Yesterday we awoke several hours early… at four a.m. so that we could travel downtown to the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which is located in Jacksonville Florida and celebrate the traditional Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother. It is called Rorate Caeli... and it has to be said before dawn. I did not think to grab my camera, so the above image is borrowed from the Toronto Traditional Mass Society’s website.
Since no one had ever been to this special Mass, there was a higher level of anticipation hurrying each of us as we dressed and prepared to travel the dark and mostly empty roads to the Basilica. After we made the long drive, we entered the dark, yet inviting, Church,with the only light to greet us was from the many candles that adorned the main altar… it was a warm glow on the otherwise cool morning, and it was absolutely beautiful!
As we entered the Church, there was a box a candles near the door, so that if we wanted, we could hold a candle, much like we do for the Easter Vigil. But unlike the Easter Vigil.…this morning…the lights would not be turned on. The lights remained off for the entire celebration to remind us that we were waiting…Waiting, much like the world waits….for the light of Christ to enter once again, into the dark world on Christmas morning.
The Mass gets its name from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isiah 45:8, and in Latin they are:
“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.” Translated into English they mean:
“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”
To honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the priests wear white vestments instead of the normal purple hues of Advent. As we sat in the dimly lit Church, we were praying… preparing ourselves to honor the Light of the world, Who’s birth we will celebrate on Christmas. In addition to those prayers, we joined our prayers with the priest…quietly following along in our missals… as he offered praise to God for the very special gift of Our Blessed Mother.
As the Mass progressed, dawn broke over the outside world… The sun rose, sending forth fingers of light that climbed and fell… over and around the downtown buildings…As the sun continued to rise higher…these rays of light crawled through the panes of stained glass before making their way inside… shrinking darkness into the shadows…dispelling it. Soon the church was swathe in the soft colors of morning and the interior was illuminated. On this morning…. the light of the sun is the perfect representation of Christ…the Son…Who, with His strong and gentle hands…spreads His Light through the darkness of our souls….and the darkness of the world….dispelling the darkness and illuminating our life … and the whole world with His Faith. It is up to each of us to embrace the Light…and not turn from it…
The readings and the prayers that are used for this special Mass focus on the prophecy of the Virgin who would bear a Son and call Him Emmanuel. Timed as it was…the Saturday in the third week of advent… it was just the call we needed, to prompt us into lifting up our hearts so that Christ the King might enter….Then, as we knelt before the Lord… we asked for the graces each of us needs so that we may prepare ourselves spiritually to be ready to receive the gift of eternal life… The gift that was gained for us, solely on the merits of Christ’s Incarnation and His saving Resurrection…
We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
– Verse from the Advent Prose used during Mass
It was a very special morning. As we traveled the dark roads it felt like we were on a secret mission….It was almost as if, that because we were listening… we were given the grace to hear the whisperings of Our Loving Lord in our hearts… and having heard it…we were running to meet Him… and it no longer mattered if the rest of the world was still cozied in bed, asleep…we had heard, and we were responding in the best way that we knew how…by taking part in this Traditional Holy Mass… Kneeling there in the darkness…with the incense and the billows of smoke, going in and out of the shadows… It felt like the veil had been lifted…or at least thinned…and for a few brief moments, we were transported to a very special and holy place….waiting…near the foot of the Blessed Mother…as She prepared Herself for the appointed time….Waiting in great anticipation for the coming of Christ’s birth.
As we knelt in the dark…quietly waiting…it seemed as if we had been transported to heaven…All the normal distractions vanished and all of our senses were focused on what was happening on the altar…The dancing flicker of the candles…the sweet incense…the beautiful voices drifting down from the choir loft...the movements of the priest as he implored the Lord on our behalf...It was truly a very special way to end the third week of advent and help us refocus our attention on this final week of advent, and what this coming Christmas season is really all about. It was a step out of the hustle and bustle of the abject world, allowing us to slip into the realm of the mystical, so that we could unite ourselves to God and His most Blessed Mother… and prepare ourselves for the coming celebration of the birth of Christ.