In many ways, I grieve that this proper is only heard once every three years. The Adorate Deum Introit is, in my opinion, one of the most sublimely beautiful and mesmerizing chants in the entire Gregorian corpus. It is a true masterpiece of liturgical composition. I love this chant so much that I was even compelled to use the Introit's incipit as my Twitter handle!
The text is from Psalm 97 (96) and it entirely encapsulates the meaning of life in three short lines:
Adorate Deum omnes Angeli eius:
audivit, et laetata est Sion:
et exsultaverunt filiae Iudae.
(Graduale Romanum, 1974)
Worship God, all you his angels:
Sion has heard, and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice.
(Roman Missal, 2011)
We see in these three lines the three realms of God's creation responding to him: First, the angels who were created to adore and sing praise to God eternally in heaven. Then follows the members of the heavenly banquet of the Lamb, the heavenly Sion, who hear the song of the angels and join in with gladness. And lastly we hear of those of us who remain on earth below, who are symbolized by the daughters of Judah: the ten virgins with lighted lamps who await the arrival of the bridegroom, who rejoice in anticipation of their Lord at the sound of the angels' song.
It is a hymn of praise which is set in the seventh, exultant mode. The chant begins with the leap of a fourth up to an epismatic bivirga which then ascends with strength to the tonic accent of "adorate" on the dominant of the mode. The word "Deum", also affixed to the dominant, is followed by a short and quick, but heightened melsima, denoting God's glory and majesty. The next phrase "omnes Angeli eius" ascends to the very top of the mode with no less than seven epismatic notes, as they are found in the ancient St. Gall manuscripts. The word "Angeli" begins in the heights of the mode, and then descends like a dove, floating gracefully down as though from heaven, to the very bottom note of the mode.
In the next phrase, on the word "audivit" it is as though the members of Sion hear the song of the angels echoing throughout heaven, and absorb its beauty. Then the phrase "et laetata est" – moving back up to and above the dominant of the mode – melodically recalls the joy of the angels in the previous phrase, and sounds as though the musical phrase itself is leaping for joy.
There is strength and confidence in the word "exsultaverunt" as it dances around the secondary dominant of the seventh mode. Then the word "filiae" unexpectedly leaps down a fifth from the accent. This leap of a fifth, whether up or down, always seems to denote joy in the Gregorian musical language. After this shocking descent there is a powerful thrust upward to a reassured, strong and forceful "Iudae" which gracefully falls back to its earthly resting place on the final of the mode.
This Introit, to me, is the sound of eternity, resounding down to us on earth who catch a glimpse of it in the sacred liturgy where we experience a foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem that we await. This theme seems to be very characteristic of the Entrance Antiphons that form a part of the opening stretch of Ordinary Time. It is as though the angels who first sang the praises of the newborn King at Bethlehem, cannot keep from emphatically and ecstatically singing his praises in response to the Father's unimaginable gift of love to the world.
This morning at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix we sang this Gregorian Introit during the entrance procession of the solemn 11:00 Mass, while a simpler version, as found in the Lumen Christi Missal, was sung in alternation between the Cathedral Choir and congregation during the 9:00 liturgy.
I have been preparing editions of the weekly Gregorian Introits and Communions for the Cathedral Schola Cantorum with revised notation that incorporate much of the St. Gall notation that is found in the Graduale Triplex. This is what the score looked like that we sang from this morning:
The Lumen Christi Missal antiphon (choral scores with verses can be freely downloaded here) is set in the same mode, greatly simplified, but seeks to capture the same energy and intention of the Gregorian original in a setting that can be sung by anyone after hearing it sung once by a cantor who knows it well. This is what it looks like:
The two antiphons could even be used in conjunction with each other in the same liturgy. First the choir or schola could sing the Gregorian version by themselves, followed by a cantor intoning the English antiphon, in the same mode, in the vernacular, with the same character, which all the members of the faithful can easily take up after hearing it only once. The choir or cantor can then sing verses from the psalm, either to a monodic psalm tone, or even in four part harmony, as we often do at the Phoenix Cathedral, with organ accompaniment. The result is a heightened entrance procession which is accompanied by the Entrance Antiphon text that everyone can sing without having to have their eyes locked onto the the text of a strophic hymn, allowing them to absorb the beauty and solemnity of the procession. The tone for the liturgy is truly and solemnly set and all are better prepared and disposed to fruitfully participate in the sacred mysteries of the liturgy.
Tools such as these help us give a prominent place to the authentic and integral sacred music tradition of the Church without the jarring effect of in our day of having a silent congregation during the Mass processions. Newer forms grow organically out of forms already existing, and the character and culture of the Roman Rite is preserved and fostered.
I only wish that the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time could always be Adorate Deum Sunday, and perhaps it will be so again some day. But for now I am glad that I was able to sing this glorious chant, united to the angel choirs in heaven, and look forward to doing the same in another three years when this Introit is sung by the Church once again.