A Garland of Faith: Sequences, Prayers and Poems of The Medieval Church Arranged for the Three Year Lectionary

Blakesley, John
Gracewing (1998)
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As the title states, John Blakesley sets out material from the 'Middle Ages' in a Lectionary format. Each piece of material is translated, related to the Readings for the day or the festive occasion, followed by a note on the source and an occasional liturgical comment on initial and subsequent use.

But this book is much more than this. In fact the aspect I found least interesting were the prayers themselves which barely came to life in literal translation whereas the few that were poetically translated using rhyme and/or metre, were beautiful and arresting.

Before the modern era hymns were only used sparingly in the Offices but from the 9th Century sequences and tropes, originating in the old Gallic rite, were introduced into the Eucharistic liturgy and flourished in spite of the near universal use of the cooler Roman rite. They brought earthiness and poetic colour, introducing contemporary language, thought and piety into the timeless ritual. They were initially said but later sung before the Gospel, sequences being sung to long melismata and tropes to short melismata; as the latter, with their increasing use of rhyme and rhythm, grew to flourish by the 12th Century, the former declined. This material disappeared at the Reformation and the Council of Trent, with only three of the more than 5,000 in use liturgically surviving in the Roman Catholic Church: Quem Quaeritis for Christmas and Easter, Veni Creator Spiritus for Pentecost and Dies Irae for Requiem Masses, with the Stabat Mater added in the 17th Century for Good Friday.

Some of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages wrote the material, including Notker (c840-912), Gottschalk of Aachen (c1010-98), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Bernard of Cluny (first half of 12th Century) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Blakesley shows how simple 10th Century dialogues like the Quem Quaritis (For whom are you seeking, addressed respectively to the shepherds in Bethlehem and the women at the tomb) developed into mystery plays and formed the basis of Western European drama. He also explains the origin of many feasts including Corpus Christi and the Assumption (and, incidentally the Victorian inception of Harvest) and such customs as washing, foot washing, creeping to the Cross and Rogation. I was left wondering, however, why and when we dropped the Spirit from the three-fold Kyrie.

The text is beautifully presented with a cracking bibliography for any, like me, who want to take their studies further.