Sunday, April 6, 2014

Passiontide: Two Weeks Leading up to Easter Sunday

In the liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite, today is Passion Sunday and we begin the two week period of Passiontide. It is traditional to veil all the statues and crucifixes in church, and in our homes, starting today and through Holy Week until the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Even in the Ordinary Form, the statues are often veiled on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. From Passion Sunday to Palm Sunday, as Dom Gueranger notes, the readings at Mass are focused on the ever increasing danger Jesus faced from His opponents, as even Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, is targeted:

The miracle performed by our Savior almost at the very gates of Jerusalem, by which He restored Lazarus to life, has roused the fury of His enemies to the highest pitch of frenzy. The people's enthusiasm has been excited by seeing him, who had been four days in the grave, walking in the streets of their city. They ask each other if the Messias, when He comes, can work greater wonders than these done by Jesus, and whether they ought not at once to receive this Jesus as the Messias, and sing their Hosanna to Him, for He is the Son of David. They cannot contain their feelings: Jesus enters Jerusalem, and they welcome Him as their King. The high priests and princes of the people are alarmed at this demonstration of feeling; they have no time to lose; they are resolved to destroy Jesus. We are going to assist at their impious conspiracy: the Blood of the just Man is to be sold, and the price put on it is thirty silver pieces. The divine Victim, betrayed by one of His disciples, is to be judged, condemned, and crucified. Every circumstance of this awful tragedy is to be put before us by the liturgy, not merely in words, but with all the expressiveness of a sublime ceremonial.    

In the Extraordinary Form, more liturgical changes indicate the growing tension and even fear: the Glory Be to the Father is omitted from the prayers at Mass:

Such are the sublime subjects which are about to be brought before us: but, at the same time, we shall see our holy mother the Church mourning, like a disconsolate widow, and sad beyond all human grief Hitherto she has been weeping over the sins of her children; now she bewails the death of her divine Spouse. The joyous Alleluia has long since been hushed in her canticles; she is now going to suppress another expression, which seems too glad for a time line the present. Partially, at first, but entirely during the last three days, she is about to deny herself the use of that formula, which is so dear to her: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. There is an accent of jubilation in these words, which would ill suit her grief and the mournfulness of the rest of her chants.

The opening psalm of the Mass, the Judica Me (Psalm 50) is also omitted, and the great hymns of Venantius Fortunatis, Bishop of Poitiers, are appropriate for the period of Passiontide: Vexilla Regis and Pange Lingua. The Friday of Passion Week is dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, so the Stabat Mater is also sung, as it often is between the stations of the Stations of the Cross, usually in the translation by Edward Caswall, Oxford Movement convert. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week begins, culminating in the greatest days and nights of the liturgical year: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

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