Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Our Lady's Hours

Ante thorum hujus Virginis, frequentate nobis dulcia cantica dramatis.
(Before the couch of this Virgin, repeat often unto us sweet chants with solemnity.)

– Third antiphon of the First Nocturn both in Our Lady's Office and in the Common for her feasts; it is also the second antiphon at Matins for feasts of Virgins.

I have taken a break, so to speak, by turning to the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin these past few days... I must say, it has helped me observe the veritas horarum by reciting Matins upon arising (before dawn, it being winter), Lauds and then Prime around dawn when heading off for work, Terce, Sext, and None at their appropriate times mid-morning, noon and mid-afternoon, then Vespers in the evening twilight before dinner, and Compline later in the evening. The strain and stress of trying to get through the full Day Hours of the Breviary, and feeling guilty for not managing Matins, is good to get away from: and I like praying these beautiful Marian Hours in honour of the Holy Mother of God. For a long time, I had shied away from reading Our Lady's Hours alone, thinking it insufficiently liturgical; but this I realize is untrue.

While delighting in this devotion, the origin of certain lines in Our Lady's Office has been exercising my seldom-inactive discursive mind, or rather, my curiosity. Now, many verses and antiphons are plainly Scriptural, such as those from St Luke chapter i, or from the Psalms; many are just as plainly ancient and venerable ecclesiastical compositions, such as Dignare me laudare te; but there are some that seem to sit in-between, for example:

Benedicta, filia, tu a Domino, quia per te [*] fructum vitæ communicavimus.
(Blessed, daughter, art thou by the Lord, for through thee we have partaken of the fruit of life.)

Down to the asterisk, this text is a rearrangement of Judith xiii, 23b and 22b; but the second half is not Scriptural, though it plays on many Scriptural themes: Mary is the new Eve, not proffering the abysmal apple of deceit and death, but bringing forth to the faithful Him Who is the fruit of her womb, and the food of eternal life.

The text that really causes me confusion is the fifth antiphon of Vespers (used also in the Breviary for Marian feasts), since it sounds like a quotation from the Canticle of Canticles, but isn't:

Speciosa facta es et suavis in deliciis tuis, Sancta Dei Genitrix.
(Thou art made beauteous and sweet in thy delights, Holy Mother of God.)

I have been unable to find anything closely resembling the phrase Speciosa facta es et suavis in deliciis tuis in the Scriptures. Canticles vi, 3 contains the word suavis, while Cant. vii, 6 reads Quam pulchra es, et quam decora, carissima, in deliciis! - but neither of these bear more than a vague resemblance to this text. Where does it come from? I would appreciate any advice...

Finally, I was struck by the conceptual identity of Judith xiii,22b with the well-known antiphon Gaude Maria Virgo (a text I have long prayed daily):

Gaude, Maria Virgo, cunctas hæreses sola interemisti in universo mundo.
(Rejoice, Virgin Mary, all heresies alone thou hast crushed in the whole world.)

Benedixit te Dominus in virtute sua, quia per te ad nihilum redegit inimicos nostros.
(The Lord hath blessed thee with his power, for by thee have our enemies been brought to nought.)


Ritualist said...

It is based on Songs 7, 6 but uses the phrasing of an older, pre-Vulgate translation of the songs, made popular by the quoting of some of the Fathers.

Joshua said...

Many thanks!

Do you have the exact Latin quotation?