ARUCH, who served as secretary for the prophet Jeremiah, also has a prophetic book of the Old Testament attributed to him. Passages from the Book of Baruch do not appear very often, either in the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I’ve always loved this short book (six brief chapters), so my ears always perk up when it appears among our liturgical texts. The Second Sunday of Advent is one such occasion.
The communion chant appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent is this:
Ierusalem, surge et sta in excelso, et vide iucunditatem, quae veniet tibi a Deo tuo.
Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights, and behold the joy that comes to you from God.
This communio actually splices together portions of two related verses from the Book of Baruch (Bar 5:5 and 4:36). In what way are these verses related? The relationship is twofold, and it becomes clearer when the verses are viewed in full. The NABRE renders the complete verses in this way:
Bar 5:5 — Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Bar 4:36 — Look to the east, Jerusalem! behold the joy that comes to you from God.
The first way in which these two verses are related is their “middle term,” so to speak, which is elided in today’s communion chant, namely the encouragement to “look to the east.” Looking toward the dayspring is very much a theme of Advent. Consider, for example, the famous “O antiphon” that begins O oriens.
The second thing that unites these two verses is that they are drawn from the same section of Baruch. Verses 4:30 through 5:9 are regarded by Scripture scholars as a unit, united by the theme of the consolation of Jerusalem as an end to captivity comes into view. This, too, is a clear Advent theme, as the coming of our Savior means the end to our captivity to sin and death.
This communion chant is not only interesting on its own merits. It is all the more fascinating for its inclusion in the Advent-Christmas series of communio chants, which reveals so much about how the Roman proper of the Mass came into being.
Some readers will be familiar with the seminal work of James McKinnon in this field, expressed principally in his 2000 book, The Advent Project: The Later-Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper. Following is an information-rich excerpt from this work, which places today’s communion chant into a fuller context.
The Advent-Christmas season occupies a special place in the Roman Mass Proper; its chants display a level of compositional planning and perfection of execution not met with elsewhere in the annual cycle. . .
The Advent-Christmas communions . . . fall into two distinct groups, the ten chants of Advent and Christmas day, and the nine post-Christmas chants. All nineteen are unique and all nineteen are thematically appropriate to their assigned dates; all, in a word, are carefully designed to fit just one liturgical occasion. There is, moreoever, an overall compositional plan of the vertical type. . . The ten chants of the Advent-Christmas Day set all have short prophetic texts, six of them from the Prophets as such and four from David, who ranks in the medieval mind along with Isaiah as the prophet par excellence of Christ’s coming. The texts of the nine post-Christmas chants form a sharply contrasting group; they are all derived from the New Testament and have in each case a vivid narrative quality as opposed to the meditative or lyric quality of the prophetic set. They signal a new departure, moreover, in chant creation; nearly all of them are derived not only from the gospels, but from the gospel of the day. . .
The Advent-Christmas season is marked also by a high proportion of . . . horizontal compositional planning, that is, the maintenance of some common theme throughout the Proper of a particular festival. This is a rare phenomenon in the Mass Proper; there are only a handful of examples in the entire liturgical year, and two of them are found in this season. The first Sunday of Advent derives its introit, gradual and offertory from the same psalm, Psalm 24, and the second Sunday of Advent, with its station at the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, has a distinct Holy City theme in its chants; there is its introit Populus sion, its gradual Ex sion and its communion Hierusalem surge. The Franks, by the way, appreciated this theme and added their own alleluia Laetatus sum to the mix, derived as it is from Psalm 121, which celebrates Jerusalem from start to finish. 1
There is always a richness waiting to be discovered in the Proprium Missae, but today this is especially so. The Second Sunday of Advent invites us to reflect on the Holy City, Jerusalem, and its eschatological significance.
As Baruch exhorts us, let us look to the east, and behold the joy that comes to us from God!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 James McKinnon, The Advent Project: The Later-Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 137-141.