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THE GREATER LITANIES

THE GREATER LITANIES

APRIL 25, GREATER LITANIES; ST MARK THE EVANGELIST

(Second Class) The greater Litanies are assigned to April 25: but if either Easter Sunday or Easter Monday falls on that day, they are transferred to the following Tuesday.

There is nothing said in the Office pertaining to the greater Litanies, but according to conditions and customs of churches and places, of which matter the local Ordinary is the judge, a procession is held on this day in which the Litany of the Saints is said with its prayers (but the verses are not doubled). If, however, a procession is unable to be held, local Ordinaries shall prescribe special supplications in which the Litany of the Saints and other prayers accustomed to be said at the Procession are said.

All who are obliged to recite the Divine Office but who are not present at the Procession or the other special supplications mentioned above, are obliged on this day to say the Litany of the Saints with its prayers in Latin.

But if the Litany of the Saints with its prayers is said in the vernacular, together with the faithful, according to the customs of places, in the procession or in other special supplications, those who are obliged to recite the Divine Office, and who are properly present at these supplications are not held to repeat these prayers in Latin.

– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Words of Wisdom

 

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“MY LORD AND MY GOD”

“MY LORD AND MY GOD”

AN INDULGENCE GRANTED BY POPE PIUS X

In reply to the following question: “Should we bow down or look up at the Elevation?” a Decree was published by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences on May 18th, 1907, which shows what we should do.

An Indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines, each time, is granted to all the faithful, who, looking with faith, devotion, and love at the Sacred Host at the moment of the Elevation, say at the same time, the words, “MY LORD AND MY GOD“.

A further Plenary Indulgence may be gained once each week by those who, having heard Mass, daily as above, receive Holy Communion.

The first named Indulgence may also be gained by looking devoutly upon the Sacred Host whenever it is solemnly exposed, saying the aforesaid words.

– From: St Anthony’s Treasury, A Manual of Devotions, Laverty & Sons Ltd., Leeds, 1916

 

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ALLELUIAS FOR THE LAST WEEK OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR

ALLELUIAS FOR THE LAST WEEK OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR

The last week of the Liturgical Year is the week between The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe and the First Sunday of Advent.

  • Alleluia, alleluia! Stay awake and stand ready, because you do not know the hour when the Son of Man is coming. Alleluia! (Mt 24:42, 44)
  • Alleluia, alleluia! Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. Alleluia! (Lk 21:28)
  • Alleluia, alleluia! Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to stand with confidence before the Son of Man. Alleluia! (Lk 21:36)
  • Alleluia, alleluia! Even if you have to die, says the Lord, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life. Alleluia! (Apc 2:10)
 
 

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WHAT IS “THE ORDINARY” OF THE MASS?

The parts of the Mass

According to the Gospel narrative, ‘whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to His disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is My body. And taking the chalice, He gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the New Testament which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins’ (St. Matthew, xxvi. 26-28).

The words and actions of Our Lord constitute the very essence of the Mass; but around them the Church has built up, during the centuries, a most inspiring liturgy that is now enshrined in the Missal. The Mass consists of varying and unwearying parts. The part that does not vary is known as the Ordinary of the Mass.

That which varies is made up of the Introit, the Collect, the Epistle, the Gradual and Gospel, the Offertory, the Secret, the Preface, the Communion (prayer) and the Post communion. The first part of the Mass is known as the Mass of Catechumens, while the second part is called the Mass of the Faithful.”

– Fr Gebhard, 1952

 

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VISUALISING THE MEANING OF THE CHURCH’S LITURGY – COLOURS OF THE VESTMENTS

Using every means to visualise the meaning of her Liturgy, the Church has adopted five colours, each having its individual significance. These colours are white, red, green, violet and rose. Cloth of gold which is used only on the greater solemnities may be substituted for white, green and red.

WHITE, which is the sum of all colours, signifies joy and purity of soul. This colour is used on the feasts commemorative of the great events in the life of Our Lord, on the feasts of Our Lady, the Angels, Confessors and Virgins. It is also worn during Christmastide and Eastertide.

