Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rubrical Notes

For mystical reasons, sevenfold are the gestures of the celebrant at Low Mass according to the Roman Missal when reciting the Gloria in excelsis:
  1. at the opening exclamation, Gloria in excelsis Deo, the priest extends, raises and joins his hands, before devoutly bowing his head at Deo;
  2. at Adoramus te, he likewise bows his head in worship of the Almighty;
  3. at Gratias agimus tibi, he again bows his head in awefilled thanks;
  4. at Jesu Christe, he bows his head in honour of the Holy Name of Jesus;
  5. at suscipe deprecationem nostram, he humbly bows as a suppliant before Lord, that our prayer be accepted, our prayer for mercy;
  6. when he repeats Jesu Christe, he again bows in adoration;
  7. he makes the sign of the cross at the closing words in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.
(Dominican priests, be it noted, do not cross themselves at the end; for mystical reasons, that their gestures be sevenfold, it may be noted that instead they begin the Gloria at the middle of the altar, then move back to the Epistle side to continue it.  Dormitionists do likewise.)

But it must be asked, why is it that, at the twice-prayed words miserere nobis, the celebrant does not strike his breast?  Certainly at these same words during the Agnus Dei he does so.

It will please, therefore, those souls anxious for orthopraxy (an alas! uncommon yearning in these unrubrical days, when to say Mass aright is looked on as affectation or worse), who wonder at such seeming omissions, to know – as was not mentioned earlier, owing to an oversight – that when the grave Dormitionist fathers offer the Holy Sacrifice, observing their own proper rite, they do in fact strike their breast at each repetition of miserere nobis during this, the Major Doxology.

Furthermore, is not this Dormitionist peculiarity most fitting?  For is not this canticle the Angelic Hymn, its opening quoting the glad cry of the heavenly hosts above Bethlehem that happy morn long ago, and the words following, devoutly composed, making various references to Scripture, by some Greek of the Primitive Church, fortunately put into better Latin by none other than St Hilary, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor?  Yes, in veneration of the nine choirs of the Holy Angels, the Dormitionist at the altar performs nine significant gestures during this, their hymn.

It is a wonder that more mediæval Mass-plans for sundry dioceses and Orders did not command the same, given the predilection of the Middle Ages for such numerical symbolism.


It may also be noted that the Dormitionists observe to perform certain like gestures during the Lord's Prayer at Mass.  As is the custom at Milan, their priests bow their head at Sanctificetur nomen tuum, that even by their comportment they hallow God's ineffable name.  Likewise, following the practice at Hippo of old (as St Augustine reports), these Mass-saying penitential religious strike their breasts at Et dimitte nobis debita nostra.

(As they do not do so at all during their proper Agnus Dei, neither do they at the outset of Mass – having no Confiteor at that point – these men fulfil the expectations of God and nature by such a tunsio pectis, that speechless avowal of contrition, at two different points, not to mention during the Canon's Nobis quoque of course.)

As the rubrics direct, they say the Pater noster gazing in love and fear upon the Host, for Jesus Christ, truly present within the sacramental veil that conceals and yet reveals His Real Presence by its sacramental sign, is the visible consubstantial Image of the unseen God; and it is a devout custom of many to pause momentarily after the words Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, that the words Jesum Christum may be added mentally, as an aspiration of the heart's longing.

However, as their closely-related religious brethren the Friars Preachers do not cross themselves at the end of the Gloria in excelsis, neither do the Canons Sleepers make the signum crucis at the end of the Pater noster (a practice attested in England, at least amongst some schismatics).


It would, of course, be ridiculous and unseemly to strike one's breast nine times at the Kyrie eleison.  Such an affected display of piety would seem hypocritical, and quite unworthy the sober austerity of the Roman liturgy.

"Mass should be frigid in its solemnity," as an old choir master of mine averred in outraged tones.

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