From A Popular Guide to the New Mass, written by the Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral, and published in 1970:

On arriving at the altar the priest kisses it and goes straight to his chair where he does something he has never done before. He greets the people: says ‘hello” in a liturgical way. When you think about it, the priest has never acted like a gentleman at the beginning of Mass because, without a word to the people (many of whom he probably knows well), he turns his back on them and gets on with his own preparation for Mass. . .  Now that has been put right. The priest has become a gentleman, so he faces the people . . . [In the new Entrance Rite] the priest and his people have been ‘introduced’.

(I particularly like ‘many of whom he probably knows well’.)

Quoted in The Banished Heart, a very good read by Geoffrey Hull.

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“Let the hour of Prime be suppressed”. So decreed the bishops gathered in Rome in the winter of 1963, at the dead time of the year. Of the 2,147 prelates who voted to suppress, not some local abuse or the apocryphal Acta of an obscure saint, but one of the 8 hours of the divine office, did any, I wonder, feel some slight misgivings?

Like our Lord Jesus Christ, Prime was born in Bethlehem. Perhaps that is why the devil pursues it with a special hatred. St John Cassian tells us that it was the elders of his first monastery who instituted it, to prevent sleepy monks who had got through the long night-office from staying in bed until Terce. “This canonical office was first instituted in our monastery and in our time”, he writes. The learned think that this would have happened around the year of our Lord 380. The Church was still emerging from the long Arian nightmare, and already Prime was sung. It survived the fall of the empire in the West. St Benedict takes its existence for granted when he comes to distribute the psalter for the opus Dei. In the Roman basilicas it marked each day the beginning of the recitation of Psalm 118, the loving praise of the law of God; which, is, St Thomas tells us, a praise by appropriation of the eternal Son.

Matins is the hour of the dead of night. Those who sing the divine office of Matins stand like sentinels on the walls of the Church, repelling the diabolical incursions. Lauds is the hour of vanquished darkness and the return of dawn; it is the hour of victory and relief. Yet the thin shadows are still seen in Lauds, though fleeing; nor has man yet forgotten the passivity and endurance of the night, nor resumed his proper place as master of the world.

Prime is the first hour of true day. The sun now holds the heavens, undisputed. He has made all things new. Man also is himself again, ready to choose and act, not only to endure. It is that first hour, so a mediaeval writer tells us, when the Householder first goes out to call who will to labour for the Penny, the one thing needful, the image of the King.

For well over a thousand years, no one knows how long, the Church has sung the Athanasian Creed at Prime. Perhaps that it is another reason why the devil hates it. This creed is said now only once a year, on the Sunday of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, and then only by a few. One tiny foothold in the sacred liturgy, like Pelayo in his cave when all Spain was lost, waiting for the Reconquista to begin…

If you have ever, good Christian reader, as I have, heard the bells ring for Prime, and walked to church some bright Septembral morning, seen the sheep grazing and the distant ocean tranquil, then maybe you too will have perceived that there are, as in nature so in grace, things unchangeable; you also may have glimpsed something of the iota unum, and the non praevalebunt. Or maybe you will do and understand these things some centuries hence. For Prime is the hour that would not die.

 

Contrary to the vigour of the Gospel, contrary to the law of the Lord and God, by the temerity of some, communion is relaxed to heedless persons  – a vain and false peace, dangerous to those who grant it, and likely to avail nothing to those who receive it. They do not seek for the patience necessary to health nor the true medicine derived from atonement. Penitence is driven forth from their breasts, and the memory of their very grave and extreme sin is taken away. The wounds of the dying are covered over, and the deadly blow that is planted in the deep and secret entrails is concealed by a dissimulated suffering. Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord, although the sacredScripture stands in their way, and cries, saying, Every one that is clean shall eat of the flesh; and whatever soul eats of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord’s, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people. Also, the apostle testifies, and says, You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils. He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and froward, and denounces them, saying, Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

All these warnings being scorned and contemned – before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord. They think that that is peace which some with deceiving words are blazoning forth: that is not peace, but war and he is not joined to the Church who is separated from the Gospel. Why do they call an injury a kindness? Why do they call impiety by the name of piety? Why do they hinder those who ought to weep continually and to entreat their Lord, from the sorrowing of repentance, and pretend to receive them to communion?

He maketh a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people (Jb. 34:30).

I find these words of St Job quite reassuring.

From the last chapter of his Rule:

He that hasteneth on to the perfection of the religious life, hath at hand the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life?

 

Do Muslims worship God? This question has long troubled me and I can never settle it in my head. I am not talking about supernatural and acceptable worship. Clearly, they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity so are unable to offer acceptable worship to God. Nor am I talking about the natural virtue of religion. Strictly speaking there are no true moral virtues apart from Charity. I am talking about material acts of religion that would be formal acts of the acquired virtue of religion in a state of pure nature. Do Muslims perform such acts. Do they worship God?

I have come across three basic views on this:

  1. No. Islam is Deist, a form of monotheistic paganism. Unlike the Jews their worship is not even naturally directed at the same entity as the true God adored by the Catholic faithful. They are idolaters.
  2. Yes. Muslims know God through natural reason (see: Romans 1 & Vatican I) they direct their material acts of religion to Him. They ascribe to God incorrect attributes (e.g. having revealed himself to Mohammed) but they know Him as creator and worship Him as such.
  3. Yes and no. The being who revealed himself to Mohammed is not God and acts of worship specified in this way are idolatrous. In the other hand Muslims are men like everyone else able to know the Creator by the light of human reason and when they worship the creator as such their incidental errors about His interventions in history do not transform their acts of worship into acts of idolatry.

There are good argument for all three. In regard to 1. this seems to be the testimony of a good many Muslim converts. They do not believe they worshiped God before they converted to Christianity. The Council of Florence seems to assume Muslims are to be placed in the ‘pagan’ column. Leo XIII and Pius XI in their formulae of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart seem to make the same assumption. In defence of 2. this seems to be the doctrine of Lumen Gentium 16 (although what theological note that has is obscure) and the opinion of at least some popes (including even St Gregory VII). Of course 3. seems easiest to defend and in some sense is probably the position of most adherents of 1. and 2. Unfortunately, in a way, it only bumps the problem down the road. For what would be the key factor determining whether one is worshiping the being who revealed himself to Mohammed or the Creator of the universe? This is the central enigma and the answer to it would seem to resolve the entire question. I find it hard to believe that Muslims if they discovered that the two were not one and the same would chose the former. If it were a marriage that would be enough to make the consent valid. I’m pretty sure the Mormons and the Gnostics don’t worship God. I’m not at all sure William Lane Craig does. The Muslims it seems to me ought to get the benefit of the doubt… but I ‘m not sure.

     

 

I have just noticed that Archbishop Lefebvre and Father Frederick Faber had, by etymology and meaning, the same surname. Effectively, both of them were called Smith. Appropriately enough – they were both craftsmen who built things to last. Habent sua fata, as I have said before, nomina.

I remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a book in his hand, called ‘Mr. Smith’, or ‘The Smith Family’, or some such thing.  He said, ‘Well, you won’t get any of your damned mysticism out of this,’ or words to that effect.  I am happy to say that I undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy.  In most cases the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical.  In the case of Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic matter for the man to live up to it.  The name of Smith is the name of the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed.  The spirit of the smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith.

Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that creative violence.  The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the weirdest of earthly elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written, briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith.  Yet our novelists call their hero ‘Aylmer Valence’, which means nothing, or ‘Vernon Raymond’, which means nothing, when it is in their power to give him this sacred name of Smith, this name made of iron and flame.  It would be very natural if a certain hauteur, a certain carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, distinguished every one whose name is Smith.  Perhaps it does; I trust so.  Whoever else are parvenus, the Smiths are not parvenus.  From the darkest dawn of history this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the Hammer of Thor   (G.K. Chesterton, in ‘Heretics’.)

  

(I know that Brompton Oratory didn’t look like that in Faber’s lifetime. But he is still the man behind it.)