Friday, March 9, 2012

Blessed in name...St. Benedict's feast today.

After the liturgical reforms to the Roman rite undertaken after Vatican II, Benedict's feast was moved to July 11. In point of fact, this was not an arbitrary move on the part of the concilium. In late Sacramentaries and early plenary missals, Benedict either has a feast on July 11 or both March 21st and July 11. The custom of observing both dates seems to be proper to those liturgical texts coming out of Benedictine monasteries. We'll have more on this in our next post on the topic. For now, we turn to contemporary observance.

Most readers will be familiar with the English language text of Benedict's feast. As such, I would like to focus on the proper text of the Italian Missal (Messale Romano). In the Italian Calendar, Benedict receives a full festal ranking under the title patron of Europe (one of several).

The Italian Missal has some notable departures from the Latin or English text, beginning with the opening antiphon:

Faro` di te un grande popolo e ti benediro` rendero` grande il tuo nome e sarai per tuttie una benedizione.

The opening antiphon is essentially Genesis 12:2. We are left with two possible meanings. Benedict as the founder of western monasticism or, if invoking Benedict as patron of Europe, Benedict as the "founder" of Christian Europe.

The responsorial psalm is Psalm 111, Beato l'uomo che teme il Signore, with the antiphon, Beato chi cammina nelle vie del Signore.

We are presented with two options for a second reading: Ephesians 4:1-6 or Colossians 3:12-17, a different gospel canticle, Io sono la vite, voi i tralci dice il Signore; chi rimane in me porta molto frutto and a reading from the Gospel of John 15:1-8.

In many respects, the divergences from the typical edition are rather understated. As I recall, the divergences from the Tridentine missal portrayed Benedict as the man in possession of the wisdom of God. These alternatives are more practical in nature, focusing on mastery of the praxis of Christian life.In fact, only the first reading, proper to the typical text and the text in the Italian Missal retain the theme of divine wisdom, Proverbs 2:1-9.

There are two ways one may interpret the Mass of Saint Benedict in the revised Roman liturgy, based upon the texts presented here. At first glance, one is tempted to say there is a discontinuity of emphasis between the 1962 missal and the present missal, although, it must be recalled, for all practical purposes, Saint Benedict's feast spent four hundred or so years in obscurity, a foot note in the Roman Calendar. The first reading, Proverbs 2:1-9, seems to be the point of both continuity and change between the two missals. Proverbs 2:1-9 continues the theme of Benedict as master of the wisdom of God as found in the proper readings for the feast when celebrated in particular locations and communities in the old missal. The remainder of the Mass set seeks to tease out what the gift of divine wisdom actually looks like in life. In this respect, the Mass set of the revised Roman liturgy is very monastic in its orientation - if we recall John Cassian, a writer who had no small influence on Benedict's thought, divine wisdom does not exist without having sprung from the fruits of one's actions in life. Wisdom comes not from interior piety, but rather the praxis of virtue until one's conscience is re-formed, one's thoughts, one's impulses are for virtue. Only then does one begin to receive divine wisdom.