The Liturgy: A Ladder Between Heaven and Earth, By Dom Hugues Bohineust

The following is the text of a conference given by R.P. Dom Bohineust, O.S.B., on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Association Pro Liturgia last month, the original French of which appeared on the Pro Liturgia website.

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Jacob had a dream: Behold, a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it! Jacob awoke from his dream and said, “Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven!”

Terribilis est: this place is terrible. So we sing during the dedication of a Church. But the whole liturgy is this “terrible place” where God meets man. It is a “gate of heaven”, a “ladder” set up between heaven and earth. Liturgy is the place where earth and heaven meet.

At a certain period, this truth was called into question, and some tried to oppose the spiritual life and the liturgical life.

Dom Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, tells this story: “A good Jesuit, while giving a retreat in a house of our order, asked that the superior halt the Divine Office in order that he might not be distracted from the exercises of St. Ignatius!”

In contrast to the Spiritual Exercises, where everything is controlled and calculated, “The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there,” wrote Romano Guardini.

In the opening of The Liturgical Year, Dom Guéranger says, “Prayer is man’s richest boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life, for it brings him into communication with God, who is light, nourishment, and life.”

If prayer in general is man’s “very life”, what are we to say about the prayer of the Church, the liturgy! The Church is truly the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, of the one who teaches us to pray.

During the waning of the Middle Ages, however, a spiritual current dubbed devotio moderna forsook the solemn celebration of the Hours of the Office for the sake of a more individual form of piety. Private prayer and spiritual exercises began to be preferred to solemn celebration. This was a divorce between theology and spirituality, between asceticism and mysticism, and a decisive break from the practice of the the ancients. For it was not so in St. Benedict’s Rule. For him, the time of greatest dedication to the spiritual life, the time for retreat, was the liturgical season of Lent.

Dom Guéranger castigated this view of things very severely. Against it, he had recourse to the liturgical mystics, especially St. Gertrude.

For St Gertrude, the mystery of God is lived in the liturgy. The liturgy is not merely preparatory; it was during the course of the liturgy that she received her mystical graces. All of her prayer prolonged in private the mystery she lived in the liturgy.

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Illuminated initial from the Weissenau Passionary, beginning a Life of St Gertrude

The Liturgical Movement continued Dom Guéranger’s work. Finally, Vatican II declared in Sacrosanctum concilium 13:

But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.

Obviously, the liturgy is not the only activity of the Church, but it is “the source and summit of the life of the Church” (ibid., ch. 1).

But here we encounter a paradox. We must explain the liturgy, but it is the liturgy that should teach us in a living manner.

Our intention is to show that the liturgy is the gate of heaven, the spiritual life in its highest degree.

Life is a communication and an exchange. The spiritual life is a commerce with God through the medium of knowledge and love, an admirable commerce (admirabile commercium), as an antiphon of 1st January says about the Incarnation: “O admirable exchange! The creator of mankind, taking on a living body, willed to be born of the Virgin, and becoming man without man’s seed, bestowed his divinity upon us”.[1]

Indeed, the liturgy itself is an “admirable commerce” between God and men. It is a ladder between heaven and earth, a “hole in heaven”, as Leon Bloy said. It allows God to send down his gifts to men and men to send up their prayers towards God, perhaps by the ministry of angels!

Following the Fathers of the Church, we might describe the liturgy in two words: celebration and solemnity. To “celebrate” is to proclaim something to many people. “Solemnity” is that quality that expresses the fact that something important is going on, that a bit of heaven is touching the earth.

But the Fathers insisted further: the liturgy is a celebration of faith. It is a solemnity of love, sollemnitas amoris, as St Gregory the Great said, he who was a Father of the liturgy and a Father for Benedictine monks.

The liturgy is a celebration of faith and solemnity of love. The spirit of the liturgy is nothing less than the Spirit of holiness, truth, and love.

The Liturgy is a Life of Faith and Love  

God gives himself because he is Love. Man receives the gift of God in faith and responds in love through prayer.

As in every friendship, the love of God for man demands a response. Thus we can discern a two-fold movement: of God toward man (the gift of grace) and of man toward God (thanksgiving): and this is the liturgy.

We might say therefore that the liturgy is a descent of God toward man, of heaven toward the earth; and an ascent of man toward God, of the earth toward heaven.

These two lines are not parallel, but they meet one another. Liturgy is the place of encounter between God and his People, the place of their Covenant. That is the meaning of liturgy: action for the people, public service and service of God.

Without an authentic encounter with God, there can be no liturgy, as is is the case with Islam. For the encounter to take place, God must come to us and we to him: God gives himself to us and we to him. The liturgy is a solemn celebration, in faith and love, of this reciprocal giving of God and man.

 I. The Gift of Grace and the Act of Thanksgiving: The Liturgy’s Twofold Movement

“The glory of God and the salvation of the world” are the two essential ends of the liturgy.

Before men praise God, and in order that they might praise him, God supplies them with the gifts of grace; he sanctifies them. The end of the liturgy is not merely to worship God, but first of all to confer on men the grace of God through the sacraments.

What would we have to offer God, if God had not first given himself to us? This is what is stated in the Offertory prayer: de tua largitate accepimus panem quem tibi offerimus; and in the Roman Canon: offerimus praeclarae maiestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis.

The Curé of Ars said very simply, “There are two things for uniting ourselves with Our Lord and obtaining his salvation: prayer and the sacraments. All those who have become saints frequented the sacraments and elevated their soul to God by prayer.”

My plan is therefore the following:

1st Part: The Descent down the Ladder: the gifts of God, the sacraments;

2nd Part: The Ascent up the Ladder: the prayer and the offering of the saints;

3rd Part: The Sacrifice, which is the central act of the liturgy, in which both of these elements find their most perfect expression, because it is simultaneously ascent and descent.

a. Sanctification: The Descending Movement of God toward man

1. The first gift of God to man is the Word of God

Sanctification begins with the proclamation of the Word of God. The Word of God is the first of God’s gifts.

“The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword” (Heb 4:12). We cannot call Sacred Scripture a sacrament in the technical sense of the word, but the very words of Sacred Scripture bear a light and force that are divine.

Sacrosanctum Concilium says, regarding the presence of Christ in the liturgy: “Praesens adest in verbo suo, siquidem ipse loquitur dum sacrae Scripturae in Ecclesia leguntur.”

Liturgy is a place where, according to the Fathers, Scripture receives authentic interpretation, because there the Word of God is fully accomplished, there all the figures of the Old Testament are truly fulfilled.[2]

“Today” is realized for the faithful who receives what is read from Holy Writ into his heart with a living faith. This is the hodie about which Leo the Great spoke.

In the liturgy, says Dom Delatte, “one receives the thought of God from the lips and heart of the Church.”

The liturgy, in its entirety, is the living transmission of the truths of the Faith. It is the putting into living practice of these truths of the Christian faith. To the extent the Christian practices his faith, he manifests its truth.

This is especially true of liturgical chant. “It is impossible to sing the introit of Easter, Resurrexit, several times,” says Dom Gajard, “without better understanding the feast of Easter and redemption.” One might say the same of the Mass of the Dead.

The liturgy is, Dom Guéranger said, “Tradition in its highest degree of power and solemnity.” It is the “main instrument of Tradition”. It is more efficacious in its way than any encyclical!

Pius XI says as much in his great encyclical on what he called the “plague of anti-clericalism,” in which he proclaimed the new feast of Christ the King:

For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church [which few read]. […] The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature.

Dom Gérard Calvet writes:

With the liturgy, I enter into the being of the Church, into its innermost sanctuary. […] And when I say the amen which concludes a liturgical prayer I subscribe to an objective thought which I make mine and which surpasses me infinitely. It is in this way that, little by little, we acquire a supernatural instinct which will quite naturally lead the faithful to sentire cum Ecclesia: that capacity of feel and think with the Church.[3]

No one can appreciate liturgical solemnity if his sense of the faith is spoiled or perverted. Correct faith is an integral part of the celebration. So much so that because of its doctrinal nature the liturgy has always been a great witness of faith. To understand a Church’s creed it is enough to hear the echo of its prayer: lex orandi, lex credendi.

We end with the words of St. Augustine: “When thou repeatest the Creed, thou dressest thy heart.”

b. The Gift of Grace in the Sacraments 

God’s first gift is the proclamation of the Word of God. For God does nothing without explaining what he does. The sanctification of man in the liturgy begins by listening to his Word.

Actually, the proclamation of the Word of God and the dispensing of the sacraments are two facets of the same mystery of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in his Church.

They brighten and reflect one another. The proclamation of the Word of God always precedes the celebration of the sacramental rite. The sacrament completes the spiritual work that the act of hearing the Word of God brought slowly to maturity.

The liturgy is the enactment of all the sacraments that confer upon Christ’s faithful the power of his saving mysteries.

St. Thomas says: “They obtain their effect through the power of Christ’s Passion; and Christ’s Passion is, so to say, applied to man through the sacraments”[4]

They come from God; by the sacraments, God communicates his grace to man, which is to say his own Life. They are the means chosen by God for man’s sanctification.

It is in order that that we may fully profit from this sanctification that the Church—in the liturgy of the Word, in its teaching, its chants—stimulates, clarifies, and develops our faith.

The celebration of the sacraments is itself an act of worship offered to God. It is always an act of prayer. Grace elicits gratitude, gift elicits thanksgiving.

God’s descent toward man calls for man’s ascent toward God. This ascension takes place through prayer.

2. Man’s Ascent to God: Prayer and Worship Offered to God.

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Worship is the collection of acts by which the community honors God, carries out, “manages” its relations with God, cultivates its friendship with him. It is the debt of honor and glory that man gives to God.

Worship is man’s response to God and his gifts, wherein he offers himself, his intelligence and will, along with his whole body.

Its principal acts are thanksgiving, prayer, praise, adoration, and offering.

Thanksgiving corresponds to the gift of grace.

“Prayer is an elevation of the soul towards God,” says St. John Damascene. Through prayer, man offers his intelligence, desires, and projects to God. Prayer is the “interpretation of our desires,” according to St. Augustine.

Praise and thanksgiving do not mean the same thing. The difference consists in this: praise is made for a good, even if the good is not ours. We thank God for a gift that is ours, that we have received. On both counts, praise and thanksgiving, we go out of ourselves. Praise and thanksgiving are necessarily the heart of prayer, because to pray we must go out of ourselves. Redeemed man must offer praise for the salvation that he shares with others, and thank God for the salvation he has received. Through his acts of praise and thanksgiving, we can recognize a man who has been saved.

In adoration, a person offers his whole self, including his body.

