Friday, February 2, 2018

Candlemas: End - and Beginning - of the Liturgical Year

Just as, sixty-three days before Easter, Septuagesima Sunday, in its lessons at Matins, begins the liturgical year with the account of the Creation in the first chapter of Genesis, and the Magnificat antiphon at first Vespers warning Adam of death should he eat the forbidden fruit, so too Candlemas concludes the liturgical year, forty days after Christmas, with its solemn celebration of the entry of the Incarnate Word into his Father's Temple, showing forth under a shadow the eternal nuptials of the Lamb and his Bride, all redeemed humanity, world without end.

The fact that Candlemas is a fixed feast, recurring every year on the 2nd of February, signifies the eternal and everlasting truth of the life of the world to come; the truth that the date of Septuagesima varies from year to year, falling on a Sunday between the 18th of January and the 22nd of February, signifies the ontologically contingent facts of the Creation and Fall, which led – O happy fault! – to the redemption of the world by our Emmanuel, and his victory over sin and death, celebrated especially during the Paschal Triduum.

Septuagesima may fall before Candlemas, or after it, or may even displace it to the Monday – but the blessing of and procession with candles falls always on the 2nd of February. The liturgical cycle may end before its next beginning, or after it begins again, signifying that the perfect consummation of all things has not yet come. Even if, in the most complete manner possible in this life, Septuagesima falls on the day after Candlemas (when Easter falls on the 6th of April, as last in 1980 and next in 2042) yet still the second Vespers of the latter overlap with the first of the latter (first Vespers of Septuagesima being commemorated after the Collect of Candlemas, and followed by the farewell to the Alleluia made at the Benedicamus Domino).

(When Septuagesima Sunday thus falls on the 3rd of February, presumably the blessing of throats at the intercession of St Blaise takes place after Septuagesima Sunday Mass.)

The processional antiphon Adorna thalamum tuum well sums up the eschatological quality of today's feast:
Adorna thalamum tuum, Sion, et suscipe Regem Christum: amplectere Mariam, quæ est cælestis porta: ipsa enim portat Regem gloriæ novi luminis: subsistit Virgo, adducens manibus Filium ante luciferum genitum: quem accipiens Simeon in ulnas suas, prædicavit populis, Dominum eum esse vitæ et mortis, et Salvatorem mundi. 
(Sion, adorn your bridal chamber and welcome Christ the King; take Mary in your arms, who is the gate of heaven, for she herself is carrying the King of glory and new light. A Virgin she remains, though bringing in her hands the Son before the morning star begotten, whom Simeon, taking in his arms, announced to the people as the Lord of life and death and Saviour of the world.)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Septuagesima Thoughts on the Two Ways

Septuagesima brings us face to face with death. The Introit is Circumdedérunt me gémitus mortis (The sorrows of death surrounded me); the ancient chant Media vita (In the midst of life we are in death) is oft sung during the pre-Lenten season; at Matins, the readings begin at Genesis chapter one, and soon enough bring us face to face with the Fall of Man, when, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, death came to mankind, and estrangement from God, which makes death evil.

At the end of Lauds, until the 1950s, after Fidelium animæ the Lord's prayer was said silently, then the versicle Dominus det nobis was sung, followed by the Marian anthem of the season. The 1693 Lyons Breviary adds two words, post mortem, to the second half of this versicle, thus:
V. Dóminus det nobis suam pacem.
R. Et post mortem vitam ætérnam. Amen.
(V. May the Lord grant us his peace.
(R. And, after death, life eternal. Amen.)
This seemed to me a devout addition suitable to use in prayer, since it balances the length of each phrase... but often I have mixed up the words, and said by mistake, Et post vitam mortem ætérnam (And, after life, death eternal)! That is not a prayer to make, lest it be answered!

But more seriously, these are in fact the options we face in this vale of tears:
1. Post mortem, vitam ætérnam (After death, life eternal);
2. Post vitam, mortem ætérnam (After life, death eternal).
Here we have the age-old presentation of the Two Ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death: either (1) following the narrow path, “denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” (Titus ii, 12f), or (2), taking the broad road, “many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.” (Phil. iii, 18f).

As Our Lord taught so clearly, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (St Matthew xvi, 24-26). We can either deny ourselves and bear our appointed cross and follow Christ to Calvary, praying for final perseverance, trusting in his grace to save us and bring us to glory, or live vainly, heedless of and hating God, and hateful to him and others and ourselves, and after death perish everlastingly.

Ultimately we must be among the martyrs, the true witnesses to the Crucified at the cost of their own lives, whether literally or in intention – or among the reprobate, who madly purchase worthless transient pleasures at the infinite cost of everlasting damnation. Be sheep or goats, choose!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Second Sunday after Epiphany Mass and Picnic

Today the Latin Mass community, North and South, gathered at Colebrook to attend the monks’ Mass for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, reflecting on the mystery of the Wedding feast at Cana and Our Lady’s intercession thereat, and afterwards to have a pleasant picnic at their property at Rhyndaston. Mass was glorious and moving, the elevation barely visible through clouds of incense – “and the glory of God filled the sanctuary” – and put me in mind of what Dom Anscar Vonier wrote about “The Doctrinal Power of the Liturgy of the Catholic Church” in his Sketches and Studies in Theology:

One of the great advantages of the liturgical presentment of Catholic dogma is found in this, that it sets forth revealed truth in a non-combative and non-controversial way. It is truly the divine bread prepared for the use of the children. We forget the unbeliever, the heretic, the schismatic, when we are gathered together for the Feasts of the Lord; instead, we are made to remember the Angelic Choirs and the Saints of heaven. If evil and Satan are at all alluded to in the liturgy, such remembrances are songs of triumph, because in the Liturgy the powers of darkness are mentioned only in connexion with Christ's victory over all sin. It is indeed a supreme satisfaction to the Catholic soul to be thus left to enjoy the Faith for its own sake; it creates in the Church a spirit of confidence far more potent than any controversy, however well conducted, can do.

(I quoted quite a lot more of this back in 2008.) 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

First Sunday after Epiphany

I heard a rarely-sung Mass in Colebrook today: In excelso throno, that of the First Sunday after Epiphany, since the Benedictines never adopted the Roman Feast of the Holy Family, which would otherwise occur this day in churches celebrating the Extraordinary Form. Yesterday evening, meanwhile, singing at my parish Vigil Mass, I managed to observe the Solemnity of the Epiphany on the right day, the 6th of January, even though it is transferred to the Sunday...

Some years ago, I managed to attend Christmas (OF) here, then Epiphany (OF) in Oxford, then Epiphany (EF) in Edinburgh, then Christmas again (Ukrainian Rite, Julian Calendar) in Florence! This year, tomorrow, Monday, will be celebrated the Baptism of the Lord in my parish (OF), since Epiphany pushes it out of the way this year by taking its spot on the Sunday after, well, Epiphany.

In the EF, in most places the Lord's Baptism will be kept this Saturday, the 13th of January, being the Octave Day of the Epiphany - but the monks of Notre Dame Priory will instead celebrate their first-class patronal feast of Our Lady of Cana, which falls on the Saturday after Epiphany (it did scandalise me a little that Our Lady's local solemnity trumps Our Lord's universal feast, but He does love His Mother). Liturgy can be confusing sometimes. 

The monks also sang the Ordinary using one of the Masses in the Kyriale that I hadn't heard before, Mass XIII, Stelliferi conditor orbis, which I was quite taken with. Here are some clips demonstrating its beauty: