INTROITUS: From St. Stephen to Holy Family

On December 26 we celebrate the archdeacon and protomartyr St. Stephen. The impressive introit of that day is Etenim:

Etenim sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur: et iniqui persecuti sunt me: adjuva me, Domine Deus meus, quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis justificationibus.

“The leaders truly sat in judgment on me, and they spoke against me. And the unjust persecuted me. Help me, Lord, my God, for your servant meditated (on) your judgments.” (Ps 119 (118), 23 and 86)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

From a historical perspective the feast of St. Stephen has nothing to do with Christmas. St. Stephen’s day was introduced earlier than Christmas, and once Christmas was celebrated on December 25, St. Stephen belonged to the Christmas octave.

Etenim is relating to martyrdom, nothing else. It makes us experience what it feels like to be hunted down by bad but mighty people. Etenim is a warning against unjust judges and against ourselves whenever we are unjust.

Etenim also expresses trust in God who will be the only judge at the end of time. Etenim wants to give us an example on which to reflect whenever we ourselves are persecuted without any reason.

The strongest part of this introit are the first three words: Etenim sederunt principes. You can hear the unjust mob adrenalizing themselves. They want to destroy someone, they want to execute their power and violence over someone, and this someone is me. That is what Stephen experienced, and he shows us what we should do in such a situation: Pray for our persecutors and place all our hopes in God.

December 27 is the feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. The introit is In medio Ecclesiae:

In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os ejus: et implevit eum Dominus spiritu sapientiae, et intellectus: stolam gloriae induit eum.

“In the middle of the Church he opened his mouth. And the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and intellect, he dressed him with the stole of glory.” (Sir 15:5)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

The Byzantine tradition calls St. John simply “the theologian.” While Matthew, Mark, and Luke are storytellers, John is rather a philosopher—at least in important parts of his gospel. The introit gives an interesting summary of the qualities of good theology: calm (the introit is in the 6th mode, which generally expresses maturity and safety); not too long; poetic; and with wisdom and intellect at its core.

On December 28 we celebrate the Holy Innocents with the introit Ex ore infantium:

Ex ore infantium, Deus, et lactentium perfecisti laudem propter inimicos tuos.

“From the mouth of infants and suckling babies, God, you have perfectly fashioned praise because of your enemies.” (cf. Ps 8:3)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant, sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

What an inspiring contrast to the day before, when we celebrated wisdom and maturity (see above): God is not only praised by elitist, brainy intellectuals, but also by the infants. Could that be a hint that we shall regard all creation as a cosmic celebration for the Creator? Even if that is the deeper meaning of this day, the Holy Innocents still remain innocent victims of violent furor. The Christian view of the entire Creation should make all Christians advocates of the poor, innocent, and powerless.

The last feast day in the Christmas Octave is Holy Family on the Sunday in the Octave which occurs on December 29 in this year. The introit is Deus in loco sancto suo:

Deus in loco sancto suo: Deus, qui inhabitare facit unanimes in domo: ipse dabit virtutem et fortitudinem plebi suae.

“God in his sacred place: God, who engenders harmoniously living together in one house: He will give power and strength to his people.” (Ps 68 (67):6.7.36)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant.
Sung by Br. Jacob Berns, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey.

The feast of Holy Family was introduced into the Roman Catholic calendar in 1893 and again in 1921 after Pius X had abolished it for a short time. Like other feast days added to the calendar in modern times, this one got an introit that was already in use: In excelso throno. After the Second Vatican Council this was changed to Deus in loco sancto suo which we had twice before. I have already discussed this introit here and here.


I started the INTROITUS series on January 1 for all Sundays, solemnities and feast days for the year 2019, so the series ends here. My greatest hope is that those of you who do not know much about Gregorian Chant could find something inspiring every now and then and that I could make you curious about this great tradition of Western liturgical music. I am convinced that Gregorian Chant is a core source for the appropriate understanding of Roman liturgy and of Christian faith according to our predecessors—and it is very, very beautiful.

My special thanks go to Father Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., and to Rita Ferrone who helped me in their editorial service (and it was Anthony’s idea to start the INTROITUS series), to Brother Jacob Berns, O.S.B., who recorded lots of the chants so that we could present audio files with almost every post, to the ConBrio publishing house and Dr. Juan Martin Koch who generously granted permission to publish scans from the Graduale Novum (which you all should purchase, by the way!), and finally to you, the readers of the Pray Tell Blog who took the time to follow my thoughts and to leave replies in the comments section or—as happened several times this year—in personal e-mails.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *