the end of the pre-Conciliar period, the six titles given to Him were broken up into three pairs - "Holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God" - but research has led revisers to repunctuate this as "Lord, Holy Father, almighty eternal God"; both are exalted phrases.

The body of this Preface is a wonderful extolling of the wonders of God in His saints, and His help given to us through them, that we may come to glorify God ourselves by being forever numbers among His saints in glory (Æterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari, as sings the Te Deum): all is referred back to Him by the double relative Qui - "Who art glorified [in them]" and "Who [dost give] to us [by them]".  

At the beginning and end of this passage, Scriptures and St Austin are echoed in the play on the noun and verb "(to) crown" - God is glorified in His saints, yes, and they shew forth His glory and the glories of His grace now forever perfected in them: whatever He crowns in them is but the crowning of His gifts to them, with the unspeakable prize of everlasting life and immortal glory: may we with them win a share in that immarcescible crown, the crown "that fadeth not away"!  There are three particular benefits the Saints bring us: the example of their words, their pious, godly and sober lives; their fellowship - the communio sanctorum - that strengthens and comforts us; their perpetual intercession for us, so pleasing to the Lord Who deigns to hear and answer them for our everlasting good.  May we with them, who constitute so great a cloud of witnesses in heaven above us, toward which we lift up our hearts, run with patience in the fight that is set before us; and all this we beg and all this we confess may only be achieved "through Jesus Christ our Lord", the Saint of saints, our only Mediator, the One Who has won all grace and glory for us upon His Cross, the One Who is alone mighty to save.

It is likewise and only through Him - sings the eschatocol - that even every one of the angelic host praises and worships in awe and trembling the Divine Majesty; and we supplicate that our lowly praises be united with those celestial spirits in their sublime cry.  The evocation of the angels' adoration of God is phrased in two triples: "the Angels laud, the Dominions adore, the Powers tremble; the Heavens" (the mysterious personified Cæli, whom authors identify with the Principalities, the only choir of the ninefold angelic hierarchy not named in any Preface), "yea, the Virtues of the heavens, and the blessed Seraphim together in exaltation concelebrate"!  O that we sinners may sing with them...

After Mass, I said Lauds in thanksgiving, and then Fr, Justin, his mum and I went to a nearby café for lunch: rather good hamburgers with the lot, and coffee.  Justin has been busy with his organ-building work in three States, and had some good stories to tell, especially one of how he confounded a certain notoriously bossy and unpleasant choir mistress (one of those probably dissenting, loud, middle-aged creatures with a chip on her shoulder) at a cathedral over East...

We all then went round to St Anne's to see what will next be done this week as the refurbishment of the altar and so forth goes on apace, then we had copious cups of tea and some cake at the presbytery, before we went our separate ways.

All in all, a good way to celebrate All Saints' Day.

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