We know that Our Lord prayed on his knees, and that Stephen, Peter, and Paul prayed on their knees. The hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians represents the cosmic liturgy as the act of bending the knee at the name of Jesus (2:10). When the Church bends her knee at the name of Jesus she takes the attitude of him who “was equal to God” but “lowered himself even to death.” This gesture is a confession of Jesus Christ that no word can replace.[5]“The body must be trained, so to speak, for the resurrection”, as Cardinal Ratzinger beautifully puts it.

Man is not truly himself except when he adores. Adoration is the sign by which the creature receives his identity and summation, setting itself before God’s face.

Silence itself, when it follows choral chant, is a form of adoration: every created word effaces itself before the Creator.

Adoration is the creature’s homage to its Creator. It is the offering of itself to God, of everything it possesses.

Guéranger explains (Institutions liturgiques, Preface):

Liturgy is the highest and holiest expression of the Church’s thought and understanding, for the sole reason that it is carried out by the Church in direct communication with God through Confession, Prayer, and Praise […]

Through Prayer, the Church expresses her love for God and desire to be please Him and be united to Him. This desire is at once humble and strong, because she is the beloved, and the lover is God.

Hence the ravishing unction, the ineffable melancholy, and the inexpressible tenderness of her formulas. Some are simple, others solemn; in them them one senses sometimes the gentle and tender sollicitude of a royal spouse towards the king who chose and crowned her; at other times the ardent sollicitude of a mother’s heart alarmed for her beloved children. Always, however, one senses this knowledge of the things of another life, so profound and so distinct—whether by confessing their truth or yearning to taste its fruits—that no other sentiment can be compared to it, nor any other expression approach its expression.

On Praise: the Church cannot contain in silent contemplation the transports of love and admiration that the sight of the divine mysteries cause within her. Like Mary, at the sight of the great things that He that is mighty has wrought within her, she rejoices in Him, and doth magnify him […]

These three principal parts—Confession, Prayer, and Praise—become a source of inexhaustible poetry in the liturgy. It is a poetry inspired by the same spirit that dictated the canticles of David, Isaias, and Solomon. It is a poetry as charming in its images as it is profound and unlimited in its sentiment. God owed His Church a language worthy of serving such lofty thoughts and such ardent desires.

a. Worship given to God encompasses all human life

Cardinal Ratzinger speaks in this way: “Cult, liturgy in the proper sense, is part of this worship, but so too is life according to the will of God; such a life is an indispensable part of true worship. ‘The glory of God is the living man, but the life of man is the vision of God,’ says St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 4, 20, 7), getting to the heart of what happens when man meets God, but life becomes real life only when it receives its form from looking towards God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God.”[6]

b. Worship is Filial

Christ reveals the secrets of God’s life. We dare to say “Our Father” to him. The grace he gives us is filial.

Through Revelation God makes himself known and brings himself close to us: worship in spirit and truth is faith and charity.

Through him, with him, and in him, we adore, we glorify, we give thanks to the Father.

Fr. Bouyer said that the liturgy is “a resumption of all things in the immense flood of divine love, flowing back finally in filial love towards its source, the Father.”[7]

c. The Liturgy is the Prayer of Christ and His Church

The Principle from which all these acts of worship derive is ultimately the Holy Trinity:

This is what D. Guéranger says (Institutions liturgiques, I, 16):

The liturgy is something so excellent that, to discover its principle, one must go all the way up to God. God, in His contemplation of His infinitive perfections, praises and glorifies Himself ceaselessly, as if He loved with an everlasting love.

Nevertheless, these various acts carried out in the divine essence only acquired a visible and truly liturgical expression when one of the three Persons took up human nature and was able thenceforth to carry out the duties of religion towards the glorious Trinity.

Cardinal Journet (The Church of the Word Incarnate, vol. 2, p. 202) puts it in another way:

1. Thus the Savior’s human nature, within which the entirety of creation found itself represented and summed up, has been able to implore the heavens marvellously, with one stroke crossing the depths of heaven and penetrating the regions of eternal silence, sinking like an arrow cast into God’s heart. […]

This imploration infinitely surpasses our acts of adoration, offering, and supplication, rising upwards whither none of these acts can reach, and opening above them the very abyss of the divine infinity. Nevertheless, it does not seek to dispel of annihilate these acts. Rather, it seeks to provoke them, arouse them, and draw them into its wake. […] The supreme supplication of Christ carries with it the supreme supplication of the entire Church, who is his body and his Spouse.

2. As a result, the whole Church constitutes, with Christ, a single mystical person worshipping, offering, and supplicating.

Thus also D. Guéranger, who puts it lyrically (The Liturgical Year, General Preface):

Ever since that day of Pentecost, [the Holy Ghost] has dwelt in this His favoured bride. He is the principle of everything at is in her. He it is that prompts her prayers, her desires, her canticles of praise, her enthusiasm, and even her mourning. Hence her prayer is as uninterrupted as her existence. Day and night is her voice sounding sweetly in the ear of her divine Spouse, and her words are ever finding a welcome in His heart.

And Charles Péguy, in a poetic manner (the Paterin The Mystery of the Holy Innocents):

In the same way that the wake of a great ship goes on widening till it disappears and is lost,
But begins with a point which is the point of the ship itself,
So the immense wake of sinners widens till it disappears and is lost.
But begins with a point and it is the point which comes towards me, which is turned towards me.
It begins with a point which is the point of the ship itself.
And the ship is my own Son, loaded with all the sins of the world.
And the point of the ship is the point of my Son’s hands joined in supplication.

3. There is a direct connection between these two movements of the sanctification of man and the glory of God.

When God gives man being and grace, he renders him capable of returning to him freely. The ascending line has its source in the descending line. God gives himself to man and thus enables man to give himself back to him.

The return to God is provoked by God himself. The descending line is the most important because it is necessarily first. The gift of grace is primary. There is a primacy of divine initiative in the liturgical encounter. Man does not take the initiative.[8]

These two movements which we can and must distinguish, of men toward God and of God toward men, are strictly related: worship is for the sanctification of man. But these two ends are subordinated: sanctification is for the sake of worship.[9]

There is an inter-penetration: the opposition is apparent. There is an intimate co-penetration of the divine action and man’s response in the work of sanctification and worship. It is not magic, but collaboration with man. Christian worship is impossible without the gift of grace.

If the order of these two movements is reversed, then worship devolves into magic. If we drag God down to our level, it devolves into idolatry; if we exult transcendence without the gift of grace, the result is Islam which has no liturgy. If we forget transcendence, the result is self-celebration of the community centered on itself, about which Ratzinger warns us so often:

The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then the liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around.[10]

The Church is the subject of the liturgy

Pope Paul VI published the conciliar constitution on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Conciliumon 4th December 1963:

Sacrosanctum Conciliumn. 7 says:

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man [descending line] is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs [the sacraments]; in the liturgy the whole public worship [ascending line] is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

These definition summarizes, with slight modification, the one given by Pius XII in Mediator Dei 16 years earlier. But whereas Mediator Dei places the emphasis on the public cult rendered by Christ the Head and his Body as a basic principle or as a self-evident notion, Sacrosanctum Concilium focuses on the exercise of the Christ’s exercise of his priestly functions and explains what this consists in: representing and effecting the sanctification of man. Sacrosanctum Concilium thus explicitly marks the importance of the sacraments in the liturgy.

It is the priesthood of Christ, of which the liturgy is the exercise, that explains the unity of this two-fold movement and the fact that every rite makes reference to the adoration and glorification of God.[11] Sacrosanctum Concilium thereby invites us to consider the central place of sacrifice in the liturgy.

II. The Central Place of Sacrifice in the Liturgy

1. Ritual permits us to enter into contact with the sacred

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Pontifical Mass in the Abbey of Le Barroux

To understand what a sacrifice is, we must reflect on the notion of rite.

The liturgical rite is where the encounter between God and man receives its expression. It is the act in which the reciprocal gift of God to man and man to God is effected.

Rite is a shared action of God and man, a collaboration of God and man, in which God’s action is primary. Through rites, man imitates God, acts like him, acts with him. For the Christian, rite is the prolongation and imitation of the salvific acts of Christ.

Rite is rich in meaning. It puts men symbolically (and really, if it is a sacrament) in contact with what is beyond the scope of the creature, with what is sacred. Man attains the divine. As part of the cosmos, man enters, at least symbolically, into relation with the Creator of the cosmos.

Today the word “ritual” often has a negative connotation. It evokes rigidity and attachment to pre-established forms. It is often contrasted with creativity, which is thought to be the only safeguard of a genuine living liturgy.

Rite has nothing to do with creativity or a “fabricated” liturgy.

Rite is received. “Rites are rites because it is believed that if they were instituted by anyone, it would have had to have been the gods themselves”[12], says Fr. Bouyer. Thus, the sacraments have been instituted by Christ.

“The life of the liturgy does not consist in ‘pleasant’ surprises and ‘attractive’ ideas but in solemn repetitions,” says Cardinal Ratzinger.[13]Novelties are always suspect. St. John Chrysostom had to give a sermon in order to justify the introduction of the new feast of Christmas at Antioch.

Rite is solemn. Every sacred liturgy tends by means of a ritual to lift us out of the banal and quotidian, not for mere aesthetic reasons, but to help the faithful see that the action that is taking place comes from God. The majesty of the liturgical ceremony signifies that something celestial is taking place on earth.

St. Gregory the Great wrote as much in his Dialogues (IV, 58): “For what right believing Christian can doubt, that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible?”. Solemnity is an integral part of the Catholic liturgy, and must be fostered as an indispensable part of its message, as long as it does not fall into pomposity or mannerism.

Romano Guardini insists in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “We are not concerned here with the question of powerfully symbolic gestures, as if we were in a spiritual theater, but we have to see that our real souls should approach a little nearer to the real God, for the sake of all our most personal, profoundly serious affairs.”

“I like the rule that corrects emotion,” says Georges Braque, “I like the emotion that corrects the rule.”

And Joseph Ratzinger says that “rite” consists in the “practical arrangements” for praise.[14]

Rite is opposed neither to emotion or to praise, nor to life. On the contrary, it permits us to enter into contact with the Holy and Living One.

Every life has its rites, because life spontaneously knows that it is the most sacred thing.

It is true that modern society has tried to desacralize life at all costs!

2. But what is the sacred?

To answer that question, let us take an image by Gustave Thibon. Imagine a marine sponge at the bottom of the sea. If it were to become conscious, it would have a very clear idea of the sacred. For the sponge, the ocean would be the sacred. Its immensity surpasses the sponge entirely. The ocean penetrates into its pores, since it has holes, and so it is more interior to it that the sponge is to itself, intimior intimio meo, as St. Augustine would say. The ocean is immanent within her. And transcendence and immanence are the two divine qualities on which the notion of the sacred is founded.

The sacred is a thing that has become inviolable in virtue of its connection or contact with the divine.[15] It is the quality of a thing that is in contact or relationship with God.

The sacred has two dimensions: (1) everything that exists, insofar as it exists, comes from God and has a direct relation to him; (2) every being tends back to God.

1) There is the immanent sacred: at the depths of every creature, by reasons of a fundamental relation that exists between a creature and its Creator. From this point of view, every being is sacred.

2) There is a transcendent sacred: the sacred is beyond limited beings, in the divine sphere that one might reach through a series of separations and purifications. Here the point of view of transcendence is privileged. The divine is the Wholly Other who pulls us out of ourselves.[16]

In these two perspectives we can clearly discern our two motions, the descending and the ascending, always keeping the primacy that belongs to the immanent sacred: the limited creature cannot attain the divine if it does not first have its origin in God, in whom it really participates. Before being the end of creatures, God is their source. Everything comes from God, everything goes back to God. The two motions are concomitant, and we should not talk about a going out and returning between God and the creature. God does not cease to come to be with his rational creatures and give them the means to come back to him.

All of this becomes apparent from the notion of sacrifice.

  1. Sacrifice.[17]

Sacrifice is a rite par excellence, whose purpose is to “do the sacred.”

There are two ways to “do the sacred.”

In the ascending direction—the transcendent dimension of the sacred—it is a matter of “passing” into the divine domain. Man must overcome his limits in order to attain the sacred domain of God.

“To do the sacred,” in this perspective, means to celebrates certain rites of passage. Burning the victim causes it to pass into the other world; in this instance, the victim actually represents the one who offers it. By means of the sacrificed animal, man tries to approach God. Here, the type of sacrifice is the holocaust.

“It is the offering of a sweet savour which Scripture itself tells us is the prayers of the Saints” says Romano Guardini in his Sacred Signs. “Incense is the symbol of prayer. Like pure prayer it has in view no object of its own; it asks  nothing for itself. It rises like the Gloriaat the end of a  psalm in adoration and thanksgiving to God for his great glory.

Rites of purification by water are also a part of this passage of man toward God.[18]

In the descending direction of the immanent sacred, “to/\do the sacred” does not mean “to produce the sacred,” because that is not within the creature’s power. “To do the sacred” is to “consecrate,” and only God consecrates! It means to recognize the sacred character in the depths of every being and allow is to blossom. All beings are sacred in themselves because they have been created by God, but this quality only becomes manifest in “consecrated” beings.

“This altar is admirable” says St. John Chrysostom, “Being but a stone by nature, it becomes holy because it receives Christ’s Body”[19]

Every meal has a sacred dimension. We acknowledge this when we begin them with the Benedicite. To recognize the sacrality of the meal as foremost among human acts, is to recognize the total dependence of man in relation to the Living God their Creator.[20]

Yet a meal only takes on its entire religious significance in the act of sacrifice. Here the table is set by God. God and man are sit down convivially, in the strongest sense of the world: they are united in the same life. In this perspective of the immanent sacred, the sacrifice par excellence will be the sacrifice of communion: man sits at the table laid out by God, and God sits at the table of man.

The two lines of the sacred and of sacrifice that we have just presented are entirely complementary: the divine action is always primary, when it consacrates or attracts things to itself. In sacrifice, man receives from God what he offers and gives in order to receive once again.

This is the sense of the prayer over the oblations of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Receive our oblation, O Lord, by which is brought about a glorious exchange [commercia], that, by offering what you have given, we may merit to receive your very self. Through Christ our Lord. ”

In sacrifice, man truly joins in the work of God. But what God loves in the sacrifice is the love that is offered him.

Interior, spiritual sacrifices the sign of this love. Ps 50:10: “The sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God is a contrite heart.”

4. The Eucharistic Sacrifice

a. The Passion of Christ is a true sacrifice, not merely ritual but existential, which fulfills all the sacrifices of the law.

“Instead of material fire,” St. Thomas explains, “there was the spiritual fire of charity in Christ’s holocaust.”[21]

Death is the supreme act of love. It is the moment in which an entire life draws itself together to give itself.

1. Christ prays for the redemption of the world by giving his whole being in sacrifice. This is ascendant mediation. His offering gathers together the sacrifices of Abel and Abraham, and of all the martyrs and saints of later days, and unites them to his own.

2. At the same time, there is a response from on high, a descending mediation. The sacrifice of Christ pierces the heart of God, as is signified when when Christ’s heart is wounded by the lance. All the graces that had been withheld since the beginning of the world, St. Paul says, were poured out upon Christ to be spilled into the world.[22]

1. God descends to meet his people in the Incarnation, to the point of giving himself to them as food. He gives them his Spirit.

2. His humanity enters into Glory, something that no sacrificial rite had been able to obtain. It passes into the divine realm: “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24).

What the holocausts and other “rites of passage” sought in vain, Christ’s Pasch has obtained for his humanity actually, and for all of us, in hope. By his sacrifice, he has passed entirely into the divine realm.[23]

And he draws mankind with him into the heavenly dwelling: “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).

b) The Eucharist

The Eucharist is where this two-fold movement of the liturgy, which we have tried to explain, is most profoundly realized. A sacrifice offered to God, a supreme act of worship and adoration, it is the supreme gift of God to mankind. The victim presented to the Father is the same one we receive (de tuis donis ac datis) through the act of Transubstantiation. But after we have offered it to God, it is given to us as food. Communion is required for the integrity of the sacrifice. Thus the most disinterested act of worship, the “sacrifice of praise” to the glory of God, is at the same time the act by which we receive from God the very source of all grace.[24]

We find this truth expressed in the Canon, in the Supplices: “We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, command these to be carried by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine Altar on high, in the presence of Thy divine Majesty, that as many of us as shall, by partaking at this Altar, receive the most sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with all heavenly blessing and grace.”[25]

The Eucharist is a meeting between God and man. Divine agency is always primary. God gives himself to his People and the Church gives herself to her God in a joint action that celebrates the New Covenant sealed in the blood of the God-Man.[26]

The Eucharist is the gift of a benefactor and the thanks of the beneficiary, a gift of grace and a thanksgiving.

The two motions that meet in the liturgy achieve synergy through Christ, the collaboration of God and his People.

The Mass is a sacrament and a sacrifice. It is the sacrament of sacrifice.“The Mass is the bloody sacrifice swathed in the sweetness of the consecration of the species of bread and wine”, said Cardinal Journet.[27]

Meal and Sacrifice cannot be opposed. Because God is God, transcendent and immanent—remember the sponge!—the meal is an integral and inseparable part of the sacrifice. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote, “To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ. And as for the joy it heralds, it presupposes that we have entered into this mystery of death. Eucharist is ordered to eschatology, and hence it is at the heart of the theology of the Cross”[28].

The liturgy affects our daily life in its entirety.It integrates the offering of our individual lives into Christ’s own offering, making them “living sacrifices” in communion with the “sacrifice of Christ” (Rm. 12:1).[29]

Liturgy and the Feast of the Resurrection?

We are seated around the table of the Kingdom, because the glorified Christ gives himself to us as food. Each time, God joins us (immanent sacred) and draws us into his Glory (transcendant sacred). The Per ipsumat the end of the Canon is a good expression of the actualization of the two dimensions of the sacrifice offered on Calvary: we receive from God what we give back to him, until he comes again.

Ever since the New Covenant was sealed in the blood of the Son Incarnate, the liturgy of heaven is inaugurated on the earth. That is why the descending-ascending structure is progressively resolved into the eternal order of the Trinitarian life. Then, God will be all in all. The union will be consummated and there will be, so to speak, no more need for the liturgy.[30]This is truly the “solemnity of love”!

“Man was created to contemplate his Creator,” wrote St Gregory the Great, “to be always seeking his face and to dwell in the solemnity of his love.”[31]

The liturgy is a feast

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Cardinal Ratzinger wrote (The Feast of Faith, p. 63):

All civilizations have found that those who celebrate a feast need some external motive empowering them to do so. They cannot do it of themselves. There needs to be a reason for the feast, an objective reason prior to the individual’s will […]

In other words, when “celebration” is equated with the congregation’s group dynamics, when “creativity” and “ideas” are mistaken for freedom, the fact is that human nature is being soft-pedaled; its authentic reality is being bypassed. It does not take a prophet to predict that experiments of this kind will not last long; but they can result in a widespread destruction of liturgy.

Now let us turn to the positive side. We have said that liturgy is festal, and the feast is about freedom [… But where we speak of freedom], we also raise the question of death. Therefore the festal celebration, above all else, must address itself to the question of death. Conversely, the feast presupposes joy, but that is only possible if it is able to face up to death […]

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice.

[…]

That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.”

“The most beautiful raiment” that the father gives the prodigal son symbolizes the robe of baptism. In the feast prepared by the father, the Fathers of the Church see an image of the feast of faith, of the celebration of the Eucharist that anticipates the eternal banquet. The ring they see the mark of the elect. The “symphony of the heavenly choirs” is an image of the symphony of faith, which makes of Christian life a joyful feast: the restoration of the Covenant by a sacrificial banquet[32].

St. Augustine comments, “His servants are the ministers of the Church. They owe a service, they perform a duty. […] He gave instructions for the fatted calf to be killed; that is, for his son to be admitted to the table at which Christ who was slain is fed upon. […] What is a symphony? A concord of voices. […] The only thing which gives pleasure in a choir is the voices of many singers, blending as one, achieving a unity out of them all, not breaking out into a discordant variety. […]”[33]It is meet to feast and rejoice, for Christ has died for the impious.

The Liturgy is Joy.

“Joy always announces the triumph of life”, said Bergson[34]. Where is this truer than in the liturgy? The liturgy is life with God, life in God, life at its maximum intensity.

God is Love. He gives Himself by creating man in His own image and by calling him to enter into His joy, the eternal joy of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Intra in gaudium Domini tui.

“What is the liturgy?” Charlemagne once asked his learned minister Alcuin. “The liturgy is the joy of God.”

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Bl. Charlemagne with Bl. Alcuin

 

Notes

[1]O admirabile commercium : Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est : et procedens homo sine semine, largitus est nobis suam Deitatem.

[2]See P. M. HUMBERT, L’Écriture symphonique, p. 98.

[3]Dom Gérard Calvet, Four Benefits of the Liturgy, p. 28.

[4]Summa theologiae, III, 61, 1.

[5]Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 176

[6]Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 17-18

[7]Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life.

[8]Le Gall, Associés à l’œuvre de Dieu, p. 109s.

[9]Martimort, The Church at Prayer, vol. 2, p. 194 [?].

[10]Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 23.

[11]Martimort, ibid., p. 194 [?].

[12]Bouyer, ibid., p. 97.

[13]Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report, p. 126

[14]Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

[15]Cf. D. Robert Le Gall, Revue Thomiste, 1982, III.

[16]L. Bouyer, Le rite et l’homme. Mysterium tremendum et mysterium fascinans.

[17]Le Gall, RT 1982 III.

[18]L. Bouyer, Rite and Man.

[19]St. John Chrysostom, Hom XX in II Co.

[20]Bouyer, Rite and Man.

[21]ST IIIa, q. 46, a. 4, 1.

[22]Journet, Entretiens sur l’eucharistie, p. 34.

[23]Le Gall, RT 82.

[24]Martimort.

[25]Martimort, ibid., p. 193.

[26]Le Gall, RT 82.

[27]Journet, Entretiens sur l’eucharistie, p. 44.

[28]Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, p. 65

[29]Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 49.

[30]Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 250.

[31]Morales in Job VIII, 18, 34.

[32]Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 250

[33]Sermon 112A, PLS 2, 435.

[34]Bergson, L’energie spirituelle, Ed. du Centenaire, p. 832.

The Greek Mass of St-Denys

Until the French Revolution, the custom prevailed in the Royal Abbey of St-Denys to celebrate the Octave Day of its patron St Dionysius on 16 October with a Mass where all the sung parts—the Ordinary, the Propers, and the Preface—were chanted in Greek. The text was translated from the Latin original and set to the same music. The parts said silently by the ministers, including the Canon, remained in Latin.

octavastdionysii
The Greek Mass in for the Octave of St Dionysius, from an 18th century edition (Paris Bibliothèque Mazarine 4465).

This Greek Mass was manifestly an expression of the tradition that St Dionysius, first bishop of Paris, was St Dionysius the Areopagite, the Greek disciple of St Paul, philosopher, and first bishop of Athens, who abdicated his Hellenic see to go evangelize Gaul with his companions SS. Eleutherius and Rusticus. However, this custom was only the longest-lived instance of an erstwhile more widespread practice of singing Roman Rite masses partly in Greek. Several mediæval manuscripts survive that contain the Ordinary of the Mass in Greek, written in Latin characters: Doxa en ipsistis Theo; Pisteuo eis ena Theon; Agios, Agios, Agios; and O amnos tu Theu. The fascinating question of the origin of these missae graecae has not been conclusively settled, as we hope to discuss in a future post.

Here we provide a translation of the introduction to an edition of the Greek Mass in honour of St Dionysius published in 1777. The author discusses the origin of the Greek Mass, as well as the practice among the monks of St Denys and elsewhere to receive Communion under both species, also a vestige of a once more common practice.

* * *

Messe Greque en l’honneur de S. Denys
selon l’usage de l’Abbaye de S. Denys

Three things demand some remark and explanation: first, the origin of this Greek Mass, and of the Prose[1]chanted therein; secondly, the Edition here provided; and thirdly, the custom of Communion under two species observed during this Mass.

  1. On the Origin of this Greek Mass and its Prose.

As the learned Dom Michel Félibien writes in his History of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denys, the moment when this Mass in Greek began to be celebrated in the Abbey cannot be pinpointed exactly. This use seems to have arisen from the identification of St Dionysius the Areopagite with St Dionysius the first bishop of Paris. This opinion originated, according to some, or was accepted, according to others, from the time of Hilduin, Abbot of St-Denys around the year 826, when ambassadors from Constantinople presented Emperor Louis the Pious with certain works attributed to St Dionysius the Areopagite, wishing, perhaps, to thereby suggest to the French that the first bishop of Paris, venerated from that time as one of the main Apostles of the Gauls, was the Areopagite himself.

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A page of the manuscript of the works of St Dionysius the Areopagite given to Emperor Louis the Pious.

Huilduin believed it, and in his thanksgiving letter to Louis the Pious—who had ordered that these works be placed over the tomb of St Dionysius, to whom offered them—assured the Emperor that nineteen miracles had occured at the tomb of the holy martyr the very night the works were placed there. Around the year 835, then, Louis the Pious, attributing his recovery of the throne to the protection of St Dionysius, assigned Hilduin to write a life of this holy bishop, whose relics were kept in his monastery. Huildin, happy to enhance the glory of his abbey and honour its patron, gladly carried out the Emperor’s orders. He says that everything he writes is taken from Greek and Latin authors, from the works of St Dionysius, from his ancient Acts, and, inter alia, from two Masses and some hymns. Were these Masses in Greek or Latin? We do not have the answer, but, as his view that St Dionysius the Areopagite was the same as St Dionysius the first bishop of Paris was prevalent throughout France from the time of his writing until the 17th century, it is quite possible that the monks of this abbey took the occasion to celebrate this Greek Mass every year on the Octave Day of their holy patron. Hulduin died shortly after Louis the Pious, around 22 November 840.

But whatever the origin of this use, it is certain that it is ancient, for this Greek Mass in the Roman Rite, as it is sung today, is marked by a ceremonial over five hundred years old. Moreover, as it is certain that Charlemagne and Louis the Pious introduced the Roman Rite into France at the beginning of the 9th century, the origin of this Mass must lie between the 9th and 13th centuries.

saint-denis-portant-sa-tc3aate-mac3aetre-de-sir-john-fastoff-c-1430-1440-getty-museum
St Dionysius holding his head after being decapitated.

When the Congregation of St Maur took over the Abbey of St-Denys in 1633, it did not think it needful to change its customs, and hence has continued to celebrate the Greek Mass, without presuming to enter into a debate about the three different views that the scholars hold about St Dionysius. Some, like Hilduin, assert that St Dionysius, the first bishop of Paris, was the same as St Dionysius the Areopagite, first bishop of Athens. Others believe, following the Acts of the Martyrdom of St Dionysius, which are recognized as predating Hilduin, that another St Dionysius, different from the Areopagite, was sent to the Gauls by Pope St Clement. The third party holds, following Sulpicius Severus, that the faith did not reach the Gauls until the second century, and, following St Gregory of Tours, that St Dionysius was one of those sent to the Gauls in the middle of the third century. But ALL ARE AGREED in honouring St Dionysius as the first bishop of Paris.

The monks of St Dionysius have preserved the ancient Mass as it was handed down to them by their predecessors.

fpn_lat976_fol137v
An extract from the Ordo officii ad usum Sancti Dionysii (13th-14th century), containing the order of service for their patronal feast.

And so one should hardly be surprised to find in this Mass an Epistle taken from the Acts of the Apostles that makes reference to St Dionysius the Areopagite, and in the Prose, the martyrdom of St Dionysius is placed during the rule of the Emperor Domitian, whose persecution began in the year 95, and ended with his death in 96. It is remarkable that this Prose certainly supposes that St Dionysius came from Greece, as is clearly enough shown by his name, but does not say that he was the same as the Areopagite. The Greek Prose is simply a translation of the Latin Prose, and the Latin Prose or Sequence might have been written by King Robert, son of Hugh Capet, who died in 1031. It is essentially the same as the one sung in the diocese of Paris; only a few stanzas have been changed in the last few centuries. The chant is also essentially the same, with only minor differences.

François de Harlay, Archbishop of Paris († 1695), after having consulted the theological faculty of Paris about the reform of the Parisian breviary, decided that this breviary would follow the ancient tradition of the Gallican church about the identity of St Dionysius the Areopagite and St Dionysius bishop of Paris.

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The Gloria in excelsis in Greek, from a 9th century sacramentary of St-Denys.

[…]

  1. About Communion under Two Species 

Most people who attend the main Mass in the Abbey of St.-Denys on Sundays and feasts pay no heed to something that might prove edifying to their piety, and remind them of one of the most respectable customs of the early Church: viz., that the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon receive communion under both species.

Immediately after the Kiss of Peace, which those in choir give one another during the Agnus Dei, the deacon goes up to the left of the celebrant, while the subdeacon betakes himself to the credence to pick up an empty chalice and a golden reed (chalumeau; Latin calamus, fistula) which he takes to the altar at the celebrant’s right.

Fistula 2
Pope Paul VI using the fistula to consume the Precious Blood.

While the celebrant receives the Body of Our Lord under the species of bread, these two ministers bow profoundly and say the Confiteor. Then, the subdeacon present the golden reed to the celebrant, who uses it to drink part of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ in the large chalice by sipping it.[2] At this moment, all those in choir come together beneath the altar steps, with the deacon and subdeacon above them, and make a profound genuflection.

The celebrant, after having taken part of the Precious Blood, gets up and the deacon takes the chalice with one hand and the reed with the other. He remains beside the altar for an instant to give the celebrant time to adore the Saviour’s Blood. Then, the deacon and subdeacon, to the former’s left, go together to the Altar of Communion, preceded by part of the clerics in choir. This Altar stands against a pillar of the sanctuary, on the Gospel side. Here, the deacon, after having put down the chalice and reed in the hands of the subdeacon, goes back to genuflect before the middle of the high altar, where he receives Communion from the hands of the celebrant under the species of bread, as usual. He then comes down, genuflects again, and returns to the small altar. When he arrives, he again adores Our Lord and takes the reed from the hands of the subdeacon, with the end of which he takes the particle that the celebrant placed there after the fraction of the host. He takes it up to his mouth and swallows it, and then takes portion of the Precious Blood by sipping it.

choeur-abbaye-saint-denis
A view of the old choir of the Basilica of St-Denys.

Meanwhile, the sub-deacon does the same thing. He leaves the little altar after having adored the Saviour’s Blood and goes to the base of the high altar to make a genuflection, climbs the steps, receives Communion from the hands of the celebrant, and returns to take the rest of the Precious Blood with the reed which the Deacon gives to him.

This done, the deacon pours wine into the chalice for the ablution, drinks a portion of it with the reed, and ascends the altar to change the celebrant’s book to the other side. The subdeacon, after having taken his own part of the ablution, takes the chalice and carries it to the altar, where he purifies it along with the one used by the celebrant for his particular ablutions, then carries everything back to the credence.

On Maundy Thursday, although all the religious of the community communicate at the High Mass under the species of bread, a Communion under two species is made nevertheless by the deacon and subdeacon immediately before the general communion.

On the opening day of the general Diet that takes place at St-Denys every three years with a Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit, on the Second Sunday after Easter, the ministers at the altar are members of this assembly. Nevertheless the deacon and subdeacon commune under the two species because they are monks of the same body of a single Congregation, which justifies the same privilege.

This ceremony, or rather this communion under two species, which appears to be a privilege and which is today effectively a very singular prerogative, is nothing more than the ancient custom of many churches of France.

