Medieval manuscript of the Gregorian chant "Rorate coeli"
|Other name(s)||Rorate caeli|
Rorate coeli (or Rorate caeli), from the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 45:8) in the Vulgate, are the opening words of a text used in Catholic and,  liturgy during Advent. It is also known as The Advent Prose or by the first words of its English translation, "Drop down ye heavens from above."
It is frequently sung as a plainsong at Mass and in the Divine Office during Advent where it gives expression to the longings of Patriarchs and Prophets, and symbolically of the Church, for the coming of the Messiah. Throughout Advent it occurs daily as the versicle and response after the hymn at Vespers.
℣ Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum
(Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just)
℟ Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem"
(Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour").
The Rorate Mass got its proper name from the first word of the Introit (Entrance antiphon): "Rorate caeli désuper et nubes pluant justum" ("Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just").
Before the liturgical changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, this Mass was celebrated very early in the morning on all Saturdays. In some areas, it was celebrated on several or even all weekdays during Advent (the Votive Mass of Our Lady in Advent).
The Rorate Mass is a Votive Mass in honor of the Virgin Mary for the season of Advent. It has a long tradition in the Catholic Church, especially in German-speaking areas. The Masses had to begin relatively early in the morning when it was still dark due to winter-time and were said by candlelight.
The text is also used:
- as the Introit for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, for Wednesday in Ember Week, for the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and for votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin during Advent;
- as a versicle in the first responsory of Tuesday in the first week of Advent;
- as the first antiphon at Lauds for the Tuesday preceding Christmas and the second antiphon at Matins of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin;
- in the second responsory for Friday of the third week of Advent and in the fifth responsory in Matins of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin.
Drop down, ye heavens from above
and let the skies pour down righteousness.
In the Book of Hymns (Edinburgh, 1910), p. 4, W. Rooke-Ley translates the text in connection with the O Antiphons:
Mystic dew from heaven Unto earth is given:
Break, O earth, a Saviour yield -- Fairest flower of the field.
The Introit plain-song may be found in the various editions of the Roman Gradual and the Solesmes "Liber Usualis", p. 125. Under the heading, "Prayer of the Churches of France during Advent", Dom Guéranger (Liturgical Year, Advent tr., Dublin, 1870, pp. 155–6) gives it as an antiphon to each of a series of prayers ("Ne irascaris ", "Peccavimus", "Vide Domine", "Consolamini") expressive of penitence, expectation, comfort, and furnishes the Latin text and an English rendering of the Prayer. The Latin text and a different English rendering are also given in the Baltimore "Manual of Prayers" (pp. 603–4). A plain-song setting of the "Prayer", or series of prayers, is given in the Solesmes "Manual of Gregorian Chant" (Rome-Tournai, 1903, 313-5) in plain-song notation, and in a slightly simpler form in modern notation in the "Roman Hymnal" (New York, 1884, pp. 140–3), as also in "Les principaux chants liturgiques" (Paris, 1875, pp. 111–2) and "Recueil d'anciens et de nouveaux cantiques notés" (Paris, 1886, pp. 218–9).
This text forms the basis for the hymn "O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf."
|Roráte caéli désuper,
et núbes plúant jústum.
|Drop down ye heavens, from above, |
and let the skies pour down righteousness:
Ne irascáris Dómine,
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
Peccávimus, et fácti súmus tamquam immúndus nos,
We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
Víde Dómine afflictiónem pópuli túi,
Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people,
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord,
Consolámini, consolámini, pópule méus:
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
An excerpt of Rorate coeli sung in Latin
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In addition to traditional plainsong, musical settings of the Rorate coeli have been composed by amongst others, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1572), Jacob Handl (1586), William Byrd (1605) and Heinrich Schütz (1639). Settings of the English text, Drop down ye heavens, have been written by Judith Weir (1983 and first performed by the choir of Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge at their annual Advent Carol Service) and Andrew Cusworth.
"Rorate Mass" is, originally, the name for a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin in Advent, named by its introit (the same Rorate coeli as above). As such, its liturgical color is white. It is a tradition to celebrate such Rorate Masses in the early morning (before sunrise), accompanied by candle light in an otherwise dark church. In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, it is often replaced by a Mass with the liturgical texts of the corresponding Advent weekday (consequently with violet vestments), or possibly the day's saint, but with the rest of the Rorate Mass traditions.
The Rorate Mass originated during the course of the Middle as one of the various popular Advent devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary which were then developed. As one of the themes of Advent is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the emergence of these devotions to the Blessed Virgin was natural. The Rorate Mass, in particular, was a favorite of the people. The Introit Antiphon, the Epistle, the Gradual, Gospel, and Communion Antiphon of the Rorate Mass were taken from the Mass of Ember Wednesday in Advent, the Offertory was taken from the Forth Sunday of Advent, and the orations (prayers) from the Feast of the Annunciation.
The Rorate Mass was also known in the Middle Ages as the Missa aurea (the Golden Mass), because of the various promises added to it (varias enim promissiones adjungebant his Missis), and the Missa Angelica (the Angelic Mass) because of the Gospel reading which, recounting the Annunciation, opens with the words "Missus est Angelus Gábriel (The Angel Gabriel was sent)".
The Rorate Mass was celebrated in the following ways:
- According to Ordo Romanus XV (8th Century), the Rorate Mass was said on the seven days preceding Christmas.
- Another tradition is to celebrate this Mass on the nine consecutive days prior to Christmas (Celebratio novendialis Missarum ((aurearum)) / A Novena of Golden Masses). This practice was permitted by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, especially to dioceses in Italy (1658, 1713, and 1718). It is a common Catholic practice to prepare for major events by a novena. This novena has the added symbolism of each day representing one of the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.
- In some places, the Rorate Mass is said on the Wednesday during the third week of Advent in place of the Mass of Ember Wednesday in Advent.
- In Germany, Austria, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary the Rorate Mass was celebrated daily through the whole period of Advent. This was forbidden, of course, on the more solemn feasts if the saying of this Mass would cause a conventual Mass or a Mass of precept to be omitted. The Boldvensi Sacramentary (written in Hungry between 1192 and 1195) has a proper Preface text for the Rorate Mass "qui per BVM partum ecclesiae tuae tribuisti celebrare mirabile mysterium (You, who through the Offspring of the Blessed Virgin Mary, granted to your Church to celebrate the wonderful mystery)." Between 1774 and 1960, various permissions were granted regarding this practice by the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
There is also the custom in "Austria, Switzerland, and Germany" that "families walked in the dark of the early morning, (carrying lamps, candles, or later, flashlights) to church, where Mass was celebrated and favorites Advents hymns were sung."
There is the custom of singing three times the antiphon "Ecce, Dominus veniet" at the conclusion of the Rorate Mass. After the Last Gospel, the Priest (and ministers if it is a Solemn High Mass) goes to the center of the altar. He then intones the antiphon three times after which the antiphon is continued by those present. Each intonation is begun at higher pitch than the previous one. This mirrors the practice of the three-fold "Ecce Lignum Crucis" on Good Friday and the three-fold Alleluia at the Easter Vigil. The text of the antiphon reads: "Ecce Dominus veniet, et omnes sancti ejus cum eo: et erit in die illa lux magna, alleluia. / Behold, the Lord will come, and with Him all His saints; and on that day there shall be a great light, alleluia."  The "Ecce, Dominus veniet" is the third antiphon for the Office of the First Sunday of Advent. The reference to the great light is fitting for a Mass that was just conducted in candlelight and during which the sun has risen.
- "ChoralWiki - Category:Works in Latin - R". www1.cpdl.org. Choral Public Domain Library. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Drop Down, Ye Heavens, from Above". www.halleonard.com. Hal Leonard Corporation. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Polycarpus Radó, Enchiridion Liturgicum: Complectens Theologiae Sacramentalis Et Dogmata Et Leges, (Rome: Herder, 1961), pp. 1109-1110
- Joseph Wuest, Matters Liturgical, trans. Thomas W. Mullaney (New York: Frederick Pustet Company Inc., 1956), §272 b.
- Ann Ball, Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices, (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003), s.v. "Rorate Mass"
- Gerhard Podhradsky, New Dictionary of the Liturgy, trans. Geoffrey Chapman Ltd., (New York: Alba House, 1966), s.v. "Rorate."
- Text and translation of the Antiphon from: Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, vol. 1 (Advent), trans. Laurence Shepherd, (Loreto Publications, 2000), 55
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