-from the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 45:8) in the Vulgate, are the opening words of a text used in Catholic liturgy during Advent. It is also known as The Advent Prose or by the first words of its English translation, “Drop down ye heavens from above.”
It is frequently sung as a plainsong at Mass and in the Divine Office during Advent where it gives expression to the longings of Patriarchs and Prophets, and symbolically of the Church, for the coming of the Messiah. Throughout Advent it occurs daily as the versicle and response after the hymn at Vespers.
The Rorate Mass is a Votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother for the season of Advent. It has a long tradition in the Catholic Church, especially in German-speaking countries. The Masses had to begin relatively in the morning when it was still dark due to winter-time and were said by candlelight.
The season of Advent falls each year in the dark month of December and it is a month when we see the general theme of the liturgical season being echoed in nature. Darkness has crept over the world, and is increasing each day. Yet, there is hope for soon the days will begin to lengthen and the sun will conquer the night. The earth reveals that there is a light in this dark place and that Light reigns victorious.
The Church makes this truth more visible with an ancient tradition (often forgotten) called the “Rorate” Mass. This votive Mass during Advent in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary receives its name from the first words of the opening chant in Latin, Rorate caeli, or in English “Shower, O heavens.”
What is peculiar to this celebration of the Eucharist is that it is traditionally celebrated in the dark, only illuminated by candlelight and typically just before dawn. The symbolism of this Mass abounds and is a supreme expression of the Advent season.
First of all, since the Mass is normally celebrated right before dawn, the warm rays of the winter sun slowly light up the church. If timed correctly, by the end of Mass the entire church is filled with light by the sun. This speaks of the general theme of Advent, a time of expectation eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Son of God, the Light of the World. In the early Church Jesus was often depicted as Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun,” and December 25 was known in the pagan world as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). Saint Augustine makes reference to this symbolism in one of his sermons, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.”
Connected to this symbolism is the fact that this Mass is celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often referred to by the title “Morning Star.” Astronomically speaking the “morning star” is the planet Venus and is most clearly seen in the sky right before sunrise or after sunset. It is the brightest “star” in the sky at that time and heralds or makes way for the sun. The Blessed Mother is the true “Morning Star,” always pointing us to her Son and so the Rorate Mass reminds us of Mary’s role in salvation history.
Secondly, it echoes to us the truth that the darkness of night does not last, but is always surpassed by the light of day. This is a simple truth we often forget, especially in the midst of a dark trial when the entire world seems bent on destroying us. God reassures us that this life is only temporary and that we are “strangers and sojourners” in a foreign land, destined for Heaven.
Roráte caéli désuper,
et núbes plúant jústum.
Drop down ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness:
Ne irascáris Dómine,
ne ultra memíneris iniquitátis:
ecce cívitas Sáncti fácta est desérta:
Síon desérta fácta est:
Jerúsalem desoláta est:
dómus sanctificatiónis túæ et glóriæ túæ,
ubi laudavérunt te pátres nóstri.
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
the holy cities are a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised Thee.
Peccávimus, et fácti súmus tamquam immúndus nos,
et cecídimus quasi fólium univérsi:
et iniquitátes nóstræ quasi véntus abstulérunt nos:
abscondísti faciem túam a nóbis,
et allisísti nos in mánu iniquitátis nóstræ.
We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid Thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
Víde Dómine afflictiónem pópuli túi,
et mítte quem missúrus es:
emítte Agnum dominatórem térræ,
de Pétra desérti ad móntem fíliæ Síon:
ut áuferat ípse júgum captivitátis nóstræ.
Behold, O Lord, the affliction of Thy people,
and send forth Him Who is to come;
send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,
from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion:
that He may take away the yoke of our captivity.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen;
that ye may know Me and believe Me:
I, even I, am the Lord, and beside Me there is no Savior:
and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.
Consolámini, consolámini, pópule méus:
cito véniet sálus túa:
quare mæróre consúmeris,
quia innovávit te dólor?
Salvábo te, nóli timére,
égo enim sum Dóminus Déus túus,
Sánctus Israël, Redémptor túus.
Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,
My salvation shall not tarry:
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why hath sorrow seized thee?
Fear not, for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.