RED, the symbol of fire and blood, is worn on Pentecost and throughout Witsuntide, and on the feasts of the Martyrs. It is also worn on the days commemorative of the sufferings of Our Redeemer.

GREEN, the colour of hope, is worn on the Sundays between Whitsuntide and Advent.

VIOLET, symbolic of penitence and humility is the peculiar colour of Advent and Lent, and is also worn on the Rogation Days, the Ember Days and Vigils of the greater feast days.

By way of exception, ROSE colour is permitted on Gaudete Sunday (third) in Advent and Laetare Sunday (fourth) in Lent.

 

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“THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES TO MEET US AND KINDLES FAITH IN US”

“On … Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, let us prayerfully reflect on some of the words contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Holy Spirit.

‘The HOLY SPIRIT comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son.’ (Section 683).

‘The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. But in these ‘end times’, ushered in by the Son’s redeeming Incarnation, the Spirit is revealed and given, recognised and welcomed in a person. Now can this divine plan, accomplished in Christ, the firstborn and head of the new creation, be embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit: as the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’ (section 686)

The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

• In the Scripture he inspired;

• In the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are already witnesses;

• In the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;

• In the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us in communion with Christ;

• In prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;

• In the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;

• In the signs of apostolic and missionary life;

• In the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation (section 688).”
– From “Spiritual Thought from Fr Chris” (June 2014)

 

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GOOD FRIDAY – THE CHURCH MOURNS BECAUSE HER LORD IS DEAD

A DAY DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER DAY

“There is surely no other moment in the year when the Church succeeds in producing the right impression so perfectly as she does in the service of Good Friday. The very strangeness of the rites, utterly unlike any others, gives us at once the feeling that this is a day different from any other day.

A SENSE OF DESOLATION, OF MOURNING

That little procession coming to the altar in dead silence, the prostration before the altar, then the lessons, the series of collects with their strange chant, all this produces a sense of desolation, of mourning, such as no other service in the year approaches. Today the most ignorant observer who enters a Catholic church can see that the Church mourns because her Lord is dead.

THE ASSOCIATION OF LONG CENTURIES

Then comes the worship of the cross, so full of meaning today, and the one gleam of light in the dark service, as we bring the Sanctissimum back to the altar, singing that superb hymn of the triumph of the cross. The gleam of light fades again; there follows the strange little Communion service that we call Mass of the Presanctified, then Vespers; again the altar is stripped, and now all the church is indeed desolate, waiting in gloom for the first light of the Easter sun next day. The wonderful thing about this service, expressing so perfectly the feeling of the day, is that it has all come together quite naturally. There was hardly any conscious symbolism in it at the beginning. Each element can be explained as the obvious thing to do under the circumstances. It is the association of long centuries that has filled it all with mystic meaning.

FILLED WITH MYSTIC MEANING

The service of Good Friday is made up of three separate functions – first, the lessons and collects; secondly, the worship of the cross; thirdly, the Mass of the Presanctified. Vespers and stripping of the altar follow, as on the day before.

EVERYTHING IN THE GOOD FRIDAY RITES IS EXCEEDINGLY OLD

The first function is the lessons and the collects. Everything in the Good Friday rites (except the worship of the cross) is exceedingly old. Here we have what has otherwise almost always disappeared from our rite – namely, three lessons, a prophecy from the Old Testament, an epistle and a gospel. Between them tracts are sung, as during the whole of Lent. The Gospel is the Passion according to St John, sung by three deacons, as on Palm Sunday.

