Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Assumption

The great feast of the Assumption is a Double of the First Class with an Octave. The feast also appears as the Dormition of the Mother of God in some earlier MSS and is known by that name in the East to this day. The liturgical colour of the feast is white. The feast is preceded by a Vigil that was, traditionally, a day of fast and abstinence.

At first Vespers yesterday afternoon the first antiphons Assumpta est Maria etc were sung with psalms 109, 112, 121, 126 & 147. The chapter was from the feast In omnibus requiem and the Office hymn the hauntingly beautiful Ave, maris stella the first verse of which is sung kneeling. At Compline Te lucis is sung to the tone of feasts of the BVM and with the Doxology Jesu, tibi sit gloria etc.

At Mattins the invitatory, Venite, adoremus Regem regum, Cujus hodie ad aethereum Virgo Mater assumpta est in caelum, is proper to the feast. The hymn is Quem terra, pontus, sidera. In the first nocturn the antiphons Exaltata est etc are sung with psalms 8, 18 & 23. The lessons in the first nocturn, since the time of Pius V, are taken from the Incipit of the Canticle of Canticles, are particularly rich with vibrant, sensual, imagery:

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: therefore 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 antiphons Specie tua etc are sung with psalms 44, 45 & 86. The lessons are from St. John Damascene's second discourse on the Dormition of the Virgin and again both exquisite and highly appropriate to the day:
"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 antiphons Gaude, Maria virgo etc are sung with psalms 95, 96 & 97. The homily on the Gospel fragment is from St. Augustine's 27th Sermon on the Words of the Lord. The Te Deum is sung. At Lauds the antiphons Assumpta est Maria etc are sung with psalms 92, 99, 62, Benedicite and 148. The hymn O gloriosa virginum. The collect of the feast is one of the most sublime ever written:
Famulorum tuorum, quaesumus, Domine, delictis ignosce: ut, qui tibi placere de actibus nostris non valemus; Genitricis Filii tui, Domini nostri, intercessione salvemur.

Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy servants: that we who by our own deeds are unable to please thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of thy Son our Lord.

At Prime and the Hours the hymns are sung with the proper Doxology and tone. In the short responsory Qui natus es de Virgine is sung, both today and throughout the Octave, and the lectio brevis is In plateis.

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 Mass formulary, Gaudeamus, is a particularly beautiful set of texts. The Gloria is sung. The Epistle is 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 is of the BVM, Et te in Assumptione.

In the afternoon at second Vespers all is as at first Vespers except the antiphon on the Magnificat which today is Hodie Maria Virgo caelos ascendit: gaudete, quia cum Christo regnat in aeternum. After the collect of the feast a commemoration is sung of the following feast of St. Joachim, father of the BVM, followed by a commemoration of the XII Sunday after Pentecost (the antiphon on the Magnifcat being Omnis sapientia for the Saturday before the third Sunday of August). At Compline the Sunday psalms are sung and Te lucis is sung with the proper Doxology and tone.

The 'liturgical books of 1962' have seen considerable revision of the once beautiful feast with changes both in 1960 and, previously, with the introduction of novel texts in the 1950s. Vespers gets a new chapter, hymn and collect. The new collect was once admirably described by the erudite Latin scholar Rev. John Hunwicke as "a modern composition which I would describe as a dollop of dogma followed by a platitude". 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 writings of St. Damascene are shortened by the inclusion of a sixth lesson from Pacelli's verbiage. The third nocturn has a homily of St. Peter Canisus on the new gospel pericope introduced in 1950. At Lauds there is a new chapter, a pedestrian and ugly hymn replacing O gloriosa virginum, and the 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 Incarnation and the special Doxology is omitted. The 1950's creation is banal and ugly compared with the ancient texts. At Vespers there is no commemoration of St. Joachim. The Octave was abolished in 1955 and so, within the space of five years, over a millenium's veritable tradition, organic development and beauty was simply tossed aside in the name of 'living tradition'.

Icon: El Greco - The Dormition of the Virgin.

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