People of Zion: the time of singing has returned!

The Roman liturgy knows the stationes: of stops, moments of prayer that saw -and still see- the pope and the faithful go to a significant basilica: the stationary church, often the memory and guardian place of a martyr's relics. Lenten ones are famous, but they are not the only ones, and Advent, like every pilgrimage, has its "stops." On the second Sunday of the Liturgical Year, in the ancient manuscripts, we read:

"et fit statio in ecclesia, quae dicitur Jerusalem a domino Papa"

(And the Pope pauses in the Church that is called Jerusalem).

The city of Rome also has its Jerusalem. And where is it located? In the Esquiline district. There stands the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which is considered, for the Roman liturgy, as Jerusalem itself. There, after all, the stationes (stops) were scheduled for the fourth Sunday of Lent and Good Friday. In the early medieval sacramentarians we can read, for example: Orationes quae dicendae sub VI feria maiore in Hierusalem (prayers to be recited -it was the solemn Universal Prayer- on Good Friday in Jerusalem).

All the celebrations on the second Sunday of Advent seem to take place in the Holy City and for the inhabitants of this holy place. Going to the basilica of the Holy Cross was the logical consequence:

Primum responsorium incipit: "Jerusalem," et introitus missae: "populus Syon," et fit statio in ecclesia, que dicitur ierusalem a domino Papa.

(The first responsory begins with "Jerusalem" and the introit of the Mass is "People of Zion" and the Pope pauses in that Church which is called Jerusalem.)

The ancient prayers that punctuated the night in monasteries and cathedrals saw, in addition to the recitation of the Psalms, the alternation of lectiones et cantica (long-winded readings and responsories). As we have already had occasion to say, the prophet Isaiah accompanied these nocturnes by constituting the reading that, for the second Sunday of Advent, provided the eleventh chapter. In the songs of the night, then, Jerusalem resounded, becoming the interpretive key, through meditation in cantu (through song), of that text in the liturgical context.

The first lectio said, Et egredietur virga de radice Jesse et flos de radice eius ascendet. (A shoot will sprout from the trunk of Jesse, a sapling will sprout from his roots. Is 11:1). The text was answered by the first responsory in which words from the prophet Micah were cleverly inserted.

Jerusalem cito veniet salus tua quare moerore consumeris numquid consiliarius non est tibi quia innovabit te dolor salvabo te et liberabo te noli timere.

Jerusalem soon comes your salvation, "Why does grief consume you? By chance is your counselor gone?(Mi 9:4) Why are you renewed in sorrow? Fear not: I will save you and deliver you!

The liturgy gives itself as a remedy: a song of consolation for Jerusalem. Indeed, medieval authors tell us of a song of "patientia et consolatio" (perseverance and consolation. Rom 15:4). A wonderful combination (which we read in this day's Epistle) that flows from the Word of God as a promise of hope. Even today the texts of Isaiah and the letter to the Romans resonate in the Mass. "Patience" is the virtue of perseverance, which together with consolation are fruits given to those who hear that Word which is sure hope: "a shoot shall spring from the trunk of Jesse" (Isaiah 15:4).

The bud that will sprout for Jerusalem is the liberating Messiah: the Christ. In this responsory, however, there also seems to be another quotation: an anticipation of a theme that resonates on Christmas Day.

Jerusalem weeps and is afraid but the Lord, through the voice of the Prophet, asks him a rhetorical question since he already has his answer. "Perhaps you do not have your counselor?" (Mi 4:9). In the interplay of cross-references in Gregorian chant theology, Consiliarius (counselor) is a key word. It constitutes the name of the Son of God in the mystery of the Incarnation. The Christmas Day Mass opens with the introit Puer n atus (For us he was born) and in its wonderful text we sing, "et vocabitur nomen eius, magni consilii angelus" (His name shall be: angel of the great council. Is 9:6).

The Latin text, in the Vulgate, reads thus, " et vocabitur nomen eius Admirabilis consiliarius Deus fortis Pater futuri saeculi Princeps pacis"(and shall be called: admirable counselor, strong God and Prince of peace of future ages. Is 9:6).

