INTROITUS: From St. Stephen to Holy Family

On December 26 we celebrate the archdeacon and protomartyr St. Stephen. The impressive introit of that day is Etenim:

Etenim sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur: et iniqui persecuti sunt me: adjuva me, Domine Deus meus, quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis justificationibus.

“The leaders truly sat in judgment on me, and they spoke against me. And the unjust persecuted me. Help me, Lord, my God, for your servant meditated (on) your judgments.” (Ps 119 (118), 23 and 86)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

From a historical perspective the feast of St. Stephen has nothing to do with Christmas. St. Stephen’s day was introduced earlier than Christmas, and once Christmas was celebrated on December 25, St. Stephen belonged to the Christmas octave.

Etenim is relating to martyrdom, nothing else. It makes us experience what it feels like to be hunted down by bad but mighty people. Etenim is a warning against unjust judges and against ourselves whenever we are unjust.

Etenim also expresses trust in God who will be the only judge at the end of time. Etenim wants to give us an example on which to reflect whenever we ourselves are persecuted without any reason.

The strongest part of this introit are the first three words: Etenim sederunt principes. You can hear the unjust mob adrenalizing themselves. They want to destroy someone, they want to execute their power and violence over someone, and this someone is me. That is what Stephen experienced, and he shows us what we should do in such a situation: Pray for our persecutors and place all our hopes in God.

December 27 is the feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. The introit is In medio Ecclesiae:

In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os ejus: et implevit eum Dominus spiritu sapientiae, et intellectus: stolam gloriae induit eum.

“In the middle of the Church he opened his mouth. And the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and intellect, he dressed him with the stole of glory.” (Sir 15:5)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

The Byzantine tradition calls St. John simply “the theologian.” While Matthew, Mark, and Luke are storytellers, John is rather a philosopher—at least in important parts of his gospel. The introit gives an interesting summary of the qualities of good theology: calm (the introit is in the 6th mode, which generally expresses maturity and safety); not too long; poetic; and with wisdom and intellect at its core.

On December 28 we celebrate the Holy Innocents with the introit Ex ore infantium:

Ex ore infantium, Deus, et lactentium perfecisti laudem propter inimicos tuos.

“From the mouth of infants and suckling babies, God, you have perfectly fashioned praise because of your enemies.” (cf. Ps 8:3)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

What an inspiring contrast to the day before, when we celebrated wisdom and maturity (see above): God is not only praised by elitist, brainy intellectuals, but also by the infants. Could that be a hint that we shall regard all creation as a cosmic celebration for the Creator? Even if that is the deeper meaning of this day, the Holy Innocents still remain innocent victims of violent furor. The Christian view of the entire Creation should make all Christians advocates of the poor, innocent, and powerless.

The last feast day in the Christmas Octave is Holy Family on the Sunday in the Octave which occurs on December 29 in this year. The introit is Deus in loco sancto suo:

Deus in loco sancto suo: Deus, qui inhabitare facit unanimes in domo: ipse dabit virtutem et fortitudinem plebi suae.

“God in his sacred place: God, who engenders harmoniously living together in one house: He will give power and strength to his people.” (Ps 68 (67):6.7.36)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant.
Sung by Br. Jacob Berns, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey.

The feast of Holy Family was introduced into the Roman Catholic calendar in 1893 and again in 1921 after Pius X had abolished it for a short time. Like other feast days added to the calendar in modern times, this one got an introit that was already in use: In excelso throno. After the Second Vatican Council this was changed to Deus in loco sancto suo which we had twice before. I have already discussed this introit here and here.

I started the INTROITUS series on January 1 for all Sundays, solemnities and feast days for the year 2019, so the series ends here. My greatest hope is that those of you who do not know much about Gregorian Chant could find something inspiring every now and then and that I could make you curious about this great tradition of Western liturgical music. I am convinced that Gregorian Chant is a core source for the appropriate understanding of Roman liturgy and of Christian faith according to our predecessors—and it is very, very beautiful.

My special thanks go to Father Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., and to Rita Ferrone who helped me in their editorial service (and it was Anthony’s idea to start the INTROITUS series), to Brother Jacob Berns, O.S.B., who recorded lots of the chants so that we could present audio files with almost every post, to the ConBrio publishing house and Dr. Juan Martin Koch who generously granted permission to publish scans from the Graduale Novum (which you all should purchase, by the way!), and finally to you, the readers of the Pray Tell Blog who took the time to follow my thoughts and to leave replies in the comments section or—as happened several times this year—in personal e-mails.

INTROITUS: Christmas

The solemnity of the Nativity of Jesus Christ has three different Masses in the Roman Catholic rite.

The Midnight Mass begins with the introit Dominus dixit ad me:

Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te.

“The Lord said to me: My son are you, today I have given birth to you.” (Ps 2:7)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant sung by Br. Jacob Berns, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey.

I published a longer post on this introit, the issues of its translation, and the entire Midnight Mass one year ago under the title “Merry Divinization!” hence I abstain from a new comment here.

Then there is the Morning Mass (missa in aurora) which is rarely celebrated. Most communities prefer the regular Mass of the day even when they celebrate in the early morning. The Christmas Morning Mass is a historical oddity: It was introduced into the Papal calendar as a liturgy for the Greeks living in Rome who celebrated St. Anastasia on December 25. Over generations it turned into an additional Christmas Mass that was celebrated in the entire Western world. Until 1969 there was a second Collect in this Mass relating to St. Anastasia. The introit is Lux fulgebit:

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos: quia natus est nobis Dominus: et vocabitur Admirabilis, Deus, Princeps pacis, Pater futuri saeculi: cujus regni non erit finis.

