From the profane, to the sacred; from mere prats to holy fools: today we embark on Passiontide. It is the fortnight victory march to Easter, not around but through the enemies of Jesus. Father Hunwicke in his fine Mutual Enrichment blog set the beat in his post on Friday (“Strong women”): trochaic tetrameter catalectic, in its joyous truncation. He is discussing, of course, hymns such as the Vexilla regis and Pange lingua of Venantius Fortunatus, composed for the Merovingian court at Poitiers in the sixth century; and the Pange lingua in which that beat is echoed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, in rhymed accentual, seven centuries later.
As Father Hunwicke explains:
“What is interesting here is that this metre was used by writers such as Menander in Athenian New Comedy for scenes that are pretty nearly slapstick — Aristotle called it kordakikoteron or ‘tending to a lively vulgarity’. Caesar’s soldiery chanted their ritual abuse at him (to avoid the risk of the Gods taking offence as he rode in triumph) in this metre. …”
Generally, we are sober at the approach of Death, and in churches the spirit of austerity is shown by the veils thrown on the altar Crucifix and all other images — until they are lifted in the Easter Vigil and the bells ring out. The fullness of Passiontide was alas suppressed in the Novus Ordo, but fortunately the Vetus Ordo is in course of being restored, and our hearts are free no matter what nonsense we must endure in the Bugnini chapels. The Death of Christ is certainly approaching, and observed, but with this signal qualification: He is going to defeat Death.
Hence that paradoxical joy in the battle as we, His soldiery, fall in behind Him.
Attention, please. In the Old Mass something else is happening today. The plurals that dominated the chants through Lent tip decisively to first person singulars — from the voice of congregations to the voice of Christ Himself. Lead, kindly light.