Thursday, December 7, 2006

Advent "Rorate Masses" at Assumption Grotto on Tuesdays

A Rorate Mass shown on the web at a European parish

I've been going to Assumption Grotto since May of 2005, but rarely go to the evening Masses because I try to go in the morning. Tuesday, following Catechism which ends right around 7:00, I decided to walk over to Mass since I did not make it in the AM. As I opened the door to the Church and saw candlelight cutting through total darkness, I began to wonder if Fr. Perrone had paid the electric bill. When I got far enough to see the altar, and noticed it too was aglow only with candles - I knew this was something traditional and my curiosity was getting the best of me. Typically, one of the priests of Opus Angelorum celebrate the Tuesday evening Masses. The other priests of OA were there too, as were the sisters. Before this I didn't think there was anything at Assumption Grotto I had not experienced before, but once again was treated to an unexpectedly beautiful liturgical experience. Following Mass, I caught up with some people to inquire who referred me to one of the priests. I was given this explanation from Fr. W.S.:

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.


Come to Assumption Grotto to experience this unique European tradition and you'll discover the beauty of it. I can only hope to see this become a spiritual tradition in the US to help us all focus less on the secular things of Christmas and more on the mysteries God places before us in Advent and Christmas.

When you come in the side doors, you will find a box of candles on the tables on either side of the Church. You will need that candle for reading. On the altar rail will be small white booklets with Advent songs on them. We even had an organist - a rarity for the 7:00 weeknight Masses.

There is just something about Mass under candlelight that adds to the mystical experience already inherent in the liturgy. Come and experience this rare opportunity on Tuesday nights in Advent.

You can learn more clicking on the "translate this page" if you don't speak German by doing these searches and your browser has this feature. I'm using IE.

Google search on "Rorate Messe"

Google image search on "Rorate Messe"