12 April 2010

Commemorating the Cross

In the classical Roman Rite, from today onwards until the Ascension the rubrics sometimes ordered that a commemoration at Mattins and Evensong be made of the Holy Cross. I find this wholly edifying, as a reminder that Cross and Resurrection are two sides of the same redemptive coin. Although divided chronologically, they are inseparable doctrinally; so that it is bad method to forget the Resurrection when concentrating on the Lord's Passion, or the Cross when glorying in his Resurrection. Thus in the Western Rites the triumphalist hymns Pange lingua and Vexilla Regis are sung during Holy Week and even on Good Friday. A somewhat eccentric biblical exegete of my acquaintance takes the view that the original text of S John's Gospel ended with the cry of victory tetelestai: "It is finished!", which thus counts as the Johannine Resurrection. I have often explained to him the many reasons why I consider this to be barking mad; but theologically there is a valid point tucked away somewhere in his madness.

Antiphon The Crucified hath risen from the dead and hath redeemed us, alleluia, alleluia.
V Tell it among the nations, alleluia.
R That the Lord hath reigned from the Tree, alleluia.
Let us pray.
God, didst will that for us thy Son should undergo the suffering of the Cross that he might drive out from among us the power of the Enemy: grant to us thy servants; that we may attain unto the grace of the Resurrection. Through the same.

The Response (" ... YHWH hath reigned from the Tree") comes from a version of Psalm 95 (aka 96) verse 10. This was how it read in early Latin translations of the Psalter, and it is known that the reading goes back at least to S Justin. It is found in many later Latin Fathers, and in Venantius Fortunatus' original text of Vexilla regis.The admirable (Anglican Patrimony) translator of Latin hymnology, John Mason Neale, renders Venantius thus:

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

The history of this stanza is interesting. The first (1968) draft of the hymns for the new breviary finds Dom Anselmo Lentini explaining the venerable history of this reading; he concludes by observing "So we do not dare to suppress the stanza or change the line". But, before the Liturgia horarum saw the light of day, that stanza had bitten the dust. Somebody had 'dared'.

Easy to see why. It alleges that King David, regarded as the composer of the psalms, had written the words about God having reigned "from the tree". Pedantic 'Enlightenment' readers of the Hebrew Massoretic Text will speedily if ponderously point out that they are absent from it*. Indeed, even in the Greek Septuagint only the bilingual 'Verona' psalter, I think, gives this reading (apo xulou).

But this demonstrates exactly what is wrong with that sort of approach to the august interwoven synthesis of littera scripta and Tradition which is at the heart of our Faith. And even some secular literary critics would remind the Bugninitendenz that Reception is part of Text.

This reminds me of a point made by Bishop Andrew Burnham in his splendid new book on Liturgy: that, for the Orthodox, the Septuagint is a divinely inspired correction of the Hebrew Old Testament.

I'm not quite sure I'd put it quite that way. But I would assert that the Hebrew Bible (of the pre-Christian millennium), the Septuagint, Vetus Latina, and Vulgate, all go to make up the supernatural totality of what I call Scripture.

*Just as experts will, upon very good evidential grounds, assure you that the Pericope about the Woman caught in Adultery is not part of the 'authentic' text of S John's Gospel. But how many preachers and lectionary-makers exclude it?


GOR said...

Excellent reminder Father, of the indivisibility of the Cross and the Resurrection! In the post-Vat II era many took St. Augustine’s words “We are an Easter people” to mean that we could forget Good Friday. The expression has become synonymous with those who would have the Crown without the Cross.

Here in the US televangelists love to direct people to “accept Jesus Christ as their savior” and we see assorted ‘celebrities’ dutifully proclaiming that: “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior”. When I hear that I am always tempted to comment: “How nice of you, but do you really know what that means?” In much of the ‘feel good’ world of televangelism the emphasis is always on the Resurrection, never on the Cross. But you can’t have one without the other and the road to Easter Sunday is always through the Calvary of Good Friday. Yes we are saved, but there’s a price to be paid – by all of us.

Fr LR said...

