This past Sunday marked the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is Advent, a time set aside to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. Like Lent, it is a penitential season – a time when we seek to purify our hearts in order to be ready to worthily welcome the Christ Child. But there is also an element of joy in our time of waiting, expectation, and hope. We join our hearts to that of our Blessed Mother Mary, who so joyfully awaited the birth of her Divine Child all those many years ago.
There are many traditional Advent devotions that help remind us of the ‘reason for the season’. One especially beautiful custom is the lighting of Advent candles, signifying the imminent coming of Christ, our Light, to a world that once lived in darkness. Looking back in time, we also discover another beautiful Catholic tradition. Although no longer celebrated in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, there is a specific set of prayers for the celebration of what is known as the Rorate Caeli Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Missal of St. John XXIII).1
The Rorate Caeli Mass “takes its title … from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8.”1 “Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.” (“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”) The Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary, traditionally celebrated on Saturdays, is held before dawn during Advent, in order to allow “the interplay of light and darkness [to] speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.”2
“The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.
The readings and prayers of the Mass foretell the prophecy of the Virgin who would bear a Son called Emmanuel, and call on all to raise the gates of their hearts and their societies to let Christ the King enter; asking for the grace to receive eternal life by the merits of the Incarnation and saving Resurrection of Our Lord.”3
This Advent, consider setting aside some time to spend with your Blessed Mother. Rorate Caeli Masses will be celebrated at 7:00 a.m. on December 3rd, 10th, and 17th at St. Bernard’s parish in Calgary (711 – 37th Street NW). Please note that this will not be a celebration of this Mass as it is offered according to the rubrics and prayers of the Extraordinary Rite of the Roman Rite (the Missal of St. John XXIII). Pope Benedict XVI wanted to see a mutual enrichment of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, and in accordance with this desire, the celebration of the Rorate Caeli Masses at St. Bernard’s will be offered according to the rubrics and prayers of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Nevertheless, they will incorporate elements of the traditional Rorate Caeli Mass, such as the illumination of the church by candle light, the celebration of the Holy Mass ad orientem – “to the east” (facing the altar), and the use of Gregorian chant. For those who would like to experience the Rorate Caeli Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, you are encouraged to attend St. Anthony’s parish (5340 – 4th St. SW) in Calgary on December 10th at 7:00 a.m.
- Sharon van der Sloot
1 Depending on how the Saturdays of Advent fall on various calendar dates, this Mass may or may not be able to be celebrated during Advent. Since the liturgical reforms of Vatican II (1962-1965), there is no proper Rorate Caeli Mass in the Roman Rite. However, there is more freedom in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite to make a votive Mass to the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent that has many of the features of the Rorate Caeli Mass, e.g. Mass by candle light, use of Gregorian chant, etc.
2 Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, “Rorate Masses in Honor of Our Lady,” available from https://fssp.com/rorate-caeli-masses/; Internet; accessed 19 November 2016.
5 See Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificem (“Of the Supreme Pontiffs”); available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070707_lettera-vescovi.html; Internet; accessed 23 November 2016.