26 December 2014, St Stephen Protomartyr EF Missa Cantata 8am

26 December 2014, St Stephen Protomartyr

EF Missa Cantata, 8:00 am

Introit: Etenim sederunt, begin on F (as fa)

Gradual: Sederunt principes, begin on A (as re)

Alleluia: Video caelos, begin on (as do)

Offertory: Elegerunt apostoli, begin C (as do)

Communion: Video caelos, begin on E (as fa)

Recessional: Alma Redemptoris Mater, PBC p. 119 (simple tone), begin on C (as do)

Mass IV, Credo II.

The Introit has two long phrases:

  1. Etenim sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur: et iniqui persecuti sunt me
  2. adjuva me, Domine Deus meus, quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis justificationibus.

When we come to Mass on this second Christmas feast we hear, immediately at the Introit, the saint of today describing that which passed in his soul when he stood before the high council. Dispensing with introductory phrases, he speaks to us directly, graphically, impressively. Around him he sees the high priests and scribes (principes); from their faces, from their words, he knows that they are his bitterest opponents. He must hear how truth is distorted by the testimony of false (iniqui) witnesses; and by this assembly he hears the sentence of death passed against him.

That is the first phrase of this Introit. Its melody consists of three members. The first member, with its series of agitated porrectus, each of which sets in on a higher pitch, leads up to the dominant; the second leads back to the tonic: arsis and thesis. The second phrase repeats practically the same formula over et adver- and me loqueban-. The subsequent double bistropha suggests a mysterious muffled whispering; similarly its recurrence in the Gradual. An agitated up-and-down movement runs through the third member, like the motions of some noble animal at bay: there is indignation at the injustice displayed. It is well to stress the torculus, and the syllable following it must also be given its full due. The first note of each neum over (perse)-cuti can be sung almost martellato.

If in the first phrase the saint looked about himself, he now in the second, looks upward to God. Deus meus does not occur in the original psalm-verse, but the composer so merged himself into the feelings of the saint that these words rose spontaneously. The melody becomes urgently pleading. It marks the summit of the entire piece and has the only high pressus. Here again the first member lingers on the dominant. Most truthfully can the saint pray: You are my God—Deus meus. . .. You have I chosen, to You have I dedicated myself. In the second and third members the influence of the word-accents in the formation of the melody becomes apparent: servus tuus exercebatur, tuis. Though practically the same formula recurs three or four times, this may remind us of the constancy with which the saint withstood all opposition and persevered in the service of his Lord; it may remind us of the fiery zeal with which he offered himself for the great cause. For no one could.resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke in him. With full determination he likewise advances to his death. We have already met the closing formula in the Introit Gaudete; we shall meet it again in the Introit for Epiphany. The psalm-verse now sings its Beati quietly, almost genially. The purity of heart and fidelity to God here mentioned were the saint's great consolations.

The Gradual has two verses in the corpus and two in the vers:

  1. Sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur
  2. et iniqui perecuti sunt me.


  1. Adjuva me Domine Deus meus:
  2. salvum me fac propter misericordiam tuam.

The corpus of the Gradual has the same text as the first phrase of the Introit, except that the word Etenim has been omitted. Similarly, the verse bears some resemblance to the second phrase of the Introit. In both pieces loquebantur carries a similar melody; iniqui is stressed still more; in both instances Domine Deus meus marks the principal ascent. But there are also specific differences besides those of mode and range. In the Introit the accented syllables helped to form the melody; not a single closing syllable had more than two notes. In the Gradual, on the contrary, it is precisely the final syllables that receive special prominence. Here we also find an interplay of florid melismatic passages with some that are purely syllabic, whereas the entire Introit was developed more regularly and simply: the accented syllable of persecuti alone was given three neumes. The difference in spirit is even more marked, especially in the verse. At its very beginning the Introit was lively in movement; the solemn beginning of the Gradual, however, seems to lead us to a serious, dignified court-session. At adversum me it gathers momentum, and iniqui is still more vigorous: here f f g a c becomes a c d e f. At persecuti sunt the notes, without being hammered out, must be accented well enough to show that the meaning of the word is fully grasped. Thus far the text had a setting almost entirely original; the notation over me, however, already acts as a transition to the verse, which employs typical forms only.

The beginning of the verse still reminds us of et adversum me in the corpus. Snatches of the melody from the Gradual of the second Christmas Mass follow, and then comes a beautifully articulated melisma, one which on Epiphany we find again over illuminare (q.v.). Over Deus meus we hear a form which occurs several times, e.g. on the feast of the Assumption (inclina aurem tuam). After the florid melisma a special solemnity attaches to the simple recitation on the low f if it is rendered in a sustained (not heavy, or blunt!) manner and in a careful legato. Over tuam we find the passage fagf ga a of (miseri)-cordiam a third higher. The closing melisma is quite common; tomorrow we meet it again. This chant does not in the least sound like the prayer of an outcast, of one who as a victim to fanatical hatred sees a horrible death staring him in the face. Instead, it sounds like the prayer of one whose confidence is boundless, of one who is sure of being heard: an echo, this, of heaven's own songs.

The Alleluia verse has three phrases:

  1. 1.Video caelos apertos,
  2. 2.Et Jesum stantem
  3. 3.a dextris virtutis Dei.

Here a word of the preceding Lesson finds a continuation. Surrounded by enemies raging and furious, Stephen, ‘full of the Holy Spirit,’ was privileged to look upon the glory of God. In this perspective he forgot all things of earth. He saw Jesus, to whose cause he had dedicated himself completely, and he saw Him standing, as if He had risen from His throne to help His loyal servant with all His divine power. We already know the melody from the third Mass of Christmas. Taking into account the divisions noted there it will suffice to add the following particulars:

1. Video = 3. a dextris

1. apertos = 3. virtutis

2. et Jesum stantem, (4) Dei.

The Offertory has five phrases:

  1. Elegerunt Apostoli Stephanum levitam
  2. plenum fide et Spiritu Sancto
  3. quem lapidaverunt Judaei orantem, et dicentem
  4. Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum
  5. alleluia

Two scenes comprise the Offertory: the first two phrases portray the election of St. Stephen as a deacon; the third and fourth phrases give his prayer while he was being stoned. A solemn quiet hovers about the opening melody. One must guard against singing it too fast, for it should tell in a broad festal manner of the act by which the honor and the order of the diaconate was bestowed upon the saint. He was truly worthy of being chosen,1 for he was ‘filled’ with faith and with the Holy Spirit. The setting in with the fifth is more than mere chance; so too the further progress of the melody with the descending fourth and the pressus. And how austere is then the close over Spiritu Sancto The spirit of the world would certainly be voiced differently. In the second part one might consider lapidaverunt, whose first three podatusin the annotated manuscripts are in the broad form, as tonepainting, as depicting the downward flight of the stones. But immediately afterwards we meet the same tone-sequences as we had over plenum. To the descending fourth, and also later over (Domi)-ne, a third is added, which makes the melody more virile. The frequent tritones, though most of them are not obvious, contribute to this same end. The second half of the phrase is a quiet preparation for what follows. What fervor and confidence breathe forth from this prayer! It should be sung with warmth, and above all not too rapidly. After Domine it will be necessary to make a brief pause for breathing. Ac-(cipe) and (al)-le-luia remind us of (Spiri)-tu Sancto in the second phrase; spiritum, of lapidaverunt in the third phrase. All the notes after the last minor pause are to be sung ritardando.

Dom Jeannin would assign the entire piece to an Ut-mode with a close on the fifth. However that may be, it is quite surprising to find over levitam, a cadence to c. About the same time that we hear the saint praying this accipe spiritum meum, the priest at the altar is saying: Suscipe, sancte Pater, hanc immaculatam hostiam—‘Receive, O holy Father. . this spotless victim,’ in preparation for the most holy Sacrifice. Today, on the feast of the first martyr, we must try to appreciate that which is stressed by the Secret on the Thursday after the third Sunday of Lent: ‘We offer Thee that Sacrifice from which all martyrdom has drawn its source.’

The Communion has three phrases:

  1. Video caelos apertos, et Jesum stantem a dextris virtutis Dei
  2. Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum
  3. et ne statuas illis hoc peccatum, quia nesciunt quid faciunt

The Communion in its first phrase has the same text as the Alleluiaverse; in the second, the same as the fourth phrase of the Offertory. There is a difference, however, in the melodic treatment, much like to that which exists between the Intro it and the Gradual, though not in the same degree. The piece has wonderful dramatic power. Here one may nicely see the role played by intervals in plain song. Video sets out with quiet seconds; over apertos we have a major third. Now the saint's gaze penetrates further into heaven; he sees Jesus. A fourth stands over et— and then Jesum stantem dominates the entire melodic line. Thus far the arsis. Two energetic pressus feature the subsequent thesis. The ardent Domine uses a fifth and an ascent to high e. The second part of the phrase is again a thesis. An example of logical development.

The third phrase never extends above a; its largest intervals are but minor thirds; toward the end only seconds occur. We are told in the Acts, it is true, that St. Stephen, kneeling, cried with a loud voice: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ But the plainsong melody has a different end in view. It seems as if the saint's strength were fast ebbing away; yet before his death he must pronounce this prayer. The melody seems to melt away also. In the Acts the last four words are not to be found. But they proceed from the heart of the saint; they unite his sacrifice and his prayer with that of the Crucified. Christ was nailed to His cross outside the city gates. There also was Stephen stoned. In him the sacrificial power of the Cross achieves its first glorious victory. It is this same power of the Cross that inflamed countless thousands to follow the example of the first martyr. Can we do less? 

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