The second reading continued with the prophecy of the time of peace ushered in by this sprout of the trunk of Jesse: "His word shall be a rod that shall smite the violent;
with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked" (Is 11:4). This was followed by the responsory inspired by Zechariah's prophecy about the eschatological combat and the splendor of Jerusalem:

Ecce dominus veniet et omnes sancti ejus cum eo et erit in die illa lux magna et exibunt de Jerusalem sicut aqua munda et regnabit dominus in aeternum super omnes gentes

Then the Lord will come and with him all his saints, and in that day there will be a great light (Zech 14:5-6). And it will come out of Jerusalem as pure water, and the Lord will reign forever over all the nations (Zech 14:8-9).

Leaving aside the other verbose responsories, where the city of Jerusalem always resounds, this theme is also made explicit in Lauds. "In laudibus prima antiphona est de secundo aduentu: ecce in nubibus celi" (In Lauds the first antiphon speaks of the second Advent: Behold in the clouds ). It is an antiphon that quotes Matthew's Gospel in the context of references to the prophet Daniel and the announcement of the great tribulation for Jerusalem.

Ecce in nubibus caeli Dominus veniet cum potestate magna alleluia

Behold, the Son of Man comes above the clouds of heaven with great power (Mt. 24:30).

In the second antiphon, a text from Isaiah (Is 26:1) is reworked:

Urbs fortitudinis nostrae Sion salvator ponetur in ea murus et antemurale, aperite portas quia nobiscum Deus alleluia

(Strong city is Zion: the Savior has placed a bulwark wall in it, open the gates because God is with us).

Once again it is striking to note the interplay of biblical and liturgical references. The "nobiscum Deus" (God with us), would already seem to be the anticipation of what will be sung in the last days of Advent by taking up precisely the Gospel of Matthew and Isaiah: et vocabunt nomen eius Emmanuhel quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus (and he will be called Emmanuel which means God with us. Mt 1:23).

Thus, for example, in the communio:

Ecce virgo concipiet
et pariet filium et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.

(Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son who shall be called Emmanuel,
meaning God with us. Mt 1:23).

Our attention, moreover, can be placed in another lexical element present in this antiphon: the theme of the Urbs Syon (city of Zion). In the context of the liturgical day it seems to constitute an anticipation to the Introit antiphon of the Mass. We can see this internal reference to the celebration precisely by comparing the beginning of the second antiphon of Lauds with the Introit ( Graduale Novum version):

Let us turn, then, to the Eucharistic celebration. The liturgical and theological path of its antiphons is interesting but, in order not to dwell too long, I would like, for now, to limit myself to the introit.

Populus Sion, ecce Dominus veniet ad salvandas gentes et auditam faciet Dominus gloriam vocis suae in laetitia cordis vestri.

Qui regis Israël, intendequi deducis velut ovem Joseph.

People of Zion, behold, the Lord will come to save all nations: the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard by flooding your hearts with gladness. Hear, you who rule Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.

This introit antiphon has a text that is not found identically in Scripture but stitches together multiple verses from Isaiah relaunching, in the Eucharistic liturgy, the prayer path of the night. He opens by calling his interlocutor by his own name, "People of Zion," and the ear chewing scripture of the clerics of old mentally complemented him, "you who dwell in Jerusalem, you shall weep no more" (Isaiah 30:19). It was followed by the Word of promise that was hope: "behold, the Lord will come to save all nations" (Isaiah 30:27). The text went on almost affirming the vocation of these singers in the Church who gave voice to the coming Christ: "the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard" (Isaiah 30:30) which is a gift to all mankind: "flooding your hearts with gladness." The antiphon was followed by the verse, "You, shepherd of Israel, listen, you who lead Joseph like a flock" (Psalm 80:2). Those who commented on this celebration in the Middle Ages seemed almost to have an awareness of the theology of the "liturgical today." That "you who lead" was to be read as "de hoc mundo deducis": the eternal King and Shepherd who guides us through the history of this world: ours, in which we live and celebrate today. And so it is a song-prophecy of the Second Advent, for the time of the Church. If being "sheep," in today's feeling, can be synonymous with weakness, in the Christian song it is an invitation to a "style." "Sicut oves id est simplices" (like sheep, that is, simple) is a vocation to be simple, like a flock that trusts its shepherd. This leader is yes "a majestic voice" (Isaiah 30:30) but he gathers and leads us with a wisdom whereby, at the same time, he is also "the voice of the turtledove that is heard in our countryside" (Song 2:12). "Ipse enim est turtur!" He himself is the turtledove).

Advent, then, is proclamation that "winter has passed, the rain has ceased, the flowers have appeared in the fields: the time of song has returned" (Song 2:11-12).


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