Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mass for the Grace of Sleep

The Missale Ordinis Dormitionis Beatæ Mariæ Virginis (or Missale O. Dorm. for short), as well as providing my primary source for the Order of Mass according to the proper rite of those holy men, the Canons Regular of the Dormition, also supplies a number of fascinating proper Masses, some of which I plan to post online for the edification of all and sundry.  (For the benefit of more serious scholars, I derive these texts from the 1785 edition — hence the use of the long ess — which was fortunately available for an amazing bargain: ah, the joys of internet shopping!)

Without deviating too much from my stated aim of providing curious euchological texts to Catholic web surfers and friends, I must first explain somewhat of the origins (hitherto only alluded to) of this unique contemplative Order.  It was, I can reveal, three Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, known to their grateful spiritual children as Patres nostros Soporificos, "Our Soporific Fathers", who were called to establish a new Order, entirely oriented, even in this life, to emulating the eternal repose of the blessed.

Now, as all men know, the age-old institution of the canons regular flourished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, with many reforms and foundations made; and, in the Holy Land (still then in Christian hands), the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre were established.  Alas, while they returned to Europe and survived for centuries, the dastardly French Revolutionaries killed them off.  Yet their devotion to that sacred tomb, wherein Christ Himself reposed in death, bore fruit aplenty in the daughter Order founded by three of their number, in the Year of the Lord 1199.

The nascent Dormitionist Order, founded only decades before the Order of Preachers, profited much by a holy fellowship between Dormitionists and Black Friars – an association that continues to this day, if the examples of various friars of the latter are anything to go by.  For all men know that much preaching engenders sleep.  Historians of religious life dispute, in fact, whether it was the Order of Grandmont, the Dominican Order, or the Dormitionist which first introduced the system of wholesale dispensation from their respective Rules, that the primary charism of each (to pray, to preach, to sleep) be best fulfilled.

Given this relationship between them, it will therefore be unsurprising to note some parallels in their liturgical forms — though there are also distinct differences.

But to return to the Soporific Three: they were a-praying one day while "searching the Scriptures", when, somewhat bored in truth, they turned to a Greek manuscript of the apocryphal Third Book of the Machabees instead (doubtless brought to Europe from the East by the Canons fleeing the loss of the Holy Land to the Saracens).

What they read there converted them to a new life.  It is said that one bad book can corrupt a monastery; how much more may a good book change it for the better!  For, in the history of King Ptolemy IV Philopator, they read of how the Lord sent a deep sleep upon him, such that, having slumbered from evening through to the ninth hour (III Mach. v, 11f.), being only roused unwillingly at the tenth (III Mach. v, 14f.), he was effectually prevented from doing ill; and from this they realized how graced is innocent rest:
But He sent upon the king a portion of sleep, that beneficence that from the beginning, night and day, is bestowed by Him Who grants it to whomsoever he wishes. And by the action of the Lord he was overcome by so pleasant and deep a sleep from evening until the ninth hour...
These uninspired words became for them a true inspiration, loyal as they were to the practice of sortition (cf. Acts i, 26).  Just as by the drawing of lots the Apostle Matthias was chosen, so by a chance glance the Patres soporificos felt themselves selected to establish a novus Ordo, uniting to the Canon Regular the cultivation of lengthy sleep.

This, reason taught them, was the perfection of religious life, which is the state of sacred leisure, just what the ancient philosophers wished for on a merely human level; and, furthermore, in sleep one is already as it were in heaven, confirmed in grace because unable to sin: so this is angelic, that is, unworldly, life – utterly turned from this life toward the next.

Holy Writ confirmed this, they decided: for, was it not revealed to St John the Divine that in process of time it would come to pass that "white robes were given to every one of them one; and it was said to them, that they should rest" (Apoc. vi, 11a)? and did not Our Saviour open His blessed mouth and say, "Take up my yoke... and you shall find rest to your souls" (St Matthew xi, 29)? and also said, "Come apart into a desert place, and rest" (St Mark vi, 31a)?

And the undoubted examples of Our Lord and the Saints strengthened their manly resolve: for did not Christ lie in the tomb for three days? and did not Lazarus do likewise for four? and did not the Seven Sleepers remain at rest for ages? and did not Our Lady fall asleep ere she was conveyed bodily to heaven?

Sleep is the image of death: as the Apostle did, we ought long to die and be with Christ; ergo, to sleep is most godly, being to desire to live as if already dead and "hid with Christ in God".

