1 January 2017

The Feast of the Circumcision

Why, people ask, was January 1 deprived of its old name of the Feast of the Circumcision? Since it manifestly is eight days after the Nativity, and eight days after His birth was when the Lord was circumcised.

The question is a mere detail. In the Gregorian Sacramentary, today was called simply the Octave of the Lord, and its Collect (as today) concerned the Mother of God (Deus qui salutis aeternae). (The Byzantine Rite also has a natural inclination to concentrate on an aspect of a great feast on a nearby day). During the Middle Ages, today came to have the title of the Circumcision, but the propers were not changed. So even while it was called the Feast of the Circumcision, most of the Mass and Office (except for the Gospel and some readings at Mattins), did not have any reference to the Circumcision. They were about the Incarnation, our Lady's part in it, and her perpetual Virginity.

At Lauds, the first Antiphon (O admirabile commercium) is a superb reminder that the Incarnation of God makes us, the baptised, into Gods (or, to be pedantic, sharers in the Godhead of the one into whom we have been baptised). What a wonderful Swap (commercium)! The Creator of the human race, taking an animated body, has deigned to be born of a Virgin, and, going forth as a human without seed, has granted to us his Divinity. The second antiphon typologically uses the dew that fell upon Gideon's flece; the third sees the bush that was burned but not consumed as a type of Mary's virginity, undiminished by her childbearing.

Personally, I feel that the simplest and best title is that of Octave of the Nativity; surely we could call it that and then leave the unchanged ancient texts to make their own different but interrelated points. I suspect the post-Conciliar tamperers changed it to Mary Mother of God simply to give themselves an excuse for suppressing Pius XI's feast on October 11. (And it would be jolly to start rescuing the term Octave from practical oblivion.)

Mutual Enrichment ... Dom Anselmo Lentini, in the Liturgia Horarum, mandated by the Council to increase the use of ancient hymnody drawn from the vast treasury of the Latin Church, introduced the fine Prudentian hymn Corde natus ex Parentis [Of the Father's Heart begotten] as an Office Hymn for today. A marvellous idea. I love so much of its phraseology ... Corde natus ... ipse fons et clausula ...  as well as those great striding trochaic tetrameters catalectic. A mature and glorious moment in the evolution of Christian Latin. (What a Diabolical scandal that, within a decade of Sacrosanctum Concilium, its provisions [especially paras 93 and 101] were so brazenly suppressed in order to eliminate a latinate and literate clergy connected to their roots ... as part of a wider conspiracy frankly revealed by Screwtape at the end of Chapter XXVII.)

Hymns are a weak point in the 1961 Breviary; their texts still stand as they were corrupted by Urban VIII, and more variety is surely needed. Is there any cleric who really enjoys saying Iste Confessor day after day? It will be a great day when, on both 'sides', we have a sufficiently balanced, relaxed, and distanced  view of Vatican II and its aftermath to be able to incorporate some of their worthier elements into our incomparable ancient rites.


Woody said...

A Happy and spiritually beneficial New Year, Father, and here's hoping that you will get over to Houston this year to visit us in the Cathedral parish.

mark wauck said...

Perhaps the discovery of the Holy Prepuce(s) at various locations across Europe during the Middle Ages played a role in transforming the Octave of the Lord into the Feast of the Circumcision.

Matthew Roth said...

The frequency of hymns is helpful for those who wish to prayerfully memorize an office.

Joshua said...

The Ambrosian Missal contains a very interesting Mass for the Circumcision - because several parts evidently date from the time when pagan idolatry still flourished, and Christians prayed against such festivities on the 1st of January; readers may feel that those dark ages have returned.

Herewith, those bits and pieces prayed in detestation of pagan idolatry, that now seem not so quaint nor obsolete; note particularly the Old Testament Lesson, which proclaims itself to be from Baruch, but contains also verses from Jeremias and the fourth Book of the Kings:

Ingressa. (Cf. 4 Reg. 17, 36; cf. Bar. 6, 4-6)
In conspectu gentium nolite metuere. Vos enim in corde vestro adorate, et timete Dominum; Angelus enim ejus vobiscum est.

[In the sight of the Gentiles do not fear. For you in your hearts adore, and fear the Lord; for his Angel is with you.]

Oratio super populum
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui mensæ tuæ participes a diabolico jubes abstinere convivio, da, quæsumus, plebi tuæ: ut, gustu mortiferæ profanitatis abjecto, puris mentibus ad epulas æternæ salutis accedat. Per.

[Almighty everlasting God, who commandest the partakers of thy table to abstain from the diabolical banquet, give, we beg, to thy people that, rejecting the taste of deathly profanity, with pure minds it may approach to the food of eternal salvation. Through.]


Joshua said...

Lectio Baruch [sic] Prophetæ. (Bar. 6, 1-2; Jer. 51, 47-48a & 58; Bar. 6, 3; 4 Reg. 17, 39a; Bar. 6, 4-6a)

Hæc dicit Dominus Deus.
Propter peccata quæ peccastis ante Deum, adducti estis [Vulg. abducemini] in Babylonem [Vulg. Babyloniam] captivi [Vulg. add. a] Nabuchodonosor Regi [Vulg. rege] Babylonis. Ingressi ergo [Vulg. itaque] in Babylonem, eritis illic [Vulg. ibi] annis pluribus [Vulg. plurimis], et in tempore longo [Vulg. temporibus longis], usque ad septem generationes [Vulg. generationes septem]: post hæc [Vulg. hoc] autem educam vos inde in [Vulg. cum] pace.
Quia [Vulg. Propterea] ecce ego [Vulg. dies veniunt, et] visitabo super sculptilia Babylonis, et omnis terra ejus confundetur, et universi interfecti ejus cadent in medio ejus. Et laudabunt super Babylonem cæli et terra, et omnia quæ in eis sunt.
Quoniam [Vulg Hæc dicit Dominus exercituum:] Murus Babylonis ille latissimus suffossione suffodietur, et portæ ejus excelsæ igni comburentur, et labores populorum ad nihilum, et gentium in ignem erunt, et disperibunt.
Nunc autem videbitis in Babylone [Vulg. Babylonia] deos aureos et argenteos, et lapideos et ligneos, in humeris portari, ostentantes metum gentibus.
Vos itaque timete Dominum Deum vestrum: et [Vulg. Sed Dominum Deum vestrum timete, et… vos]
cavete, [Vulg. Videte ergo] ne et vos, alienigenis similes facti simulacra [Vulg. similes efficiamini factis alienis, et] metuatis, et metus vos capiat in ipsis. [Vulg. inter eos,] videntes turbas gentium [Vulg. Visa itaque turba] ante, et retro [Vulg. de retro et ab ante,] adorantes Idola. Sed semper [Vulg. om.] dicite in corde vestro [Vulg. cordibus vestris]: Te oportet adorari, Domine. Angelus enim meus vobiscum est.
Dicit Dominus.


[English not adjusted to match divergences of Ambrosian text]
Thus saith the Lord God.
For the sins that you have committed before God, you shall be carried away captives into Babylon by Nabuchodonosor the king of Babylon. And when you are come into Babylon, you shall be there many years, and for a long time, even to seven generations: and after that I will bring you away from thence with peace.
Therefore… I will visit the idols of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. And the heavens and the earth, and all things that are in them shall give praise for Babylon.
That broad wall of Babylon shall be utterly broken down, and her high gates shall be burnt with fire, and the labours of the people shall come to nothing, and of the nations shall go to the fire, and shall perish.
But now, you shall see in Babylon gods of gold, and of silver, and of stone, and of wood borne upon shoulders, causing fear to the Gentiles.
But fear the Lord your God, and
Beware therefore that you imitate not the doings of others, and be afraid, and the fear of them should seize upon you. But when you see the multitude behind, and before, adoring them, say you in your hearts: Thou oughtest to be adored, O Lord. For my angel is with you:
Saith the Lord.


Joshua said...

Psalmellus. (Ps. 82, 19 & 3; cf. Ps. 9, 21)
Sciant gentes, quoniam nomen tibi Deus: tu solus altissimus * super omnem terram.
V. Quoniam ecce inimici tui sonuerunt: et qui te oderunt, extulerunt caput * super omnem terram.

[Let the Gentiles know, for God is thy name: thou alone art the Most High * over all the earth.
V. For lo, thy enemies have made a noise: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head * over all the earth.]

Hallelujah, hallelujah.
V. Jubilate Deo omnis terra: psalmum dicite nomini ejus. (Ps. 65, 1-2)

[V. Shout with joy to God, all the earth: sing ye a psalm to his name.]

Antiphona post Evangelium. Dan. 6, 26 (cf. Bar. 3, 36; Ps. 47, 15; 36, 18)
Hic est Deus noster, vivens in sæcula: et regnum ejus non æstimabitur: et potestas ejus in æternum erit.

[This is our God, living for ever: and his kingdom shall not be be accounted of, and his power shall be for ever.]

Offertorium. (Cf. Deut. 32, 37-38)
Ubi sunt nunc Dii eorum, in quibus confidebatis in eis? quorum ádipem sacrificiorum edebatis, et bibebatis vinum libationum eorum? Surgant nunc, et ádjuvent vos, et fiant vobis protectores.

[Where are now their gods, in whom you put confidence in them? the fat of whose sacrifices you ate, and the wine of their libations you drank? Let them arise now, and help you.]

Confractorium. (1 Paral. 29, 11 & 12; cf. Esth. 14, 14, etc.)
Tua est potentia, tuum regnum, Domine: tu es super omnes deos: libera nos in manu tua.

[Thine is power, thine the kingdom, O Lord: thou art above all gods: deliver us in thy hand.]

John Fisher said...

"Hymns are a weak point in the 1961 Breviary; their texts still stand as they were corrupted by Urban VIII" lets start buy restoring them to the earlier texts.

B flat said...

May 2017 see you bring much good fruit for our edification, and keep you in good health happiness and strength for many more years, Father.
The Byzantines, having Fore- and After-Feasts of variable length for their greatest solemnities, have no fetish for octaves as such. I suspect that your attachment to the octaves is the defensive reaction of a conservator of the worthy and beautiful constructions of Christian Civilisation against the barbarians who still control much of the Church.
May I interest you in the Orthodox texts for the circumcision? From childhood attendance at the Roman Mass for this feast, I think I remember the first voluntary shedding of the Incarnate Word's Precious Blood for our salvation, being mentioned. That is very significant, but perhaps it was in a sermon.
Nevertheless, a recurring theme in the Byzantine texts, is that the Author of the Law makes Himself subject to the Law. This is an illuminating illustration of what the Incarnation involves as the means for our salvation. This lesson has not been learned sufficiently well in the history of Christian civilisation by many of those who ruled, or who have administered the law. The present Pope, as supreme legislator of the Roman Catholic Church, himself acts contrary to this fine example of the Infant Christ. Modern legislatures enact many things repugnant to the Law of God. English Catholics are particularly aware of this since the time of St Thomas More. I urge you not to put aside the Circumcision as a Feast so easily, Father.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I was not putting anything aside but explaining the history of the Roman Rite. And I hope I would be too well-mannered to say that the Byzantines had a 'fetish' for Fore- and After-Feasts. It's rather like people who are so mesmerised by philobyzantinism that they tell you that the Supplices te Rogamus is the epiclesis of the Roman Canon, rather than suggesting that the Epiclesis is the Supplices te Rogamus of the Byzantine Rite. People sometimes need to be reminded that the Roman Rite is older than the Byzantine and does not need to be apologised for. Nor, indeed, does the Byzantine Rite need to be apologised for. I fail to understand Prejudice in whichever direction it works. Vivant omnes!

But, B flat, I thank you most warmly for your good wishes, which I reciprocate. Nor do I dissent from your neat point about the present pope.