Our Holy Father the Pope, in Masses at which he celebrates, gives the deacon and subdeacon communion not with two individual hosts but from half of the large host he consecrates at Mass, of which he puts a portion in the chalice after the fraction. Thus the pope communicates with only half of the host and then takes a portion of the Precious Blood with the reed. Thereafter, having divided the half of the host already eaten into into two parts, he gives one to the deacon, who takes with the end of the reed the part the Pope has left in the chalice. Then he takes a portion of the Precious Blood. The Pope thereupon gives the other part of the large host to the subdeacon, to whom the deacon gives the reed that he might take the rest of the Precious Blood. The deacon then puts a bit of wine into the chalice for the ablution, of which he takes a portion and the subdeacon the other.

The Lord Bishop of Chartres has informed us that on Maundy Thursday, he receives communion with the deacon and subdeacon under both species, with the difference that the bishop himself consumes the portion of the host he put into the chalice.

In the Abbey of Cluny, communion is received under both species on all Sundays and all Major and Minor Solemnities, which are called Feasts of the First and Second Order in the Congregation of St Maur.

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A reconstruction of interior of the Abbey of Cluny as it stood around the beginning of the 12th century.

Before Mass, the Sacristan prepares a credence on the Gospel side. He covers it with a very clean cloth, two candlesticks with their candles, a cross in the middle, and a chalice to give the ablution to those who received communion under the species of bread and wine, who use a reed given to them for this purpose during communion.

The deacon always performs this ceremony. After consuming the large host, the celebrant drinks a bit of the Precious Blood with the particle that is in the chalice. He then goes to the epistle side to make way for the deacon, who takes the chalice, takes it to the credence that has been prepared, upon which lies a corporal and a purificator. The two acolytes accompany him with their candlesticks on hand.

After the due inclinations and genuflexions, the deacon remains on his knees next to the credence, while the celebrant gives communion to the subdeacon (if he is not a priest) and to the two acolytes, professed monks who are called assistants.

The subdeacon and these two acolyte assistants then go to the small altar or credence and there receive communion under the species of wine by means of the reed. The deacon gives this reed to the subdeacon, putting it between his fingers, and then to the two others.

When all three of them have partaken of the Precious Blood, the deacon takes the chalice, in which there is still wine left, and carries it to the high altar accompanied as before by the acolytes with their candles. The celebrant consumes the remaining wine. Then the necessary ablutions take place, for the celebrant as well as for those who have communicated under two species.

This communion is not done under two species at Cluny at the great masses in commemoration of the dead, as it in at St-Denys.

The deacon who serves at the altar on the days of this communion is always a priest and he does not take part in it. It is his duty to keep the chalice on the credence and present the reed to the three communicants.

On the opening day of the General Chapter at Cluny, a ceremony is performed in the church which is considered a vestige of venerable antiquity. At the offertory, each of the capitulars goes up bearing a small bread to be consecrated for communion. They put it upon a paten held by the Lord Abbot General, kissing his ring and the paten. During communion, all the capitulars go up to the altar to receive the species they have offered, but they do not receive communion under the species of wine, except for the two acolytes assistants, as mentioned above.

This communion is a remnant of the ancient practice of many churches, which since the holy Council of Trent has become the precious prerogative of those churches that have preserved it. Indeed, the in records of this Council, collected by M. Dupuy, one finds that the ambassadors of the King of France pointed out to the Council legates that, if anything would be changed in what had been planned in the 21st session, it should be without prejudice to the prerogative of the Kings of France, who received communion under both species on the day of their Coronation and Anointing, and to the ancient custom of certain Monasteries of the Realm where the monks who were not yet priests also communicated under both species on certain days of the year. Although the Abbey of St-Denys was not mentioned specifically, it is certain that it was included in the ambassadors’ Instruction, as was the Abbey of Cluny. To-day, only these two monasteries have retained communion under both species, not by special privilege, as many suppose, but by uninterrupted practice in these two churches during the Solemn Mass of Sundays and the main feasts of the year.

louis_ix_de_france_communion
King St Louis IX receiving communion.

[1]Prose (prosa) is the usual Gallican term for a Sequence (sequentia).

[2]Akin to the fistula, the reed used by the Pope to receive the Precious Blood in Papal Mass.

Cardinal Schuster on To-day’s Offertory

sanctificavit
The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, with verses and St Gall neums, from the Offertoriale restitutum.

Unhappily, far too few of our readers will have had the opportunity to hear the entirety of today’s sublime Offertory, Sanctificavit Moyses. The Offertory chant was originally a responsory, like the Gradual: a respond was followed by one or more verses, whereafter the entirety or part of the respond was repeated. During the course of the Middle Ages, however, the verses fell into obsolescence, and the Tridentine books ratified this situation by keeping only the Offertory respond. 

It is curious that the Offertory verses did not see much of a revival in the 20th century, when so many liturgical scholars and reformers set themselves to counteract the results of what they saw as the issue of mediæval liturgical decadence. In fact, both scholars and reformers generally ignored the Offertory chant; as we shall discuss in a future post, this is likely because the Offertory responsory challenged the prevailing liturgical shibboleths of a fervidly reformist age.


The Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, sung by Les Chantres du Thoronet.

Today we shall limit ourselves to reproducing a meditation on the respond and verses of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses of the 18th Sunday after Pentecost by Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan:

Sanctificavit Moyses altare Domino, offerens super illud holocausta, et immolans victimas: * fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Locutus est Dominus ad Moysen dicens: Ascende ad me in montem Sina et stabis super cacumen eius. Surgens Moyses ascendit in montem, ubi constituit ei Deus, et descendit ad eum Dominus in nube et adstitit ante faciem eius. Videns Moyses procidens adoravit dicens: Obsecro, Domine, dimitte peccata populi tui. Et dixit ad eum Dominus: Faciam secundum verbum tuum. 

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

℣. Oravit Moyses Dominum et dixit: Si inveni gratiam in conspectu tuo, ostende mihi te ipsum manifeste, ut videam te. Et locutus est ad eum Dominus dicens: non enim videbit me homo et vivere potest: sed esto super altitudinem lapidis, et protegam te dextera mea, donec pertranseam: dum pertransiero, auferam manum meam et tunc videbis gloriam meam, facies autem mea non videbitur tibi, quia ego sum Deus ostendens mirabilia in terra.

℟. Tunc Moyses fecit sacrificium vespertinum in odorem suavitatis Domino Deo, in conspectu filiorum Israel. 

Moses hallowed an altar to the Lord, offering upon it holocausts, and sacrificing victims: * he made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Come up to me in Mount Sinai and thou shalt stand upon the top thereof. Arising, Moses went up into the mount, where God appointed him, and the Lord came down to him in a cloud and stood before his face. Seeing him, Moses falling down adored him, saying: I beseech thee, Lord, forgive the sins of thy people. And the Lord said unto him: I will do according to thy word.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odour of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

℣. Moses prayed to the Lord and said: If I have found favor in thy sight, show me thyself manifestly, that I might see thee. And the Lord spake unto him saying: for man canst not see me and live: but go up to the height of the rock, and I will protect thee with my right hand, till I pass: when I shall have passed, I will take away my hand, and then thou shalt see my glory; but my face shall not be seen by thee, for I am God, showing wonderful things in the land.

℟. Then Moses made an evening sacrifice to the Lord God for an odor of sweetness, in the sight of the children of Israel.

The Offertory is epitomized from Exodus xxiv, and tells of the solemn sacrifice with which Moses ratified the alliance between Jehovah [sic] and Israel in the blood of the victims. It is to be regretted [the original is stronger: è un danno], however, that in the Roman Missal this splendid Offertory is cut down to a single verse. In the ancient Antiphonaries this Antiphon [sic] rises to the grandeur of a true liturgical drama. The Law-giver, at the command of the majesty of God, intercedes for the apostate people, imploring mercy for them. The Lord answers him: “I will do according to thy word.” Then Moses, taking courage, begs the Lord to reveal him his glory. “No one,” replies Jehovah, “can see my glory and live; but stand upon this rock, and when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock and protect thee with my right hand till I pass, lest my glory shall blind thee. When I shall have passed I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back, but my face thou canst not see” (Exod. xxxiii, 13-23).

This narrative, clothed in the splendid melodies of the Gregorian Antiphonary, has a deep significance. The vision of the Godhead is not for those who are still wayfarers in this life, and probably, as the doctors of the Church hold, it has never been granted to any living man, being the privilege of Christ alone. Our mortal nature is unsuited to such a condition, which in itself would imply the actual but inadmissible possession of the highest Good. Faith, however, here comes to our assistance, and acts as a veil before the face of God, in such a manner that the rays of his glory enlighten our path without too greatly dazzling us, and without taking away from us the merit of virtue, which presupposes the liberty of the human will. 

(Translation by Arthur Levelis-Marke.)

stgall.png
Part of the Offertory Sanctificavit Moyses, in the Codex Sangallensis 376.

Crusader Feasts and the Conversion of Granada

As we have seen before, the Spanish Reconquista was as much a military enterprise as a religious one; as Diego de Valera told King Ferdinand the Catholic, “the Queen fights [the Muslims] no less with her many alms and devout prayers than you, my Lord, armed with the lance”. This is especially true of the final chapter in that long saga: the liberation of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella on 2 January of that portentous year for Spain, 1492.  

benamarin
The feast of the Miraculous Triumph over the Most Impious Infidel King of the Arabs, Benamarin by Name, Around the Year of Our Lord 1340, in a Missal of Palencia from 1567.

The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa on 1212, liturgically remembered as the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, was a decisive Christian victory from which the Mohammedans were never able to recover. Within a few decades, their hold on the Iberian peninsula was limited to the rump kingdom of Granada, a vassal of the kingdom of Castile. In a final bid to undo Christian advances, in 1340 the Sultan of Granada called upon his counterpart of Morocco (whom the Spaniards called the king of Benamarín) for succor, and the latter obliged with a massive host. In the ensuing battle of Río Salado, despite being outnumbered by more than three to one, the combined forces of Castile and Portugal struck a splendid victory which proved the harbinger of the end of Muslim Iberia. The triumph was duly commemorated liturgically on 30 October as the feast of the Victory of Christians (Victoriæ Christianorum) in Portugal and Victory or Triumph against Benamarín in Spain (in some manuscripts, confusingly, it is called the Triumph of the Holy Cross, like the feast of Las Navas de Tolosa).

The beleaguered Mohammedan kingdom of Granada still ambled on for over a century, though wracked by civil wars and at the perpetual mercy of Castile’s benevolence. In response to Granadan raids and internecine struggles for power within the sultanate, Ferdinand and Isabella made war upon it with the approbation of the Lord Pope Sixtus IV, who granted a Bull of Crusade in 1479. The Pope gifted the Monarchs a great silver crucifix, which was borne by the soldiers during the entire campaign; after the surrender of each city, the soldiers adored the crucifix and sung the Te Deum. The papacy also provided much financial aid for the campaign, and this was administered by the Hieronymite friar Hernando de Talavera, bishop of Ávila and confessor of Queen Isabella. 

hernando_talavera
The Lord Hernando de Talavera, first Archbishop of Granada.

Talavera accompanied the Catholic Monarchs to Granada when its last sultan, Boabdil, finally surrendered in 1492, and, at the suggestion of the Monarchs, was appointed the first archbishop of Grenada by the Lord Pope Alexander VI. He set upon the task of organizing his new diocese and converting its Moorish population with zeal. He commissioned his Hieronymite confrère Pedro de Alcalá to write an Arabic grammar and Spanish-Arabic dictionary to help his priests evangelize the region, and he himself tried to learn the Moorish language. He owned a copy of the Koran and took counsel with the local alfaquíes, and encouraged the zambras—Moorish musical ensembles—to participate not only in processions such as that of Corpus Christi, but even in Mass itself, where he also made use of his knowledge of Arabic, as recounted by his one-time page Francisco Núñez Muley, a Moorish convert:

When His Lordship said Mass in person, the zambra was in the choir with the clerics. At the moments when the organ was to be played, since there was none, the zambra responded with its instruments. He said some words in Arabic during Mass, especially that instead of saying Dominus bobyspon [sic!] he said Y barafiqun. I remember this as if it were yesterday, in the year five hundred and two.1

moors
A Moorish dance, by Christoph Weiditz, 1529.

In these pre-Tridentine days, Talavera had full freedom to dispose the liturgy of Granada, and he decreed that “the Divine Office be prayed in accordance with the Roman, and the chant be as that of the Church of Toledo”. When setting up the kalendar, Talavera was keenly aware of the power of the liturgy to cement the Christian conquest and convert the local population, and became a prolific composer of new Offices for these very purposes. The Archbishop, who  had become a choirboy in the collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor in Talavera de la Reina at the age of five, was renowned for his musical talent, being described as “as learned in chant as he was in theology”, and put these abilities into use when writing the musical propers of these Offices. 

deditionis granatae
A manuscript of the propers of the Feast of the Surrender of the Most Renowned City of Granada.

He established 2 January as the feast of the Surrender of the Most Renowned City of Granada (In festo deditionis nominatissime urbis Granate) and composed its Mass and Office, which were effusively praised by the German traveller Hieronymus Münzer: “Oh! I can scarcely describe how noble and elegant is the Office he composed about the [surrender of the] kingdom of Granada by the mercy of God and the victory of the King”2. Like other Crusader feasts, the Office contains many echoes of the Easter liturgies: the first lesson of Mattins, for instance, is a beautiful panegyric of the Day of victory, which brought an end to the Night of Mohammedanism, reminiscent of the Exultet:

A solemn and illustrious day has come to us, most beloved brethren, a day of gladness and rejoicing, a day of joy and jubilation, a day of good tidings, in which it would be criminal to keep silent. A venerable day, a holy day of the Lord, a most renowned day, a day to us more renowned and holy than all others, for it is the day of God’s mercy. A day for which our forefathers yearned and waited, but saw not. But blessed are our eyes, for they are merited to see it. A day which is almost double, and one day better than a thousand. A day the Lord hath made that we might rejoice and be glad thereon. A day on which the city of Granada is made subject to the Catholic faith and acquired by the Christian religion and restored to the empire of the Spanish. A most powerful city, with secure bridges and surrounded by walls. A most mighty city, a city of refuge and excellent dwelling, a city full of delights, a glorious city, deservedly renowned throughout the whole globe, the mistress of the gentiles and prince of the provinces, a city of perfect beauty, the gladness and pride of the Sarracens, the head and summit of the Mohammedan madness in the lands of the Spanish.3

The Mattins responsories, too, connect the day of victory over the Mohammedans to Christ’s day of victory over Death:

To-day true peace has come down to us from heaven. To-day has shone down upon us the day of our redemption, of renewal of the old, of desired happiness.4

Mattins of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, composed by the Lord Hernando de Talavera, sung by Schola Antiqua.

The Paschal theme continues in Mass, where the Gradual is Haec dies, and the Alleluia Dies sanctificatus, though taken from Christmas Day Mass, follows the same idea. The Gospel pericope is from Luke 10, 21-24, which is by the line “Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see” tied into the Mattins lesson. The Epistle, from Isaias 54, 1-5, appropriately represents Granada as the city of Jerusalem awaiting her salvation. But the liberation of Granada is not only a type of the day of Resurrection, but the antitype of Old Testament figures and events: in the Mattins lessons, King Ferdinand is called an alter Iosue and Queen Isabella an altera sapientissima Delbora (sic, Debbora) and altera venustissima, religiosissima ac honestissima Iudich (sic, Judith). The antiphons are expertly written to link the psalm to the victory at Grenada; e.g., in First Vespers:

Ant. Let us celebrate the solemn day in which God the Father almighty placed the gable of the enemies of His Son as His footstool. Psalm 109.
Aña. Solemnem agamus diem in qua Deus Pater omnipotens fastigium inimicorum Filii sui posuit scabellum pedum eius.

Ant. Let us praise the Lord, and magnify His works, Who on this holy day hath given his people the inheritance of the gentiles, and redeemed many captives. Psalm 110.
Aña. Confiteamur Domino, et magnificemus opera eius qui hac sacra die dedit populo suo hereditatem gentium, et fecit redemptionem plurimorum captivorum.

Ant. King Ferdinand with Queen Isabella shall enjoy eternal memory, for by his works and toil to-day the Lord hath given to the Christian people the glory and riches of the Saracens. Psalm 111.
Aña. In memoria eterna erit Fernandus rex cum regina Helisabeth, quia sua opera et labore dedit hodie Dominus populo Christinano gloriam et diuicias Agarenorum.

Ant. From the rising of the sun unto its going down let the name of the Lord be praised, who by the works of faith made barren Granada a joyful mother of many churches. Psalm 112.
Aña. A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudetur nomen Domini, qui Granatam fidei operibus sterilem matrem fecit multarum ecclesiarum letantem.

Ant. All the peoples of the Spains praise the Lord, who to-day hath confirmed his mercy upon you, putting an end to the ancient sin. Psalm 116.
Aña. Omnes populi Ispaniarum laudate Dominum, quia confirmauit hodie super uos misericordiam suam, finem imponens antiquo peccato.

Thus does Talavera deftly weave the liberation of Granada into the history of Salvation.

compostela
The feast of the Exaltation of the Faith, i.e. the feast of Granada, in a Breviary of Santiago de Compostela from 1569.

This feast does not show up in later propers for the archdiocese of Granada, but it might have survived in certain monasteries, such as the Abbey of Sacromonte, where copies of this office have been found dating as late as the 18th century. A much longer future was enjoyed by another Office and Mass for the liberation of Granada, under the name of the feast of the Exaltation of the Faith (Exaltationis fidei), composed for the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela by the Mercedarian friar Diego de Muros, bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo, on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs, who wanted the feast inserted into the kalendar of that important archdiocese. In remained there until the 18th century, and some of the propers were put into polyphonic settings. A third Office and Mass in memory of the liberation was written by the humanist Juan Maldonado for the diocese of Burgos at the request of its bishop, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca. It was expunged from the kalendar of Burgos by Rodriguez de Fonseca’s successor’s Antonio de Rojas, who went on to succeed Talavera in the see of Granada, and therefore might be responsible for the suppression of the feast there as well.

Talavera himself also set his sights upon the old Office for the feast of the battle of Río Salado. Disappointed with the quality of the Mattins lessons of that feast, he rewrote them, as he explained to Queen Isabella herself:

Since Your Highness is so fond of the writings that I present or communicate, and shews them with, perhaps, not much prudence and too much charity, when they are things that ought not be shewn; because of that and because it is in Latin, I am sending it to Doctor [Rodrigo Maldonado] de Talavera5. so that, if he approves it, he might present it to Your Serenity: the most excellent victory, worthy of immortal memory, which Our Lord gave to the Lord King Alphonse XI, your four-times grandfather, near the river they call the Salado against the King of Morocco and Bellamarín, etc., which I put into Latin accompanied by some phrases from Holy Scripture so that we might read them as lessons on Mattins of that feast, which we began to celebrate some time ago with much solemnity, as is reasonable, because the lessons I saw in the Breviary of Toledo seemed to me brief and not such as I should like, and so Your Highness shall see some of the occupations that fill up my time.6

Talavera also wrote an office for the feast of the Guardian Angel, which was celebrated in Toledo and Aragon on 1 March in thanksgiving for King Ferdinand’s victory over King Alphonse V of Portugal in the battle of Toro in 1476. By establishing this feast in Granada, he may have been trying to exploit Mohammedan belief in the angels. Indeed, he also wrote the propers for the feast of the Archangel Gabriel, who is mentioned in the Koran.

Knowing that Our Lady was highly regarded by the Muslims, and seeing this as an opportunity for their conversion, he established and wrote two Marian Offices. One was for the feast of the Expectation of Our Lady, or Our Lady of the O, the celebration whereof was already widespread in Spain on 18 December. In it, Talavera emphasizes the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, since it was an idea widely accepted amongst Muslims. The other was for the feast of the Transfixion of Our Lady.

Finally, Talavera composed an office for the feast of St Joseph, to whom he had a particular personal devotion. One of the first churches he set up Granada, taking over a former mosque, was dedicated to him. 

Any perusal of such compositions should suffice to demonstrate Talavera’s deep piety and firm orthodoxy, but unfortunately, his benignity towards the local population of Granada, which revered him as el santo alfaquí, earned him the distrust of churchmen eager to pursue a tougher policy with respect to the Moors. The Inquisition especially resented his refusal to allow it to operate in Granada, and in 1505, after the death of his protectress Queen Isabella, Diego Rodríguez de Lucero, the Inquisitor of Córdoba, ordered the arrest of Talavera’s friends and family on suspicion of heresy, and tried to gather, or rather, fabricate evidence arraign the Archbishop himself on charges of heresy and apostasy. He was firmly defended by the Lord Pope Julius II, but died, before the matter was entirely settled, on 14 May 1507, having fallen ill after walking barefoot during a procession whilst it was raining. After his death, the scandal caused by Lucero’s witch-hunt against Talavera, and his numerous other excesses, led to the General Congregation of the Spanish Inquisition to investigate Lucero, and he was finally removed from his post, whereafter he died. 

