Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Epiphany Eve and the Blessing of Holy Water at St. Anne's, Sicard Street.

On Monday evening, January 5 2009, the Brothers of the Little Oratory, joined by the Santonino Ensemble, provided music for the First annual Blessing of Holy Water on the Eve of the Epiphany at St. Anne's, Sicard Street. This short liturgical service originated in the eastern churches, and was incorporated into the Roman Ritual in 1890.

Approximately sixty parishioners attended the service, an excellent turnout for a service which has been less familiar on the West coast than perhaps in the Eastern states, where a greater concentration of our Eastern Uniate brethren have helped keep the service alive of recent years.

The service began with a selection of Epiphany hymns and carols sung before the entrance of the liturgical procession. Then, the two cantors kneeling at the communion step, the Litany of the Saints was chanted by John Polhamus and Richard Dawes. Following the Litany of the Saints, three psalms were sung without antiphon.

After the Psalms, the prayers of exorcism against Satan and the Apostate Angels were read over the water, and the salt was exorcised as well. Interestingly, this is the only instance in the Rituale - outside the rite exorcism of a demon from a physical person - where the prayer of exorcism is used.

The Magnificat was then sung. An interesting feature of this service as it appears in the Roman Ritual, is that both the Benedictus and the Magnificat are given under the same antiphon, either to be sung depending on whether the service takes place on the morning of Epiphany Eve, or in the evening.

Following the Magnificat, Fr. Gismondi blessed the Holy Water brought to the church by the faithful for use in their homes during the year, going over the all the containers three separate times, each time sprinkling salt into the open tops in the shape of the Cross and blessing them in the names of the Holy Trinity. Fr. Gismondi was served by MC Chris Gomez, and FSSP seminarian Rhone Lillard.

Each name of the Holy Trinity was uttered in blessing only once, Father then proceeding to make the sign on the cross with salt into each container. This took some time, and during the intervening silences, descrete organ improvisations were performed.

Following the Blessing of the Water, the assembled faithful were sprinkled with Holy Water, and the Te Deum was sung. Having left Christmas and its octave behind, the service concluding with the three verse version of What Child is This, sung with a certain martial flavour which matched the text, a text which already looks forward to Holy Week and Easter. With this fitting conclusion to the first Christmastide at the new Parish of St. Anne, we may now well sense the approach of Lenten seriousness with a certain awed excitement.

"Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary."

(William Chatterton Dix, 1865)

The work of preparing the church for restoration continues; many ceremonies will have to be relearned or learnt anew; all will have to make their fullest effort to plum the depths of Holy Week's shattering profundity. Many have waited long years for this opportunity, and the Brothers look forward to doing their part to enhance the experience.

Many thanks, once again, to Jean Perko, for her excellent photographic work.