11 December 2016, 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

11 December 2016, 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Introit: Gaudete,

Alleluia: Excita

Offertory: Rorate caeli, PBC p. 131. 

Communion: Dicite: Pusillanimes

Recessional: O come O come Emmanuel, V2H p. 226, vv. 1-4.

Ordinary from Mass XVII, PBC, p. 71. Credo I, PBC, p. 75.

The Introit antiphon has four phrases:

1. Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete:

2. modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:

3. Dominus prope est. Nihil soliliciti sitis:

4. sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum

            This antiphon is quite different from its Lenten counterpart. Rather than the ecstatic joy of Laetare, we hear a more sombre, reflective joy. It's a message of calm and confident anticipation of our impending redemption. After a long and—at times, discouraging—wait, the answer to our prayers is near at hand. Fittingly, Dominus prope est occupies the central position, dominating the whole by its florid neums. Oddly, the melody never employs the note ti, which generally characterizes the Doric mode; but the repeated ti-b tends to make the melody tender and mild. The first and fourth phrases have almost the same close, but a different range. A pause on the dominant of the mode is made by the first three phrases. The first phrase may be taken as a model of phrase structure in chant: an ascent from the tonic to the dominant, a halting on the dominant, then a descent to the tonic. Each of its members moves within a different tetrachord: c—f, f—b, d—g. There are grades of joy: Rejoice; then more: Rejoice in the Lord; then still more: Rejoice at all times. A crescendo is obviously appropriate.

            The manuscripts called for ascensiones pudicas in the melodic line: a modest, chaste rising upward. This is satisfied in the second phrase. There is some resemblance to Domino semper; but here the melody does not reach high b by means of a third, but with ascending seconds. The prolongation of the dominant a over omnibus ho-(minibus) and the extension of f over petitiones in the fourth phrase, according to some, portray the immense multitude of men, or perhaps their petitions. In Dominus prope est, a hidden urge must characterize the three porrectus; a note of joyful victory should resound in Nihil solliciti sitis.

            Solemnity and impressiveness should mark the last phrase. Its low pitch and its emphasis on the dominant f puts it in marked contrast to the preceding. Oratione alone seems to indicate that prayer is a lifting of the entire being to God, as the catechism taught us in our youth. Sed in omni and innotescant are similar. The pressus over omni effectively accents the thought that our prayer must be fervent.

The Offertory chant Rorate Coeli with its verses, at least in the form we have it here, dates from a late 19c arrangement by Dom Gueranger, the founding abbot of Solesmes. You can listen to the W. Cathedral choir sing it here, in the first part of this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HIKtoMckPDo

The Communion antiphon has two phrases.

1. Dicite: Pusillanimes confortamini, et nolite timere:

2. ecce Deus noster veniet, et salvabit nos

Here we have something exceptional. If we first carefully recite the text alone and then sing the melody with it, we see that text and melody form one whole. The chant begins quietly, but soon takes a  jubilant upward flight to that new world in which the angels sing a new canticle of peace and redemption. In a way, this antiphon introduces the feast of Christmas, just as the Invitatory antiphon after 16 December sings: Prope est jam Dominus. But it follows a definite plan: confortamini, resting on the dominant of the mode, divides the first phrase into two halves. Timere repeats the motif of nolite, and then closes a third lower, paralleling the final neums of (confortami)-ni.

            What a magnificent ring the song must have had in the ancient basilicas, when the faithful, accompanied by this stirring melody, went up to the altar to receive the Holy Eucharist! Into those who approached, it instilled courage, for it said: nolite timere. And to those returning from the altar it whispered: ecce Deus noster: For many, also, was Holy Communion the source of supernatural strength (confortamini), the Viaticum for martyrdom!

The song begins with dicite: a command to us singers. We are the privileged ones to bring this joyous message into the hearts of the faithful. Those who are bowed down, who scarcely dare to keep on hoping, those we can now console: Behold, God wishes to be also your Saviour; in your soul, too, there should be a Christmas.

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