Signum magnum: Mass of the Assumption

August 13, 2014
Source: District of the USA

A revised set of propers for the Mass of the Assumption were introduced in the Roman Missal in 1951. Discover how the changes relate to our generation and the Fatima message.

Image above: engraving of Our Lady's Triumph from an altar missal.

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, belief in Our Lady's Assumption into Heaven was nothing new, as testified by the 5th Glorious Mystery of the Rosary and a Mass in honor of her Assumption, titled Gaudeamus omnes.

To honor the declaration of the dogma, Pius XII commissioned a revised set of Mass propers for the feast (similarly as Pope Urban IV did for the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264) which were introduced into the Missale Romanum in 1951.

Chief amongst the revisions was the composition of a beautiful new Introit by a Benedictine monk of Solesmes, starting with the words Signum magnum:

Latin English

Signum magnum apparuit in caelo: mulier amicta sole, et luna sub pedibus ejus, et in capite ejus corona stellarum duodecim.

Cantate Domino canticum novum: quia mirabília fecit. Gloria Patri, etc.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: because He has done wonderful things. Glory be, etc.

listen to the Introit [YOUTUBE] >

The Introit antiphonary chant generally outlines the theme of the Mass propers, and Signum magnum is no exception. The simple festive tone of the former Introit, Gaudeamus omnes, was expanded and deepened in Signum magnum with an extract from the triumphant vision of St. John the Evangelist in his Book of the Apocalypse.

The significance of this textual change should not be lost upon our generation, as it relates to the Fatima message, and thus the eventual triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary over the ancient serpent (including of course his human ambassador, the Anti-Christ). For Americans in particular, this imagery should call to mind the great Empress of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose miraculous image on a tilma is depicted as described in the Apocalypse. It was through this Marian image, that millions of formerly pagan souls were converted to the One, True, Faith and an entire nation was Christianized.

Getting back to the Introit, Signum magnum, it is interesting how the chant mode captures simultaneously the joy felt in seeing Our Lady gloriously exalted as well as the awe in recognizing her God-given power as Queen of Heaven. A glimpse of this moment is expressed in the well-known prayer of the Legion of Mary (which fights for the salvation of souls):

Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

The introduction of this militant theme to the Feast of the Assumption was broadened by exchanging the Epistle reading from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiasticus (in which Mary's Motherhood of God, man, and the natural world is exalted) with one from Judith (in which she is praised for having overcome the strong enemy of Israel). Likewise, the Offertory antiphon was changed from "Mary is taken up into heaven..." to God's affirmation that the Mother of His Divine Son will be victorious over Satan: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her Seed."

There is another interesting theme running throughout the propers, that of Mary praising God in declaring what He has accomplished through her as a Co-Mediatrix. This is specifically seen in the Gospel which relates her Magnificat and in the connecting Communion antiphon which repeats the line: "All generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me."

In connection with the Feast of the Assumption's Mass propers, we offer recommend these musical selections available on YOUTUBE: