The Rorate Mass is filled with the longing and expectancy that accompanies every Mass during Advent and also contains much beautiful symbolism. This Mass begins before dawn, in darkness, celebrated in a church dimly lit with candlelight. As the Mass progresses and dawn approaches, the church becomes increasingly lighter, reminding us of the approaching arrival of Our Savior on Christmas day. The relationship between light and darkness which is emphasized in this Mass helps to highlight the meaning of Advent and points us towards Our Lord. During this season of preparation, the Rorate Mass is a reminder of what, or who, we are preparing for, as well as a reminder of Our Lady’s role in salvation history.
The history of the Rorate Mass dates back to 13th century Poland. In fact, there is actually a special candle in Poland, the ‘Roratka,’ named after this Mass. The use of candles during the Mass is one of the many things that makes it so lovely, and the symbolism parallels the preparation of the season of Advent. Just as the light of the candles is dim, and not the bright light of the sun, so too, the Light of the World is on His way, but He has not arrived yet. As the Mass proceeds, the church becomes brighter, illuminated by the sun just as our faith is illuminated by Christ.
As the time for Our Savior’s arrival approaches, the world literally waits in darkness for His coming as the days continue getting shorter and shorter. This Mass, which is said in honor of Our Lady, brings to mind one of her titles found in the Litany of Loreto, “Morning Star.” The morning star heralds the dawn every morning, and Our Lady draws our attention towards her Son, whose arrival we await.
This Mass takes its popular title “Rorate Mass” from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah.
“Rorate, Caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”
“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”
Reading these words brings back the memories of the Rorate Masses I have attended. Though I am blessed to attend Traditional Latin Masses throughout the year, this Mass is my definite favorite. The Rorate Mass made a profound impression upon me the very first time I experienced it, and it continues to enrich my spiritual life every time I attend it.
A dark and bitterly cold morning meets me as I step out of the car. The wind whisks my breath away, and the last dreams of a warm and toasty bed vanish. Waiting outside of the church before dawn with a crowd of other parishioners, a feeling of expectancy fills the air, an appropriate feeling for Advent. The priest makes his appearance outside of church, wearing white vestments in honor of Our Lady. As the procession enters the church, flickering light slowly spreads, dimly lighting the sanctuary and nave. I hold a small candle, one small light amongst so many others. The music of the Mass is in honor of Our Lady, and begins with the chant “Rorate Caeli.” As the Mass continues, the church slowly begins to lighten. By the time of the consecration, as the bells chime to announce the presence of Christ, the church is lit by sunlight.
This Mass, the Rorate Mass, fills me with a sense of awe and longing. Our Lord’s arrival is getting so close! But even so, darkness still covers the earth. As I leave the church after Mass, the soft light of dawn greets me with yet another reminder that the Light of the World is coming soon. The hope and anticipation of Advent, expressed so beautifully in the Rorate Mass, makes it one of my favorite Masses of the year.