Lady Day Invitatory

Imagine the scene, if you will. It is dark except for the light of a few candles and silent except for the breathing of those around you. Someone coughs. You are, perhaps, tired, because you have already been singing and listening for some time, praising God through the watches of the night. Still in your stall, you turn with your brothers (or sisters) toward the altar and repeat, once again, the opening dialogue of Matins, led by your priest:
Domine, labia mea aperies. 
Lord, open my lips. 
To which you as part of the choir reply:
Et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam. 
And my mouth shall show forth your praise. 
Again, the priest lifts up his voice:
Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. 
God, come to my assistance.  
To which the choir responds:
Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina. 
Lord, make haste to help me,
the latter spoken rather than sung, followed by a Gloria patri. And then, as if with the voice of an angel, the versicularius intones the familiar chant:
Ave, Maria, gratia plena. 
Hail, Mary, full of grace,
to which you with the rest of the choir respond in full:
Ave, Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum. Ave, Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
At once, the versicularius continues, intoning the psalm (Psalm 94 Vulgate):
Venite exultemus Domino, iubilemus Deo salutari nostro: preoccupemus faciem eius in confessione: et in psalmis iubilemus ei. 
To which you respond, yet again:
Ave, Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum.
The one text is as habitual as the other; you have sung both every morning for the better part of your life. You have no need to look at the words or to think about the reciting tone; this exchange comes to you as easily as breathing.  “Venite,” the psalm invites you:
Come, let us sing unto the Lord. Let us rejoice before God, our Savior. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving, and rejoice before him with psalms (vv. 1-2). 
“Hail, Mary,” you respond, “full of grace, the Lord is with you,” weaving the words that the angel Gabriel spoke to the Mother of God at the Annunciation (Luke 1:28) in amongst the verses of the psalm.

Perhaps, as you sing, a glint of light catches your eye, and you turn to see a pair of amber beads swaying gently in front of the image of the Blessed Virgin. Almost idly, you recall how Isabella, the wife of William Belgrafe, had bequeathed them to Our Lady along with her gold and silver ring only last year. You begin to think on the joy with which Mary herself must have exulted when she understood that she was to become Bride of God and Mother of Our Lord. Suddenly, it is as if you were present yourself at the very moment when Gabriel came to her in that “pryue chaumbure” where she was accustomed to say her prayers and meditate, with Isaiah, on the manner of the Incarnation.

You hear her speak:
Quoniam Deus magnus Dominus et rex magnus super omnes deos: quoniam non repellet Dominus plebem suam: quia in manu eius sunt omnes fines terre: et altitudines montium ipse conspicit.
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. For the Lord will not cast off his people. For in his hand are all the ends of the earth: and the heights of the mountains he beholds (vv. 3-4). 
And you realize that she is waiting for you to speak in return: “The Lord is with you.” To which she responds with even greater joy:
Quoniam ipsius est mare et ipse fecit illud; et aridam fundauerunt manus eius: venite adoremus et procidamus ante Deum, ploremus coram Domino qui fecit nos: quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster: nos autem populus eius et oues pascue eius. 
For the sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and fall down before God, let us weep before the Lord who made us: for he is the Lord our God, and we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (vv. 5-7). 
You are amazed to find your mouth filled with an extraordinary sweetness, like honey, as once again you repeat the angel's greeting: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” And in little more than a whisper, so that you are not sure whether you are hearing it or not, a voice admonishes you: “Slow down! I want to savor the joy that I have when you say those words, most especially Dominus tecum, for then it seems to me that my Son is in me, just as he was when, God and man, he deigned to be born from me for the sake of sinners.”

Abashed, you find yourself wanting to fall to your knees and bow down with every repetition of the angel’s words and wonder what it would be like to say the salutation fifty, a hundred, or even a hundred and fifty times, when once again the Virgin’s voice breaks in:
Hodie si vocem eius audieritis nolite obdurare corda vestra: sicut in exacerbatione secundum diem tentationis in deserto vbi tentauerunt me patres vestri: probauerunt et viderunt opera mea. 
If you hear his voice today, harden not your hearts: as in the provocation according to the day of temptation in the wilderness where your fathers tempted me: they proved me and saw my works (vv. 8-9).  
As you answer: “The Lord is with you,” you think miserably on your sins and your hardness of heart, especially your failure to honor God and his Mother as you should, for did she not suffer even as her Son as he died on the cross for our sins? Almost as if he could read your thoughts, her Son replies:
Quadraginta annis proximus fui generationi huic et dixi semper hi errant corde ipsi vero non cognouerunt vias meas quibus iuraui in ira mea si introibunt in requiem meam. 
For forty years I was nigh to this generation, and I said: always they err in heart, for truly they have not known my ways: I swore to them in my wrath they shall never enter into my rest (vv. 10-11).  
Trembling, indeed, pleading, you turn to the Virgin Mother once again: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you,” hoping against hope that she might be able to assuage the wrath of the Judge, her Son. “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,” you sing. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be: world without end.  Amen.”  Thankfully, you hear the versicularius intone once again: “Hail, Mary, full of grace,” and you answer: “The Lord is with you,” knowing that he “whom earth and sea and sky adore” vouchsafed in truth to be enclosed within her womb.

Would you like to join the choirs of angels singing in Mary’s praise? Read on!

Image: Carlo Crivelli, The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius (1486), National Gallery, London

For the Office in full, you can buy my book here. Blog post taken from chapter 2, open access pdf online here.


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