Monday, December 24, 2012

The Christmas Midnight Introit: Dominus Dixit Ad Me

Here's a really wonderful video of the Westminster Cathedral choir singing the introit at the 2009 Midnight Mass; the introit is far more affecting when seen in its liturgical setting.  It's truly majestic and even thrilling here, in a way that just doesn't come across when you listen to a studio recording of the chant.  They're a fantastic choir - and what a setting!

Here's the chant score:

The text is from Psalm 2: verse 7, then 1-2, then 8. The key part of verse 7 is: "The Lord said to me:  You are my son; this day have I begotten you." Here's the whole Psalm:
Why do the nations rage[a]
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break[b] them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Here's CCWatershed's video of the chant:

The Alleluia for Christmas Midnight is also Dominus Dixit Ad Me; here's a video.

Here's the score:

Here's another video of the Alleluia, labeled "Old Roman Chant."  Clearly not the same melody - but sort of the same "feel," with the long melismas:

There are three collects available for use at the Eucharists of Christmas:
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

or this

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Obviously the second, by virtue of its topic, makes sense for use only at Midnight (or at the cockcrow mass, as below), but the others could  also be used then as well.    Hatchett's Commentary on the Prayer Book says this about these prayers:
The Nativity of Our Lord:  Christmas Day

The first of the collects for Christmas Day is in the Advent Masses of the Gelasian sacramentary (no. 1156) and in the Gregorian sacramentary (no. 33) and the sarum missal as a collect for the vigil Mass of Christmas.  It began, "God, who makes us glad with the annual expectation of our redemption."  Cranmer changed the opening and retained it for use "At the First Communion" on Christmas Day.  The 1552 revision dropped it, retaining only one proper for Christmas Day; in 1892 it was recovered when the 1549 provision was restored for optional use at the first service "if in any Church the Holy Communion be twice celebrated on Christmas-day."  The collect provides a good transition from Advent to the Christmas season.  

The second of the collects was appointed for the vigil in the Gelasian sacramentary (no. 5) and for the midnight stational Mass at St. Mary Major's in the Greogrian (no. 36).  The Sarum missal has it as the collect for the Mass at cockcrow.  Its content recalls the origin of the celebration of the Nativity at the December solstice as a rival festival to the pagan ceremonies of dies natalis Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun).  This is the first Book of Common Prayer to include this collect.  

The third collect was composed for the 1549 Book for use "At the Second Communion."  The revisers in 1662 replaced "this day" with "as at this time."  The substance is closely related to the the new 1549 proper preface for Christmas Day and to the initial paragraph of the note on the second article of the Creed in The King's Book.  Among the ancient collects the one most closely related seems to be in the Gelasian sacramentary (no. 17), the initial collect for the Mass on Christmas Day, and in the gregorian a collect among "Other Prayers for the Birthday of the Lord" (no. 58).  There are also similar collects in several of the fifteenth and sixteenth century German breviaries.  In his Commentary Massey H. Shepherd, Jr. said of this collect: is of all the Prayer Book collects the most notable for its theological content, for the whole of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are encased in it.  Specifically, the Collect is woven about three themes:  (1) the birth of the Only-Begotten Son of God in the substance of our human nature is linked with the idea of our rebirth in Baptism by 'pure' water ... and the Holy Spirit;  (2) the eternal Sonship of CVhrist is contrasted with our adoption as sons by the free grace of God; and (3) the historic birth of our Lord at a specific time and place is spiritually renewed in the hearts of his followers daily...
BTW, the "Sol Invictus"/"pagan holiday" question is not necessarily settled, even though Hatchett seems pretty certain of it above; the setting of the date of Christmas probably antedates any such borrowing from pagan customs.  December 25 was already in use prior to Constantine; Christianity was often and widely (if sporadically, depending on the period) persecuted prior to that time.  That would mean that Christians would have been unlikely to try to imitate pagan festivals; why would they have tried to do such "market branding" to attract people to a persecuted sect?  In addition:  the early Church was often specifically concerned with differentiating Christianity from pagan sects.   This article provides a good discussion of the various problems - logical, historical, and otherwise - with the theory, as well as some thoughts about why December 25 was chosen; it may have everything to do with the date of Jesus' own death, in fact:
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9 March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”11 Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

 Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419)  he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

Other propers for Christmas Midnight are these:  

And you might like to listen to The Christmas Proclamation, Chanted - traditionally sung as the Midnight mass begins - as well.   A blessed Christmas to all.

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