24 June, 2017, In Nativitate S. Joannis Baptistae (OF Sunday)
Introit, De ventre
Alleluia: Tu puer
Offertory, O God of earth and altar, p. 307
Communion, Tu puer
Post Communion: Ut queant laxis
Recessional, For all the saints, p. 263
Mass XI, Credo III.
There are four phrases in this long Introit antiphon:
1. De ventre matris meae vocavit me Dominus nomine meo
2. et posuit os meum ut gladium acutum
3. sub tegumento manus suae protexit me
4. et posuit me quasi sagittam electam.
In the Introit St. John tells of the wonderful things that God has wrought in him. His is the voice of one crying in the wilderness—austere, earnest, solemn. This is graphically depicted by the melody which is devoid of drama, rather restrained, has no noticeable gradations, and employs only few, albeit artistic, forms. The melody, moreover, should be sung in a low pitch, since the verse with its high dominant precludes any transposition upward. A feeling of gratitude is nevertheless apparent, and the whole is pervaded by a joyous ring like an echo of the joyous and bright Magnificat which the Mother of God sang in the house of St. John's parents. Our rendition, especially of the numerous bistrophas and tristrophas should not be slow and cumbersome. Rhythmical manuscripts indicate no less than nine celeriter (rapidly), and seldom employ sustained neums.
The motif over (nomi)-ne meo recurs over (prote)-xit me and '(posu)-it me. Acutum and manus suae correspond imitatively to (posu)-it os meum. The second posuit is identical with protexit. The porrectus over these two words are resolved into three single notes over tegumento. The endings over meum, (a)-cutum and suae have rhythmic similarity.
The melody is assigned to the first mode. As a matter of fact, the actual dominant is that of the second mode, f, not a of the first mode. There is, moreover, the tone range from low a to high b♭, and the descent to Iow a which is characteristic of the second mode. These considerations indicate not the first mode but the plagal form, the second mode. If in spite of this the melody is nevertheless assigned to and sung in the first mode, this is evidently done in consideration of the fact that the introduction of the Introit employs a form typical of the first mode. (Cf. Pueri Hebraeorum of Palm Sunday.) But even then, a rule formerly observed directed that the final cadence of the psalmody should adapt itself to the beginning of the antiphon. The earnestness and sobriety of the present melody become more apparent if we consider the great joy radiated in the text and melody of the Introit Ne timeas of yesterday's vigil. We should naturally expect an intensification of this joy in the Mass of the feast. This seeming paradox vanishes, however, if we advert to the fact that the Introit of the vigil depicted an angel from heaven as speaking, while today it is St. John, entering upon an austere and sacrificial life which will end in martyrdom, who speaks. And St. John's one wish is to diminish, that Christ may increase.
The text is taken from the prophet Isaias and refers primarily to the coming Messias. When "the angel declared unto Mary"—therefore, before the actual birth of Christ (De venire matris meae)—the name of Jesus was given Him for the first time. God endowed Him with all that was necessary to carry out His vocation. His preaching (os meum) carried with it irresistible authority which struck His enemies near by like a "sharp sword," and those at a distance like a "chosen arrow." This sword, however, is sheathed and the arrow is in the quiver and will be used only when and how God wills; but then they will strike true and without fail.
Today St. John makes them his own these words of Isaiah that the Church applies to him. Like our Saviour, St. John was also called by name while still in the womb of his mother. After he had been conceived an angel addressed him with the name John, which means 'God has shown His mercy.' It was this mercy of God that freed him from original sin already in the womb of his mother and filled him with the Holy Ghost. Even before the Sun of Justice has risen, It penetrates with Its sanctifying rays the soul of St. John and makes it holy. In the course of time God leads him into solitude where great souls are prepared and matured for their vocation. The penitential austerity he practiced throughout his life fitted him well for preaching and demanding penance of others. His words cut like a 'sharp sword' and 'a chosen arrow' all that was unclean and vulgar. He carried out the will of God with the abandon and lightning speed of an arrow.
The Communion antiphon has two phrases:
1. Tu, puer, Propheta Altissimi vocaberis
2. praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius.
The Communion has the same text as the Alleluia, and to a great extent the same melody:
Tu puer = Tu puer
parare = Altis-(simi)
vias eius = (Altis)-simi vocaberis
We might suppose that, since Alleluia and Communion have the same text, the melody of the former had some influence on that of the latter. In the oldest manuscripts, however, the Alleluia has a different text and melody. From an artistic standpoint, the Communion melody is better than that of the Alleluia. The word propheta is impressive—annotated manuscripts have a broad podatus over the accented syllable—while the melody, with its high a, depicts wonderment over the honor and dignity of this child of grace. Admiration has overtaken Zachary, and a proud paternal joy vibrates throughout. This joy is especially apparent over praeibis for, among all prophets, St. John alone was permitted to be a contemporary of the Messias. He was permitted to go before the Saviour and prepare His ways. The low descent over parare with its pressus recalls to us the difficulties and trials St. John experienced in preparing the way for the Lord.
Einsiedeln 121 assigns this Communion to the first (authentic) mode, probably because in the same mode was sung the verse which continues the text of our Communion: ad dandam scientiam. If this hymn should be for us a true Communion prayer, we shall also enter into its sentiments and beg St. John to prepare the way for the Lord into our heart and to invest our being with that humility which prompted him to exclaim: I ought to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me? and to judge himself unworthy to loose the laces of Christ's shoes.