Only to turn it off and laze (one of those infrequent mornings when I awoke from a sound, sound sleep, and cursed the alarm) until just after 0400, tsk. The ferial psalmody for Thursday takes more time than most other ferial days and so am here rather later than usual. No feast in the Calendar today (hence am going on about the ferial psalms) but Holy Mass (it is the Mass Confessio et pulchritudo; the Introit is from Psalm 95) is being streamed from Saint-Eugène at 1000 (Introibo). This is the Offertory Confessio et pulchritudo, not the Introit, but YouTube isn't great at providing recordings of the Lenten ferial Office, ahem. There is, on the Today's Collect page, a recording of a single cantor singing the Introit... far better sung than I would do, certainly, but one page is enough.
Let's see how much of Blessed Ildefonso's text should go here this morning; all of it, I reckon.
St Agatha [where is today's collecta] is the patron saint of the famous deaconry of the Suburra. The titular church, once adorned with mosaics by Ricimer (472), was given over later to the Arians by the Goths. It was restored to Catholic worship by Gregory the Great, who dedicated it to the celebrated Sicilian martyr Agatha, to whom the Romans had such great devotion. In the 8th century a monastery was attached to it, which was afterwards converted into a collegiate community.
Today’s station at St Lawrence in Panisperna on the Viminal was instituted by Gregory II, who took the Introit from the festive Mass of St Lawrence. With a graceful allusion to the splendour of his sepulchral basilica, called the Speciosa, the Introit celebrates the sanctity of the great archdeacon, to whose prayers the early Fathers especially attributed the final triumph at Rome of the Cross over paganism. For this reason we find St Lawrence represented in ancient mosaics as carrying the sign of redemption, as though he held the office of cross- or standard-bearer of the Roman Church. Tradition has it that the martyr endured his fiery torment near today’s stational church, known as in Formoso. The adjoining monastery was, in the Middle Ages, one of the twenty privileged abbeys of the Eternal City.
The Introit is from Psalm XCV: 'Praise and beauty are before him; holiness and majesty in his sanctuary. Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: sing to the Lord all the earth'.
The Collect is the same as the second collect of yesterday, and entreats almighty God that he will favourably regard the devotion of his people, so that whilst they mortify their bodies by fasting, their spirit may be nourished by good works. [Am not sure which 'yesterday's collect' he is referring to-- DO gives Devotionem populi tui for today and, for yesterday, Preces nostras quaesumus at Lauds and Mentes nostras quaesumus at Vespers; this may be because the Lenten feria was commemorated? but so far as I can tell either the Vigil or the Feast itself of Saint Matthias is always going to fall on the 24th i.e. the Lenten feria collects are always going to appear in the Liturgy only in the commemorations.]
The sacred Liturgy dwells frequently during these days on the chastisement of the body by means of fasting: Qui per abstinentiam macerantur in corpore; and, indeed, fasting in those days was anything but a mere ritual ceremony, as it has become for many Christians of our own time, for it entailed abstinence from every kind of food or drink until the evening. At sunset-- that is, after the stational Mass-- the tables were spread, but even on Sundays only such things were allowed as were consistent with strict abstinence; wine, meat, eggs, and milky foods being absolutely forbidden. It is easy to understand that so rigid a fast must have been a great physical strain. The lesson from Ezechiel (XVIII 1-9) explains that our merits or demerits are entirely personal, and not like a title of nobility, inherited from our ancestors. It was therefore necessary that the Jews should not take any part in the idolatrous rites which were celebrated on the hill-tops and in the sacred groves that had been planted everywhere in the kingdom of Israel, in honour of the heathen gods, after the schism of the Ten Tribes. This was their duty towards God. With regard to their neighbours, they had the sixth and the ninth commandments of the Decalogue, that law which regulated loans between Israelites, and the various works of mercy. He who practises these things, says the Prophet, he is just, and shall surely live in the sight of the Lord. We should notice here the first place given to the practice of good works, without which faith alone cannot save us, being lifeless like a withered trunk, which produces neither fruit nor flowers. The Gradual is taken from Psalm XVI. It is the martyr Lawrence who, in his anguish, calls on the judgement of God: 'Keep me, O Lord, as the apple of thy eye; protect me under the shadow of thy wings. Let my judgement come forth from thy countenance: let thine eyes behold equity'. The choice in the Gospel of today of the episode of the women of Canaan who, by humility and perseverance in prayer, obtained the cure of her daughter, though our Lord, in order to try her faith, treated her with apparent harshness, was suggested by Gregory II by a magnificent responsory of the Night Office of this Feria Va in the first week of Lent. Tribularer, si nescirem misericordias tuas . . . qui Cananeam et publicanum vocasti ad poenitentiam....
