Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
a Gothic cathedral, soaring, audacious, reflecting every phase of the popular life.
The mediaeval religious drama1 was a natural development from the Catholic liturgy, not an imitation of classical models. The classical drama had expired at the break-up of the Roman Empire; its death was due largely, indeed, to the hostility of Christianity, but also to the rude indifference of the barbarian invaders. Whatever secular dramatic impulses remained in the Dark Ages showed themselves not in public and organized performances, but obscurely in the songs and mimicry of minstrels and in traditional folk-customs. Both of these classes of practices were strongly opposed by the Church, because of their connection with heathenism and the licence towards which they tended. Yet the dramatic instinct could not be suppressed. The folk-drama in such forms as the Feast of Fools found its way, as we shall see, even into the sanctuary, and—most remark­able fact of all—the Church's own services took on more and more a dramatic character.
While the secular stage decayed, the Church was building up a stately system of ritual. It is needless to dwell upon the dramatic elements in Catholic worship. The central act of Christian devotion, the Eucharist, is in its essence a drama, a representation of the death of the Redeemer and the partici­pation of the faithful in its benefits, and around this has gathered in the Mass a multitude of dramatic actions expressing different aspects of the Redemption. Nor, of course, is there merely symbolic action ; the offices of the Church are in great part dialogues between priest and people, or between two sets of singers. It was from this antiphonal song, this alternation of versicle and respond, that the religious drama of the Middle Ages took its rise. In the ninth century the " Antiphonarium " traditionally ascribed to Pope Gregory the Great had become insufficient for ambitious choirs, and the practice grew up of supplementing it by new melodies and words inserted at the beginning or end or even in the middle of the old antiphons. The new texts were called " tropes," and from the ninth to the thirteenth century many were written. An interesting Christmas
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