15 September 2023

CATASTROPHE: The Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 I know it's childish to have Special Feasts, but I do have a weakness for the Office Hymn which led us into today's superb Feast of the Seven Dolours of our Lady; Iam toto subitus. In our nice old [Anglican Catholic] English Catholic Hymn Book, our English version began Now over all the heavens

(These propers have a Counter-Reformation Servite origin--1667--and were promulgated for the third Sunday in September in the Roman Calendar by Pius VII after his release by Buonaparte and his return to Rome.)

What appeals to me is the bold, vigorous oxymoron of the words Divinamque catastrophen. (ECHB "the wondrous tragedy of God"). It's not simply that I gullibly warm to those those hymnographers who fling the odd Graecism around; I also happen to feel that this is a virile assertion of the Truth that God Almighty and Incarnate, God Crucified, in a real sense subjected himself to a real reverse. It reminds me of the bold Eastern intuition that One of the Trinity Died On The Cross. God was not pretending. God was not 'just' fulfilling a role; just as in the next stanza, the groans uttered by the Hypostasis of the Incarnate Word were both deep and real expressions of agony.

And there is a fine poetic vividness in the notion that 'Day' was pretty astonished to be shoved unceremoniously out of the way so early.

And I like the way the self-same poet piles up the heavy, inexorable syllables of that other Graecism; the truth that our Lady's Heart should be adamantinum. Cor Adamantinum ora pro nobis!

Gueranger wrote: "On the mountain of Sacrifice, as Mother she gave her Son; as Bride she offered herself together with him; by her sufferings both as Bride and as as Mother, she was Co-redemptrix of the human race". Fr Faber, perhaps with an eye to the Miraculous Medal, observed that "The two things were one simultaneous oblation, interwoven each moment through the thickly crowded mysteries of that dread time, unto the Eternal Father, out of two sinless Hearts, that were the Hearts of Son and Mother ...".

(Three Asclepiads followed by a Glyconic. If the hymn is not in your Breviary, that is because of the sad mid-century campaign against First Vespers.)

BTW: today's lectio vi finds S Bernard describing Maria as compatiens; which reminds me of the fact that, at Bishop John de Grandisson's Exeter Cathedral in the 1320s, the Friday Votive in the Lady Chapel was called the Compatientia Mariae.


Kathleen1031 said...

That point is interesting to think about, Fr. Hunwicke, the death of Christ was real and full of agony and not just an exercise or a role. I am wondering why you say Feasts are childish?

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

I don't quite understand your comment, as both in Pius X's breviary and in 1960, the hymn "Jam toto subitus vesper eat polo" is used both at I and II Vespers.

All your other comments are entirely concurred with!

Of all Office hymns this one plays with wholly shocking adjectives and juxtapositions - the "Divinam catastrophen" is immediately preceded by "ludibrium necis"; then "Natus funerea pendulus" - all madness.

Wouldn't Sellar and Yeatman have had fun with the opening versus? - "He ate all the jam with a mint immediately after Evensong".

Jesse said...

Thank you, Father, for bringing this interesting hymn to our notice. It's not a text, or a feast, to which I've ever given any attention!

In the Pars Autumnalis volume of my 1884 Desclée Breviarium Monasticum, which bears the library stamp of the nuns of St. Gertrud at Tettenweis (Bavaria), the feast VII Dolorum BMV is assigned to the third Sunday in September. The hymn at I Vespers is O quot undis lacrymarum. Our Iam toto subitus is appointed for Matins (Nocturns). But one of the sisters of St. Gertrud has pencilled before O quot undis a note reading "Matutin." And before Iam toto subitus, she has written "Vesper." This change brought her breviary into line with the revisions eventually embodied in the Breviarium Monasticum of 1925 (my copy was printed in 1933), where the feast VII Dolorum BMV is assigned to September 15.

The 1925 Breviarum Monasticum adapted the breviary reforms of Pope Pius X to the monastic form of the Office—happily without the distortion of the weekly cursus of psalmody that marred the new Breviarium Romanum. (The 1935 Monastic Diurnal of Canon Winfred Douglas, which will be familiar to Anglican readers, was based on the 1925 Breviarium Monasticum, which, Canon Douglas notes in the preface, was the result of "extensive revision and restoration by its Benedictine editors.")

It is rather moving to discover, a couple of pages later in the 1884 Breviarium, that my Bavarian nun has made pencil marks under the very words of St. Bernard that you have mentioned, Father. (In the four-lessons-per-nocturn monastic pattern, these come in Lesson VIII.) She has evidently been warned that she will have to read this lesson, and she wants to make sure that she doesn't flub the intonation formula in the rhetorical questions that St. Bernard is heaping up. She has underlined the first syllable of each question ("Drop your voice a semitone here!") and then also the syllable near the end of each question where the concluding cadence begins ("Carefully, now: lah, mi, mi-doh."):

Sed forte quis dicat: _Num_quid non eum praescierat mo_ri_turum? Et indubitanter. _Num_quid non sperabat continuo resur_rec_turum? Et fideliter. _Su_per haec doluit cru_ci_fixum? Et vehementer. Alioquin quisnam tu, frater, aut unde tibi haec sapientia, ut mireris plus Mariam compatientem, _quam_ Mariae Filium pa_ti_entem? Ille enim mori corpore potuit, _is_ta commori corde non _po_tuit? Fecit illud caritas, qua maiorem nemo habuit: fecit et hoc caritas, cui post illam similis altera non fuit.

(See the punctum interrogativum in the tonus communis for Matins lessons in the 1895 monastic Liber responsorialis, p. 32.)

Jesse said...

PS. I managed to locate my 1963 Marietti Breviarium Monasticum, and I can confirm that I Vespers for the feast VII Dolorum BMV (including the hymn Iam toto subitus) is absent. The lections at Nocturns are reduced to a single paragraph of the sermon of St. Bernard that does not include Mariam compatientem.

Moritz Gruber said...

Dear Kathleen1031,

our reverend host did not say Feasts were childish, but that Special Feasts were. Also, he did not mean to actually say that Special Feasts are childish, but to ironically disagree with those who do.

There are a couple of liturgists, of a shall-we-say reformist nature, who rather dislike the habit of devotionally singling out some specific aspects of Our Lord and our Lady's life hand having a feast about that. That is the idea of special, or devotional, feasts. Their argument - they are, after all, faithful Catholics - goes like this: "Yes, our Lady experienced sorrows when she stood under the Cross (and at those other occasions mentioned in the Seven Sorrows list). But the day we celebrate our Lord dying on the Cross, with all that includes, is Good Friday. Wouldn't we rather celebrate St. Nicomedes, who died on this very day as a martyr for our Lord - or perhaps the Octave of Our Lady's Nativity?" (They generally do allow for a few more than just one feast for Our Lady: think her Immaculate Conception, her Nativity, her Assumption, her Purification, all very ancient feasts and she was after all born already holy.) Some old Calendars had, besides the double-semidouble-simple ranking, a category of "primary" vs. "secondary" feasts; that is the thing.

I tried to present their argument in a favorable light. I disagree with them, as does, I think, our reverend host, but their argument is of the "on the whole wrong, but there's something to it" kind.