R. Tribulárer, si nescírem misericórdias tuas, Dómine; tu dixísti: Nolo mortem peccatóris, sed ut magis convertátur et vivat:
* Qui Chananǽam et publicánum vocásti ad pœniténtiam.
V. Secúndum multitúdinem dolórum meórum in corde meo, consolatiónes tuæ lætificavérunt ánimam meam.R. Qui Chananǽam et publicánum vocásti ad pœniténtiam.
R. I had been troubled, but that I knew thy mercy, O Lord; Thou hast said: I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his way and live. * O Thou, Who didst call the Canaanite woman and the Publican unto repentance!V. In the multitude of the sorrows within my heart, thy comforts delight my soul.
It is interesting to note the wonderful development of the Roman Liturgy, which even after the golden age of Gregory continued to unfold its treasures and to produce new masterpieces. The responsory in question was probably derived from a Greek source; but from this Eastern theme Rome acquired first a grand responsorial melody, and then the motive of one of the most touching Gospel lessons (Matt, XV 21-28) for the stational solemnity of St Lawrence. The troubled Canaanite is a symbol of the Gentiles, who without having the privilege of the Jewish circumcision, obtain salvation by virtue of their faith. It is through this faith that Christian Rome occupies the place forfeited by Jerusalem the deicide, for God does not regard a man’s worldly lineage, but his humility and simplicity of heart. The Saviour’s first refusal to perform a miracle in favour of a Gentile woman, besides the reasons given above, was also intended to show that God is the Lord of order, and that therefore he did not desire to. forestall the moment determined by His Providence for the calling of the Gentiles to the faith, but to wait until such time as the Jews should have rendered themselves unworthy of this grace by voluntarily closing their eyes to the light of the Gospel. Furthermore, Christ wished to avoid furnishing his enemies with a fresh motive for attempting his life before the destined hour, through taking notice of a Gentile, whom the fanaticism of the Jews would have described in the words still in use among the Arabs of to-day, as 'a dog of an unbeliever'.
The Offertory from Psalm XXXIII bears an allusion to St Lawrence, of whom we read in the acts of his martyrdom that an angel comforted and succoured him whilst he lay on the red-hot gridiron. 'The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him, and shall deliver them: taste and see that the Lord is sweet'. The Secret is as follows: 'May these sacrifices, we beseech thee, O Lord, which are instituted with wholesome fasts, save us by thy mercy'.
The Antiphon for the Communion in the Masses of Gregory II often has a eucharistic character. Today it comes from the Gospel of St John, and therefore differs in two ways from the general rule which formerly governed the psalmody of the Mass in the golden period of the Roman Liturgy. In those days the antiphons were always taken from the Psalms and never from the Gospels. A little later the antiphon ad Communionem was, on the contrary, derived from the Gospel of the day, as in the common of saints. In the present instance, however, the antiphon is from the Gospel of St John, and has not the slightest reference to the preceding lesson from St Matthew, with its story of the Canaanite woman. In the Post-Communion we see that the mind of the Church is marvellously balanced between two extremes: on the one hand, materialism, which recognizes only the laws of matter; and on the other hand, gnostic enlightenment, which is but the aberration of a morbid mind. The Church has always opposed these heretical exaggerations, which do not acknowledge the dual nature of man, but which either reduce him to the level of the brute, or raise him up like some fantastic edifice, which totters to its fall because it has no solid base. The substratum of grace is human nature, which is, indeed, raised up by the action of the Holy Ghost, but never destroyed. 'By the bountifulness of thy gifts, O Lord, do thou support us by temporal aids, and renew us by those that are eternal'.
The Oratio super populum also has a eucharistic character: 'Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to all Christian people, that they may acknowledge what they profess, and love the heavenly mystery which they frequent'. Moses, in the last Canticle of Deuteronomy, says that God acts towards the soul as the eagle towards its young when encouraging them to fly. Of this, we have an example in our Lord’s demeanour towards the Canaanite. At first he treats her with much severity, but underneath his discouraging words lie hidden such compelling sympathy and pity that the poor mother, instead of being rebuffed, feels her faith so much strengthened that at last she merits to hear from the Saviour’s lips those welcome words of praise: 'O woman, great is thy faith'. This is always the end which God has in view when he seems to deal harshly with us, when he withdraws or hides himself from us. He is ever seeking to urge us forward on the road to perfection, compelling us, as it were, to take breath in order to hasten our steps, so that we may reach the goal before the twelfth hour, the hour of our death, shall have sounded.
The Mass from Saint-Eugène earlier.