And then a heavy cover of cloud reduced all to a fairly dismal grey but now, just after 0700, the clouds have far receded and it is bright and sunny. It is of course the 3rd Sunday of Lent, and I've just begun listening to the recording of Holy Mass at Saint-Eugène (I rose at 0300 or so to say the Night Office; I doubt that I'll return to following the live stream until the offices of Holy Week begin, or perhaps Passiontide).
The Laurentian basilica [the station is at the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Without the Walls] owes its foundation to Constantine, but, being considered too small, a large upper aula was added to it by Pelagius II (578-90) and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. For this reason Leo IV (847-55) decreed that the station of the Octave of the Assumption should be held there, and the Gospel of today alludes to this dedication by praising the great Mother of God, who not only gave her own substance to form the sacred humanity of the Lord’s Anointed but was, on her part, nourished spiritually by the divine Word and lived thereby.
The other portions of the Mass have been chosen in connection with the martyr after whom the Basilica Tiburtina is named. The Introit is from Psalm XXIV: 'My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the snare: look thou upon me, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor'. It is Lawrence, the cross-bearer of the Roman Church, who, surrounded by enemies and placed on the fiery gridiron, calls upon God for help, obtains it, and conquers. The Collect is of a general nature. It prays that God may look upon us, and, seeing our misery, may stretch forth his right arm to help us. According to the Acta of St Lawrence, whilst the intrepid martyr was enveloped by the red glare of the fire, another light from on high filled his soul. Pelagius II, having finished his great work of transforming the original Basilica of St Lawrence, and having brought it to the level of the cemetery of Cyriaca, thereby letting into it the light which flooded the upper aula, took this thought as a motive for the graceful distich which can still be read around the mosaic of the great triumphal arch: Martyrium olim flammis Levita subisti Jure tuis templis lux beneranda redit. ['Beneranda' it does indeed read.]
In the Epistle to the Ephesians (V 1-9), St Paul speaks very appropriately of the divine light and its fruits, which are first described in their negative aspect, when he warns his hearers against sensual pleasures, evil-speaking, and covetousness, and then in their positive aspect in omni bonitate, justitia et veritate. Goodness and justice are exercised through the will, and truth through the intellect. The first two virtues should balance each other, lest the one or the other be excessive. Truth enlightens the mind, in order that the judgement which precedes an action may conform to the divine will. It is precisely in this conformity that truth consists.
The Gradual is taken from Psalm VIII, and invokes the help of the Lord that, in spite of the apparent triumph of the tyrant over the martyr, the final victory may rest with God. Indeed, St Lawrence already foresees that glorious day, and beholds the enemy retreating, losing strength, and vanishing before the coming of the Lord. Prudentius has magnificently expressed in his Peristephanon these sentiments of St Lawrence on the gridiron, when he makes the martyr see a distant vision of Constantine giving peace to the Church and raising glorious basilicas to those who shed their blood for the faith.
The Tract, originally the conclusion of the [former] second lesson preceding the Gospel, comes from Psalm CXXII. It tells how the soul, oppressed by the tribulations of this life, lifts up her gaze to heaven, and as the eyes of the servant and the hand maid watch for the slightest sign from their master, so does she keep her eyes ever fixed on the Lord.
The Gospel of today could not be more appropriate. Before the coming of Christ the devil tyrannized over the world, and his strongholds were those of idolatry and sensuality. The Messias came, and by the sacrifice of the cross freed humanity from the cruel yoke. The house of which the Gospel speaks symbolizes the whole world, but more especially pagan Rome, the strong fortress of the empire of Satan, but which God overcame by his martyrs. St Lawrence, from the earliest times, was honoured as the standard-bearer of these hosts, and as such is represented in ancient mosaics with a cross in his hand. As he lay dying he hailed already the monogram of Christ, reproduced ad Saxa Rubra on the triumphant labarum, and foretold the conversion of the first Christian Caesar. A woman in the multitude took occasion from the discourse of Our Lord to praise his blessed Mother. Jesus did not forbid it, but, passing over the privilege of being the Mother of God according to the flesh-- a privilege upon which it was not fitting that that carnal and sensual people should dwell overmuch-- insists rather on the meritorious worth of those who receive spiritually the divine Word and retain it in their heart.
