Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vespers? Vespers! Vespers - II

Sorry, gentle readers, about the break in transmission...


Finally, after exploring Florence for some hours, I came to enter the great Baptistery. What a magnificent ceiling, in Byzantine mosaic, effulgent with gold, with Christos Pantokrator enthroned amid the choirs of angels!
Over opposite the Baptistery altar - where there is Mass twice daily, by the way - there is the famous font, where so many Florentines have received the sacred laver of regeneration. There, St Philip Neri received the spark of divine grace, that, by his remaining ever faithful to which, flowered into everlasting glory. All his particular graces - even the miraculous dilation of his heart by the Holy Ghost - were as nothing compared to this sacramental elevation that made his soul capax Dei.
Holy Baptism is never sufficiently to be praised. The Universal Call to Holiness consists in our fidelity to this saving grace given by our new birth from the font. If, unlike St Philip, we have not preserved our baptismal innocence, we can at least take his urgent advice and frequent the confessional, which is the "second plank after shipwreck", clinging to which we can be rescued from the lamentable ruin of sin.
The Duomo was closed to tourists by this hour, but I gained admittance by asking to attend Vespri (as was advertised). Vespers? No, not on a feria after all, but instead there was Rosario in Italiano - I just gave the responses in Latin. (Despite my advertisement of it, I don't say it nearly enough.)
On to Vespers! At the Badia Fiorentina - where the "Monastic Communities of Jerusalem", one of those new religious movements, has its house here in Florence - there was Vespers at six, to be followed by Mass.
Vespers turned out to be sui generis: there were twenty of the monks and nuns present (the two live separately but worship together), with many laity also. Vespers were sung (but for the reading) in four-part harmony, all in Italian but for one item. The order of service was as follows:
  • "God, come to my aid" and Glory Be with Alleluia;
  • Hymn to the Holy Spirit;
  • Verses proper to the feast, with the first stanza of the Stabat Mater (in Latin) as an antiphon;
  • Lucernarium (Ps 140:1-2) *, during which a monk censed the altar and people;
  • Phos hilaron (that very ancient evening hymn), during which a nun lit the altar candles;
  • Psalms 29 and 42;
  • Canticle from the Old Testament (Isaias liv, 11-15. 17);
  • Canticle from the New Testament (Apoc. iv, 11 & v, 9b-10. 12b);
  • Lesson - which to my ears sounded awfully like an extract from the Lamentation of the Theotokos by St Romanos the Melodist! - then organ music;
  • Intercessions with response;
  • Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us"), sung thrice, with doxology, in Byzantine style, making a metanoia (bowing and touching the ground before crossing oneself) each time.
As can be seen, the Communities seem to have drawn on Ambrosian (*) and Byzantine sources for their liturgy.
Then it was time for Mass....
The celebrant, I was surprised to find, was the Archbishop of Florence. One of the communities' priests was principal concelebrant; the other four only joined them at the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. Most of the service (unlike their Vespers) was not sung: however, the Kyrie, Responsorial Psalm, Alleluia, Gospel responses, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Agnus Dei, Communion hymn, and a final Magnificat afterward (normally sung at the end of Vespers, with a Pater noster and Collect?) were.
The ritual seemed Catholic but a bit eccentric - if they have permissions for these oddities, well and good, they seemed pious, but I wonder...
For example, not the Archbishop, but one of the monks (standing in front of the altar) censed the oblations while His Grace offered them at the Offertory, and one of the nuns had previously led the offertory procession with a lighted candle, which she placed on the altar (a Sanctus candle?!). While in Italy it is the custom to kneel just for the Epiclesis and Consecration and Elevations, the monks and nuns merely bowed most devoutly and deeply. Come the sign of peace, they floated very piously through the church, bringing silent greetings to all of us! For Communion, they filed into the sanctuary, to receive at the same time as the Archbishop and priests (this was misguided, I believe, since there is an hierarchical order to be observed: as the ancient Mozarabic Rite had it, Accedite locis vestris - "Approach your [respective] places").
In any case, it was good to receive the Pontifical Blessing after my second Communion of the day.
Then, I read proper 1962 Vespers ad mentem Summi Pontificis.
Dinner (€20) was mixed antipasti, then bistecca fiorentina (what else would one eat?) and biscotti with vin santo. Very good.
I took a stroll around the city in the evening, then back to my hotel for a real long soak in the bathtub for my tired feet - luxury!

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