Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Communion Song for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Per signum crucis ("By the sign of the cross")

Per signum crucis is the Communion song for this day; it's short but quite beautiful:   




TPL says this about the text:
From the Roman Breviary. It recalls Phil. 3:18, "For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. "

PER signum Crucis de inimicis nostris libera nos, Deus noster. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

BY the sign of the cross deliver us from our enemies, O our God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I'm not so sure about that Philemon reference, but here's an mp3 of the chant, too, from ChristusRex.org.  Fairly sure it's the same audio file as that in the video above.

And here's the chant score:




That "T.P. alleluia" note stands for Tempus Paschale - i.e., Easter season, because this chant was also used for the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, May 3 (a feast that's no longer on the calendar).  The Alleluia was added for years when Invention occurred within Eastertide.   (This page at Cantus Database lists all occurrences of this text; almost every such occurrence is listed as either "Inventio Crucis" (i.e., The Invention of the Holy Cross) or "Exaltatio Crucis" (this feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14).  There is also a third category:  "Suff. Crucis," that is to say, "Memorial chants for the Holy Cross."   That is interesting, and I'll be looking further into it at some point.)

Francesco Durante set this text, expertly rendered here during a live concert at Bari, Italy, by convivium musicum mainz:




My favorite obscure Polish composer, Mikołaj Zieleński, also set this one; it's sung here beautifully by Chór WUM (that's Chóru Warszawskiego Uniwersytetu Medycznego w Warszawie, for short):




More about Zieleński, from Wikipedia:
Mikołaj Zieleński (Zelenscius, birth and death dates unknown) was a Polish composer, organist and Kapellmeister to the primate Baranowski, Archbishop of Gniezno.

Zieleński's only known surviving works are two 1611 liturgical cycles of polychoral works, the Offertoria/Communes totius anni. These were dedicated to the Archbishop of Gniezno, Wojciech Baranowski. The whole comprises eight part-books and a ninth book, the Partitura pro organo, which constitutes the organ accompaniment. This publication contains in all 131 pieces written for various vocal and also vocal and instrumental ensembles, all with organ accompaniment.

The Venetian publication does not only comprise the offertories and communions; we find there also over a dozen other pieces, such as hymns, antiphons, a magnificat, and even three instrumental fantasias. In his compositions Zieleński relies on his own creative invention and does not, in general, make use of the cantus firmi. The few pieces which a pre-existent melody may be traced out are based not on a plainsong melody but on the melodies of Polish songs. The sets consist of large-scale double- and triple-choir antiphons, as well as some monodic works typical of the Seconda pratica style of early Monteverdi. Zieleński's music is the first known Polish music set in the style of the Baroque.

You can also get Free scores by Mikołaj Zieleński from the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki).

Here are all the propers for today, from ChristusRex.org; the singers are the Benedictine monks of Sao Paolo, Brazil:
    Die 14 septembris In Exaltatione Sanctæ Crucis
Introitus: Cf. Gal. 6,14; Ps. 66 Nos autem gloriari (4m37.3s - 4337 kb) score
Graduale: Phil. 2, 8. V. 9 Christus factus est (2m19.3s - 2178 kb) score
Alleluia:  Dulce lignum, dulces clavos (2m27.5s - 2307 kb) score
Offertorium: Protege, Domine (2m09.9s - 2031 kb) score
Communio: Per signum crucis (40.4s - 633 kb) score


According to Divinum Officum, these propers have been used on this day at least since Trent.  The Introit, Nos autem gloriari, has also been used since that era as Maundy Thursday's introit; the Graduale, Christus factus est, was also used at Maundy Thursday in the Tridentine rite.  (Today, however, the Maundy Thursday Gradual is Oculi omnium - and Christus factus est is used as the Gradual for Palm Sunday.)

About  the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, from Wikipedia's "Feast of the Cross" entry:
This feast is called in Greek Ὕψωσις τοῦ Τιμίου καὶ Ζωοποιοῦ Σταυροῦ[1] ("Raising Aloft of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross") and in Latin Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis. In English, it is called The Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the official translation of the Roman Missal, while the 1973 translation called it The Triumph of the Cross. In some parts of the Anglican Communion the feast is called Holy Cross Day, a name also used by Lutherans. The celebration is also sometimes called Feast of the Glorious Cross.[2]
According to legends that spread widely, the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross[note 1] placed inside it. Other legends explain that in 614, that portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until it was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628. Initially taken to Constantinople, the cross was returned to the church the following year.

The date of the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335.[3] This was a two-day festival: although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it.

Western practices

Exaltation of the Cross from
the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
(Musée Condé, Chantilly)
In Roman Catholic liturgical observance, red vestments are worn at church services conducted on this day, and if the day falls on a Sunday, its Mass readings[note 2] are used instead of that for the occurring Sunday in Ordinary Time. The lectionary of the Church of England (and other Anglican churches) also stipulates red as the liturgical colour for 'Holy Cross Day'.[4]
Until 1969, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the calendar week after the one in which 14 September falls were designated as one of each year's four sets of Ember days by the Church in the West. Organization of these celebrations is now left to the decision of episcopal conferences in view of local conditions and customs.

September 14 is the titular feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross, The Companions of the Cross and the Episcopal Church's Order of the Holy Cross. This date also marked the beginning of the period of fasting, except on Sundays and ending on Easter Sunday, that was stipulated for Carmelites in the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert of 1247.[5] The Rule of St. Benedict also prescribes this day as the beginning of monastic winter (i.e., the period when there are three nocturns of psalms and readings at Matins) which also ends at Easter.

Eastern Orthodox practice

Orthodox Cross set for special veneration on
the feast of The Universal Exaltation of
the Precious and Life Giving Cross.
In Byzantine liturgical observance, the Universal Exaltation (also called Elevation in Greek Churches) of the Precious and Life-creating Cross commemorates both the finding of the True Cross in 326 and its recovery from the Persians in 628, and is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the church year. September 14 is always a fast day and the eating of meat, dairy products and fish is prohibited. The Feast of the Exaltation has a one-day Forefeast and an eight-day Afterfeast. The Saturday and Sunday before[note 3] and after[6] September 14 are also commemorated with special Epistle and Gospel readings[note 4] about the Cross at the Divine Liturgy.

On the eve of the feast before small vespers the priest, having prepared a tray with the cross placed on a bed of fresh basil leaves or flowers, covered with an aër (liturgical veil), places it on the table of prothesis; after that service, the priest carries the tray on his head preceded by lighted candles and the deacon censing the cross, processing to the holy table (altar), in the center whereof laying the tray, in the place of the Gospel Book, the latter being set upright at the back of the altar.[7] Those portions of the vespers and matins which in sundry local customs take place before the Icon of the Feast (e.g.,the chanting of the Polyeleos and the Matins Gospel[note 5]) instead take place in front of the Holy Table.[8] The bringing out of the cross and the exaltation ceremony occur at matins.[7]

The cross remains in the center of the temple throughout the afterfeast, and the faithful venerate it whenever they enter or leave the church. Finally, on the leave-taking (apodosis) of the feast, the priest and deacon will cense around the cross, there will be a final veneration of the cross, and then they will solemnly bring the cross back into the sanctuary through the Holy Doors. This same pattern of bringing out the cross, veneration, and returning the cross at the end of the celebration is repeated at a number of the lesser Feasts of the Cross mentioned below.[9]

Full Homely Divinity - soon to garner its 1 millionth visitor, BTW! - has what I believe to be to be a new entry for this day, too.  Here are a couple of excerpts, including some very interesting legends about the wood of the cross:
One of the loveliest of these legends tells how basil plants sprang up from the ground under the Cross where drops of the Savior's blood fell. A related tradition says that Helena was aided in her search for the True Cross by a bed of basil that was growing over the very place where the Cross had been buried. Another tradition says that a sprig of basil which growing out of the wood of the Cross itself. The name of the herb comes from the same root as the Greek word for "king," basileus, thus it is an herb made for a king. In Orthodox churches, the cross that is exalted liturgically on this feast, traditionally rests on a bed of basil during the Liturgy. Basil may be blessed and distributed to the faithful on Holy Cross Day, and it would be appropriate to prepare and eat dishes that include basil, such as pesto, as part of the home celebration of the feast.

Here is a Prayer for the blessing of basil.
Almighty and merciful God: Bless, we beseech thee, this royal herb of basil. As its aroma and taste delight our senses, may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King and the power of his blessed Passion and precious Death to purify and preserve us from evil; so that, planted beneath his Cross, we may flourish to thy glory and spread abroad the fragrance of his sacrifice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


There are two different traditions about the origins of the wood of the Cross. The more familiar, Western, tradition relates that as Adam lay dying he instructed his son Seth to go the gate of Garden of Eden and to ask the cherubim guarding the entrance for a seed from the Tree of Life. This seed was placed in Adam's mouth after he died and was buried with Adam. The seed germinated and grew into a great tree which gave shelter to creatures of all kinds. In time, the origin of the tree and even the fact that it had grown over the grave of the first human being was forgotten. When the time came for Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem, wood was needed and he directed that this great, sturdy tree be cut down to be used in the construction. This was done. However, the wood from the tree was never suitable for the places it was needed. A board was either too short or too long, no matter how carefully it was measured. At last, the wood was discarded. A few years later, a bridge was being built for one of the approaches to Jerusalem and the discarded wood was incorporated into the project. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, it was necessary for her to cross this bridge. As she did, she heard a voice with a message which she reported to her host. She told Solomon that the wood of this bridge would be the means by which a new kingdom and a new order would be established in Jerusalem. Fearing that he would be overthrown and his kingdom taken from him, Solomon had the bridge torn down and the wood thrown into a cistern outside the wall of Jerusalem. There it lay for nearly a thousand years until it was once again put into service in the making of a cross for the execution of a man who claimed to be King of the Jews and became again what it had always been: the Tree of Life.

The Eastern tradition of the origins of the wood of the Cross is much simpler and rests on the interpretation of a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: "The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious." (Isaiah 60:13) According to this tradition, after Lot fled from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his uncle Abraham gave him a triple seedling, consisting of a cypress, a plane, and a pine. Lot took the seedling and planted it in the wilderness, where the three trees continued to grow together. Lot, badgered by the devil who wished to prevent the tree from growing, traveled back and forth to the Jordan River to get water for the tree. Many years later, when Solomon was building the Temple (here the legends converge for a brief moment), the tree was cut down and the wood was used in the construction. When Herod was rebuilding the Temple, this wood was taken out and discarded, and was later taken up again to be used for the Cross of Jesus. The first part of the verse from Isaiah refers to the three different woods being used in the building of the Temple. The interpretation of the final phrase, "I will make the place of my feet glorious," is that it is a reference to the footrest to which Jesus' feet were nailed on the Cross. Tradition says that the place where the tree grew was outside of the city of Jerusalem. A monastery has stood on that site since the 5th century. A series of icons, which can be seen on this website, depicts this version of the legend, though it omits the portion of the legend about the Temple.

Here are some Chantblog posts about the propers for this feast day:


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