The Offertory from Psalm XVIII sings the praises of this divine Word, the eternal law of holiness which rejoices the heart and does not oppress it, for grace bends the will to obey, whilst leaving it full freedom of action. The Word of God is sweeter than the honey that drops from the honeycomb. The Secret is that of the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany. The Communion is taken from Psalm LXXXIII: 'The sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest where she may lay her young: thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God; blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they shall praise thee for ever and ever'. These are more especially the feelings of a pious soul dwelling under the same roof as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who day and night, in the canticles of the sacred Liturgy, vies with the Seraphim in heaven in singing praises to the majesty of almighty God.
The Post-Communion follows: 'Mercifully absolve us, we beseech thee, O Lord, from all guilt and danger, on whom thou bestowest the participation of so great a mystery'. Indeed, as the Council of Trent teaches us, the Holy Communion is not only an antidote against the renewal of sin, but a salutary fount, a bath of fire, in which the soul is cleansed from the stains contracted day by day through its imperfections. The Church celebrates her solemn stations in the sanctuaries of the martyrs in order to remind us that we are the heirs of their spiritual patrimony. Their blood cemented the first Christian edifice, and we, as children of the martyrs, possess their sepulchres and the places sanctified by their confession, inasmuch as we succeed them in the profession of the same faith.
Canon Guelfucci is drawing near the end of his sermon, I reckon. The schola have been singing a motet at the conclusion of the sermon and while the celebrant replaces his chasuble et cetera, by Marc Antoine Ingegneri (1545-1592), O bone Jesu. The first attempt was rather imperfect but it is actually a lovely verse and it is sounding quite good these days. During the incensing at the Offertory, the motet Domine non secundum peccata nostra of César Franck was sung-- inter alia, he was (from 1858 until his death) organist and maître de chapelle at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris. For soprano, tenor, and bass, it sounded pretty decent, too, although unfortunately the three singers were not in equally excellent voice.
There'd be fits at Saint Mary's but I think that the Miserere at Communion is perfectly appropriate, and the Miserere de Saint-Cyr by Guillaume Gabriel Nivers (1632-1714; French and English) was beautiful. In fact, the people wouldn't have fits at Saint Mary's: a certain number of them might, most of them 'Susans from the Parish', and probably the reigning maître de chapelle.
Domine, salvam fac Galliam!
On to Vespers, well, Vespers from Paris. I'm happy to say Vespers at its normal hour today. The discipline of completing the day's Office by noon (in my case, here, by 1400ish) and eating the day's meal only after, certainly requires a bit of Lenten discipline. The fact is, however, that I'm not typically requiring a collation after and, I think in consequence, am sleeping much more soundly than usual, having completed the day's eating six hours or so before bedtime.
Surprising to me, there are five albums of Nivers's music at Spotify, and twenty or so others on which some piece of his appears. Am listening now to Motets pour voix seule et petits choeur....
The men of the schola sang a Magnificat at Vespers that was unfamiliar to me i.e. it was not simply chanted; trying to ask about that in chatting proved to be a challenge because my French, even aided by the machina, isn't up to much-- how does one say 'setting'? no, not cadre-- and my music vocabulary in English isn't much better than it is in French. Anyway, whoever was managing the chat on Saint-Eugène's side-- it is often Fanny or Cyprien-- replied that he or she would get me the name of the composer tomorrow i.e. in the chat at Mass tomorrow. [Claudin de Sermisy; I am today, Monday, scribbling about this.] Usually such details are included in the programs provided for downloading (or viewing online) but I can well imagine that there is always too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Réglage is what I settled on but evidently that's 'setting' (as in 'of machines', calibration); it looks like l'arrangement would have worked, ha. Sometimes I wonder that my head creaks along at all.
Today is one of those days, I think, when the Traditional and Pauline Rites of the Mass are identical. These verses (3sqq of the fifth chapter) struck me, from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.
Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos: aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quæ ad rem non pertinet: sed magis gratiarum actio. Hoc enim scitote intelligentes: quod omnis fornicator, aut immundus, aut avarus, quod est idolorum servitus, non habet hæreditatem in regno Christi et Dei.
It is also the feast of Saint Paul the Simple (4th century), of Saint Simeon-François (19th century), and of Blessed Maria Antonia (18th century).
V. Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum. R. Deo grátias.
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