The Rorate Mass takes its name from the opening words of the Introit, which comes to us from Isaiah 45:8:
“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”
“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”
This past Saturday I had the privilege of assisting at a Rorate Mass for the third consecutive Advent. Rising at 4:30AM, I drove for thirty minutes through the dark streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, arriving at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church a little before the 6:00AM mass was scheduled to start. As the Rorate Mass began before sunrise, or in media nocte (“in the middle of the night”), it was illuminated only by candlelight. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), a community of Roman Catholic priests who only offer the mass in the Extraordinary Form, describe the rich symbolism associated with this Advent tradition:
The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.
The readings and prayers of the Mass foretell the prophecy of the Virgin who would bear a Son called Emmanuel, and call on all to raise the gates of their hearts and their societies to let Christ the King enter; asking for the grace to receive eternal life by the merits of the Incarnation and saving Resurrection of Our Lord.
After an absence of more than forty years, the Rorate Mass returned to the Diocese of Charlotte during Advent 2012. This past Saturday’s mass was offered by Father Matthew Kauth, with Father Noah Carter serving as deacon and Father Jason Christian as subdeacon. All three men are priests of the Charlotte diocese.
As more priests learn to offer the Traditional Latin Mass, and more of the faithful are introduced to the beauty of our liturgical heritage, we should dare to hope that this Advent devotion honoring Our Lady will continue to grow in the years to come.
(Photos courtesy of John Cosmas of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community)
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.