23 January 2010

The Espousals of our Lady ...

... is a feast that falls today - as users of my ORDO will have noticed (I give a large number of ancient, or indult, or Byzantine, commemorations of our Lady in bold italic on the 'Mass' line). Its texts are to be found in the Missae pro aliquibus locis section of preconciliar missals. The Mass is, essentially, a very ancient one, since it is the Mass Salve which survives on September 8, and was, before Pio Nono, also used on December 8. Only slight adaptation has been necessary: 'Nativitas' where it occurs in prayers has been replaced by 'Desponsatio', and the reference to the Espousal of Mary to Joseph in the Matthaean Infancy narrative has become the Gospel. Commemoration, appropriately, is made of S Joseph.

According to my 1870s Breviary, this feast, as a Greater Double, was to be kept in England. In those days, there was simply an 'England' supplement at the back of each volume of the Breviary. At some time, this was replaced by a calendar which instead made special provision on a diocese-by-diocese basis. I am uncertain when this happened; perhaps it was a spin-off from the beatification of the English Martyrs under Leo XIII and the need to provide for all those beati to have their more local observances. Somebody may be able to tell me. However that may be, this seems to be the point at which the Espousals disappeared from the English RC calendar. I wonder why. Could it have been a victim of Papa Sarto's pruning hook?

Curiously, the post-conciliar Collection of Marian Masses - which gave new expression to a good number of these old special and particular Marian Feasts and Masses - lacks this one. I wonder why. You'd have thought in the post-Vatican II atmosphere, affirmation of the holiness of the Sacrament of Matrimony might have been a popular cause. Perhaps the character of the Holy Marriage of the Mother of God with S Joseph as a celibate marriage embarrassed the gentry who manufactured the Collection.

More interesting is the question of why this feast was originally ordered to be kept in England anyway. It would be lovely to think that it was deemed suitable for a country which, as a matter of undeniable purely historical fact, was the Dowry of our Blessed Lady. So we keep January 23 as the date when the great Mother of God acquired - or was promised? - this particular piece of real estate! Which makes it delightfully appropriate that it comes during the Chair of Unity Octave, so that we can today pray especially for the Return of England to Unity with the Sedes Petri.

What a cunning liturgist Providence is!


Joshua said...

Wasn't it Gerson who tried to introduce this feast?

Walter said...

I have found all the propers for this feast online at www.archive.org where the search engine allows you to input book titles. Type in Breviarium Romanum 1888 and chose 'all media' or select 'canadian libraries'. At the end of the book is found the propers for this feast.