THE OLDER FORM OF THE COLLECTS

Then come the collects. Here, again, Good Friday has preserved what was once an element of every Mass, a series of petitions for all kinds of people. Maybe, something like this was once said before the offertory act at every Mass, at that place where the priest still says: ‘Oremus,’ though no prayer now follows. [Adjustments have since been decreed so as to accord with the traditions of apostolic times and of the early Church.] Moreover, in the Good Friday prayers we see the older form of all collects. Now, on other days, the celebrant says: ‘Oremus,’ and then goes on at once to the collect. Once the form was longer, as we see it today. The priest not only says: ‘Let us pray,’ he tells the people what to pray for: ‘Let us pray, dearly beloved, for the holy Church of God, that God our Lord may give her peace, union, and may keep her throughout the whole world,’ and so on. Then the deacon, whose office it is always to control the people, tells them to kneel. they kneel in silent prayer for that object (once they certainly spent some moments in this silent prayer); then the subdeacon tells them to stand up again, and the priest gathers up all the petitions in a final prayer aloud, the collect. That is why the typical Roman collect is so short, and often so general in its petition. It is not so much the prayer itself, as a final clause asking God to receive the prayers already said silently. Here, again, we have a case where the ceremonies of Holy Week are invaluable, as showing the older form once common to all days. There is nothing that belongs specially to Good Friday in this chain of prayers for men of all sorts and conditions. We could say them equally well any day. But this relic of older times, with its petitions redolent of the circumstances of the early Church, bringing us memories almost from the catacombs, this too, by long association, has become part of the feeling of Good Friday.

THE COVERING OF THE STATUES AND PICTURES

Then follows the one element that is not very old, what our fathers called the ‘Creeping to the cross.’ In the East we know of a cerempny of reverence to the relic of the true cross, on Good Friday, from the time of Aetheria’s pilgrimage (Peregr. Silviae, xxxvii, 1-3.) No doubt this had some influence on the West too. But we can find a very simple explanation of the ceremony as we have it. Since the beginning of Lent originally, now since Passion Sunday, all pictures and statues in the church are covered. This is easily understood. These pictures and statues are a conspicuous ornament of the church. During the time of penance we deprive ourselves of them, for the same reason that we go without the music and the organ. (For the connection between covering the images and the old Lenten veil, see Thurston, pp. 99-105).

‘CREEPING TO THE CROSS’

But a crucifix is a statue. So crucifixes too are covered from Passion Sunday. It must, eventually, have seemed strange that, on the very day of the Crucifixion, people should not see the crucifix. Hence, on Good Friday they made this one exception and uncovered the crucifix. We can imagine the origin of the ceremony as the simplest thing possible. Someone went and uncovered the crosses in the church. Then, especially with the associations of this day, a ceremony, such as we have now, grew out of this. The cross is uncovered with honour, the people take this opportunity of paying to it symbolic reverence, reverence directed, of course, really to him who hung upon it. We know of a rite, very like the one we still have, since about the eighth century, first north of the Alps, then adopted at Rome (see Thurston, pp. 345-362).

THE TRISAGION

In the Reproaches, [Impropreria, incl. verses fr. ‘Pange lingua’] sung at the same time, we have one of the few cases of Greek in our Roman rite. The verses ‘Agios o Theos,’ etc., are sung alternately in Greek and Latin. This is the famous Trisagion, a feature of the holy Liturgy in the Byzantine and other Eastern rites. Its introduction into ours seems to be a case of the considerable influence of the Byzantine rite in Gaul (St Germanus of Paris, +576, M.P.L. LXXII, col. 89, 91), whence it passed to Rome.

THE MASS OF THE PRESANCTIFIED

The Mass of the Presanctified, known to us on this day only, occurs frequently in Eastern rites. It is really only a little Communion service… On Good Friday the Sanctissimum is brought from the place where it has been kept since Maundy Thursday; the altar is incensed, and the priest goes on at once to what would follow after the Consecration, ‘the Pater noster’ and Communion. [Afterwards] the torchbearers extinguish their candles, and the service comes to an end with the same sense of desolation with which it began. Vespers are said as yesterday, the altar is stripped, the church is left empty and bare for the rest of the day of mourning.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913

 

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MAUNDY THURSDAY – IN THE MIDST OF MOURNING WE CELEBRATE OUR LORD’S LAST GIFT BEFORE HIS PASSION

“The name ‘Maundy’ is from ‘Mandatum,’ the ceremony of washing the feet at the end of the Mass, whose first antiphon begins: ‘Mandatum novum do vobis.’ It is usual to call a service after the first word of its chants. In the same way we speak of a ‘Requiem,’ a ‘Dirge’ (‘Dirge’ is the beginning of the first antiphon at Matins for the dead), and so on. It is curious that in England the ceremony of washing the feet should have given its name to the whole day.

THE MAIN FEATURE

The main feature of the function today and tomorrow is that on Good Friday the holy Sacrifice is not offered. That is as old a custom as any in the Church. It obtains equally in all rites. Indeed, in most of the Eastern rites, as once at Rome, there were many ‘aliturgical’ (that is, days on which the holy Liturgy [Mass] was not celebrated) days in Lent. The Byzantine rite, for instance, has this Liturgy of the Presanctified every Wednesday and Friday in Lent, and on Monday and Tuesday in Holy Week. We now have it only on Good Friday. But, although no priest consecrates on Good Friday, it is the equally old custom that the priest (and once the people, too) should make their Communion. For this purpose it is necessary to reserve the Sanctissimum consecrated at the Mass the day before. Nowadays, it would be easy to take the Sanctissimum from the tabernacle; but the ceremonies of Holy Week date from a time when it was by no means the universal custom to reserve in every church. So special arrangements had to be made to reserve for this occasion. At the Mass on Maundy Thursday the priest consecrates [hosts, some of them he takes to a place prepared where they are kept] till Communion on Good Friday. That is the root of the service on both days.

THE BETRAYAL OF JUDAS

For the rest, the Mass of Maundy Thursday is a festal Mass, with white vestments, with the ‘Gloria in excelsis.’ It is the only case in the year when the Mass of the day and office do not correspond. The office is all mournful. Here the memory which seems most to fill the mind of the Church is the betrayal of Judas. But when Mass is said the Church cannot forget, although it is the middle of the week of mourning, that this is the day to which we owe the Holy Eucharist. So, a startling exception to the usual note of the time, at Mass at least we put aside all thought of mourning and celebrate with joy our Lord’s last gift before he died.

The ringing of the bells at the ‘Gloria’ is only the sign that from now on they will not be heard again until the first Easter Mass. The Church is accustomed to do a thing solemnly for the last time before it ceases, as we say the ‘Alleluia’ solemnly twice at the end of Vespers before Septuagesima. Probably the time of the ‘Gloria’ is chosen because it corresponds to the time when the bells ring out on Holy Saturday. The playing of the organ at the same time is obviously a further development of the same idea. The organ, too, comes back at the ‘Gloria’ on Holy Saturday. (Thurston, pp. 277-281). To play the organ on Maundy Thursday is less logical, since it should not have been heard during all Lent; but one can see the connection of ideas.

From this time begin the ‘still days’ of our forefathers, on which all are to be intent only on the memory of what our Lord bore for us.

After Mass the procession takes the Sanctissimum to the place where it is kept till the next day. This is an example of a real Roman procession, having a definite object. It is usual to call the place to which the Blessed Sacrament is taken the ‘altar of repose.’ This is a harmless popular name; but it is not really an altar. No sacrifice is offered on it.

THE ‘ALTAR OF REPOSE’

At first it seems that nothing more was done than to keep the Sanctissimum reverently in some safe place, often in the sacristy, as it is still reserved in many Eastern Churches. Then people realised that this was the one occasion when they had the Blessed Sacrament in their churches. So they made much of it. They fitted up and adorned a place of honour; they began to watch and pray before the ‘altar of repose’ all the day and all night. Much of the ideas of such later developments as Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, of the ‘Forty Hours’ and so on, seems to have begun during this time between Mass on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And then, even after it had become usual to reserve the Sanctissimum on the altar of nearly every church all the year round, the old custom of special reverence on this occasion went on. That, too, is nearly always so. Custom preserves many things in liturgy after their first reason has ceased.

SPECIAL REVERENCE

This accounts for the special reverence with which we still treat the Sanctissimum at the altar of repose, although we have it now in the tabernacle always. And, indeed, on this night of all nights, when our Lord was suffering his bitter torment, it is natural that people should spend part of the time with him in prayer, honouring the gift of that day.

