20 April 2016

Commemorating the Cross

In the pre-1960s Roman Rite, during most of Eastertide, the rubrics sometimes ordered that a commemoration at Lauds and Vespers be made of the Holy Cross. I find this wholly edifying, as a reminder that Cross and Resurrection are two sides of the same redemptive coin. Although divided chronologically, they are inseparable doctrinally; so that it is bad method to forget the Resurrection when concentrating on the Lord's Passion, or the Cross when glorying in his Resurrection. Thus in the Western Rites the triumphalist hymns Pange lingua and Vexilla Regis are sung during Holy Week and even on Good Friday.

Here is the Commemoration, which followed the Collect of the Day.

Antiphon The Crucified hath risen from the dead and hath redeemed us, alleluia, alleluia. V Tell it among the nations, alleluia. R That the Lord hath reigned from the Tree, alleluia.
Let us pray.
God, didst will that for us thy Son should undergo the suffering of the Cross that he might drive out from among us the power of the Enemy: grant to us thy servants; that we may attain unto the grace of the Resurrection. Through the same.

The Response (" ... YHWH hath reigned from the Tree") comes from a version of Psalm 95 (aka 96) verse 10. This was how it read in early Latin translations of the Psalter, and it is known that the reading goes back at least to S Justin. It is found in many later Latin Fathers, and in Venantius Fortunatus' original text of Vexilla regis. The admirable (Anglican Patrimony) translator of Latin hymnology, John Mason Neale, renders Venantius thus: 
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

The more recent history of this stanza is highly interesting and significant. The first (1968) draft of the hymns for the new breviary finds Dom Anselmo Lentini (who was in charge of the post-Conciliar coetus set up to revise the hymns), explaining the unbelievably venerable history of this reading; he concludes by observing "So we do not dare to suppress the stanza or change the line". But, in the three years before the Liturgia horarum was actually published in 1971, that stanza had bitten the dust. Somebody had 'dared'. Here we have a minute footnoted detail which penetratingly illustrates the entire post-Conciliar process; "Experts" feeling increasingly liberated, as creative day followed inventive day, from a need to respect texts which had fed the Latin Church for 1,500 years. The Council had wisely mandated only such changes as were certainly necessary; in less than a decade the "Experts" had gradually come to gloss this as meaning Fay ce que voudras. (Was Theleme a Benedictine House?)

It is easy to see the 'problem'. The old text of this hymn alleges that King David, regarded as the composer of the psalms, had written the words about God having reigned "from the tree". Pedantic 'Enlightenment' readers of the Hebrew Massoretic Text will speedily if ponderously point out that they are absent from it. Indeed, even in the Greek Septuagint only the bilingual 'Verona' psalter, I think, gives this reading (apo xulou).

But this demonstrates exactly what is wrong with that sort of approach to the august interwoven synthesis of littera scripta and Tradition which is at the heart of our Faith. And even some secular literary critics would inform you that "Reception is part of Text".

This reminds me of the point made by Benedict XVI in his Regensburg Lecture about the divine inspiration of the Septuagint. And Mgr Andrew Burnham, in his splendid book on Liturgy, pointed out that, for the Orthodox, the Septuagint is a divinely inspired correction of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Footnote Before 1956, the 'Commemoration of the Cross' was somewhat more complicated than the simplification I give above.

1 comment:

Matthew Roth said...

Someone needs to get Hausmann’s 1932 book on the breviary back in print. Of course, the hymns and psalter are an issue...but 1932>1960.

Anyways. I think that the Vulgate reception is also critical, which feeds into the liturgical tradition. The Johannine comma (included in the Vulgate and thus in the lectionary but omitted in the Novus Ordo) and the liturgical attribution of Hebrews to Paul (restored in the appendix to the third Missale Romanum, even in English!) come to mind.