Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Assumption of the Mother of God

The feast of the Assumption is a Double of the First Class with an Octave.

At Mattins the lessons in the first nocturn, since the time of Pius V, are taken from the Canticle of Canticles, are particularly rich with vibrant, sensual, imagery:

Osculetur me osculo oris sui, quia meliora sunt ubera tua vino, fragrantia unguentis optimis. Oleum effusum nomen tuum; ideo adolescentulae dilexerunt te. Trahe me: post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum. Introduxit me rex in cellaria sua; exsultabimus et laetabimur in te memores uberum tuorum super vinum. Recti diligunt te. Nigra sum, sed formosa, filiae Jerusalem, sicut tabernacula Cedar, sicut pelles Salomonis.

Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine, smelling sweet of the best ointments. Thy name is as oil poured out: therfore young maidens have loved thee. Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments. The king hath brought me into his storerooms: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine: the righteous love thee. I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.(1st lesson)

In the second nocturn the lessons are from St. John Damascene's second discourse on the Dormition of the Virgin:

"This day the holy and animated ark of the living God, she who conceived in her womb her Creator rests in the temple of the Lord, which was not made with hands. And her ancestor David leaps, and with him the Angels lead the dance, the
Archangels make celebration, the Virtues ascribe glory, the Principalities exult, the Powers rejoice together, the Dominations are joyful, the Thrones keep holiday, the Cherubim utter praise, the Seraphim proclaim her glory. This day the Eden of the new Adam receives the living Paradise, wherein the condemnation was made void, wherein the tree of life was planted, wherein our nakedness was covered." (4th lesson)

In the third nocturn the homily on the Gospel fragment is from St. Augustine's 27th Sermon on the Words of the Lord. The responsories after the lessons are particularly beautiful today.

At Lauds six pluvialistae in pariti assist the Hebdomadarius. The antiphons are those of Vespers and the psalms those used on Sundays, the old festal Lauds. At Prime the hymn is sung with the Doxology proper to the BVM and proper tone. In the short responsory Qui natus es de Virgine is sung today and throughout the Octave, the lectio brevis is In plateis. At the Hours the hymns are sung to same tone for feasts of the Blessed Virgin.

Festal Mass is celebrated after Terce. The Rituale gives a Blessing of Herbs for this day which takes place immediately before Mass with Psalm 64, a series of versicles and responses, three collects, whose florid style, reminiscent of those for the Blessing of Palms, suggests a Gallican origin. The Caeremoniale prescribes six candles on the altar and the Graduale four cantors, if this is possible. In some diverse places the custom of the cantors wearing copes and the acolytes tunicles on great feasts is observed.

The Mass formulary Gaudeamus is particularly beautiful set of texts. The Gloria is sung, the Epistle a sublime cento from the Book of Wisdom that also forms the chapters at the Office. The gradual Propter veritatem is very ancient. The Credo is sung and the preface that of the BVM. The composer Nicholas Wilton has set one of the chant verses, Optimam partem (communion), to two delightful arrangements.

In the afternoon Second Vespers are sung with a commemoration of tomorrow's feast of St. Joachim, father of the BVM and of the third Sunday of August. Compline is again festal with the proper Doxology at Te lucis.

The rocky horror service books (aka 'the liturgical books of 1962') have seen considerable wreckovation of the once beautiful feast. At Mattins in the first nocturn the first lesson is taken from Genesis and then, curiously, the second and third from the former Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In the second nocturn the magnificent writing of St. Damascene is shortened by the inclusion of a sixth lesson from Pius XII's writings. The third nocturn has a homily of St. Peter Canisus on the new gospel pericope introduced in 1950. Lauds sees the affliction of a new chapter, a pedestrian and ugly hymn replacing O gloriosa virginum, and new collect. At Prime the lectio brevis is Dominus autem dirigat, of the season. At Prime and the Hours the tone of the hymns is that for greater feasts, not the BVM and the special Doxology is omitted. The 1950 mass is again banal and ugly compared with the ancient texts. At Vespers no commemoration is made of St. Joachim whose feast is not celebrated tomorrow. The Octave was abolished in 1955. Yet more tosh...

On a positive note there are a growing number of places in the world where the traditional liturgy is being celebrated. For that, and for other diverse blessings - Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Art: Icon from the Melkite tradition in Australia.


Patrick Sheridan said...

Rubricarius, I ought to know this (since I wrote an essay on the history of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception - and incorporated liturgical musings too) but did the Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception suffer a similar change in 1854? Going over the Mass formular today, I quite agree with your sentiments - a very strange way to honour the promulgation of a Dogma - to make the Feast which honours it inferior!

Francis said...

The site has the "new" (1950) Office of the Assumption, still with the Octave of course. I wonder in particular what objections you have to the new mass formula, "Signum magnum". Although the force of tradition certainly is often an argument in its own right (rite?), new mass formulas are not unheard of: the Sacred Heart in 1928 for example. I personally had alway thought it more logical that the Gospel in the new mass actually relates to our Lady and no longer to St Mary Magdalene : but perhaps an excessive accent on logic and transparency is precisely the trouble with the whole Bugnini liturgical experiment.

I was heartened to read that interest is growing the "real" traditional rite. Your site is surely an imporant element in that.

Rubricarius said...


Yes, December 8th had a complete 'make over' too but in some ways not quite as dramatic as that for August 15th.

In pre-Tridentine missal December 8th often appears as the 'Immaculate Conception'. Pius V was having none of that of course and it was replaced by 'As on September 8th changing the word Nativity to Conception'. In the nineteenth century there was an Office of the Immaculate Conception in use at the same time of the Conception.

The lessons for the Vigil of the Assumption were also changed (about 1911, or possibly earlier) from a homily by St. Augustine to one by St. John Chrysostom.

Augustine's homily contained the words ‘…Imo felices, qui audiunt verbum Dei, et custodiunt illud. Hoc est dicere: Et mater mea, quam appellatis felicem, inde felix, quia verbum Dei custodit: non quia in illa Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis: sed quia custodit ipsum Verbum Dei, per quod facta est, et quod in illa caro factum est.'

Patrick Sheridan said...

Rubricarius, many thanks for your informative reply. I had supposed that something was changed, but I have never perused a pre-1854 Missal before today in any great detail (that will have changed by tomorrow!) I'd like to know exactly how ancient the Proper texts for the Assumption are. I think that instead of using an argument from Tradition solely on the grounds that they are traditional, but to juxtapose this with an aesthetic argument for their reinstatement is the way forward. The modern Propers, quite simply, are not worthy of the Feast.

Rubricarius said...


I could not agree more with you.

On the sole reason of aesthetics and taste the older propers should be reinstated. Indeed it would be quite wonderful if the old collect for first Vespers, Veneranda nobis (c.f. Dominican rite) were also restored.

The 1970-2002 MR has restored some of the texts in part but nowhere near enough.