07 December 2006

Rorate Mass - A Uniquely German Custom

This weekend when I was presenting at a conference in Dallas, I was asked by a Western Rite Orthodox priest about the German tradition of the Rorate Mass. I vaguely recalled such a custom, but had no answer. Raised in a church that was proud of its German heritage and by a mother who delighted in pointing out specifically German liturgical customs, I had never heard of the Rorate Mass. No doubt it is because it is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and those two things--votive masses and commemorating the BVM--were never high priorities for Lutherans. I vaguely recalled the custom because of my readings in liturgics and liturgical history, but what I read never really stuck.

Thankfully, Diane at Te Deum Laudamus has provided a description of the Rorate Mass. Relying on information given by one of the priests at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Diane offers this history of the origin of the Rorate Mass:

The Rorate Mass has a long tradition in the Church, especially in German-speaking countries. It is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother for the season of Advent. Our Lady shows herself in a special way as our leader through Advent to Christmas. The celebration by candle light had originally a more practical reason. According to the Missal of 1570 no Mass could be said after 12.00 Noon. On the other hand, people had to go to work in the morning. Also the Rorate Masses were celebrated in a more solemn form and therefore would last longer. For these reasons the Masses had to begin relatively early in the morning when it was still dark due to winter-time.
I commend the entire post to you.


sanladislao said...

This old custom originates from the Territory of the former Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The Alternative names of the Rorate Mass in Hungary are the daybreak Mass, Angel Mass, Golden Mass or Mass of Blessed Virgin. The Rorate Masses were said in Hungary since the 12th Century. According to the Ordo Stigonienis these early morning Masses were said in white. If it was a Solemn Mass, the Gloria and Credo were also sung. This special privilege was kept after the introducing the Tridentine Rite, as a Hungarian custom. After Vatican II these Mass are said in purple. In Hungary traditionally these Masses were started in the dark at 6:00 am and finished after sunrise. This custom is continued in lot of Hungarian Churches, which are usually full on these mornings. Young people likes to go there and they are competing who can go to more Rorate Mass. This is a very nice practice of virtue.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Thank you, sanladislao, for the additional historical information. I hope you don't mind that, since the original post is nearly 1 year old, I shall post your comment in a new blog entry with reference to this post.