We finish with the excellent hymn Talavera wrote for Vespers of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, inspired by St Venantius Fortunatus’ well-known panegyric on the triumph of the Holy Cross:

Pange, lingua, voce alta
triumphi preconium.
Laudes Deo semper canta,
conditori omnium

qui, edomita Granata,
bellis dedit somnium.
Dedit quippe pacem plenam
populis Ispaniae;

dedit autem malam cenam
Mahumeti insanie

qui illusit Sarracenam
gentem et Arabie.

Personarum Trinitatem
diffitetur impius,
et sumpsisse humanitatem
Deum negat inscius;
tollit fidei pietatem
multis aliis nescius.

Deum Patrem nos laudemus
atque Sanctum Spiritum;

verbum quoque adoremus
vere carni insitum;

et uterum honoremus
quo fuit nobis editum. Amen.

Sing, my tongue, with lofty voice,
the praise of victory.
Sing praises to God for aye,
to the author of all,
who, with the conquest of Granada,
hath put war to sleep.Lo! he hath given full peace
to the peoples of Spain,
but hath given a bad banquet
to the madness of Mohammed,
who cozened the Saracen people
and the Arabians.

That blasphemer rejects
the Trinity of Persons,
and, benighted, denies that God
took up humanity;
this fool destroys the piety of faith
in sundry other ways.

Let us praise the Father
and the Holy Ghost;
let us also adore the Word
who truly became flesh;
and let us honour the womb
whence he was begotten for us. Amen.

The Mass and parts of the Office of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, composed by the Lord Archbishop de Talavera.

Notes

1. Y quando su señoría dezia la misa en persona, estaua la zanbra en el coro con los clerigos, y en los tienpos que avian de taner los organos porque no los avia rrespondia la zanbra y estrumentos della, y dezia en la misa en algunas palablas en arabigo, en espeçial quando dezia «dominus bobyspon», dezia «y barafiqun». Esto me acuerdo dello como si fuese ayer, en el año de quinientos y dos.

2. O quam nobile et elegans officium de regno Granate, misericordia Dei et victoria Regis scripsit, non possum scribere.

3. Adest nobis, dilectissimi fratres, dies solemnis et preclara; dies gaudii et exsultationis; dies leticie et iubilationis, dies boni nuntii, in quo, si tacuerimus, sceleris arguemur. Dies uenerabilis, dies sanctus Domini, dies celeberrimus, dies nobis celebrior et sancior uniuersis, quia dies miserationis Domini; dies quam optauerunt et expectauerunt patres nostri, nec uiderunt. Nostri autem beati oculi, qui eam videre meruerunt. Dies que facta est quasi duo. Et dies una: melior super millia; Dies quam fecit Dominus ut exultemus et letemur in ea. Dies uidelicet in qua fidei catholice subiicitur; in qua Christiane religioni acquiritur; et in qua Ispaniarum imperio restituitur, ciuitas Granata. Ciuitas fortissima, firma pontibus et muris circumsepta. Ciuitas potentissima. Ciuitas refugii et optime habitationis. Ciuitas plena deliciis. Ciuitas feracissima. Ciuitas inclita. Ciuitas gloriosa. In toto terrarum orbe merito nominatissima. Domina gentium, et princeps prouinciarum. Urbs perfecti decoris. Gaudium et superbia Agarenorum. Caput et fastigium Mahumetice insanie in partibus Ispanorum.

4. Hodie nobis de caelo pax vera descendit. Hodie illuxit nobis dies redemptionis nostre, reparationis antique, felicitatis optatae.

5. Rector of the University of Salamanca and counsellor of the Catholic Monarchs.

6. Porque vuestra alteza es avarienta de las escripturas que le presento o comunico, y no las muestra quizá con mucha prudentia y no menos caridad, sino son tales que se deban mostar, por esso y porque va en latín, envío al doctor de Talavera para que si le pareciere bien, la presente a vuestra serenidad, la muy excelente victoria y digna de inmortal memoria que nuestro Señor dió al Rey D. Alonso XI, vuestro cuarto abuelo, cerca del rio que dicen del Salado contra el Rei de Marruecos y de Bellamarín etc.: la cual puse en latín acompañada de algunas sentencias de la santa escritura para que la leyésemos por lecciones a los maitines de aquella fiesta, porque unas lecciones que ví en un breviario toledano me parecieron breves y no tales como yo quisiera, y así verá vuestra alteza alguna de las ocupaciones que estragan mi tiempo.

Mysterium Mysteriorum: How the Ambrosian Rite Survived Charlemagne

ambrogio
The frontispiece for an edition of the Ambrosian Missal published in 1640.

We have previously seen how hardily if unsuccessfully the Castilians of Burgos defended their traditional Mozarabic rite against the efforts of King Alphonse VI, backed by Pope St Gregory VII, to impose the Roman rite. It is particularly interesting that the chronicles report that God’s judgement on the Mozarabic and Roman missals was invoked by subjecting them to a trial by fire, from which the former emerged unscathed whilst the latter burned. As we saw a fortnight ago in M. Henri de Villiers’ article on the Ambrosian rite, a similar event took place in 9th-century Milan, as recounted by Landulf in his Historia Mediolanensis.

Continuing the policy begun by his father Pippin, the Blessed Charlemagne attempted to establish liturgical unity in his kingdoms by imposing the Roman rite throughout, to the detriment of the Gallican and Ambrosian rites. The Gallican rite was indeed suppressed (although several of its elements merged into the Roman rite), but the people of Milan successfully defended their indigenous rite, and it has survived till the present day.

Landulf asserts that the survival of the Ambrosian rite was due to a test the conflicting missals were made to undergo, whence the Ambrosian book emerged with divine approbation. Later writers, such as Durandus, repeat his account.

Landulf’s history was written around 1080, when Milan was racked by the often violent conflict between the reformist pataria, backed by the papacy, and its opponents, who saw themselves as the defenders of the traditions bequeathed to Milan by St Ambrose. Landulf himself was a married priest who claimed clerical marriage was one of these ancient Milanese customs. In terms of the liturgy, the reformist popes who backed the pataria, such as Nicholas II, were also those who most forcefully attempted to impose the Roman rite on all the West, and the anti-patarini obviously became the great advocates of the Ambrosian rite. Since Landulf’s objective in writing his Historia is largely to defend what he considered to be Ambrosian traditions against Roman claims, some have cast doubt upon the veracity of his account of the events described here. Ludovico Antonio Muratori, in his Antiquitates italicæ, accuses Landulf of being prone to writing fables (pronus in fabulas) and specifically questions the story about how the Ambrosian rite survived Charlemagne’s persecution, although he grants it must have some grounds in truth, given Charlemagne’s known efforts to create liturgical uniformity in the Empire. Anton Baumstark suggests the story was circulated by Landulf in response to the efforts by Nicholas II to impose the Roman rite on Milan in 1060.

Nevertheless, as M. de Villiers points out in his article, the fact remains that no records of the Ambrosian rite before the age of Charlemagne survive (except for the remains of a 7th century Ambrosian libellus missarum preserved in a palimpsest from the monastery of St Gall), and Landulf’s account furnishes an explanation thereof which, although dramatic in expression, is not lacking in overall verisimilitude:

 



ecc81ginhard_vita_caroli_magni_imperatoris-lettrine_v_historiecc81e_charlemagne_assisDURING the first years of Charles’s reign, when he was in Rome surrounded by magnificent and innumerable army of knights of the Empire, and Hadrian sat as pope, an immense synod was held with many bishops from all parts of the globe. During it, when they had discussed many and sundry matters, they unwisely set themselves against the holy rite (
mysterium) of God and the blessed doctor and confessor Ambrose, scarcely or not at all recalling with what reverence and what love the blessed Gregory was once united by affection to the Ambrosian church. And so, as if blinded and demented, and bereft of any judgement, they sought to mar, as it were, and to darken, and, what’s more, to altogether destroy what was illustrious and for a long time stable and hallowed.

Charles, therefore, having informed by a number of bishops, set out throughout the whole Latin land to entirely destroy whatever he might come upon that was different from the Roman use in chant or the divine ministry, and bring it to unity with the Roman rite (mysterium). And so it was done: the Emperor went to Milan and laid waste to Pavia, which he loathed with unquenchable wrath on account of his enemy the Emperor Desiderius, whom the knights of Pavia had manfully defended against Charles with arms and wit. Then all the books marked with the Ambrosian label which he could grab ahold of by purchase or gift or force he either burned or took with him across the mountains as if into exile. But pious men, seeing so many such books, piously preserved them. Yet God, who sees and knows all things, and foreknows to investigate the hidden things of men’s hearts and open up souls and foresees the intentions of all, did not suffer what He had recognized as ordained by the Holy Ghost and drawn up by the bishop Saint Ambrose to the praise and honour of His name to be violated and torn apart by evil men.

pope_adrian_i_illustrationHowever, Eugenius of glorious memory, a bishop over the mountains, a lover and as it were the father of the Ambrosian rite [mysterium] as well as its protector, and Charles’s spiritual father, set out to Rome, and found that the Apostolic Lord Hadrian, who was the first to give the rings and staves to Charles for episcopal investiture, had already been holding council for three days. He investigated all that had been done diligently and in order, for he was a sensible man, judicious in prudence and wisdom, mild of soul, serene of countenance, affable in teaching and words; and, as his dignity demanded, kinder than all, what seemed to him worthy of praise, he duly ratified. In the end, he wrenched out of them as if by force in what way or manner the synod had adjuged the Ambrosian rite (mysterium). When Eugenius heard their account, much frightened and grieved, calling himself a wretch with a tearful voice, with tears flowing from his eyes like water, he said:

“O woe is me, what will I do? The world and its judge have died: the all the world’s teaching, all that hinders the vanities of this life has passed away! The beauty of the entire Church, Latin as well as Greek, is darkened! The good, the just, and the holy are cast away! The column of the Church, the foundation of the faith, the champion of justice, the lover of the word of God is brought low! A brilliant doctor, renowned for his experience in all the arts, has been crushed! A most excellent rite [mysterium mysteriorum] has perished, on which Gregory, as the Lord and Most Reverend Pope, never dared to lay a finger, and from which Gregory, as teacher and doctor, devotedly drew so many wonderful and brilliant flowers and added them to the Roman rite [mysterio], where they remain to this very day.” 

