14 December 2021

Liturgical Inventions (2)

Yes; I did say Tenth month, because December was still seen as the Tenth Month. In the 'Leonine'/'Verona' Sacramentary. the Masses for this week have the heading "In the Fast of the Tenth Month". January and February are interlopers: the early Romans, simple agriculturalists, did not bother to give names or numbers to the first eight or so weeks of the year, because that was a time when nothing much happened in their fields!

And that Sacramentary, I think, enables us to push back to a time before Advent was invented as a preparation for Christmas ... and to a time when Christmas was still new ... and, even further back than that, to a time when Christmas had not been invented.

The Ember Masses in our present Roman Missal, as edited by S Pius V, have been heavily marked by the proximity of Christmas. They have been Adventified! To say this is not to belittle them; on the contrary. I would urge anybody who worships in places where the heavy hand of PF has not yet fallen, to take every opportunity to attend (especially) the exquisite Rorate Masses of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday this week. They may very possibly be daring innovations of Pope S Gregory I, brought to England, hot from the Scriptorium, by S Augustine in 597.

But I do think it can be fun to take a naughty peep behind the curtains at the Verona Sacramentary Masses for the December Ember Days. I hope you will not think the worse of me for doing this.

Some of these earlier formulae bear no marks whatsoever of Christmas-fever or of the themes of 'Advent'. The first of these Masses, with a naive agricultural emphasis, asks God to make our days fecundos. And, in the Proper Preface we find the following ... here is a crude literal translation:

" ... because by those things which are seen, we are instructed as to by which methods we ought to move ahead to unseen things. Finally, we are advised, the advance of the year being our teacher, to move over into future things and to newness of life, away from oldness, so that, hurried along by earthly supports, we may seize with greater desire the fruitfulness of the heavenly gift and, through that food which is asked for first, by its alternating benefits we may arrive at the food which will last for ever."

I think the mind of the pope who composed this is fixed upon the idea that, at this turning point in the natural annual cycle, his people may be reminded by the lengthening of the days and the ripening of the crops, that an eternal and unchanging Food lies in God's promise. As he puts it in the Super populum, transeuntium rerum necessaria consolatione foveatur et fiducialius ad aeterna [plebs] contendat.

He ... or another Pontiff ... does show some awareness of Christmas in another Mass within this section. As we are becoming grateful for the gifts we have received, he believes, we should be all the more grateful, so that we may not only rejoice in earthly fertility but may receive with purified minds the Nativity, worthy of honour, of the Eternal Bread. (ut non solum terrena fertilitate laetemur sed nativitatem panis aeterni purificatis suscipiamus mentibus honorandam).

Dunno about you; but that strikes me as composition by a pastor who is relying on the accepted, inherited instincts of his flock who observe the change in the year which follows the solstice, to encourage them to take more seriously a liturgical celebration of the Nativity of Christ. 

Christmas, in other words, is for him what needs encouragement. The lengthening days and sprouting crops are platitudes he can take for granted. 

Christmas, for him and his flock, is still a bit new!

We, the select few who observe the Embertides, can wallow in the elevating thought that we are harking back to a time before the invention of Christmas! The simple pleasure of being part of a liturgical tradition linking us to the seasonal rhythms of Israel, as well as to those of the Italian countryside! Vatican II never abolished them; indeed, Pope S Paul VI, in the Normae he approved in 1969, expected Episcopal Conferences to fix the times for Embertide (and Rogation) observances (He had the Farmers of Tasmania and the Falklands in mind when he did this). 

I imagine Arthur Roche will soon take this little detail in hand. It's never too late to do what's right.

1 comment:

Banshee said...

So the tenth month Ember Days are in Dec-Ember.