Greeting the Resurrection through the Ages

Easter Matins, Italy, circa 1300 AD

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

For the first entry of our Easter Octave series, Greeting the Resurrection through the Ages, we will start with an example that’s probably more familiar to members of the Dominican family.

St. Dominic lived in the late 12th and early 13th century in Western Europe, where Latin was the language of worship. Although the Roman Empire had collapsed in 476 AD, the brilliance of Scripture and the works of the Church Fathers had been preserved in monasteries since the 6th century, and they were rekindled with art and sacred music during the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1883?53 Illuminated Choral Manuscript, Public Domain.

The image above is from an Italian antiphonary—a book containing the chant responses (the “antiphons”) for the Liturgy of the Hours, then known as the “Divine Office.” Like today, the Divine Office formed the daily core of religious life. Monks, friars, and nuns (and also laypeople) would gather at regular times throughout the day to chant the psalms interspersed with antiphons which called to mind the main message of the day or the particular psalm.

One thing to note when looking at old texts is that the scribes regularly lightened the task of hand-writing entire books by abbreviating words which were clear from context. The red words in the top right corner identify the Office at hand:

Do[mini]ca r[e]surrectio[n]is d[omi]ni. Ad mat[utinum] Invitatorium.
Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection. At Matins. Invitatory.”

So we are looking at the opening lines of Easter Sunday Matins—the Office celebrated in the earliest, dark hours of Easter morning. This means we are seeing the very words with which our ancestors in the Faith greeted the Easter victory.

The opening antiphon begins: Surrexit d[omi]n[u]s vere alleluia, “The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.” This is the Paschal Greeting, the solemn pronouncement of the Lord’s Resurrection. We can imagine the community singing the inscribed tones together by candlelight.

The line continues ps[almus] Ve[nite]. indicating Psalm 95, which begins Venite, exsultemus Domino: “Come, let us praise the Lord with joy.” The psalm calls the People of God to gather and praise the Most High God, the Creator and Savior, meditating on the idea that all creation, including the people of God, is in His hands. The God who created also saves in the glorious work of Christ.

The antiphon for the following psalm reads:

Ego sum qui sum et co[n]silium meum no[n] e[st] cu[m] impiis s[e]d in lege domini voluntas mea est alleluia
“I am who am and my counsel is not with the impious: but my will is in the law of the Lord, alleluia.”

This antiphon is a mixture of Exodus 3:14 and the first two verses of Psalm 1, into which it leads in the following lines of the text. It is as if the Risen Christ himself speaks out from the shadow of His conquered tomb. With all power He declares His divinity (“I am who am” is the name God gives for himself in Exodus 3:14), and He steps out from the company of the dead and into the glory set for Him by the Father.

Psalm 1 recounts the Blessed Man—among whom the Risen Christ is the foremost. He does not dwell among the wicked who sit in the hopeless shadows of Hell, but instead delights in the Lord; he is like a living tree planted by the stream of eternal life.

These prayers flow together to offer a profound meditation on the majesty and power of God. As we walk through this luminous Easter week, and the whole Easter season, let us remember and rejoice in His majesty, by which we are created, redeemed, and brought to eternal life.

Do you like this material? Check back tomorrow as we continue our survey of Easter celebrations in the history of the Church!