Friday, December 10, 2010

Under Candlepower: An Unexpected Advent Rorate Mass at Grotto...

The Elevation of the Chalice during a 7:00pm Rorate Mass in the ordinary form on December 11, 2007 at Assumption Grotto

I had wanted to make the 7:30am Mass this morning, but could not be there.  So, I went to the 7:00pm Mass and was blessed to find that an Advent Rorate Mass was going to be celebrated. It was a Latin Novus Ordo which kicked off the start of an Altar Boy retreat.  The photo above is of the only Rorate Mass I captured at Assumption Grotto.  I don't always have the luxury of a camera on hand.  From what I understand the decision was made at the last minute today. 

Here is a post I made in 2007, which contains an explanation of this tradition, which traditionally took place in the morning.

This is a Mass done entirely under candlepower. It is a custom that originated in German-speaking countries. A brief overview is given by one of the German priests who works out of Assumption Grotto.

There is a desire to do this Mass early in the morning as a TLM, but making it happen has been a challenge. Since it is happening on Tuesday nights at 7:00pm, it must be in the Novus Ordo, or ordinary form of the Mass. This is when the priests of the Holy Cross celebrate weekly.

What is a Rorate Mass and why is it celebrated with white vestments and by candlelight?
The Rorate Mass got its proper name from the first word of the Introit (Entrance antiphon): "Rorate caeli désuper et nubes pluant justum". "Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness". We know Gaudete and Laetare Sunday which also got their names from the Introit.

Before the liturgical changes after Vatican II this Mass was celebrated very early in the morning on all Saturdays. In some areas it was celebrated on several or even all weekdays during Advent.


The Rorate Mass has a long tradition in the Church, especially in German-speaking countries. It is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother for the season of Advent. Our Lady shows herself in a special way as our leader through Advent to Christmas. The celebration by candle light had originally a more practical reason. According to the Missal of 1570 no Mass could be said after 12.00 Noon. On the other hand, people had to go to work in the morning. Also the Rorate Masses were celebrated in a more solemn form and therefore would last longer. For these reasons the Masses had to begin relatively early in the morning when it was still dark due to winter-time.


There is a beautiful symbolism associated with the Rorate Mass. Through the snow and cold and darkness of early morning the faithful would trudge with lanterns and candles in their hands to the then brightly lit Church (no electric light!) where the Mass was celebrated.


In Advent we live spiritually between the Annunciation and the birth of Christ. Mary teaches us the spirit of Advent and inner attitude we should have during Advent. During the nine month of pregnancy Mary lived a hidden life, in the spirit of silence and intense intimacy with Christ she carried in her womb. This spirit of intimacy with God the faithful are to cultivate during the season of Advent more intensely by listening attentively to God's message and by obedience to His word.


Today this Mass with candlelight can either be celebrated in the morning or in the evening when it is dark, because there is no restriction any more with regard to the hours Mass can be said. In fact it is frequently celebrated in German-speaking countries because of its popularity). Popular piety attributed to these Masses a special efficacy and they were held in great esteem. People would ask these Masses to be said for their intentions far in advance.


What we see so often in Church history: certain things have been done first for practical reasons, but then in the course of time there was also attributed a spiritual meaning. And the use of candles during Advent belongs into this category. The symbolism of the candle matches very well with the spirit of Advent. Advent is dawn. It is still not the bright light of Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation for something exceedingly joyful that will be going to happen. The Church and the soul are still struggling through the darkness toward the Light. There is a longing and expectancy of Advent. The light of our candles is a symbol for our longing for the coming of our Savior Whose light is already dawning. On Christmas Eve we will enter the Church in procession by candlelight. When the Gloria is sung all the lights will be turned on meaning that Christ is now born.

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