While most followers of the Authentic Version of the Roman Rite were hearing the Matthaean account of the Transfiguration yesterday, the very select readers I itemise above heard, for their Sunday Gospel, the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter the Lord exorcised.
The still useful Anglican handbook Liturgy and Worship (1932) explains as follows (auctore K D Mackenzie ... I have expanded some of his abbreviations): "Lent II. Originally a vacant Sunday (cf. Advent IV). Hence there are great variations in the Proprium. Schuster speaks of the 'patchwork composition' of the [Modern Roman] Mass, and [the Medieval English uses in general have] not much more individuality. When the local Roman Sacramentary and Lectionary were adopted in other places, it was necessary to make up a Proprium from various sources. [The Comes of Murbach also offers the Syro-Phoenician Woman.]"
My Question: Why should that pericope have been conseidered, in Northern Europe and elsewhere, appropriate for this Sunday? Or for bringing an Ember Week to its conclusion?
Things have reasons!
Well, as a prelude to the Gospel of the following Sunday which is about taking care that the demon, once cast out, doesn't come back.
It does make sense in a Lenten, and specially not-Passiontide-but-Lenten, context. It does not, as far as I see, have anything to do (beyond "in matters of religion everything has to do with everything") with Ember Week in any of its rôles as thanking for a harvest, praying for a good harvest, or ordination-week.
The strange thing, and probably the reason why the Romans decided differently, is to have no Transfiguration. Quite apart from the fact that it really is fitting for Lent II (even the Liturgy-Reformers saw that), at that time the 6th August feast did not yet exist if I'm rightly informed. So, they had no Transfiguration on either a Sunday or a specific feast? In a world where the Sunday-Church-goers by and large also come on Ember Saturday, and there was not yet a First Saturday devotion to compete with the ferial Mass by way of votives, nor the semidoubles which under pre-1954 rules outranked the feria, I could understand it; but otherwise?
This will be purely conjectural, but I note that the old Roman and Gallican lists of lessons place the Gospel of the Syro-Phoenician woman on the first Sunday of the first month, which would have been March. That may have been seen as a suitable day for those who had been ordained on Ember Saturday to exercise their priesthood for the first time.
Furthermore, the BCP translation has the woman say "my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil", which might have called to mind the Minor Order of Exorcist, received in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
Finally, the Missals conclude the Epistle with v. 7 of 1 Thes 4:1-7, but BCP adds v. 8:"He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit" - on the day of Ordination.
In the rest of the Roman Rite the Gospel of the Syro-Phoenician woman is read on the Thursday between the Ember Days. Except of course since on that day we are reading Saint Matthew's version, and Saint Matthew as every ancient source going back to Irenaeus in the late second century tells us originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, she is called the Canaanite woman.
This is speculative:
If one looks at the 2nd/3rd/4th Sundays in Lent they seem to pick up the theme of the three temptations in Matthew - but in reverse order.
Thus the 4th Sunday is multiplication of Bread, (vs. the temptation to turn stones into bread), and the 3rd Sunday is the exorcism of the dumb demon (after which Jesus refuses to perform a "sign" from heaven as he had refused to perform a sign by leaping from the Temple).
The 2nd Sunday should therefore correspond to temptation to worship the devil and receive the rule of the kingdoms of the world i.e. the Gentiles. And Jesus' initial refusal to deal with the Canaanite woman from Tyre/Sidon and his insistence that he is sent to Israel only, is followed by Jesus' response to the woman's faith (by which she becomes a part of the true Israel).
Thus there seems to be a recapitulation of elements of the three temptations in the three Sundays following... perhaps the Transfiguration and the subsequent prediction of the Cross is the key that fits the wards of each of these three Gospels and opens their significance vis-a-vis the three temptations.
2nd Sunday: the kingdoms of the world are not yet Christ's before he has undergone the Pascal sacrifice, he is as yet sent only to Israel. However this Gospel prefigures the gathering in of the Gentiles through faith (cf. also the Epistle and "the Gentiles which know not God").
3rd Sunday: the true sign that Jesus will give is the "binding" of the strong man at the Cross, after which the swept house of unbelieving Israel will be inhabited by seven more wicked spirits
4th Sunday: the Eucharist of the loaves is accomplished on the other side of Galilee - among the Gentiles - and gathers in twelve new baskets (tribes) of believers who feed on the bread offered from Christ's own hands and distributed by his apostles - Jesus satisfaction of hunger will necessitate his own death and will offer nourishment but not for the body only.
The specific question of how the Gospel might dovetail with the Ember Days and ordination is I think in its thematic similarity to the OT lessons for Ember Saturday which are all to some extent concerned with teaching Israel to follow God and glorify Him before the Gentiles. This I expect is to be read as an injunction to the duty of the ordained as ministers of the Word but is the Gospel a reminder of what we now call "mission"?
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