Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lenten Lectiones

And now for something completely different for Lent…

According to the Mozarabic Rite (celebrated daily in one place only in the whole world, the Capilla Muzarabe at Toledo Cathedral), during Lent, Mass begins in sober, solemn silence: the priest and his ministers advance to the altar, he bows before it in silent prayer, then ascends to and kisses it, before going to the chair, where he salutes the people, saying Dominus sit semper vobiscum (“The Lord be ever with you”), to which the response is the expected Et cum spiritu tuo (“And with your spirit”).

Immediately, a lector begins the first of four lessons from, successively, the sapiential books, the historical books, the Epistles, and the Gospels.  Mass in Lent thus commences as it did in Africa at the time of St Augustine, before any entrance chant was yet sung.  The presence of two Old Testament lessons also bears testament to remotest antiquity – just as, in the Byzantine Rite, the lessons at Mass of the Presanctified during Great Lent are from Genesis and Proverbs; just as, in the time of St Ambrose, Genesis and Proverbs were the books from which the daily Lenten lessons read for catechumens came.

When the title of each of the first three lessons is read, the congregation replies Deo gratias; instead of saying so at the end of each readings, instead they say Amen.  There is no psalm or chant between the first two lessons, neither is there between the last two; instead, there is a Psallendum (“that which is to be psalmed”), rather like a Gradual, between the Old Testament and New Testament lessons – except on Wednesdays and Fridays, when instead the Threni (“Laments”) are sung, similar to the Roman Tract, but with texts taken mainly from Jeremiah, Lamentations and Job – and, after rather than before the Gospel (one of the ancient Councils of Toledo having moved it), the Laudes (“Praises”) are sung, answering to the Roman Alleluia, except of course omitting that joyful word itself during this penitential season.

Of course, the Gospel is pronounced by the deacon (who goes to the lectern accompanied with candles and incense), he first declaring Dominus sit semper vobiscum, then censing the Gospel-book; and the people standing, responding to his reading its title, crying Gloria tibi, Domine.  The Gospel ended, they cry again Amen.  Then comes the homily, and the Laudes.

During Lent (whose ferial Masses, in the Mozarabic Rite, commence with Missa jejunii de Feria II inchoante Quadragesimæ “the Mass of the fast of Monday opening Lent”, after the first Sunday of Lent, since that Mass is still festive, and which may be conveniently considered to end on Wednesday of Holy Week, ere the special liturgies of the Paschal Triduum begin), the sapiential lesson is taken from either Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus, but not chosen, it seems, in any particular order.

However, the historical lessons are, it seems, a selection taken in sequence from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings – from Creation to the Destruction of Jerusalem.  The tale of man’s continual backsliding, his temporary repentances and oft-resumed sins, reaches its peak when God’s anger against man’s wickness issues in the burning of His holy temple.

The four main Catholic Epistles are read over: first James, then 1 & 2 Peter, and finally 1 John.  This is a well-nigh continuous reading, as is that of the Gospel according to St John.

I once used these passages as my Lenten reading at morning meditation, and thought to provide the same daily this Lent, as something different, but indisputably Catholic.  The modern edition of the Mozarabic Lectionary, the amusingly-named Liber Commicus, follows the Neo-Vulgate; not having a faithful rendering of it in English to hand, I instead employ the Douay-Rheims, that “useful crib to the Vulgate” as Mgr Ronald Knox once joked about the Greek New Testament!  In its now-curious archaic sound, its painful adherence to the letter of its source, it no doubt parallels the odd sound and obscurity of the Old Latin version of the Scriptures still in vogue in the glory days of the Mozarabic Rite, before the Muslim conquest, and the coming of the Roman Rite to Spain as the Reconquest proceeded.

Therefore, each day from Monday in the first week of Lent to Wednesday in Holy Week, God willing, I will post these ferial lessons (in the process mulling over them myself), that such wisely appointed passages of Holy Writ, selected long ago by the ancient Church of Spain, may continue, God willing, to enlighten hearts. “Wisdom, let us attend!”

No comments: