Rorate Mass

Rorate Mass
The season of Advent falls each year in the dark month of December and it is a month when we see the general theme of the liturgical season being echoed in nature. Darkness has crept over the world, and is increasing each day. Yet, there is hope for soon the days will begin to lengthen and the sun will conquer the night. The earth reveals that there is a light in this dark place and that Light reigns victorious.
The Church makes this truth more visible with an ancient tradition (often forgotten) called the “Rorate” Mass. This votive Mass during Advent in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary receives its name from the first words of the opening chant in Latin, Rorate caeli, or in English “Shower, O heavens.” What is peculiar to this celebration of the Eucharist is that it is traditionally celebrated in the dark, only illuminated by candlelight and typically just before dawn. The symbolism of this Mass abounds and is a supreme expression of the Advent season.
First of all, since the Mass is normally celebrated right before dawn, the warm rays of the winter sun slowly light up the church. If timed correctly, by the end of Mass the entire church is filled with light by the sun. This speaks of the general theme of Advent, a time of expectation eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Son of God, the Light of the World. In the early Church Jesus was often depicted as Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun,” and December 25 was known in the pagan world as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). Saint Augustine makes reference to this symbolism in one of his sermons, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.” Connected to this symbolism is the fact that this Mass is celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often referred to by the title “Morning Star.” Astronomically speaking the “morning star” is the planet Venus and is most clearly seen in the sky right before sunrise or after sunset. It is the brightest “star” in the sky at that time and heralds or makes way for the sun.
The Blessed Mother is the true “Morning Star,” always pointing us to her Son and so the Rorate Mass reminds us of Mary’s role in salvation history.
Secondly, it echoes to us the truth that the darkness of night does not last, but is always surpassed by the light of day. This is a simple truth we often forget, especially in the midst of a dark trial when the entire world seems bent on destroying us. God reassures us that this life is only temporary and that we are “strangers and sojourners” in a foreign land, destined for Heaven.
Last of all, a beautiful ray of symbolism is found in the custom of all present holding lighted candles throughout the Mass. Certainly this is a practical way of illuminating the church, but it also symbolizes the reality that darkness is dispelled by a unification of many individual lights. Indeed, when all of us together let our lights shine before men, not hiding them under a bushel basket, we are able to illuminate the world and easily destroy the darkness before us.
In the end, the Rorate Mass is a beautiful tradition in the Church that helps us to enter in to the Advent season. Above all it helps us to remember and reflect on a central truth of our faith: darkness is a passing shadow and flees more speedily when it sees a multitude of lights.

St. Philogonius

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St. Philogonius, Bishop of Antioch, Confessor

From the panegyric, spoken by St. Chrysostom on his festival, t. 1, p. 492, ed. Montfauc.

A.D. 322.

ST. PHILOGONIUS was brought up to the law, and made a considerable figure at the bar, being admired for his eloquence, and still more for the purity of his manners and sanctity of his life. This was a sufficient motive for dispensing with the canons, which require some time spent among the clergy before a person be advanced to the highest station in the Church. Philogonius was placed in the see of Antioch, upon the death of Vitalis in 318, and St. Chrysostom mentions the flourishing state of that church in his time, as an authentic proof of his zeal and excellent administration. When Arius broached his blasphemies at Alexandria in 318, St. Alexander condemned him, and sent the sentence in a synodal letter to St. Philogonius, who strenuously defended the catholic faith before the assembly of the council of Nice. In the storms which were raised against the Church, first by Maximin II. and afterwards by Lucinius, St. Philogonius deserved the title of Confessor; he died in the year 322, the fifth of his episcopal dignity. His festival was celebrated at Antioch on the 20th of December, in the year 386, in which St. Chrysostom pronounced his panegyric, touching lightly on his virtues, because, as he says, he left the detail of them to his bishop, Flavian, who was to speak after him. 1

St. Chrysostom extols in the most amiable terms the overflowing peace which this saint now enjoys in a state of bliss, where there are no conflicts, no irregular passions, no more of that cold word, “Mine and Thine,” which fills the whole world with wars, every family with broils, and every breast with restless disquiets, gnawing pains, and prickling thorns. St. Philogonius had so perfectly renounced the world and crucified its inordinate desires in his heart, that he received in this life the earnest of Christ’s spirit, was admitted to the sacred council of the heavenly king, and had free access to the Almighty. A soul must here learn the heavenly spirit, and be well versed in the occupations of the blessed, if she hope to reign with them hereafter: she must beforehand have some acquaintance with the mysteries of grace, and the functions of divine love and praise. Persons are not called to the palace of an earthly king without having been fashioned, and for a long time exercised in the manners of the court, that they may not come thither utter strangers to the proceedings of the place, says St. Macarius. 1 2

Note 1. S. Macarius, Hom. 17, p. 265. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XII: December.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

Blessed Urban V

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Blessed Urban V

(† 1370)

Blessed Urban V, whose family name was William de Grimoard, was born in Mende, on a mountain of the Cevenne hills. He rapidly mastered the various disciplines of literature and the sciences. It was religious life which then appeared to him as the ideal which could best respond to the propensities of his mind and the needs of his heart. He went to knock at the door of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Victor near Marseille, and there, in the peaceful shadows of the cloister, he advanced day by day in all the virtues. He was remarked in particular for his tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Religious profession had augmented his ardor for learning, and his Superiors soon judged the humble monk capable of teaching. In effect, his illustrious voice brought honor to the professorial chairs confided to him in Montpellier, Paris, Avignon and Toulouse. A few years later, after serving for a short time as Abbot of Saint Germain d’Auxerre, he was sent to Italy by Pope Clement VI as his legate. This, unbeknown to himself, was to be a step toward the highest existing dignity. He was elected Pope in October of 1362 and took the name of Urban V, because all the popes who had borne that name had ennobled it by the sanctity of their lives.

It is he who added to the papal tiara a third crown, not out of pride, but to symbolize the triple royalty of the pope over the faithful, the bishops, and the Roman States. When he mounted the throne of Saint Peter at that time in Avignon, he envisioned three great projects — the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome, the reformation of morals, and the propagation of the Catholic faith in distant lands. His return to Rome, which had not seen a Pope for sixty years, was a triumph. Nonetheless, the morals of Rome had undergone a sad decline.

Urban lived as a Saint during the days of his great works, fasting like a monk and directing all glory to God. At his death, he asked that the people be allowed to circulate around his bed: The people must see, he said, how Popes die.

Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).