As do all the Saints, these Founders endured obloquy from those who understood not, who abused them as establishing a frightful novus (given as this Latin word carries the nuance of "strange") Ordo; however, it was the Pope whom they petitioned, observing how startlingly direct and honest they were in their desire for eternal rest (unlike most of the Curia, as His Holiness put it), who permitted the Dormitionist Canons to be established.  Popes have long been backers of novus Ordo experimentation.

But to return to their moment of conversion and call: having been struck by the siren song of sleep, they searched the Scriptures anew, and composed a Mass for the grace of sleep on the spot; which they celebrated repeatedly, to good effect, and which ended up in process of time included in the Missal of the Dormitionist Order, as a privileged Votive.  Mediæval piety attached to this Mass a startling list of spiritual and temporal benefits... yea, even the lay faithful strove by strategems sacred and profane to attend this Mass, that they might gain the graces of peaceful slumber, of extended lie-ins, of deliverance from bedbugs.

Herewith, the Mass for the Grace of Sleep — celebrated, by analogy with the Requiem, in black vestments:
Miſſa pro gratia ſomni
Officium (triplicatum)
Hæc requies mea in ſæculum ſæculi: hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam. (T.P. Alleluja, alleluja.) Ps. Si introiero in tabernaculum domus meæ, ſi aſcendero in lectum ſtrati mei: ſi dedero ſomnum oculis meis, et palpebris meis dormitationem, et requiem temporibus meis. Hæc… Gloria Patri… Hæc…
Non dicitur Gloria in excelſis. 
Domine ſancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus, fac nos, famulos tuos, ſine peccatis obdormire: ut ad requiem æternam, te auxiliante, ſalvi et protecti pervenire mereamur. Per.
Lectio Ezechielis prophetæ.
Hæc dicit Dominus Deus: Faciam cum eis pactum pacis, et ceſſare faciam beſtias peſſimas de terra: et qui habitant in deſerto, ſecuri dormient in ſaltibus, ait Dominus omnipotens.
Lectio epiſtolæ beati Pauli Apoſtoli ad Hebræos. 
Fratres: Timeamus ergo ne forte relicta pollicitatione introëundi in requiem ejus, exiſtimetur aliquis ex vobis deëſſe. Ingrediemur enim in requiem, qui credidimus. Feſtinemus ergo ingredi in illam requiem: in Chriſto Jeſu Domino noſtro. 
Reſponſorium Graduale
R/. In pace in idipſum dormiam et requieſcam. V/. Quoniam tu, Domine, ſingulariter in ſpe conſtituiſti me.
Tractus (Sept. uſque ad Paſcha)
V/. Cum dederit dilectis ſuis ſomnum. V/. Inſuper et caro mea: requieſcet in ſpe. V/. Nunc enim dormiens ſilerem, et ſomno meo requieſcerem.
Verſus in Alleluia
Alleluja, alleluja. V/. Inſuper et caro mea: requieſcet in ſpe. Alleluja.
Verſus II in Alleluia (T.P.)
V/. In pace in idipſum dormiam et requieſcam. Alleluja.
Sequentia ſancti Evangelii ſecundum Matthæum.
In illo tempore: Jeſus venit ad diſcipulos ſuos, et dicit illis: Dormite jam, et requieſcite.
Dabo pacem in finibus veſtris: dormietis, et non erit qui exterreat. (T.P. Alleluja.) V/. ad lib. Auferam malas beſtias, et gladius non tranſibit terminos veſtros. (T.P. Alleluja.)
Munera, Domine, quæſumus, quæ pro famulorum tuorum requie offerimus, placatus intende, ut, per hoc ſacrificium, requiem mereantur æternam. Per.
Salva nos, Domine, cuſtodi nos dormientes in Chriſto, ut requieſcamus in pace. (T.P. Alleluja.)
Præſta, quæſumus, omnipotens et miſericors Deus, ut famulos tuos, pro quibus hoc ſacrificium laudis tuæ obtulimus majestati, per hujus virtutem ſacramenti, requiem obtineant et nunc et in futurum. Per.

