O depth of the riches

12th June, 2020

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God !!

So begins the short reading from 1st Vespers and the Epistle at Mass from antiquity of this feast – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. It’s almost reminiscent of Advent’s ‘O’ antiphons and somewhat echoes the bold, thought-provoking statement of Pentecost’s entrance antiphon ‘The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole earth; it holds all things together and knows every spoken word…’

And though there has been much music either written directly for this feast or which is applicable to it, as with any feast it’s to the antiphons proper to it which are, proverbially speaking, right under our noses, that perhaps we should look to first.

So let’s take a closer look.

It’s interesting to note that the three antiphons of the Mass are each actually inspired by a passage from the Book of Tobit – the same passage – forming a type of unified trilogy. It’s interesting to note the musical composition of these venerable chants – take the melodic contour of the Entrance antiphon (Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas): a feeling of quiet serenity emanating from its undulating, dignified melodic movement.

And take the Offertory antiphon (Benedictus sit Deus Pater) – perhaps the gem of this trilogy: notice the presence of torculi and triplet figures at the beginning perhaps alluding to the Trinity Itself; its opening interval of a 4th functions almost like a springboard for the melody helping it to rise to Do.

Notice also the setting of the words ‘Deus Pater’ (God the Father) – the melody here sits fairly high; the words ‘Dei Filius’ (God the Son) feature quite a vigorous melodic phrase with a wide range linking top and bottom notes over the range of an octave. Notice also the sublime setting of the word ‘Spiritus’ (Spirit) – it is preceded by 4ths and the only accidental to appear in the piece, then a tristropha, then three torculi on the word ‘Spiritus’ itself, creating an almost fluttering effect in an overarching arsis-thesis shape.

And consider the Vespers antiphons – they are like a string of doxologies somehow linking this feast to the previous Sunday: the third Person of the Trinity now manifest gives rise to praise and lauding the Most Blessed Trinity hence these ‘doxological’ antiphons.

So, as we celebrate this feast and the Triune God, let’s not just dismiss these antiphons due to their almost repetition of each other – but let us be open to the subtlety of their musical language and immerse ourselves further into the great Mystery we are celebrating.