REGARDING THESE FAST DAYS

We leave the altar of repose, come back to the High Altar and say Vespers. This is not really a special feature of these days. On all fast days Vespers are now said in the morning, from the old idea that one does not break one’s fast till after Vespers. Easier rule now allows people to eat at midday on fast days; but the liturgical sequence is preserved; so the meal pushed Vespers back to the morning. The fact that on fast days at the end of Mass the deacon says not: ‘Ite missa est,’ but ‘Benedicamus Domino,’ meant once that he did not dismiss the people then, because they were to stay for Vespers.

STRIPPING THE ALTAR

After Vespers the altar is stripped. This ceremony has become to us one of the features of Holy Week; yet it is only one more case of an archaic custom, otherwise abolished, but preserved on these days. Once, after Mass on any day, the altar was stripped. Now on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the stripping of the altar has become a symbol of desolation, or a memory that our Lord was stripped of his garments.

THE WASHING OF FEET

The Maundy follows. When our Lord had washed the feet of the Apostles he gave us a clear command to do as he had done (John xiii. 15). Doubtless this means, in the first place, rather the general attitude he then observed; but the Church has always taken his command literally too. There are innumerable cases of washing feet (at one time a very practical work of charity) by Heads of religious houses, done to poor travellers, pilgrims, and so on, by Popes, bishops, Kings. Still in Catholic countries it is the custom for the Sovereign to wash the feet of thirteen poor men today. Indeed, so definite is our Lord’s command to carry out this ceremony, so clear the implication of a grace given thereby (John xiii, 10, 11, 17), that at one time it seems to have been considered almost to approach the dignity of a sacrament. We shall certainly not consider the Mandatum to be a real sacrament; but it may be counted among the sacramentals.

Naturally, it was most of all on this day that people obeyed our Lord’s command. Whereas Fathers and synods, from the fourth century, recommend the washing of feet in general, often especially the washing of the feet of the newly baptised (Thurston, pp. 307-309. As a typical example see the Rule of St Benedict, chap. 35 and 53), in the seventh century we find a Spanish council insisting on the restoration of this ceremony on Maundy Thursday, since in some places it was falling out of use (Seventeenth Syn. of Toledo (694), can. 3 (Hefele-Leclerq: Hist. Des Conciles, iii, p. 586). It is curious that thirteen men whose feet are washed, not twelve, are constantly mentioned. In the twelfth century the Pope washed the feet of twelve subdeacons after Mass, and of thirteen poor men after dinner (Ordo rom. xii, 25, 27). Various explanations are given of the number thirteen. Either it is meant to include St Matthias, or St Paul, or perhaps the Lord himself. There is a legend about an angel who appeared and joined the twelve poor men entertained on one occasion by St Gregory I. No number is specified in the missal; but the Ceremonial of Bishops speaks of thirteen (Caer. Ep., L. II, cap. XXIV, 2); this is the usual number now in the West (the Eastern rites keep to twelve).

After the washing of feet the church is left all empty and bare; only in a distant chapel the lights burn and people watch silently before the altar of repose, waiting for the service of the next morning.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913

 

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HOLY WEEK: THE OFFICE OF TENEBRAE IN THE MONASTERIES

ORIGINS

“The office of Tenebrae is much less of a special function than many laymen imagine. It is only Matins and Lauds [the first two morning prayer times] for the next day, with certain peculiarities suitable for those days. But there are now almost the only occasion when lay people (unless they live near a monastery) have an opportunity of attending one of the oldest of all church offices. All the more reason for doing so when they can.

The name ‘Tenebrae,’ used specifically for Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, is obviously derived from the gradual extinction of the lights, leaving the church at last in total darkness.

THE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TIME

It may seem odd that we should say Matins and Lauds rather late in the afternoon of the day before. But this is the invariable tendency of church functions, to be pushed back and kept earlier. The morning office of Holy Saturday is a conspicuous example of the same thing. Originally Matins was said during the night, its three Nocturns at intervals, and Lauds at cock-crow. Then people found it hard to get up in the middle of the night; so instead of saying Matins later, they said it before going to bed. So now a priest is allowed to say his Matins and Lauds at any time from the latter part of the afternoon before.