As the jackass - that noble beast which bore both Heaven's Queen and Her Royal Son in their burdens - wears forever on its back the sign of our salvation so "all the trees of the wood," Neale points out, "rejoiced in that one of them was to be wrought into the instrument of man's redemption." King Solomon foretold that "as the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste,” and were echoing his father's words in Psalm 96 vs. 10 as well as vs. 12: "then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD."

The wind bloweth where it listeth...so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Father, your defense of David's prophecy is as good as I've read. Thank you.

When's the last time you heard E. Bairstow's ecstatic setting of Solomon?


Rubricarius said...

Alas, another 1956 excision.

John said...

Prior to the excisions of 1956, and 1911: ...

I always get lost in the pre-1911 Breviary, but aren't there two versions of the Commemoration in the original form – one for Lauds and the other for Vespers? (And it is even harder in English in the Bute translation in the online version if you try to edit it to print from the Word program, as the footnotes get mixed in with the diocesan commemorations and other matter at the end of these two offices). I think I once managed to check, and the Commemoration surviving until 1956 was the vespers version.

On quite another aspect of this, I agree profoundly that JMN is Anglican patrimony, [the point of which is the putting of the traditional rite into the vernacular – is that fair?] perhaps the greatest example, but I have my doubts about Ronald Knox’s cranmerisms. [See 3rd April.] As another contributor pointed out, The Anglican Missal is online, (pre-1956, thank goodness) and in order to find a text that could be used at the Altar over the Triduum Sacrum, I had to edit that text to agree with the English Missal. (Couldn’t find the latter online). It was essentially a wholesale rewrite to get at any given sentence, (sometimes a paragraph) in pristine, meaningful and, -to me- bearable, English, and it took ages. I now have a far too intimate knowledge of the Knox English version of the Missal; ‘version’ rather than ‘translation’. My assessment is that it was an acquaintance not worth making. There is barely a sentence he didn’t turn round, making clauses into adjectives and dependent clauses the main thrust of prayer. It nearly drove me mad. (And, yes, some of my friends say that is a short trip).

My old Anglican vicar thought the Knox version superior to the EM. Now I disagree. Pretty words that clearly depart from the plain meaning of the original, better translated by the English Missal.

Knox was a man of great literary ability. Like a painting forger, he had the knack of producing pastiche cranmer, almost revivifying that man to enter his head – I suppose that is what forgers do – if cranmer had been a man who wanted to put the mass into English, rather than a great big heretic who sought to pervert it. He produced the Missal that cranmer never wanted to attempt.

Perhaps it is just a generational thing with me. I simply do not find Cranmer bearable as the language of worship. His style was designed to confuse his hearers about what he thought and impress Henry VIII with his skill in doing it. (I forget who first said Henry decided whom to kill not on the basis of his assessment of their loyalty, but on the basis of the trouble they had taken in apologizing for their rebellion. If they had worked on their speech, he calculated they took him seriously).

Some of Fr Neale’s verses seem a little old-fashioned nowadays, but I’ll take him over Knox and Cranmer any day.

Edwin said...

Just so, Father; as we were reminded by the BCP Epistle for this first Sunday after Easter (or Low Sunday, or Easter 2, or whatever you care to call it) .. "there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood"...
Surely part of the pleroma of the tradition, whatever the critics may say... +E

Rubricarius said...

John (12 April),

There were two, different, Commemorations of the Cross in the real (pre-1911) Roman Office.

The one in Paschaltide, described by our esteemed blog host, was sung at Lauds. At Vespers the antiphon was different, the V&R and collect the same (Crucem sanctam subiit qui infernum confregit, accinctus est potentia, surrexit die tertia, alleluia)

The other Commemoration of the Cross was sung in ferial Office, outside Paschaltide, before the various Suffrages. It's structure was: Ant. Per signum Crucis de inimicis nostris libera nos Deus noster. V. Omnis terra adoret te, et psallat tibi. R. Psalmum dicat nomini tuo Domini.

Perpetua nos, quaesumus Domine, pace custodi: quos per lignum sanctae Crucis redimere dignatus es.

The latter Commemoration got excised in the 1911-13 reform.

The Paschaltide Commemoration survived, with the antiphon formerly sung at Lauds now sung at both Lauds and Vespers. This got the chop in the 1956 excisions.