English translation of article ‘Zaterdagavond in de kerk der Carmelieten’
by Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos
Saturday evening in the church of the Carmelites
By Fr. Dr. Titus Brandsma, Ord. Carm. Oss
The bells of the cloister church peal so joyfully, ring so loudly that people would think that today is a feast day. And yet it is only Saturday evening. But this is the day of Mary. And it is on this evening that the Carmelite Fathers hold their Benediction in honour of Our Lady of the Holy Scapular, in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They have just prayed Matins and now, one by one, with the younger ones in front and the Prior behind, they enter the Choir before the High Altar. Because of their stately robe, the long white mantle, people see almost nothing of their brown habit and Scapular. It is only when they kneel before the Holy of Holies, bow down and reverently kiss the garment which was given to them by Heaven itself as a pledge of Mary’s protection, that people see the dark colours beneath all that white. On such an evening, it is as if they carefully expose that monastic garment to their Redeemer, reverently kissing it as a sign of gratitude and then, so that it remains spotless, covering it with the symbol of purity, and in this way following the Lamb, wherever it goes.
The heavy chancel bell chimes. An acolyte, a young student friar, who is preparing himself for the Holy priesthood, steps out of the Sacristy with the thurible in hand. Two others follow, carrying lighted candles on high in silver and copper candlesticks. After them the Priest follows in his cope. The organ resounds with festive tones. People sense, and the organist knows, that this evening is a special act of Benediction. The Holy Sacrament is exposed for worship. Clouds of incense circle upwards, permeating the air. Everything in the church venerates the hidden God. The rhythmic sounds of the always beautiful Adoro Te devote already resound along the vaults and arches. Two cantors in the Choir have begun, and sing the stanzas. The organ falls nearly silent so that the words can be heard. But after every stanza the choir of the Friars joins in with the full accompaniment of the organ: Ave Jesu, Pastor fidelium, adauge fidem omnium in Te credentium, Hail Jesus, shepherd of those who believe, increase the belief of all those who have faith in you. Then the Priest chants the customary prayer in honour of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altars.
It is a practice in honour of Mary, but the salutation to Jesus, the adoration of her divine Son, should be the beginning and end of all homage to Mary, going hand-in-hand with all the veneration of Mary. It is therefore also a Benediction which the Carmelites keep, in order to express and symbolise their special veneration of Mary, a Benediction of which the Adoro Te and the Tantum ergo form the beginning and end. During the whole practice, from the repositorium Jesus assists as the Supreme High Priest, the devout prayers and hymns to the glory of his Beloved Mother.
The Adoro Te is sung and in the meantime light is kindled in the chapel of Our Lady which in all Carmelite churches, wherever possible, is built at the side of the Ambo. The richness of the ornamentation shows that in these churches Mary is venerated in a very special way.
The Priest at the High Altar rises and incense is burned and offered. The acolytes hold their candles on high. The Friars and student friars in the choirstalls have also risen, the lay-brothers leave their misericords in the choir and line up along the Communion rail. One of them carries the processional cross. Now the Priest who leads the Benediction begins to sing: Salve Regina, Hail, Queen. With those words, all bow down to greet Her, who they call the Mother and Splendour of Carmel. The cantors continue to sing: Mater Misericordiae, Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra salve, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope, hail. With this second Salve, all bow again and renew the declaration of their devotion and esteem. Meanwhile the procession has formed. The cross is in front between the acolytes with their candles, the lay-brothers follow in two rows, then come the student friars, after them the Priests, first the younger ones, then the older, and finally at the end of both rows, the Subprior and Prior. Then the Priest follows with the Holy Sacrament, before him the acolyte who swings the thurible. In the meantime, the choir of the Friars has joined in: Ad te clamamus exules filii Evae, ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes in hac lacrymarum valle. To you do we cry, we exiles, children of Eve, to you do we plead, sighing and weeping in this vale of tears. Then, the two cantors sing again, whilst those at the front of the procession already enter the chapel of the Mother of God, as if under the eyes of Mary: Eja ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte, well then, our advocate, turn your eyes of mercy to us. At this moment, everyone is in the chapel and Jesus passes by in the hands of his servant. At no better moment, out of the mouths of the religious, could the plea to Mary resound that their Jesus, who is now veiled from their sight, will someday appear unveiled after they have departed from this place of exile: Et Jesum benedictum fructum ventris tui nobis post hoc exilium ostende. And reveal to us, after this exile, Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb. All now stand before the altar of Mary. The Blessed Sacrament is placed on the repositorium, above which the statue of Mary glimmers in the light. Her hands hold the Scapular, the promise of her protection. Alternating between cantors and choir, the end of the beautiful antiphon sounds loud and clear in the relatively small chapel and more gently echoes through the rest of the large church: o Clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria, O clement, O compassionate, O sweet Virgin Mary. Then the acolytes sing: Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genitrix, Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. After the choir responds: Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi. So that we are worthy of the promises of Christ, the Priest ends the antiphon with the customary church prayer.
It is not the only time in the week, nor the only time during that day, that the Salve Regina resounds in the churches of the Carmelites. It is their cherished salutation. In accordance with their own rite, not only at the end of their celebration of Holy Mass, but also at the end of every division or hour of the Divine Office, they pray the Salve Regina, and it is sung at the final hour, with Compline or the Benediction. Yet on Saturdays, they sing it solemnly in their white mantles, before and on the way to the altar of their Mother.
As soon as the Salve Regina has been sung, all kneel around the altar to sing the Litany of Loreto. This is prayed every day but on this day, which is dedicated to Mary, the religious gather to sing it in front of the throne of their Queen. The cantors pronounce the titles and the choir responds, Miserere nobis, Have mercy on us and the Ora pro nobis, Pray for us. And we hear forms of address which are not heard elsewhere, special names, which only the Carmelites use to pay homage to their special Protectress. After the Mother of Salvation, Mater Salvatoris, the cantors sing: Mater, decor Carmeli, Mother, splendour of Carmel and the chorus of the choir resounds intensely: Ora pro nobis. The cantors go on with the familiar titles: The most tentative Virgin, etc. until we hear at the end the reverential names which glorify Mary as Virgin: Virgo, flos Carmeli, Virgin, Flower of Carmel and we hear the voice of the choir respond even more intensely: Ora pro nobis. It just goes on like this for some time. The words resound: Help of the Christians, Auxilium Christianorum. Simply by thinking of Mary’s help we feel ourselves strengthened in our weakness, but the Carmelite knows that although all Christians can count on Mary’s help, she has promised special help to all those who wear the garment of Carmel. Therefore, after this general form of address, he may then add: Patrona Carmelitarum, Protectress of the Carmelites, pray for us. The litany is drawing to a close. Mary is honoured as a Queen, as the Virgin who through her Immaculate Conception remained free of every stain of sin. And finally, two honorary forms of address end this uniform and yet so varied glorification of Mary. Here are two things which we consider to be special ways of honouring Mary: the praying of the Rosary and the wearing of the Scapular. All greet Mary as the Queen who through the praying of the Holy Rosary overcomes and conquers. After this the Carmelites may conclude their liturgy with the hopeful prayer: Spes omnium Carmelitarum, Hope of all Carmelites, pray for us. They know that whoever wears the garment of Carmel on earth, accepting the Scapular of the Carmelites like a child of Mary, will be guided into eternity by the Queen of Heaven. She is their hope, which will never be betrayed.
The Litany is coming to an end. The prayer for mercy to the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed to take away the sins of the world, resounds three times. The acolytes sing a versicle and the choir responds. And then the Priest concludes the litany with the singing of the prescribed church prayer.
The salutation to Mary is complete. But there is still a final greeting to Jesus, a prayer for his blessing, which brings the practice to an end. The Tantum ergo resounds already along the vaults and arches, the Priest burns the incense once more and performs the blessing with the Holy of Holies from the altar in the chapel.
Now all emerge, kneel down and bow before Jesus and once more kiss the Scapular before the statue of the Mother, who gave it to them. Again, they form two rows to accompany Jesus to the Tabernacle at the High Altar. They return silently. It is as if they have nothing more to say or ask, now they have so poured out their heart before the image of the tenderly cherished and deeply adoring Protective Lady, whose Brothers can call themselves the Friars of the Blessed Virgin.
Translation: Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos
© Titus Brandsma Instituut 2018