Creation and the Weekly Liturgy

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Hendrick van Balen’s Holy Trinity

While it is almost self-evident as to why the Preface of the Holy Trinity is used on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, it might be a bit perplexing as to why this Preface is used on the “Green Sundays” of the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost.  The practice of using the Preface of the Holy Trinity on these Sundays was codified by a decree of Pope Clement XIII dated January 3, 1759.  The entry in the Decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites which documents this codification notes that each Lord’s Day (the First Day of the Week, Sunday) memorializes the creation of light and thus the beginning of Creation (Gen 1:1-5), the Resurrection of Christ from the Dead, and the sending of the Holy Ghost on the first Christian Pentecost.  As such, each Sunday of the year is a commemoration of Creation, a mini-Easter, and a mini-Pentecost.

The Preface of the Holy Trinity, for its part, by praising the different Persons of the Trinity in their eternal glory, points towards the Three Persons acting outside of the Godhead, in particular to those actions which are associated with the different Persons and the Lord’s Day.  Creation, which began on the First Day of the Week according to the Genesis account, is particularly attributed to God the Father.1  On the First Day of the Week, the Son rose from the Dead.  His Resurrection implies His Incarnation, Passion, and Death.  On the First Day of the Week, the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on the first Christian Pentecost.  The praising of the Father, then, points, as it were, to the Creation, the Son to the Resurrection, and the Holy Ghost to Pentecost.  And so, on the “Green Sundays” of the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost, that is, when there are no proper Prefaces reflecting the theme of a current liturgical season, the Preface of the Holy Trinity can be seen as pointing to the Creation, the Resurrection, and Pentecost through the praising of the Three Divine Persons.  Thus, the Preface of the Holy Trinity makes more explicit, although in a manner still obscure, what is marked by every Sunday.

But the use of the Preface of the Holy Trinity on these “Green Sundays” is not the only way by which the creation of light, and thus the beginning of Creation, is commemorated on these Sundays.  In a manner more explicit than the Preface, the Church celebrates in the first two stanzas of her vesper hymn for these Sundays Creation’s first day:

God Creating Light (T. de Leu?)

O blest Creator of the light,
Who mak’st the day with radiance bright,
And o’er the forming world didst call
The light from chaos first of all;

Whose wisdom joined in meet array
The morn and eve, and named them day:
Night comes with all its darkling fears;
Regard Thy people’s prayers and tears.2

The creation of light on the First Day, however, is not the only work of the Creator that is marked by the Church.  During the times of the Liturgical Year when the Preface of the Holy Trinity is used dominically, the Roman Church sings during Vespers on ferias (weekdays without feasts) hymns which commemorate the particular events of Creation that the Genesis account assigns to each day of the week.

On the Second Day of the Week, Monday, God established the firmament and separated the waters above and below it (Gen 1:6-8).  The first two stanzas of the ferial vesper hymn for these Mondays celebrate this as follows:

God Creating Heaven and Earth (Antonio Tempesta)

O great Creator of the sky,
Who wouldest not the floods on high
With earthly waters to confound,
But mad’st the firmament their bound;

The floods above Thou didst ordain;
The floods below Thou didst restrain:
That moisture might attemper heat,
Lest the parched earth should ruin meet.

On the Third Day of the Week, Tuesday, God established the dry land by collecting the waters below the firmament and created the plants (Gen 1:9-13).  The first two stanzas of the ferial vesper hymn for these Tuesdays celebrate this as follows:

God Creating Plans and Trees (Antonio Tempesta)

Earth’s mighty Maker, Whose command
Raised from the sea the solid land;
And drove each billowy heap away,
And bade the earth stand firm for aye:

That so, with flowers of golden hue,
The seeds of each it might renew;
And fruit-trees bearing fruit might yield,
And pleasant pasture of the field:

On the Fourth Day of the Week, Wednesday, God adorned the firmament by the creation of the heavenly bodies which divide light and darkness and mark off times (Gen 1:14-19).  The first two stanzas of the ferial vesper hymn for these Wednesdays celebrate this as follows:

God Creating the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars (Antonio Tempesta)

O God, Whose hand hath spread the sky,
And all its shining hosts on high,
And painting it with fiery light,
Made it so beauteous and so bright:

Thou, when the fourth day was begun,
Didst frame the circle of the sun,
And set the moon for ordered change,
And planets for their wider range:

On the Fifth Day of the Week, Thursday, God adorned the lower waters and the air (which occupies the space created by the separation of the upper and lower waters) with those creatures that either swim or fly in them (Gen 1:20-23).  The first two stanzas of the ferial vesper hymn for these Thursdays celebrate this as follows:

God Creating the Birds and the Fish (Antonio Tempesta)

O sovereign Lord of nature’s might,
Who bad’st the water’s birth divide;
Part in the heavens to take their flight,
And part in ocean’s deep to hide;

These low obscured, on airy wing
Exalted those, that either race,
Though from one element they spring,
Might serve Thee in a different place.

On the Sixth Day of the Week, Friday, God adorned the dry land with animals, including man (Gen 1:24-31).  The first two stanzas of the ferial vesper hymn for these Fridays celebrate this as follows:

God Creating the Land Animals (Antonio Tempesta)

Maker of man, who from Thy throne
Dost order all things, God alone;
By Whose decree the teeming earth
To reptile and to beast gave birth:

The mighty forms that fill the land,
Instinct with life at Thy command,
Are given subdued to humankind
For service in their rank assigned.

Surprisingly, the vesper hymn for the Seventh Day of the Week, the Sabbath, Saturday, does not mention the rest God took on this day as recorded in Genesis (2:1-3).  Since Vespers Saturday evening is the First Vespers of Sunday, the hymn rather invokes the “Blest Three in One” (first stanza) thus anticipating the Sunday themes of Trinity, Creation, Resurrection, and Pentecost.

When the Christian week begins anew at the start of Sunday, the Roman Church, in one of her Matins Hymn for these times, sings around midnight the following:

God the Geometer

On the first day, on which the Blessed Trinity
created the world,
and on which the Creator rising,
after vanquishing death, liberated us.3

thus invoking themes which have become familiar to us during this short article.  Interestingly, here the Son, Who vanquished death and rose again, is titled the Creator.  It must be remembered that, although Creator is attributed in a special way to the Father, Creation is truly a work of all Three Persons and thus Each can be called Creator.4

As an aside, it is worth noting that the Sunday and week-day hymns referenced above are attributed to the Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. A.D. 604), who did so much to codify the Roman Liturgy, while the hymn for Saturday Vespers is a work of St. Ambrose (d. A.D. 397).5

This practice of the Roman Church, of celebrating day-by-day the different works of the Creator as detailed in the Book of Genesis, teaches the Faithful that the celebration of these works is not foreign or contrary to a true Christian spirit and should not be look upon as something pagan or Jewish (the Hebrews were instructed to offer sacrifice every day but to rest on the Seventh Day to mark God’s completion of Creation).

Rather, this is an integral part of a true Christian worldview, which is also expressed elsewhere such as in the celebration of the Ember Days around the transitions of the natural seasons and in particular blessings from the Roman Ritual (e.g. those of seeds, seedings, fruits, herbs, and fields).  For Catholicism, while raising man to the supernatural, does not remove him from the realm of the natural but rather invites him to grasp and live in the natural as God intended for both a natural and supernatural life6 were established by God for man “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1).

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

1. Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Baronius Press, 2018, p. 91.
2. Unless otherwise noted, the translation for the hymns are taken from The Divinum Officium Project.
3.Britt, Matthew. The Hymns of The Breviary and Missal. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1936, p. 41.
4. Ott, p 91.
5. Britt, passim.
6. Ott, p. 113.

October 6, 2021