Tuesday, March 29, 2016

As the hart panteth after the water brooks: reflections on the Easter Vigil

In the pre-conciliar rite of the Easter Vigil, there is a chant appointed for the procession to the baptismal font where the holy water is blessed and, if there are any converts awaiting baptism, are thenceforth christened. The chant, Sicut cervus, likens the catechumen yearning for the waters of regeneration to a deer thirsting for water from a stream after the chase.
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? 

My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?" (Psalm 42 [41]:1-3)

The Vigil of Easter is, without a doubt, my favorite liturgy of the year. Last year, I wrote two blog posts on the Exsultet alone (here and here). I go so far as to say that my Easter doesn't feel complete without attending one, most usually according to the "Anglican Use" form at my old parish church, Our Lady of the Atonement. Perhaps my imagination is so limited that I can't acknowledge the holy water and Paschal candle, etc. being blessed until I see it with my own eyes. This year, following the tenth anniversary of my own baptism, I recall ever more vividly my thirst for its waters like the hart of the psalm. 

A real throwback: my baptism back in Christmas Eve, 2005.

My daughter's baptism, at the same church (the new baptistery had since been completed); and now, it's getting time for me to plan the next one's...

But now I live in a different state, and since it so happened that I was spending a weekend with in-laws in the countryside, Madame and I ventured out to a nearby FSSP community where we attended our first Easter Vigil in the pre-conciliar Latin form. I actually go to this church whenever we're out visiting relatives for the weekend, so this time, I joined the men's schola as well. 

Here are some my observations from this night, following the order of the service as much as possible:

1.) If you're a veteran of the pre-conciliar Vigil, you may not even notice it anymore; but for a newcomer, it's striking to see how the liturgy begins with the clergy in violet, not white, vestments. It signifies that the Lenten fast has not yet ended (even if, according to other definitions, the liturgical season of Lent ended on Maundy Thursday) and that the Vigil begins in a spirit of penance. They change from violet to white vestments later in the liturgy, just as in the pre-conciliar rite of baptism. It's apparently a Bugnini-ism to never change vestments in the middle of a rite (even the Asperges is done while wearing the chasuble in the Ordinary Form), but one that is slowly being peeled away. I know that at least some Ordinariate communities begin the Easter Vigil in violet (example), and the use of a violet stole and cope is now a licit option for Ordinariate baptismal rites. (Added 3/30: the pastor of my current parish, an Ordinariate community, read this entry and let me know that he began the Vigil with violet cope as well. Very nice!)

2.) The Exsultet, that grand ode to the Paschal candle and the bees whence came its wax, makes or breaks the opening of the Vigil, depending on the quality of the one who sings it. If I were a deacon, I could easily imagine singing the Exsultet to be my single favorite liturgical duty of the year. Alas, whatever his other gifts might be, the priest who assumed the role of the deacon for the Vigil I attended was quite challenged by the Exsultet, so it ended up feeling like it took five times longer than it actually did. 

One of the better recordings of the Exsultet I've heard

3.) The first lesson (Genesis 1:1) was sung in an unusual but beautiful tone, which I quite like. I don't know if this is the "Genesis tone" I've heard mentioned in some places, or if it's a custom unique to the FSSP. You can view the notation here and listen to a recording here.

I noticed that Gregory DiPippo recently posted a rare book of melismatic Prophecy tones for the pre-1955 Easter Vigil here.

4.) Which brings me to the next little tangent: 

The other lessons were sung to the usual Prophecy tone. This was when I started to consciously think about the distinctions between the pre/post-1955 (or is it 1951?) forms. For the liturgically hyper-aware, the dead giveaway is right in the opening picture I posted above, where you see the Paschal candle being inscribed and lit outside the church rather than the arundo (a triple-candlestick which is lit outside and carried by the deacon into the church to light the Paschal candle within. This was necessary for some grand cathedrals and basilicas which still used the pillar-sized Paschal candles of medieval times. While I can't say I really care about the arundo, it does seem unfortunate that the Paschal candle is no longer inscribed and the incense grains embedded into it by the deacon during the Exsultet. If I understand it correctly, the traditional understanding was that the deacon blessed the Paschal candle through the act of singing the Exsultet; the most solemn blessing of the deacon's entire order. But, with the Pian reforms, the priest has actually usurped this role from the deacon. He prays a newly composed blessing of the candle outside the church and takes from the deacon the act of inserting the incense grains and the lighting of the candle itself. The deacon is then reduced to singing the Exsultet more for tradition's sake than as an integral liturgical action.

For the rest of us, though, the big difference would be the number of readings. The reforms of Pius XII reduced the lessons from a whopping twelve to a mere four. Even the Ordinary Form's Vigil often has more lessons than that! Here, I think the reduction, if it had to have been done at all, should have been made optional rather than mandatory. At the same time, I came to realize that even four readings, if done all in Latin, combined with all of the other proclamatory Latin texts of the Vigil, start to become overwhelming. I was a bit mystified at how this particular church didn't distribute any service sheets with translations, either, despite the files being readily available on the Internet for print. Madame reported that a lady sitting next to her spent the entire Vigil uttering moans and groans of impatience.

The strength of Latin is much more evident to me in the fixed parts of the Mass; Ordinary, Canon, and other silent prayers of the clergy; as well as the chants reserved to the choir, namely, the (minor) propers. When it comes to the Scripture readings, though, I honestly just wish for an indult to sing them in the common tongue (using a hieratic translation like the Douai-Reims), especially when lessons are added. This was actually assumed for a little while following Summorum Pontificum until Universae Ecclesiae clarified that the permission to use the vernacular as a replacement for the Latin only applied to low Mass.

5.) On the other hand, when it came time for the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, it felt strange when the priest led that part of the liturgy entirely in English. I can't quite put my finger on why, since I don't have any issue with the idea of a renewal of vows in itself, even if it's a Bugnini-ism. I was slightly amused when I noticed that this is one of the only times when an exclamation point appears in the Liber Usualis. In my 1962 edition (with all-Latin rubrics), the final response is "AMEN!"

6.) Mass itself proceeds mostly as usual, but there are no Offertory or Communion antiphons, and no Agnus Dei. I wonder why. I also wonder what most communities who have an EF Easter Vigil decide to sing during these points. The schola I assisted sang the hymn Concordi Laetitia during the Offertory and the O Filii et Filiae for the distribution of Communion.

The Confiteor before Communion
7.) With the exception of the Exsultet, I've decided that I like the Gregorian chants of Easter Sunday more. The text of Sicut cervus is sublime, of course, but nearly all of the canticles are really variations of the same tune. It does make rehearsing a lot less stressful, but the Vigil has no counterparts to the legendary Easter propers like the Introit Resurrexi, or the Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes, or the Offertory Terra tremuit.

8.) At the very end, there was an abbreviated form of Lauds. (I know that pre-1955/51, it's a similarly abbreviated Vespers instead.) That was nice, and probably the only form of Lauds most Catholics ever attend.

That's all I can think of for now, but perhaps I'll add more thoughts in a revision or a comment. Until then, the Modern Medievalist family wishes you an egg-cellent Eastertide.


  1. "My daughter's baptism, at the same church (the new baptistery had since been completed); and now, it's getting time for me to plan the next one's..."

    So I take that to mean congratulations are in order?!

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the renewal of baptismal vows in English to be a bit jarring, although I've never been able to put my finger on exactly why that is either. In any case, a happy Easter to you too!

    1. I've read that the insertion of the Renewal of Baptismal Vows was the first instance of "vernacularism" anywhere in the classical Roman Rite (not counting baptisms and that sort of thing). Again, I'm obviously not an enemy of vernacular worship, but yes, something about it just feels odd in the Extraordinary Form Vigil....

  2. Curiously, the Bragan rite only prescribes 4 readings; I don't know if any other medieval usages had such a reduced number as well.

    As for the renewal of the baptismal vows, they left a Novo Ordo-ish flavour in my mouth, especially this year, for some reason (maybe because I've been going to the vetus ordo for almost a year now). It feels a bit pedantic/didactic sticking that in the middle of the liturgy; it reminds me of one of the things I hate the most in most NO Masses (especially back home), where the priest always inturputs the natural flow of the Liturgy with explanations and mini-homilies.

    I'm a bit divided on the question of the Paschal candle. I am of the opinion that the Exultet should be restored as a blessing of the candle, and not just a hymn (after all, it starts like a Preface, which is a dead giveaway...). I can appreciate the imagery of the lit candle entering the dark church, reminding us of the Pilar of Fire guiding the Israelites in the desert as they fled the Egyptians. However, I also apreciate the symbolism of the arundo - the tripartate candle (representing the Trinity) lighting the Paschal candle (the Resurrection as a work of the Trinity).

    Many congratulations on your new child!

    1. At our son's baptism we had planned to have the Sicut Cervus sung just before he was baptised, but for some reason the choir forgot...

    2. Most medieval and local rites only had four readings, although not the same four except for the beginning of Genesis. The Roman rite retained the primitive vigil practice of readings and Vespers until the Pacellian novelties.

      There are unique tones available for all 12 prophecies, although to sing each of them would likely take over two hours, making the regular tone preferred. A friend of mine relates that they did the old vigil instead of 1962 and the ceremony was actually shorter because of the more seamless ritual transitions (no fiddling with collapsible tables or buckets).

      I always imagined nothing would be sung during the preparation for Communion, a deafening silence!

    3. Marco:

      Now that I think about it, the Sarum Use only has four lessons as well. I had forgotten about that. I suppose that makes the reduced number more tolerable, though at this point, I've conditioned myself to a "more is better" viewpoint where the Vigil's readings are concerned.

      I'm going to review the stuff you sent me a while back on your child's baptism. I like the idea of singing Sicut cervus for the procession to the font, even outside the Vigil.

    4. Rad Trad:

      I think, but would have to double-check, that the four prophecies of the Sarum Use Vigil are actually the same as the Pian Vigil's. As I said in another comment, I forgot that other missals have long since had abbreviated their lessons.

      If the special tones really take that long, I would like someone to adapt "simplex" versions of them, perhaps retaining the melismatic beginnings and ends as has been done in the Graduale Simplex. It'll probably never happen, but it's nice to imagine it.

      Is your friend our dear installed acolyte at Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, New Jersey? He said their pre-'55 Vigil was shorter than their post-'55 last year. I find that fascinating.

      And finally, yes, I can understand the silence leading up to Communion, but I still wonder why there are no Offertory or Communion antiphons assigned, and what most church choirs end up doing in their place. I would be tempted to just sing the ones for Easter Sunday ad libitum, rather than use hymns or motets.

  3. distinctions between the pre/post-1955 (or is it 1951?)

    Indeed most "reforms" were made in the years 1951-52, the 1955 decree merely extending those reforms to the rest of the Holy Week. It's interesting to note that the decrees promulgating the reform did only speak of its timing, and never about the alleged obsolescence of many of its rites. (By the way, I am among those more inclined to celebrate this Liturgy on Saturday morning, but I understand that pastoral needs have to be taken into account.)

    The number of readings was reduced already in the High Middle Ages. While the Gelasian Sacramentary has 11 prophecies (and its St. Gall recension, if I remember well, 12), the Gregorian Sacramentary already has 4 - perhaps it was due to the fact the latter was the Sacramentary used to "Romanize" continental liturgies that most medieval rites had 4 lessons. Some years ago I read a comment by "Rubricarius" who, citing Baumstark, stated that the longer set of prophecies preserved in the Curial rite actually preserved the spirit of the Hierosolymitan church (the Byzantine rite has 15 lessons, also).

    Have you read Nicola Giampietro's Il card. Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970? (I don't know if there is an English translation) It is probably the best (and one of the few) account of the Pian Commission's deeds. Some explanation of those reforms are given there: the insertion of the "renewal of baptismal vows" (a true mess in my opinion), for instance, was made, they said, in order to "remind the faithful the baptismal nature of those rites". An explanation of the suppression of the diaconal blessing of the candle is given, too: the reformers couldn't understand how could one of the most important blessings of the whole liturgical year be performed by the deacon and not by the priest; in their opinion that was an offence to the Paschal Candle. It says a lot about the liturgical competence of those men... (On the other hand, the St. Gall Sacramentary shows how ancient the blessing during the Exsultet was.) Anyway, from my point of view the worst things in the reformed rites are the splitted Litanies and the (sacrilegous?) instruction that cathecumens be baptized inside the presbitery - but it is not time to become angry ;-)

    May you and your family enjoy a holy Eastertide!

    1. "An explanation of the suppression of the diaconal blessing of the candle is given, too: the reformers couldn't understand how could one of the most important blessings of the whole liturgical year be performed by the deacon and not by the priest; in their opinion that was an offence to the Paschal Candle."

      How atrocious. If I become a deacon, I think I'm going to get uppity and insist on either using the pre-'55 for the Vigil or just quietly suppress the new blessing wherever it appears.

      No, I haven't read this work you mentioned. If you have the time, feel free to post an unofficial translation of the section regarding the Paschal candle blessing.

    2. "(By the way, I am among those more inclined to celebrate this Liturgy on Saturday morning, but I understand that pastoral needs have to be taken into account.)"

      One of my Easter articles last year was a defense of the nocturnal observance, but here is one "pastoral" reason I can see for having a morning Easter Vigil: when, for diocesan TLM communities, it's down to that or no Extraordinary Form Vigil at all. There are three diocesan TLM communities in Philadelphia, but the only Latin Easter Vigil in the city last Saturday was the SSPX's. A lot of TLM'ers probably ended up driving to Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, New Jersey for the Triduum (not that there's anything wrong with that, but for me, that would be a haul). If the clergy who serve the TLM communities here were to have enough stamina to add an EF Vigil to their already-existing night obligations on condition of it having to be in the morning, then I say by all means, go for it.

  4. My first reaction to this post is how can you be a medievalist and then celebrate the Pacellian Easter Vigil. But then, I realize this was your first experience of it after 10 years of the Novus Ordo variation of the same. I forget, that after 25 years of Pacellian Holy Saturdays, that there was once a time I had that first glow of sublime Liturgy after a Novus Ordo childhood. Unlike you, I had no idea until years later that something better existed, and even then, I didn't care much to think of it until very recently. I should warn you that once you go pre-55, the Pacellian rites are a hard pill to (re-)swallow; such was the case last year transitioning from the real Good Friday to (what was hopefully our last) 1956 Holy Saturday the next day.

    Anyway, in no particular order: the tone used for Genesis is something the FSSP is composed some time ago; we use at Mater Ecclesiae too. For the other prophecies, this year we varied between using the usual prophecy tone or a simple monotone to keep things moving. We always make it a point to provide resources for everyone to follow the ceremonies, assuming most people don't possess hand missals (while most Trad communities assume they do). I am a firm advocate of readings being done for latreutic purposes first, and hence, they should be sung, ceremoniously, in the sacral language. Most people I know were reading the translations while one of us was chanting them, and they are perfectly fine to do so.

    We started our vigil this year at 6pm and finished at 9:30pm. Not only was it shorter than last year by 15 minutes; everyone could stay a bit afterwards for a modest convivium AND still get a decent night's sleep before Easter morn. I heard no word of complaint about the length of the prophecies or the ceremony in toto, save indirectly from same cranky old lady who isn't even a parishioner - what do you mean there's Vespers too???

    I agree completely about the Easter Sunday Propers, but then again, that is the true first Mass of Easter and should be better than the anticipated, incomplete joy of the Vesperal Mass preceding.

    1. Right; we all have to start somewhere.

      So the FSSP tone is an in-house composition? Not that there's anything wrong with that, because it's beautiful. Thanks for letting me know.

      At this particular community I attended, most did not have hand missals. I couldn't tell if they've attended the Vigil so many times that they didn't feel a need to bring their missals, or they just don't place much value on following along with translations of any kind. Maybe it's the latter, because they also never sing any responses congregationally. (Which I always personally find disappointing.)

      Good point about the Easter Sunday propers!

  5. As far as I know, the FSSP tone for Genesis I is an in-house composition, dating at least to the middle of the last decade. We started using it when one of our earlier seminarians to Denton came home for Holy Week.

    I'm finding hand missals to be less prevalent nowadays compared to 20-25 years ago, but back then, newly printed missals (nearly all of which were pre-1955 versions then) retailed for half the cost they go for now.

    The silent High Mass syndrome, as I call it, was a major reason we left Maryland in search of a sound liturgical home. We've called Mater Ecclesiae home now for ten years.

    1. It must be more to apathy toward that form of participation than cost. Hand missals are simply not that expensive if you're devoted to the traditional Latin Mass enough to attend the Easter Vigil. At that point, you're likely an every-Sunday attendee, in which case, a hand missal is (to my mind) a necessary expense if service sheets are not regularly handed out. The Saint Edmund Campion Missals by Corpus Christi Watershed are only $30.

      Back at Our Lady of the Atonement, almost everyone follows along in booklets and service sheets even when the liturgy is mostly in English!