“A light flashes up today: for the Lord is born for us. And he will be called Wonderful, God, Prince of peace, Father of the coming age. His reign will never end.” (cf. Is 9:2-7)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

I just want to mention here the signature word of the Christmas liturgy: hodie (today). Several chants on December 24 proclaim mane (tomorrow), and on December 25 this changes into hodie. While Easter uses the catchphrase haec dies (this day) from several Biblical sources, Christmas has expressions with hodie. It is a core aspect of Jewish and Christian liturgy that everything that is “remembered” is literally “present” here and how. The encounter of God and human in Jesus Christ is not a historical event, it is our reality when we resort to the Biblical mysteries in our liturgical celebration.

Finally there is the third Mass for this solemnity, the missa in die. Its introit is Puer natus est:

Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis: cujus imperium super humerum ejus: et vocabitur nomen ejus magni consilii Angelus.

“A child (or: boy) is born to us, and a son is given to us. The governance is on his shoulders, and his name will be called: Angel (messenger) of good counsel.” (cf. Is 9:6)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant sung by Br. Jacob Berns, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey.

One of the happiest pieces in Gregorian Chant: light, easy, cheerful, festive. The astonished reservation of Dominus dixit ad me in the Midnight Mass has changed: not into bossy triumphalism, but into joy and airiness.

And please observe the pronoun nobis that returns twice in this antiphon: The redeemer is not only born, but he is born for us! The antiphon does not forget that aspect and stresses nobis in both instances: again not bossy, but light and grateful.

INTROITUS: 4th Sunday of Advent

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum: aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.

“Thaw, heavens from above, and the clouds shall rain the righteous. The earth shall open up and sprout the redeemer.” (Is 45:8)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant sung by Br. Jacob Berns, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey.

Rorate is probably the best known Gregorian chant from Advent. In the third quarter of the first millenium, when there was no Mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent, Rorate only belonged to Votive Masses in honor of Mary. Then it became the introit for this Sunday, and due to the tradition of Marian Votive Masses by candlelight in Advent, Rorate became the name of any atmospheric Advent services, at least in German speaking regions.

This introit is so impressive and the connection between melodic directions and the text is so obvious that it needs no further explanation.

Desuper in the first line is obviously supposed to be pronounced with the second syllable stressed: de-SU-per. The rules of Latin pronunciation in Carolingian times are different from those of Renaissance Latin, although the latter remain authoritative for the way we learn Latin today. In Gregorian Chant Hebrew names are mostly stressed on the final syllable: Ja-COB, Moy-SES, Abra-HAM, even sometimes Je-SUS and Mari-AM. Words can have more than one stressed syllable, like CAP-ti-vi-TA-tem (where the root syllable of the word CAP-tare remains its emphasis) or BE-ne-di-XIS-ti, which is treated like two words: BE-ne + di-XIS-ti.

The word desuper is regarded here as two words: de + super. De as a monosyllabic word might be stressed or not (we cannot clearly decide it in this case), and super remains its original accent on the first syllable. In Renaissance Latin, desuper would be regarded as a compound word where the accent moves one syllable back so that it is pronounced DE-super. Thankfully the Graduale Novum has given the correct original emphasis: de-SU-per.

By the way: It is the same with the word omnipotens in the Gloria: In the original Gregorian Chant from the Early Middle Ages it is not om-NI-potens, but OM-ni POT-ens.

INTROITUS: 3rd Sunday of Advent

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnbibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all humans: The Lord is near. Do not be anxious, but in all prayer your requests shall be known to God.” (Phil 4:4-6)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

Among German Lutherans many Latin introit names are well known, since they are still in use as Sunday names: Oculi, Judica, Jubilate etc. Among Catholics only two Latin Sunday names have remained: Laetare for the 4th Sunday of Lent and Gaudete for the 3rd Sunday of Advent which we have here.

Although this name is still in use, one of my first teachers in Gregorian Chant—a Benedictine monk and professor of Gregorian Chant—used to say that Gaudete is not an appropriate abbreviation for this introit. From Gaudete the melody and dynamic immediately hand over their power to in Domino and after that all power unloads at the word semper. “Always.” This Sunday’s message is not “rejoice,” but “rejoice → always!”

That is why this is not the Sunday Gaudete, but the Sunday Semper.

INTROITUS: Immaculate Conception

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo: quia induit me vestimentis salutis, et indumento justitiae circumdedit me, quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis.

“I will joyfully rejoice in the Lord, and my soul will exult in my God, for he has clothed me with vestmens of salvation, and he robed me with a dress of justice, like a bride, ornamented with necklaces.” (cf. Is 61:10)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

This melody was copied from Vocem iucunditatis, but of course there are no original medieval neumes for this piece—the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is much younger.

The dogma of Immaculate Conception is a burden in ecumenical dialogue; no church except the Roman Catholic teaches it.

If we try to make this Catholic dogma understandable, Gaudens gaudebo can lead in a good direction: Mary’s election can be regarded as a festive vestment that was given to her without personal merits. And Gal 3:27 says: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

If we combine both of these ideas we can conclude that this solemnity is not about something miraculous happening biologically between Mary’s mother and father. It rather shows us Mary as an image or an archetype of Christianity. And that is something that one hopes other Christian denominations can agree to, even if they (for good biblical and historical reasons) literally deny the Roman Catholic dogma that this solemnity relies on.