And here, my poor translation of this masterpiece of composition:
Mass for the Grace of Sleep
Office [i.e. Introit], tripled (Psalm 131:14,3-5a)
This shall be my rest for ever: here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein. Ps. If I shall come within the tabernacle of mine house, if I shall climb up into my bed; if I shall suffer mine eyes to sleep, and mine eyelids to slumber; and the temples of my head to take rest: This shall be my rest… Glory be… As it was… This shall be my rest…
Gloria in excelsis is not said. 
Holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God, make us, Thy servants, to sleep without sin: that we may deserve to attain unto eternal rest, saved and protected by Thine aid. Through.
Lesson (Ezechiel xxxiv, 25)
A Lesson from the Prophet Ezechiel.
Thus saith the Lord God: I will make a covenant of peace with them and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they that dwell in the wilderness, shall sleep secure in the forests, saith the Lord almighty. 
Epistle (Hebrews iv, 1. 3a. 11a)
A Lesson from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. 
Brethren: Let us fear therefore lest the promise being left of entering into his rest, any of you should be thought to be wanting. For we, who have believed, shall enter into rest; Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest: in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gradual Responsory (Psalm 4:9-10)
R/. In peace in the selfsame I shall sleep and rest. V/. For it is thou, Lord, who hast singularly stablished me in hope.
Tract, from Septuagesima until Easter (Psalms 126:2b; 15:9b; Job 3:13)
V/. When he shall give sleep to his beloved. V/. My flesh also shall rest in hope. V/. For now I should have been asleep and still, and should have rest in my sleep.
Alleluia Verse (Psalm 15:9b)
Alleluia, alleluia. V/. My flesh also: shall rest in hope. Alleluia.
2nd Alleluia Verse, in Paschaltide (Psalm 4:9)
V/. In peace in the selfsame I shall sleep and rest. Alleluia.
Gospel (Matthew 26:45a)
The continuation of the holy Gospel according to Matthew.
At that time: Jesus cometh to his disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now and take your rest.
Offertory (Leviticus 26:6)
I will give peace in your coasts: you shall sleep, and there shall be none to make you afraid. (P.T. Alleluia.) V/. ad lib. I will take away evil beasts: and the sword shall not pass through your quarters. (P.T. Alleluia.)
We beg, Lord, regard with pleasure the gifts we offer for rest for thy servants, that, by this sacrifice, they may deserve eternal rest. Through.
Save us, Lord, keep us, the sleepers in Christ, that we may rest in peace. (P.T. Alleluia.)
Grant, we beg, almighty and merciful God, that thy servants, for whom we have offered this sacrifice of praise to thy majesty, by the power of this sacrament, may obtain rest both now and in the future. Through.

It will be noted that this Mass has certain archaic features: the Introit is tripled, that is, the antiphon is repeated before as well as after the Glory be; there is both an Old Testament Lesson and an Epistle (as otherwise only on certain of the Ember Days and at Christmas, as in the Dominican Rite); and the Offertory is still provided with a versicle pro opportunitate (incidently, in its full form it is evidently intended to parallel the passage provided for the Epistle).

The Lesson may be said to be a prophetic type or foreshadowing of the Dormitionist charism: for the Lord declares His will to make a covenant of peace (that is, establish a new form of vowed life), such that, safe from wild creatures (that is, the devils and evil men their pawns), His sheep (that is, holy religious) who dwell in the wilderness or desert (that is, in religious life, as the early desert monks were alone with the Alone) may sleep secure in the forests (that is, inside their houses made of wood, etc.).

The Epistle confirms this message, once delivered to the Jews, as truly intended for the New Israel of God; and Christ Himself commands this in the Gospel.  Therefore, in all humility, the Dormitionist Canons pray that they may fulsomely fulfil this mandate on behalf of His Church universal, and as exemplars to all.

It will be noticed that the Introit, Alleluia verse and Collect are precisely those used by the Dormitionists for to bless their cell each day as they asperse it with holy water – that, even if this Votive be not said, somewhat of its virtue be imparted; for, as the Irish say, holy water is second only to Holy Mass in virtue.  (So said one dear old nun to me, anyway, and I tremble to contradict her.)

The Communion, furthermore, has the same text as the nightly Nunc dimittis anthem, and for utterly the same reason – particularly as these Canons pray the Nunc dimittis in thanksgiving after communicating, as appointed in their proper rite of Mass.

Some may wonder at the extreme brevity of the appointed Lesson, Epistle and Gospel – but, especially as this privileged Votive is oft-celebrated, this is an aid to devotion (and to the more speedily finishing Mass, and so off to bed all the earlier), since short prayers are more fervent, while contrariwise, as was said of lengthy poems of old, Mega biblion, mega kakon ("A big book is a big bore").  The piety of the Irish likewise combines love for the Holy Mass with the fervent intent to get it over with as soon as possible.

Given the Dormitionist preference for celebrating Low Mass before Compline, it is obvious how apt the frequent use of this Votive would be, just as was intended and practised by the Founders of this unique new Order, this true novus Ordo.

1 comment:

Osmund Kilrule said...

The William Ireland of Down Under...thanks an awful lot for the series on the venerable and soporific Dormitionist fathers. Wit and mild satire-humour-are just what we need right now. How about publishing something-the adventures of young Canon Hypnos, say...anyway, for the time being, let me enjoy Dr Grantly before he joins the Ordinariate.:)