THE DIFFERENCES

Comparing Tenebrae with the normal Matins and Lauds, we notice the following differences. First, naturally, the psalms and lessons are all appropriate to these days; but this is not an exception; appropriate psalms and lessons are chosen for every feast. Then Tenebrae lacks all the later additions to the Divine Office. It has no hymns, no Invitatorium psalm, no blessings. (Nor, of course, the Te Deum which ends Matins only on feasts and joyful Sundays.) It is reduced to the bare essentials; that is, at Matins three Nocturns, each consisting of three psalms and as many lessons; at Lauds five psalms and the ‘Benedictus’. To this only the versicles in each Nocturn and at Lauds, the silent Pater noster, and the characteristic ending of every part of the Divine office on these days (the verse ‘Christus factus est,’ etc., the ‘Miserere,’ and last prayer) are added.

What is the reason of this simplicity? It cannot be the idea ofmourning, which might exclude additional ornament, because much the same is the case on Easter Day; at Easter, too, the office has no hymns nor many of the later additions. The reason is the greater solemnity of the days, and the fact that people were long accustomed to this older form of the office. When later additions were made they were not applied to these greatest days, partly no doubt from the idea of reverence in not touching their services; partly, too, because the people would neither understand nor like changes in the services they knew so well. This is a common tendency, that very great days, with whose offices the people have specially sacred associations, keep a more archaic form. To a great extent this more archaic form is the only important feature of Tenebrae.

THE OUTER CEREMONIES ARE LESS IMPORTANT

The outer ceremonies, which strangers notice first, are less important. The lessons of the first Nocturn are always taken from Scripture. In Holy Week they are, most suitably, from the Lamentations of Jeremias [Jeremiah]. There is no great mystery about the Hebrew words sung at the beginning of each clause of these Lamentations. The original text, like that of many psalms, is an acrostic, each sentence beginning with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in order. The acrostic is not preserved in the Latin version, but we name the Hebrew letters with which the original begins. The extraordinarily beautiful chant of the Lamentations is a special one, not merely the usual tone adorned.

DARKNESS AND MOURNING: THE FIFTEEN CANDLES

At Tenebrae fifteen candles are lighted on a triangle called the hearse. They are of unbleached wax. This is a common sign of mourning, dating from the time when bleached wax was considered a rather sumptuous ornament. These candles are put out gradually, one after each psalm of the office. Now it represents to us the idea of darkness and mourning.

It is a question how it first began. According to the usual reason for all Roman ceremonies one is tempted to see in this, originally, merely a practical expedient. If Matins were sung in the night and Lauds at cock-crow, the church would be getting gradually lighter, so the candles would be no longer wanted. Father Thurston, however, while not entirely rejecting this, suggests another ingenious explanation. He explains that it was the tradition at Rome to celebrate Tenebrae in the dark, as a sign of mourning; that in the North they wanted to imitate this custom, but could not read their books in the dark, so they had to light some candles. Then, towards the end, since the psalms of Lauds are so much better known, they found it possible to do exactly as Rome did, to finish quite in the dark, singing by heart.(Thurston, pp. 262-263) The hiding of the last candle and its restoration to the hearse at the end may have begun so that while the end of Tenebrae is quite dark, nevertheless there should be a light by which to see one’s way out. Or perhaps, as all this ceremony is not originally Roman, there may be here deliberate symbolism of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The knocking at the end was undoubtedly merely a sign that all should rise and depart. Since the bells are silent these days, it was given with a clapper or by knocking a book. This is a most typical example of the way a ceremony is evolved, and acquires later symbolic meaning.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913

 

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HOLY WEEK: “WE SHOULD LEAVE BEHIND US OUR USUAL CARES AT THE THRESHOLD OF PALM SUNDAY”

So, on Palm Sunday, with the chant of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ we seem to enter another world.

