Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Liturgical Tropes: Medieval Filler or Helpful Interpretations?

Ecce Homo: 'Behold the Man.' Sarum gradual chant.
I've been looking at the definitions and use of tropes and sequences particularly in the Sarum Mass. In this Post, I will discuss the function and history of sequences and tropes and how the latter could be , in a modified form, useful in our own, modern liturgies.
     Both sequences and tropes were 'discontinued' in the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church and completely abolished in the Roman Church's Council of Trent, save the Victimae Pascale of Easter, the Veni Sancte Spiritus of Pentecost, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem and the Dies Irae of the Requiem. The Sarum Rite and other ancient rites contained many more sequences than these, one for most of the numerous feasts of the medieval liturgical calendar. 
     Sequences are very similar to hymns, but were sung just before the chanted Gospel Alleluia which had grown so long as to permit each of the clergy to kiss the Gospel book. Sequences are typically joyful and always hymns of praise and awe -fitting with the last syllable of the Alleluia which had evolved into a joyful melisma. 
     Tropes were insertions of text and/or pieces of chant to lengthen or interpret the text being sung. For example, at Salisbury, home of the Sarum Rite, tropes containing just adding the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patron of the cathedral, were inserted into the Gloria in important feasts to embellish the liturgy. Here is an excerpt from the Sarum Gloria where the tropes (italicized) act similarly to clauses.

Sarum Gloria:
"For thou art only holy, sanctifying Mary;
Thou only art the Lord, ruling Mary;
Thou only, crowning Mary, Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit...."

The Sarum Kyries also use tropes.Instead of addressing just "Lord" and "Christ," a petition for the Holy Spirit is added to emphasized the doctrine of the Trinity. Additionally, tropes are added into each petition to embellish the Kyrie. The well-known "Orbis Factor is one of the Sarum Kyries, though this one addresses the Holy Spirit only at the very end, and is mainly made up of tropes. 

Orbis Factor:
Orbis factor rex aeterne, eleison
Pietatis fons immense, eleison

Noxas omnes nostras pelle, eleison
Christe qui lux es mundi dator vitae, eleison
Arte laesos daemonis intuere, eleison
Conservans te credentes confirmansque, eleison
Patrem tuum teque flamen utrorumque, eleison
Deum scimus unum atque trinum esse, eleison
Clemens nobis adsis paraclite ut vivamus in te, eleison.

Maker of the world, King eternal, have mercy upon us.
O immense source of pity, have mercy upon us.
Drive off all our evils, have mercy upon us.
Christ who art the light of the world and giver of life, have mercy upon us.
Consider the wounds produced by the devil's art, have mercy upon us.
Keeping and confirming thy believers, have mercy upon us.
Thou and thy Father, an equal light, have mercy upon us.
We know that God is one and three, have mercy upon us.
Thou, merciful unto us, art present with the Holy Spirit that we might live in thee, have mercy upon us.

Compare this with the origional, untroped, much simpler, three-fold
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy.
...and now you can see just how much the tropes add.
below in the Orbis Factor, troped Kyrie as chanted from the Gradual of Eleanor of Brittany. 

Additionally, The Catholic Encyclopedia uses an French Sanctus as an example of troping:

Sanctus: ex quo sunt omnia                 Holy: from whom all are all things
Sanctus: per quem sunt omnia             Holy: through whom all are things
Sanctus: in quo sunt omnia, Dominus...Holy: In whom are all things, Lord...

Tropes could have a function in modern Liturgy.
Sarum Gloria: "Sanctifying Mary"
     Tropes could be found in many chanted texts to expand on the praise of God or of his saints or to explain Theology. While tropes were often added to the liturgy just as an extra filler in the liturgical stew, I see tropes as an opportunity to clarify and explain parts of our complex liturgies to the laity. Reviving tropes in prayers which are well known, perhaps too well known, could be particularly useful for the explanation of meaning which is otherwise overlooked because of the commonness of that prayer. 
     I am specifically referring to the Lord's Prayer. While reading former Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright's "The Lord and his Prayer," which thoroughly explores the meaning and implications of each line of the Pater Noster, I thought, before I knew about troping, that it would be useful to add short clauses into the chanted prayer which concisely explain the meaning or add petition to the line. In reading about tropes, I found a precedent for this idea. While I don't know if the Pater Noster was ever troped, although the chant from the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos includes an Amen sung by the choir after each verse, the deep meanings of each line of so important a prayer should be relayed to the faithful during the service -and tropes are a perfect opportunity. The Lord's Prayer is, as Wright mentions, one of those prayers we recite without really reflecting on its meaning, and each verse is stacked with, as Wright explains, important implications for the mission of Christianity. Wright's "The Lord and his Praye" is an excellent book that all Christians should I will not spoil it. 
     By adding a short trope to the end of each verse in the Our Father, the meaning of each line would be concisecly explained and the general importance of the prayer emphasized. After the  Our Fath, other parts of the mass, which many of us may participate in without much thought, such as the creeds ould also be troped not for the sake of embellishing the mass or restoring medieval customs, but for explaining the complex and important meanings behind the words in our liturgies. 

-Some more on the function and history of Tropes from "Oxford Bibliographies." 
"Liturgical poetry, in the form of additional lyrics inserted into all the chants of the medieval Mass, flourished in the 9th through the 12th centuries. In a medieval Latin culture marked by intense interest in hermeneutics, even the Gregorian chants became a field open to extensive use of glosses and added verses performed together with the chant. The authors provided interpretations of the base texts in metaphors, images, or tropes, with the result that the grammatical term “trope” (Greek tropos, in Latin conversio or versus) came to be the name of the genre. Sung between the segments of a chant, the tropes could comment on and meditate over the preceding words of the chant, but they could also prepare for the performance of the words that followed. By means of these insertions, the chantor or compilator could vary the performance of a chant in endless ways while still maintaining the authorized form of the liturgical base chant. Extensive repertories were collected in manuscripts all over Europe. At first written on loose leaves or in the margins, they came to be inscribed into graduals and missals, and then gathered in individual manuscripts labeled “troparium” or “troparium-prosarium.” Because these manuscripts are the earliest witnesses of Western musical notation, or “neumes,” they have attracted many musical scholars as well. The oldest tropes must have been created well before the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, because they are found in similar form both in East Frankish and West Frankish regions and in Lotharingia. In the following centuries, the repertories came to be divided into more or less separate regional traditions."