Sunday, December 09, 2007

Rorate cæli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum. . . .

Here it is already the Second Sunday of Advent and The Inn has yet to mention the season. The minutiæ of life have been devouring the days. We will try to remedy that now. The image above (the original of which can be found here) shows today's Roman station church, the Sessorian Basilica, the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. And here is something on Advent from the Blessed Cardinal Schuster's Liber Sacramentorum, volume I, page 319:

Unlike the old sacramentaries, in which the year began with the feast of Christmas, the Roman Missal enters [on the first Sunday of Advent] upon her liturgical cycle. The reason for this is that the Incarnation of the Word of God is the true central point – the milliarium aureum -- which divides the long course of the ages of humanity. In the designs of divine Providence the Incarnation either prepares that fullness of time which heralds the coming of the year of redemption, or, from the cradle of Bethlehem, directs its steps towards the Valley of Josaphat, where the Babe of the Manger awaits the judgement to be pronounced on all the seed of Adam, redeemed by his precious blood. The order of our present Missal is more logical, and corresponds more closely to this lofty conception of history, by which the Incarnation is made the true central event in the world's drama. The early Christians, on the other hand, when they began their sacramentaries with the festival of Christmas, were following, in so doing, the primitive liturgical tradition, which, down to the fourth century, knew nothing as yet of a period of four or six Sundays of preparation for this, the greatest of all solemnities.

It was towards the middle of the fifth century, when consequent on the christological heresies of Nestorius, the commemoration of the birth of our Saviour rose to great prominence, that a special season of preparation for Christmas began to make its appearance in the Liturgy, at Ravenna, in Gaul and in Spain. The controversy with Nestorius and Eutychius, and the great Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon – in which was solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the two natures, divine and human, united in the one Person of Christ, and in which the glories and prerogatives of the Theotokos were consequently highly exalted – these all gave to Catholic devotion a powerful impulse towards that mystery of Redemption, through the Incarnation, which found in St Leo the Great and in St Peter Chrysologus its most able and enthusiastic exponents.

As the first portion of the Leonine Sacramentary is mutilated and incomplete, it can tell us nothing concerning the early sources of the Advent liturgy in Rome; but in all probability the rite of the papal metropolis, in this as in other respects, was practically identical with that of Naples and with the suffragan see of Ravenna, where Chrysologus – even if he be not the author of the Advent collects in the famous Ravenna Roll – delivered to the people on four different occasions four splendid homilies in preparation for the feast of Christmas.

For many centuries the Roman Church has set aside four weeks for the keeping of Advent. It is true that the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, as well as several other ancient lectionaries, reckon five weeks, but the lectionary lists of Capua and Naples, and the custom of the Nestorians, who know only four weeks of Advent, bear witness in favour of the antiquity of the pure Roman tradition on this point also.

Unlike Lent, with its predominant thought of penance and grief for the deicide about to be consummated in Jerusalem, the spirit of the sacred Liturgy during Advent, full of the joyful announcement of approaching freedom, Evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum quod erit omni populo, is one of holy enthusiasm for the definite triumph of humanity, which, through the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, is raised above to the throne of God on high.

The chants of the Mass, the responsories, the antiphons of the divine Office, are all for this reason bedight with Alleluias. It would seem that the whole of Nature, looking forward, as the Apostle describes it, to the final parousia, expectatio enim creaturæ revelationem filiorum Dei expectat, feels herself uplifted by the Incarnation of the Word of God, who, after so many ages of waiting, comes at length into this world to bring his greatest handiwork to its final perfection. Instaurare omnia in Christo. The sacred Liturgy, during this time, gathers from the Scriptures all those passages which are most forcible and best adapted to express the intense and joyful longing with which the holy patriarchs, the prophets and the just men of the Old Testament hastened by their prayers the coming of the Son of God. We cannot do better than associate ourselves with their pious feelings, and pray the Word made Flesh that he will deign to be born in the hearts of all men and spread his kingdom likewise throughout those many lands where his holy Name has not hitherto been made known, and whose inhabitants still sleep in darkness and the shadow of death.

My friend Gary pointed out to me today that as Christmas seasons go, this one will be cut rather short. January 6th this year occurs on a Sunday, so the Roman world, ordinary or extraordinary use, will keep it on the same day. The next Sunday is the 13th and in the traditional Roman Rite, the feast of the Holy Family. The very next Sunday is Septuagesima. So this year, those praying in the classic Roman Rite will have no Sundays after Epiphany at all.