THE RITES OF HOLY WEEK [PART I] BY ADRIAN FORTESCUE

“The week before Easter, now commonly called Holy Week (in the missal it is ‘Hebdomada maior’) is not only the most sacred time of the year; liturgically it forms an exception to the normal course of church functions in many ways. Indeed these great days stand out from all the rest of the year, with their rites unlike anything we are accustomed to see in church. It is true that some of the services, as for instance the Mass on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, are not so very different from Mass on other days; but even they have many noticeable peculiarities; other services, such as those of Good Friday and Holy Saturday morning, are quite unlike anything else. To the student of liturgy these days, as no others, are full of interest for the history of our Roman rite in the past.

Perhaps the first thing to note about Holy Week is that it is part of the same feast as Easter Week following. We must think of all that fortnight, from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday, as one event. The whole fortnight makes up the Easter feast, the ‘paschalia solemnia,’ in which we remember, each year, our redemption by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is true that the character of these two weeks seems as different as anything could be. Holy Week is the time of mourning, the saddest week of the year, the Easter octave the most joyful. Yet they belong together; we should think of them as the two halves of one whole. The change from the mourning of Holy Week to the joy of Easter, taking place in the middle of the function of Holy Saturday, is of the essence of this Paschal solemnity. It was so at the first Easter. Our Lord said to the disciples of Emmaus: ‘Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things, and so enter into his glory?’ (Luke, xxiv, 26). So now, as we remember the story of our Redemption, we too, following him, pass during the one feast from the mournful memory of his suffering to the joyful memory of his glory.

The reason why this Paschal feast is the greatest of all is not so much because it is the remembrance of certain events in our Lord’s life, as that these events mean our Redemption. After our belief in the existence of God, nothing in the Christian religion is more fundamental than the idea that we are redeemed by the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross; this is the very heart of all our religion.

And we must understand too that his Resurrection is just as much part of our Redemption as his pain and death. ‘Christ was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification’ (Rom. iv, 25). The Resurrection is the great witness of Christ’s mission, without which no one would have believed in him, no one would have received the fruit of his suffering. So the Apostles say: ‘If Christ has not risen again, our preaching is vain, vain is your faith’ (1 Cor. xv, 14). The Church always looks upon the Resurrection as an integral part of our Redemption, as much as the cross. What the Apostles preached was not only Christ crucified, it was ‘Christ Jesus who died and who rose again’ (Rom. viii, 34); we believe in ‘Jesus who died and rose again’ (1 Thes. iv, 14), and so on throughout the New Testament.

Inevitably then, the early Church took all this, the memory of the Crucifixion, and of the Resurrection, as one thing. In every Mass the solemn remembrance of our redemption is of ‘the blessed passion and Resurrection from the dead of Christ thy Son, our Lord,’ and, as completing the idea of the Resurrection, also of his ‘glorious ascension into heaven.’ Inevitably too the Church makes the memory of these things the cardinal feast of all the year. More important than Christmas, greater than Pentecost, standing out from all other feast and memories, towering above the normal course of the year is this great Paschal solemnity around the Sunday after the first Spring full moon. No wonder that five-sixth of the year revolves around Easter [from Septuagesima to Advent]; no wonder that these days are unlike any other. And this Paschal feast begins on Palm Sunday and lasts till Low Sunday. The Easter octave has fewer liturgical peculiarities than the former week; it needs less explanation of its ceremonies; but it is all part of one solemnity.

So, on Palm Sunday, with the chant of [‘Hosanna to the Son of David’] we seem to enter another world. All the usual course of Saints’ days is laid aside; no other thought may disturb the yearly remembrance of our Redemption. One would like to spend these days in something in something of the nature of a retreat. That is not possible for most people. But at least, we should, as far as we can, leave behind our usual cares, at the threshold of Palm Sunday, to take them up again when we come out of the grat days after Low Sunday.

Symbols of this exceptional time are the strange rites we see then in church.

The rites of Holy Week consist chiefly of three main elements, from which others follow. The first is the blessing of palms and procession on Palm Sunday, the second the fact that no Mass is said on Good Friday, though the celebrant makes his Communion on that day, the third the Easter vigil and anticipation of Easter on Holy Saturday. The fourth element, Tenebrae, is less of an exception than it may seem.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913

 

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