      Perhaps you have more insight to the "silent high Mass syndrome" than I do. I understand the low Mass mentality, but not this....

  6. I'm sorry for being so late, but finally here there are the translations. I must correct a point on what I said previously: the point about the complaint because of the deacon being the blesser (does this word exist?) wasn't in Giampietro's book, but I actually read it on a writing by the late L. Beauduin in La Maison-Dieu. I have translated the latter too. I hope my translations are readable, neither English nor Italian nor French are my native tongue:

    Nicola Giampietro. Il card. Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970. Studia Anselmiana 121 = Analecta Liturgica 21. Rome: Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, 1998.

    (p. 61)
    The blessing of the candle
    No let's survay every ancient element which was lost during the celebration of this rite:
    1- It is a very ancient rite. One of its essencial features was the cross carved on the candle in remembrance of the death on the Cross; and when lit, [in remembrance of] the Resurrection. The insertion of A and Ω was very old, too. Later the year date was added;

    2- [the candle] was carried, already lit, in procession. Egeria talks about that in the 5th century [my note: I haven't found where does Egeria talk about this; his description of the Paschal Vigil says nothing of the matter]. Then the clergy and people's candles were set light from it.

    3- in the course of time the candle became so huge that it was no longer possible to carry it in procession. It was [thus] substitued by the arundo. The candle was to be lighted afterwards.

    The rearranging of the candle rite

    1- The candle becomes again the material and symbolic center [of the whole ceremony]. It followed the preparation, with the carving of the cross and the A and the Ω and then that of the year;

    2- the adding of the [incense] grains;

    3- in order to set light to the candle a ney formula is used;

    4- the true blessing occurs by means of the prayer Veniat;

    5- the procession is accompanied by the triple invocation with the subsequent kindling and lighting;

    6- the Laus cerei is recited just afterwards.

    [Let me add a brief statement by the book's author, by which the fact that the modern pacellian Vigil was never intended to be a restoration of the ancient Vigil, despite the continuous propaganda on the contrary:

    (p. 65) On that point there were two possibilities, that is: the complete restoration, i.e. the celebration which begins at midnight and ends with the Mass at dawn, as it was done in ancient times; or a partial restoration, by which the ceremonies would begin on Holy Saturday evening, so that Mass would be celebrated around midnight. This [i.e. the latter] would be the best way to restore an immediate sense to the Vigil.]

    (to be continued)

    1. (part 2)

      Lambert Beauduin OSB. "Le cierge pascal." La Maison-Dieu : cahiers de pastorale liturgique XXVI (March 1951), pp. 23-27.

      (p. 24) http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6555333r/f30.image.r=
      This holy function of the Exsultet is often called, in the popular speech, "blessing of the candle". And, sadly, "blessing" is understood in the modern sense, i.e. the rite which bestows holiness on a particular thing, as it is said: "blessing of the water, of the ashes, &c." So the Exsultet, with its incensing and homages, would be just a blessing rite of the candle. What a mistake! This misunderstanding of the word "blessing" has enormously impoverished, and even annihilated the Exsultet's great importance. "Blessing" must be understood here in the biblical and traditional sense of praise, of glorification. of solemn homage, in short of every religious act addressed to a being's holiness, and specially to the candle, which signifies Christ and symbolizes , this unique Night, His triumph over death. Hence the name Laus cerei, Carmen cerei, given to the Exsultet.
      Besides, the candle is blessed - in the vulgar sense - privately and outside the church, by the bischop or celebrant; moreover, the deacon never blessed any object, especially before his superiors. But it is his dity, as Gospel herald, to go to the ambo and proclaim the symbolic candle's praise and glory at the beginning of this holy Night. . . .

      I hope this texts will be useful to you.

    2. Errata: instead of "the deacon never blessed", put "the deacon never blesses".

    3. The work you did here is outstanding.

      "neither English nor Italian nor French are my native tongue"

      Neither are the latter two my second, third, or tenth tongues. I'll consider reposting these at an opportune time later, if you don't mind. Meanwhile, I'm thinking you ought to reach out to me if we haven't spoken formally before. I'm reachable by being messaged through the Modern Medievalism Facebook page, at least.

  7. Here's the English translation of the book by Nicola Giampietro. Il card. Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970.; in English, it is simply called The Development of the Liturgical Reform: