I spent many, many years in France and while there I read some older liturgical books that explained what the Golden Mass of Our Lady was. These all explained that the Mass in question was in reality the Mass of the Expectation of Our Lady (December 18). This was especially true in past centuries in Belgium.

While trying to do some research on this connect to the Feast of the Expectation of Our Lady as being the Golden Mass of Our lady, I find out that it seems to be related to the Ember Wednesday of Advent.

The Golden Mass of Ember Wednesday

The Blessed Virgin Mary and Annunciation of the Lord

Although these two liturgical days of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (EF) do share the same Gospel of the Annunciation: Luke 1, 26-38 and occasionally the same day; these two liturgical celebrations have very different spiritual moods. Dom Gueranger does not speak of an Ember Wednesday of Advent connection. The Ember Days were days of fasting and not feast days.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the Ember Wednesday of Advent connection the Missa Aurea is not correct.

My question is as follows: Can anyone locate a pre-twenty-century liturgical source indicating a link between the Feast of the Expectation of Our Lady and the Golden Mass?

1 Answer 1


The Golden Mass of Our Lady?

There seems to be a link between the Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However the Wednesday in Ember Week of Advent is also known as the Golden Mass of Our Lady. In fact, these two Masses share the same Introit: Rorate caeli and often are celebrated on the same date in December.

The origins and the precise early development of this practice remain unknown. Most probably its roots are in an ancient practice of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation in December – the Christian East would commemorate it on December 18.

What is a Rorate Mass? Well, in a nutshell it is a votive Mass whose prayers focus on Our Lady, the Annunciation, and her expectation of the birth of her Son. Its name – Rorate – comes from an entrance chant prescribed in the contemporary liturgy for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: “Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum” (“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One,” Isaiah 45:8). - The pre-dawn Advent Mass that hundreds of young people flock to

Both these masses celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Historically, called the Golden Mass of Our Lady because they are celebrated before dawn and with candle light at mass.

Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25

This feast, which commemorates the message of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and the Incarnation of Christ (Luke 1, 26-38), bears the official title “Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” In early medieval times it was called the “Annunciation of the Lord” or the “Conception of Christ,” indicating that in those days it was considered more a festival of the Lord. Its date. March 25, is placed nine months before the celebration of Christ’s birth (Christmas).

The feast was held in the Eastern Church as early as the fifth century. It was introduced into the West during the sixth and seventh centuries. The Tenth Synod of Toledo (656) mentions it as a festival already well known and universally celebrated. It was kept on the same date as in the East, March 25. In many churches of Spain, however, it was annually held on December 18. During the eleventh century the Spaniards adopted the Roman date but also retained their own, so they had two feasts in honor of the Annunciation. In the eighteenth century Rome replaced the Annunciation in December with a feast of the “Expectation of Birth of the Blessed Virgin” (meaning that Mary expected the birth of Christ). The Gospel of the new feast is still that of the Annunciation.

The name of the feast in most nations is the same as the liturgical one, either in its Latin form or in translation, like Verkündigung in German. In the Greek Church it is called Evangelismos (Glad Tidings), among the Slavs of the Eastern Rite, Blagovescenije Marii (Glad Tidings of Mary). The Slavs of the Latin Rite call it Zvestovanie Panie Marii (Message to Lady Mary), the Arabic Christians ‘id al-bishara (Feast of Good News).

This coincidence might have been the reason why people in medieval Europe ascribed to the swallows a certain hallowed character. They call them “God’s birds” in Hungary, “Mary’s birds” in Austria and Germany; and no farmer would ever kill swallows or destroy their nests. Another reason might well have been the fact (made known in Europe by Crusaders and pilgrims) that the town of Nazareth, where the Annunciation took place, has an abundance of swallows circling the houses all day with their cheerful twittering.

The Annunciation was a feast of obligation and one of the public holydays in the Middle Ages. In Catholic countries it was so celebrated up to 1918 when the obligation of attending Mass and resting from work was rescinded by the new Code of Canon Law. In the liturgy, however, it still enjoys its character as one of the major feasts of Mary.

In the early Christian centuries March 25 was observed in a special way as the Day of the Incarnation. In order to make the Lord’s life on earth an exact number of years, even down to the day, an early tradition claimed that it was also the date of the crucifixion. This fact is mentioned in many ancient martyrologies (calendars of feasts) and in the sermons of various Fathers of the Church. Soon other events of the history of our salvation were placed on this day by legendary belief, and thus we find in some calendars of the Middle Ages the following quaint “anniversaries” listed for March 25:

  • The Creation of the World

  • The Fall of Adam and Eve

  • The Sacrifice of Isaac

  • The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt

  • The Incarnation

  • The Crucifixion and Death of Christ

  • The Last Judgment

It was an ancient custom of the papal Curia (executive office) to start the year on March 25 in all their communications and documents, thus calling it the “Year of the Incarnation.” This practice was also adopted by most civil governments for the legal dating of documents. In fact, the Feast of the Annunciation, called “Lady Day,” marked the beginning of the legal year in England even after the Reformation, up to 1752.

The scene of the Annunciation used to be represented in mystery plays. In the cathedrals of France, Italy, Germany, and England, on the feast itself, or on a Wednesday in Lent, the “Golden Mass” (Missa Aurea) was celebrated, during which the Blessed Virgin and Gabriel were represented by deacons kneeling in the sanctuary and singing the Gospel of the Mass in Latin dialogue, while another deacon sang the part of the narrator. It is reported that the Golden Mass was inaugurated at Toumay in Belgium in 1231.

In other places the solemn Mass was followed by a procession in which a choir boy representing Mary was led through the church and the churchyard. In western Germany, a boy dressed as an angel and suspended on a rope from the Holy Ghost Hole would slowly descend inside the church and, hanging in midair, would address “Mary” with the words of Gabriel. While the children stared up at the approaching “angel” their mothers put cookies and candy on the pew benches, making their little ones believe that Gabriel’s invisible companion angels had brought them these presents from Heaven.

In the city of Rome a colorful and splendid procession used to be held on the feast day at the end of the Middle Ages. A richly decorated carriage bearing a picture of the Blessed Virgin was drawn by six black horses from Saint Peter’s to Santa Maria della Minerva. There the pope celebrated a pontifical Mass and afterward distributed fifty gold pieces to each of three hundred deserving poor girls to provide them with the necessary means for an honorable and appropriate marriage.

In Russia priests would bless large wafers of wheat flour and present them to the faithful after the service. Returning home, the father would hand a small piece of the wafer to each member of his family and to the servants. They received it with a deep bow and ate it in silence. Later on in the day they took the remaining crumbs of the “Annunciation bread” out into the fields and buried them in the ground as a protection against blight, hail, frost, and drought.

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Missa Aurea or Golden Mass March 25th 5 AM

Celebrated on 18 December by nearly the entire Latin Church. Owing to the ancient law of the Church prohibiting the celebration of feasts during Lent (a law still in vigour at Milan), the Spanish Church transferred the feast of the Annunciation from 25 March to the season of Advent, the Tenth Council of Toledo (656) assigning it definitely to 18 December. It was kept with a solemn octave. When the Latin Church ceased to observe the ancient custom regarding feasts in Lent, the Annunciation came to be celebrated twice in Spain, viz. 25 March and 18 December, in the calendars of both the Mozarabic and the Roman Rite (Missale Gothicum, ed. Migne, pp. 170, 734). The feast of 18 December was commonly called, even in the liturgical books, "S. Maria de la O", because on that day the clerics in the choir after Vespers used to utter a loud and protracted "O", to express the longing of the universe for the coming of the Redeemer (Tamayo, Mart. Hisp., VI, 485). The Roman "O" antiphons have nothing to do with this term, because they are unknown in the Mozarabic Rite. This feast and its octave were very popular in Spain, where the people still call it "Nuestra Señora de la O". It is not known at what time the term Expectatio Partus first appeared; it is not found in the Mozarabic liturgical books. St. Ildephonsus cannot, therefore, have invented it, as some have maintained. The feast was always kept in Spain and was approved for Toledo in 1573 by Gregory XIII as a double major, without an octave. The church of Toledo has the privilege (approved 29 April 1634) of celebrating this feast even when it occurs on the fourth Sunday of Advent. The "Expectatio Partus" spread from Spain to other countries; in 1695 it was granted to Venice and Toulouse, in 1702 to the Cistercians, in 1713 to Tuscany, in 1725 to the Papal States. The Office in the Mozarabic Breviary is exceedingly beautiful; it assigns special antiphons for every day of the octave. At Milan the feast of the Annunciation is, even to the present, kept on the last Sunday before Christmas. The Mozarabic Liturgy also celebrates a feast called the Expectation (or Advent) of St. John the Baptist on the Sunday preceding 24 June. - Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The following articles may be of interest to some:

In non-Roman Western rites, it was the custom to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation shortly before Christmas; the Ambrosian liturgy keeps the last Sunday of Advent as the “feast of the Incarnation”, while the Mozarabs fix the Annunciation to December 18th. In a similar vein, some churches in the Middle Ages, used white vestments for the Ember Wednesday Mass instead of violet, with the deacon and subdeacon in dalmatic and tunicle, the vestments of joy, rather than the penitential folded chasubles. This manner of treating the day almost as a second feast of the Annunciation was observed at Paris, for example, well-known for its strong devotion to Our Lady; it was retained in the neo-Gallican revision of the Parisian liturgy, and continued in use until Paris adopted the Roman liturgy in 1873.

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