He recovered his spirit and energy, and then, backed by a papal order and the wishes of the majority of the Roman nobility and people, he recalled all the bishops, archbishops, abbots, religious, laymen and clergy who had been at the council to the court of the Supreme Pontiff, though they had departed Rome already three days before. When they had been assembled, the holy bishop Eugenius advocated at length in favor of the Ambrosian rite [mysterio], to which they had given such short shrift. Having heard him out, the foreign clergy recognized that he was an upright man and lover of justice, and began to wonder and feel ashamed. Need I say more? The Apostolic Lord, all the bishops, the whole clergy and the entire Roman people clamoured and insisted that both the Ambrosian book and the book of blessed Gregory should be placed upon the altar of blessed Peter by the religious, clearly sealed with the apostolic signet. Then all the doors of the Church should also be firmly sealed, and a three-day fast proclaimed, during which all from the youngest to the oldest should fast with fervent devotion. Then whichever book they should find open and unsealed by God’s grace they would hold fast to with unshaken devotion; and whichever they found unmoved and sealed they would burn, having been given the clearest possible permission.

And so it was done: after all the bishops and the entire clergy and people of Rome had observed the fast, on the third day, on Tuesday of that week on which the Ambrosians devoutly sing Misericordia Domini plena est terra [The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord] even to this day1, when all had come together for the unseen and unheard of miracle, in the presence of the Apostolic Lord the doors of the church were unsealed and opened of their own accord. When everyone had entered, they found both books as they had left them, sealed and altogether intact. Having seen this, whilst everyone marvelled and was astounded and groaned exceedingly, the books, breaking their ties by themselves, gave forth a great and frightful noise in the hearing of all, and opening themselves up by God’s finger, they were both opened so that one could not find a further page in one part more than the other.

Immediately everyone felt a great joy and burst out in tears. Meanwhile, having seen how both books appeared opened, all cried out as if with one voice, saying: “Let the Gregorian and Ambrosian rites [mysterium] be praised by the universal Church, confirmed and preserved entirely.” For they said, “It is determined that the will of almighty God and blessed Peter the Apostle is that these rites [mysteria] may be praised and steadfastly maintained by all the bishops of the globe.” Although to some these words seemed to be good, to others however they were difficult and very hard. Finally, it was highly commended by the Lord Pope and the other wise and discerning men that the Ambrosian see remain content with that rite [mysterio] alone by which she was ordered and exalted by blessed Ambrose, and that the rest of the globe that resounds with the Latin tongue should strive to keep the Gregorian rite diligently and carefully, to the exclusion of any other.

After all these things were over and done, Eugenius, exulting with great joy, reached Milan as if going to see his own children. In that city, a few days earlier, the Emperor, by order of the council that took place in Rome, wishing to wipe out the Ambrosian rite entirely from the face of the earth, had butchered many clerics in minor and major orders and eliminated all the Ambrosian books, which had been established according to Ambrose with respect to passages of the New and Old Testament as well as to the musical arts. Nothing indeed remained except for a missal, which a certain good and faithful priest had hidden and faithfully preserved for six weeks in the caverns of the mountains. Afterwards, however, with the aid of the most faithful bishop Eugenius, those wise priests and clerics who remembered much of the rite came together and, with God’s help, handed over to posterity what they had once come upon entire.

steugenio
According to Milanese tradition, the Gaulish bishop St Eugenius (his see is unknown) tarried in Milan after ensuring the survival of the Ambrosian rite and died there. His body was eventually transferred to the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, where it remains to-day. His feast is commemorated in the Ambrosian rite on 30 December. This mediæval statue, now in the basilica’s museum, was originally next to the altar where his remains rest. An 18th century inscription referring to this statue calls St Eugenius rituum Ecclesiæ Mediolanensis mirificus propugnator.

Karuli primi tempore, cum idem apud Romam imperii magnifice et inenarrabili militum exercitu stipatus frueretur, et papa resideret Adrianus, synodus inmensa multis diversarum terrarum episcopis congregatis celebrata est, in qua cum de multis atque diversis tractassent negotiis, indiscrete erga mysterium Dei et beati doctoris et confessoris Ambrosii sese intulerunt, parum aut nichil quantae reverentiae quantique amoris beatus Gregorius olim ecclesiae Ambrosianae per affectum contulisset, reminiscentes; propterea quasi caecati et ementati, et absque ullo iudicio, quod inclytum et per multa tempora firmum atque sancitum, quodammodo decolorare et obnubilare, et plus dicam, omnino delere aggressi sunt.

Edoctus itaque Karolus imperator a quampluribus episcopis, ut per totam linguam proficisceretur Latinam, et quicquid diversum in cantu et ministerio divino inveniret a Romano, totum deleret, et ad unitatem mysterii Romani uniret. Unde factum est, veniens imperator Mediolanum, devastata Papia quam ipse ira inextinguibili ob imperatorem Desiderium suum haemulum oderat, quem milites Papiae contra Carlonis imperium viriliter armis et ingenio tutaverant, omnes libros Ambrosiano titulo sigillatos, quos vel pretio vel dono vel vi habere potuit, alios comburens, alios trans montes quasi in exilio secum detulit. Sed religiosi viri tales et tantos libros videntes, religiose tenuerunt. At Deus qui omnia videt cunctaque cognoscit, et cordium occulta investigare et aperire praenovit animos et intentionem cunctorum praevidens, quod ad laudem et honorem nominis sui per Spiritum sanctum sancto Ambrosio episcopo dictante ordinatum noverat, violari aut a malis dilacerari non passus est.

Proficiscens autem gloriosae memoriae Eugenius transmontanus episcopus, amator et quasi pater Ambrosiani mysterii nec non et protector, pater spiritualis Karlonis, causa concilii Romam, invenit apostolicum Adrianum, qui primus annulos et virgas ad investiendum episcopatus Karloni donavit, iam per tres dies celebrasse concilium. Qui studiose omnia, ut gesta erant, per ordinem inquirens, prout erat vir discretus, conscilio ac sapientia providus, animo placidus, vultu serenus, doctrina et verbis affabilis, atque ut eius dignitas exposcebat, ultra omnes benignus, quod dignum laude esse sibi videbatur, competenter affirmabat: tandem qualiter aut quomodo super mysterium Ambrosianum sese synodus habuisset, quasi vi ab illis extorsit. Quod ubi Eugenius audivit, plurimum expavescens condoluit, et voce lacrimabili miserum se vocans, lacrimis velut aqua ab oculis decurrentibus inquit:

« O miser, quid agam? mundus et eius iudex periit; orbis doctrina, cuncta huius vitae quae vanitates sunt obfuscans, elabitur. Decus totius ecclesiae tam Latinae quam Graecae obnubilatur, bonum, iustum, sanctum eliminatur. Columpna ecclesiae, fundamentum fidei, assertor iusticiae, verbi Dei amator deprimitur. Doctor egregius omnium artium peritia imbutus disternitur, mysterium perit mysteriorum, de quo domnus et reverentissimus papa Gregorius aliquid sinistrum proferre timuit, de quo quanta et quam magna quasi lucidissimos flores beatus magister et doctor Gregorius curiose attrahens Romanoque mysterio interserens usque hodie adiunxit. »

Spiritu demum animoque resumpto, iussu papae et magna nobilium parte Romanorum cum plebis simul voluntate laudante, omnes episcopos, archiepiscopos, abbates, quoscunque religiosos, laicos et clericos, quos concilio interfuisse cognovit, quamvis per tres dies recessissent a Roma, ad curiam summi pontificis revocavit. Quibus congregatis beatus Eugenius episcopus de mysterio Ambrosiano voce benigna, unde incomposite tractaverant, multum conquestus est. Quo audito, extranei clerici cognoscentes virum valde probum iustitiaeque amatorem, partim satis mirari ac verecundari coeperunt. Quid multa? Ab apostolico et universis episcopis et a toto clero ab universoque populo Romano conclamatum et conlaudatum est ut librum Ambrosianum et beati Gregorii librum ambos super beati Petri altare optime sigillatos, videlicet evidentissime apostolico sigillo signatos, viri religiosi supponerent; quin etiam omnibus hostiis ecclesiae apertissime sigillatis, indito ieiunio per tres dies cuncti a minimo usque ad maximum devote ieiunarent; et sic Deo propitio, quemcunque apertum et reseratum invenirent, illum summa cum devotione et indubitanter tenerent; et quemcunque immotum ac sigillatum reperissent, illum evidentissima dispensatione comburerent.

Quod factum est, ieiunio ab episcopis omnibus et universo clero et populo Romano celebrato, in tertia die tertiae feriae illius hebdomadae, in qua Ambrosiani « Misericordia Domini plena est terra » usque hodie devote cantant, in unum universis convenientibus ad invisum et inauditum miraculum, ecclesiae ianuae stante apostolico reseratae et ultro apertae sunt. Quibus introgressis, ambos libros ut dimiserant sigillatos et omnino intactos invenerunt. Quo viso cunctis mirantibus valdeque obstupescentibus nimiumque congemescentibus, libri ligaturas per se rumpentes, sonum magnum atque terribilem audientibus universis, dederunt, et sese digito Dei aperientes, ita ambo aperti sunt, ut aliquis unam illorum foliam non inveniret plus in unam partem quam in alteram.

Itaque ingens gaudium omnes abruptis lacrimis illico invasit. Interea libris ambobus visis, qualiter aperti apparuerunt, omnes quasi una voce proclamabant dicentes: « Gregorianum et Ambrosianum misterium ab universa ecclesia laudetur confirmetur simulque ex toto teneatur. » Dicebant enim: « Ut haec mysteria laudentur firmiterque ab universis totius orbis episcopis teneantur, Dei omnipotentis et beati Petri apostoli cernitur esse voluntas. » At quibusdam hoc verbum videbatur fore bonum, quibusdam vero difficile atque durissimum. Tandem domini papae et aliorum sapientium atque discretorum virorum collaudatum est ut sedes Ambrosiana, in quo mysterio ordinata et a beato Ambrosio exaltata est, illo solo contenta permaneat, nec non cetera pars orbis, quae linguae Latinae vocibus resonare videtur, omnibus aliis praetermissis, Gregorianum studiose et curiose tenere studeat.

His omnibus rebus factis, finitis et terminatis, Eugenius gaudio magno tripudians, quasi ad proprios filios tendens Mediolanum pervenit. De qua urbe paucis antea transactis diebus imperator iussu concilii quo Romae interfuit, omne mysterium Ambrosianum desuper faciem terrae omnino delere desiderans, trucidatis multis clericis minorum et maiorum ordinum, omnes Ambrosianos libros, tam in sententiis novi quam veteris testamenti quam in musica arte secundum Ambrosium descriptos, abrasit. Nichil enim praeter missale remansit, quod quidam bonus atque fidelis sacerdos absconsus in cavernis montium per sex ebdomadas fideliter reservavit. Manualem autem postea astante Eugenio episcop[o] fidelissim[o], sapientes tam sacerdotum quam clericorum, qui multa memoriter tenebant, convenientes in unum, Deo opitulante, ut antea integer fuit invenientes, in posteris tradiderunt.

Notes

1. I.e. on the Tuesday following the Second Sunday after Easter.